Unmasked singers

Jacquelyn Serrano and James McKinney play siblings in the Last Resort Players’ production of “John and Jen.”

Last Resort Players return to the stage with ‘John and Jen’

March 12, 2022 — Thursday, March 17, is the opening night for the Last Resort Players’ (LRP) production of “John and Jen,” a two-person musical starring James McKinney and Jacquelyn Serrano. With the show, Director Jim Wellington is bringing the community theater group back home to the Florence Events Center (FEC).

“John and Jen” is opening after Oregon’s indoor mask mandate was lifted, meaning that audiences and performers will not be required to wear face coverings.

According to McKinney, “It's going to be a great show.”

The show follows siblings John, played by McKinney, and Jen, played by Serrano, as they grow up and progress into adulthood.

“It was a real challenge for the actors,” Wellington said.

“There’s definitely a lot riding on both of our shoulders,” McKinney added.

The actors last performed together in “Mamma Mia!” at the FEC in November 2019. Before then, McKinney was in “A Christmas Carol” at the Florence Playhouse 13 years ago.

Serrano starred previously in “The Vagina Monologues,” which LRP produced at City Lights Cinemas in June 2021. This will be her first lead role.

“It's kind of a character study in one woman and her journey through trials and tribulations, so to speak,” Serrano said of her role.

“She has a really nice character arc,” Wellington said. “It's amazing how we always come full circle, in doing what we swore we wouldn't do. And then finally realize, ‘Oh, that is what I'm doing. How about that!’”

The two actors will tell the story almost entirely through song.

For Serrano, “I think we've got pretty good chemistry.”

“We had a little bit of interaction with each other on ‘Mamma Mia!,’ so I think that helped,” McKinney said. “And our voices are very, very similar, so they blend really well.”

The show will take place over two weekends at the FEC, with performances Thursdays through Sundays. 

Rather than using the event center’s main stage, Wellington selected the FEC’s customizable flat floor space for the show. The stage will be surrounded by risers and rows of chairs for the audience.

“(The staging) is really minimal,” Wellington said. “We’re using the dance floor, so we have a nice surface, and then the set amounts to two cubes and one box — and the imagination and creativity of our actors.

“This is a type of show that I love. I feel more comfortable with a smaller cast, as opposed to a cast of thousands. And I love this type of staging. I like the idea that the audience has to bring something — they bring their imagination to it as well. Certainly the actors create the world, but it happens in conjunction with the audience. I just love that type of thing.”

Wellington has wanted to do this small, intimate production since LRP worked on “Mamma Mia!” The pandemic put several wrenches into those plans, but the theater group has been able to continue to plan for the stage. Last summer, it put on “The Vagina Monologues” at City Lights. The movie theater’s stage, socially-distanced seating and capable staff were able to support the showings, which sold out.

“That show was great, because, of course, the idea that it's all monologues, we could rehearse individually,” Wellington said. “It worked out really well. Even though the Florence Events Center is our home, and I love it, City Lights is a fun venue to work. And I'm sure we will be doing more there, too.” 

During the height of the pandemic, the venue was the solution LRP needed to still perform theater. 

For the actors, “It didn't scare me,” Serrano said. “Because everyone in the cast, we were all vaccinated. And then during the show, people were wearing masks, unless they were drinking. I felt pretty safe.”

With “John and Jen” only the two leads have been unmasked during rehearsals.

“Players, director, stage manager, they all wear their masks,” McKinney. “We wear ours until we actually are singing and performing. We’ve kept it pretty safe.”

The FEC will be following state guidelines and will no longer require masks starting March 12. 

“What I'm putting out is masks are recommended,” Wellington said.

This return to theater also brings back live music. The show’s musicians will be on stage during the production. 

“You get to watch everybody,” Wellington said. “That’s kind of the fun of live theater. You get to see all the bones, the structure and all the background going into it. There’s very little that happens offstage that the audience does not get to see.”

Musical direction is by Laura Merz, with pianists Rhianna Hanes and Portia Neff.

“It's fun working with James one on one because we've worked together before, but I have to say, as a singer, working with Laura has been phenomenal,” Serrano said. “She has taught me so much in just such a short period of time. So, really valuable.”

McKinney said there have been some things Merz has had to “drive into his skull.”

“She is very good musical director. She knows her stuff for sure,” he said. “I’ve been experienced with music for years, I played in a band and was in choir in high school, and she still has things that she’s teaching me.”

The performers will be mic’d up, with sound direction from Jonpaul Jones.

McKinney said he is still getting used to the microphones, as it is his second performance using them. 

“All the theater I've ever done — except for ‘Mamma Mia!’ — has been to just belt it. You go sing to the back, back row. Those are the people you’re singing to and talking to,” he said.

LRP began rehearsals at the FEC on Monday, and will spend this week going over final sound and lighting cues.

The rest of the production team includes Mary Conley as stage manager, Beth Kilmurray as 

stage manager trainee, Margaret McDiarmid on lights, Deanne Hawkins on costumes and Julie Ellis on props. In addition, Joanie Schmidt will assist Serrano with costume changes.

All these elements work together to bring the show to life.

“People are going to forget that it's just two people and three boxes,” Wellington said. “It's a nice little challenge for our actors, and boy, are they up to it.”

After “John and Jen,” LRP will be working on “Based On A True Story,” where six to 10 people tell stories from their own lives, with musical interludes. A main-stage production is also in the planning stages for November at the FEC.

“We've missed doing theater and I think Florence has missed theater,” Wellington said. “If you make it all imagination and thought, then you can do anything. Anything you can imagine.”

Show dates for “John and Jen” are March 17, 18, 19, 20, 24, 25, 26 and 27. Show times Thursday through Saturday are 7 p.m. Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. All performances will be at the FEC, 715 Quince St.

Ticket price is $18, plus ticketing fee, and can be purchased through www.aftontickets.com/lrpjohnandjen.

Learn more online at www.lastresortplayers.com.