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Rare Author Sighting at Friday’s World Premiere of Escape of the Unicorn

Escape of the Unicorn stars, clockwise from top,
Jorge DeJesus, Katina Dailey, Dean Carvalho and MandaLyn Fugate

Author James Sunwall attended Friday’s premiere of Escape of the Unicorn, and gave it a rave review.

“This is just how I pictured my play–” he shared, “only better!” I loved how you brought the characters to life, and added so much to them. I am THRILLED with what you’ve done, just thrilled! This was the best day of my life.”

We must admit, we were worried— this is, after all, the author who has Robert de Chanson quip: “Don’t underestimate my poem. It is subject to many meanings and interpretations. But there is one correct reading, of course.”

The world premiere production of Escape of the Unicorn by James Sunwall (right), directed by Jessica Arnold (left), continues through September 20.

Photo of director and author
Jessica Arnold and James Sunwall on opening night

In the thirteenth century, in the year of the final crusade, the troubadour Robert de Chanson was imprisoned under sentence of death in the tower room of a castle in Southern France. In a single day, in this solitary room, come the issues of war and politics, the rights of women, the significance of art, the purpose of religion and the ultimate importance of life. Can Robert escape? What price will he pay?

UF Professor Emeritus James Sunwall was born in 1922, in Hayfield, Minnesota, and served in the army in the Pacific during WWII. Afterward he received degrees from the Universities of Minnesota, Yale, and Iowa where he was a member of the Writers Workshop. He wrote and taught the writing of fiction, poetry, and drama for thirty years at the University of Florida where he is an Emeritus Professor.

“I stopped dead in my tracks when I read this play,” relates director Jessica Arnold. “Here was a play of great depth and meaning that, to my knowledge, had never, ever been produced as live theatre before. Though it was written more than a decade earlier and was set in the 13th century, its main topics– the politics of war, the religion of politics, women’s rights and the meaning of life– are, if anything, even more relevant to today’s audiences. It’s rare to find a play held in a single room in a distant time and place that can hold a modern audiences’ attention, but this does– when we auditioned for the role of Robert de Chanson, the monologue was so riveting, so engaging, that everyone– literally, everyone, even women who hadn’t come to audition for the play at all– stood in line just for the privilege of being able to read it out loud. It’s that captivating… and anything that captivating to our actors is going to be mesmerizing to our audiences.”

Arnold should know—she is the founder of the Alachua County Rapscallions and has directed numerous shows at the Acrosstown, as well as in New York City and Austin, Texas. She also serves on the ART’s board of directors and co-chairs its Gala and Playwrights’ Showcase committees.

Escape of the Unicorn features Dean Carvalho as Robert de Chanson, Jorge deJesus as the Priest, MandaLyn Fugate as the Duchess, Katina Dailey as the Princess, and Carolyne Salt as the Servant Woman. The set is designed by Bradley T. Hicks, the costumes are by Sarah Almond.

Escape of the Unicorn runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm from Friday, September 4 through Sunday, September 20 at The Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, in the Baird Center at 619 South Main Street in Gainesville. There will be a $5 preview performance on Thursday, September 3 (cash-only at the door).

Purchase your tickets online using a credit card or PayPal today: Tickets are $15 for the general public with a discount for seniors, veterans and active military.