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Review: THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT, LEAVE YOU FEELING YOU'RE NOT ALONE WITH “A SKEPTIC and a BRUJA' at FreeFall Theatre Company

in Cooperation with Urbanite Theatre this World Premiere is a sensationally haunting good time.

Review: THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT, LEAVE YOU FEELING YOU'RE NOT ALONE  WITH  “A SKEPTIC and a BRUJA' at FreeFall Theatre Company

"It looks like a Grandma Bomb went off in here..."

"I booked the cute B&B owned by a BadAss Black Woman.."

A Skeptic and a Bruja by Rosa Fernandez makes its world premiere with Urbanite Theatre in Sarasota, and in Cooperation with freeFall Theatre Company across the bay. The last time freeFall worked in conjuncture with another company was their collaboration with the Hippodrome and their production of Lone Star Spirits, and more recently with their staging of Ebony Rep's Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill. In speaking with Matthew McGee, freeFall's Marketing Coordinator, he mentioned this is something the folks at freeFall will continue to explore with future seasons. I for one can attest with first-hand knowledge that this is something that freeFall should continue to do.

Off the page A Skeptic and a Bruja grabs the audience by their seats and doesn't let go, giving the audience a thrilling ride of hilarious antics and jump scares. Telling the tale of Sam and Jess who are visiting a B&B off the beaten path for a chance to record the latest episode of their Youtube series of the same name, the pair encounter the owner of the B&B, Priscilla who purchased the house after the tragic death of their partner, Liz, at the hands of cancer. Shortly after arriving Sam and Jess's tech guru Remy shows up to lend a hand. After learning the history of the house the women get to work investigating all that stakes claim to the occurrences which Priscilla has seen. Much like a whodunnit of the 80s, mysterious footsteps are heard, whispering is audible but not always decipherable, and strange knocks are heard, among many other occurrences.

After taking a tour of the house, and seeing the in-escapable "Doll Room," Priscilla describes to the women times when household items such as keys, mysteriously go missing just to turn up back where they usually are located, and pictures seem to fly off the wall at any given moment, and no fault to the in house renovations the electricity seems to go on and off. At first, Sam is (Skeptic), but Jess and Remy have stronger feelings about the strange and unusual that seem to be living in the house along with Priscilla. When the trio begins investigating Remy has a run-in with a Spirit, that proves to Sam that even the strongest Skeptics can become believers. Brings a whole new meaning to "Seeing is Believing."

From top to bottom this cast is exceptional. As Priscilla, Lorinda Hawkins Smith is outstanding. She is transformative as the humbled, yet heartbroken homeowner wishing to be safe in her own home, to suddenly becoming "otherworldly" possessed. There is so much depth in her character that when the possession does happen, you wonder if another actress had taken hold of the moment. She is so separated in both of these instances, yet so incredibly grounded that it works on both levels and is a stirring turn. The way she embodies the innocence of Priscilla and the darkness of the demon is mesmerizing to watch.

Jen Diaz as Remy is yet another strong addition to the 4 performers making up the company. Her Remy is so outspoken on the surface, but yet so wounded on the inside. I think that is what makes this the most compelling role in the show. Here you have someone that has so closely dealt with grief, even if she didn't want to, just to push it aside for the sake of her work and friends. The moment when she discusses the funeral is so heartbreaking, yet so measured and real that you truly feel for her. Having never been witness to her amazing work onstage is still leaving me stunned almost two hours after the show has ended. I kept watching her and waited with bated breath to see what was going to happen to her Remy next.

Alisha Espinosa (Jess) is exceptional as the Bruja. With references to Santeria and the Brujeria found throughout pop culture, this makes A Skeptic and a Bruja more culturally significant. Even Beyonce has paid homage to the sacred art. Interestingly, Beyonce is brought up, because in the script Rosa speaks of Beyonce, "...We call it a Seyonce, you know like Beyonce..." Alisha is so believable as Jess, that even the strongest of Skeptics would follow her every move. She commands the room with every turn as she hears, and sees the spirits right in front of her. There were times when her protection spirit Jorge would be right next to her, and you would swear even when no one was there, that he was in the room. To take on the role of the namesake of the play in which you are performing is no small feat, and Alisha tackles the challenge and makes it her own.

As Sam, Maiya Reaves is outspoken and hardened but deep inside she has a big heart. Sam is a powerhouse here, and Maiya's delivery is outstanding in every way. Providing much of the comic relief, Maiya takes no prisoners with Sam's no holds barred way of thinking. I think the true power in Maiya's performance lies under the surface of when Sam realizes maybe she isn't the biggest skeptic after all. A truly exceptional performance by Maiya.

The cast does one thing that makes this ensemble such a joy to watch, and that is they take their own idealized versions of these women and make them their own. This makes this group so relatable that in the end, this could be a real Youtube series. Forget Ghost Adventures, and all the other Paranormal shows, this show would defy the odds and be the one to watch! As an audience, you are so dialed in on the distinct moment-to-moment that these women share, that time flies by. This quartet is so damn genuine and relatable that you forget that these are performers on a stage. That is a true testament to the power of their work here, and they should all be commended.

Technically stunning A Skeptic and a Bruja has it all! Set Design by Jeff Weber is pleasing to the eye and gives you something to look at every turn. Combining the beautiful set with the illusions makes this a fun ride of thrilling proportions. Master Carpenter Eugene Alcorn and Electrician Alex Pinchin combined the inner workings of the set, with the magical illusions to a grand degree. Carmon Amon's Costumes lend well to the world of the show in which these characters reside. Each lady has their own unique style significant to culture and lifestyle, making this a beautifully captured piece. I especially enjoyed the styling of Jess's costumes and the exquisite attention to detail right down to the head wraps. Joseph Oshry's lighting is beautifully rendered here. Spooky when it needs to be, and chilling the next. Allowing the audience to even get an uneasy feeling as we move about the world of the play. The beautiful greens and purples making up several sequences were the perfect addition to the show. The Ragan Bros, or Brendan and Sean Ragan add sound effects and music that perfectly portray the world of the show. I will say there are times when the sounds could be slightly louder. It was hard to notice the whistle of the teapot, but nonetheless. The music pushed us deep into the world of the cultural perspectives displayed here. It was a great addition to the story. At the hands of Stage managers Sara DelBeato, Tori Heikenfeld, and Danielle McKay the performance was fast-paced and energetic from start to finish. In 1 hour and 40 minutes, you felt like 30 minutes had gone by.

Director Dr. Patrice Amon exceptionally paced this story with the strongest of hands. I think the most compelling thing about the script is that on the surface there are all the jump scares and comedic moments, but at its heart is this story of loss, grief, and finding the true power in friendship. Director Patrice Amon delivered all of these ten-fold and put together an exceptionally strong group of performers to convey Rosa's story, from page to stage not a weak link to be had.

A Skeptic and a Bruja is a chilling, wild ride that needs to be seen. Not very often does a world premiere come to our backyard. So take a trip across the bay to join our friends at freeFall Theatre Company for their production of this fantastic new play by Rosa Fernandez. You know what they say, "Seeing is Believing," and with works such as this freeFall has a niche that will keep them coming for a very long time. Take a step outside the box, and discover what goes bump in the night, you will be extremely glad you did.

PHOTO CREDIT: Dylan Jon Wade Cox



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