It’s not very often that a community theatre performs one of its own member’s work, but Stage West is not your ordinary “amateur” theatre company. And it is in no way “amateur” in terms of its actors, directors, and, stage crew. Just this season they have done a historical drama, two musicals, two comedies, and now a tense, psychological drama.
“Duress” was written by Angela Sarabia, an attorney-turned-stay-at-home mom who homeschools her children. This is her first play and acknowledges the fact that other Stage West members gave some input and encouraged her along the way. “We did a play writer’s workshop. We would record what people had written and performed it. Listening to the recordings helps you as a writer and gives you new ideas.”
In writing the play, Sarabia used her past experience as a prosecuting attorney working on cases involving domestic violence. In her work, she found that one spouse will intimidate and manipulate the other spouse and even use violence in order to control them. Although “Duress” doesn’t center on domestic violence, it does show how people manipulate each other to gain power over them and control them.
Sarabia states that she wanted to make something that felt real, so although the pay isn’t based on a true story, some of the experiences the characters talk about came up in actual cases she worked on. There are only three main characters and one minor character, which means the actors have a lot of lines to memorize. The play is a game of “cat and mouse” with the roles alternating throughout the play.
Ms. Sarabia performs the part of Anna Johnson, a somewhat shy and timid accountant at a construction firm. When she decides to go to work on a Saturday, she interrupts two men who are robbing the office. Devin Devi portrays Derrick, as a cold and calculating professional safecracker. He has talked his older brother, John (played by Anthony Dedea), into joining him in his life of crime.
Derrick is a manipulating sociopath, while John is a nervous, somewhat unwilling accomplice. The two hold Anna hostage while they break into the safes. She senses the dynamic between the two brothers and uses manipulating tactics of her own to try and turn John against Derrick−often putting her life in danger.
The other actor in the play is George Friel who portrays Roger, the maintenance supervisor. Roger stumbles upon the burglary after Anna has already discovered Derrick and John. Although the part is small, it’s important because it allows Anna to display her quick-wittedness in persuading Roger that nothing is amiss.
There are some fight scenes and gunplay. Jason Chase was the fight choreographer and taught the actors how to make the action realistic. Pasco deputy Jay Garcia was the armorer on the set and made sure that the actors followed safety protocols, even though the guns did not have real bullets in them. The guns they use are airsoft pistols, powered by Co2. To avoid the possibility of someone getting injured, Garcia taught the actors how to handle the guns properly.
“Everyone was very open to instruction. I tell everyone to treat every firearm as if it is loaded. The biggest challenge is giving the audience as realistic of an experience as possible, while also accounting for the specific capabilities of the guns functioning without pellets or BBs,” Garcia said.
Although this is the first play she’s written, Sarabia acted in college and even minored in theatre. She also performed in a couple of Shakespeare plays at Richey Suncoast Theatre in New Port Richey and several plays at Stage West.
When asked if she had herself in mind as playing the part of the accountant or based the personality of the accountant on herself, Sarabia replied, “As I was writing the play, I wrote a character that I knew would be really fun and challenging to play. From Shakespeare to Tennessee Williams, female characters would often simply be victims of the plot or bystanders watching the plot unfold. I wanted to play a character whose choices ultimately affect the outcome of the story.”
Although she wrote the play, Sarabia still found the part of Anna somewhat challenging. She stated, “I am playing a character who, like all of us, is multidimensional. Anna is very logical and is always thinking, but she is also experiencing a lot of violence and trauma which has impacted her emotionally. Walking that fine line of intellect and emotion can be very hard.”
Devin Devi, who plays Derrick, did his first show at Stage West ten years ago when he was eighteen. He caught the acting bug and did some acting in college, then went on to do professional acting in Tampa at Stage Works. One of the plays he did there was titled “Proof.” Devi finds theatre very rewarding. He stated, “I like the process of being able to disappear into a character and being creative and the process of how I impact an audience.”
What Devi likes best about the part of John in “Duress” is his confidence and his mindset. “There are a lot of things that he says and the ways he behaves that I agree with. He just takes it to the extreme,” Devi stated.
Anthony Dedea plays the part of the older brother, John. He finds the role interesting and challenging. Dedea stated, “There’s not a whole lot to like about him, so finding a way to humanize him is hard.”
This is only Dedea’s second acting role. His debut was a small part of “The Lion in Winter” at Stage West this past December. He never got into acting in high school because of other priorities and because he is basically a shy person.
Now, even though he and his wife are both primary care physicians and parents to two young children, he finds the time for this pursuit. “My wife and I thought that participating in community theatre would be a fun thing. A lot of it is the camaraderie with the people here–not just the actors but the people behind the scenes and getting to learn about something completely different,” stated Dedea.
The director of “Duress” is Paul Wade. He has been with Stage West since 2000 and has acted as well as directed. His first experience in this capacity was in 2010 directing a multi-layered comedy entitled “A Company of Wayward Saints.” Other plays he’s directed included “Twelve Angry Men” and “Clue.”
Directing is totally different from acting and has its unique challenges. “One of the most challenging things is logistics, getting everything in order, the set designed, props and costumes. There are a lot of moving parts you have to be aware of. It takes someone who is very good at communicating with others,” stated Wade.
Some particular challenges with this play were obtaining realistic-looking firearms and then deciding whether to do blank fire or airsoft (pellet/BB-type) pistols. They decided to go with airsoft. “The most rewarding thing about directing is when about a week or two before the show goes on you see the flashes of what the finished product will look like. Everything comes together, ” said Wade.
“Duress” provides plenty of food for thought. Is criminal behavior caused by your upbringing and environment or is it a deliberate decision? Can some people really not control their actions or is this behavior just a way to manipulate others? How can your actions affect the outcome when you are involved in a situation where your very life is threatened?
Throughout the play many questions arise in the audience’s minds. Does the accountant actually know the combinations to the safes or is she lying when she says she doesn’t in order to make the burglars’ job harder? If she does know the combination, will she eventually be forced to tell them? Will Anna survive this ordeal? Will the burglars succeed in robbing the business or will they be caught and arrested? These are some of the questions that will be answered at the play’s dramatic conclusion.
There will be three performances of “Duress.” The play will open Friday, May 13th at 7:30 pm and there will be 2 pm matinees on Saturday, May 14th, and Sunday, May 15th. Stage West Playhouse is located at 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd, in Spring Hill. Tickets can be ordered online at www.stagewestflorida.com or by calling the box office at 352-683-5113, Tuesdays – Saturdays 10 am – 2 pm.