Flor De Liz Perez makes her George Street Playhouse debut in the world premiere of The Trial of Donna Caine. Perez plays the role of Marine Staff Sergeant Donna Caine.
Perez came into the WBGO studios to talk to News Director Doug Doyle about the show and her career.
The intense two-act drama is the work of playwright Walter Anderson who wanted to tell the story of a 1956 incident at Parris Island, South Carolina, in which a male Marine drill instructor Matthew McKeon, a junior drill instructor at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, marched his assigned platoon into Ribbon Creek, a swampy tidal creek. Panic ensued and six of the recruits drowned in the deep water, prompting national headlines and a trial.
Flor De Liz Perez talks about how Walter Anderson decide to change the story's characters to make it more relevant today.
"He tells the story about how one day it just wasn't clicking, and one day he woke up and he's like how about if Ribbon Creek hadn't happened then, but happened now."
Perez says it was then that Anderson decided to change the Marine staff sergeant to a female role with a gender integrated platoon that marched into the creek, three of the five recruits who drown in the play are women.
Caine's highly respected attorney Emily Zola Ginsberg is convinced to take the case. As Ginsberg fights for her client's future, she finds herself taking on the military establishment.
Fighting for her client’s future, Ginsberg finds herself taking on the military establishment in order to expose the truth.
Perez says The Trial of Donna Caine is a riveting courtroom drama that's a page turner that moves so such that it keep audiences of the edge of their seat.
"It's this journey of justice, but really also about forgiveness and learning to kind of see part your perceptions of someone."
How did Flor De Liz Perez prepare to play Marine Staff Sergeant who is determined to take responsibility for the deaths.
"Well I was not doing 32 pull ups a day, I was imagining I could (laughing). I was watching a lot of videos in terms of what boot camp was really like, listening to interviews with recruits, listening to interviews with drill instructors, doing reading about actual requirements as to what Donna journey would have been from a recruit herself to staff sergeant. Walter had given us, everyone in the cast, very detailed biographies and then doing research on the Marine Corps and that sense of, that pride and that integrity and love so many servicemen have. So it was really trying to get the mentality, you know because she puts the Corps above herself."
Perez praised the work of director David Saint, who she worked with for the first time.
"He trusted us. He trusted me and that's a beautiful gift you can give an actor in the room. He had the right touch of guiding gently but would see what you were bringing and kind of step back and let you work."
The cast also includes John Bolger, Julia Brothers, Michael Cullen, Kally Duling, Peter Frechette, Ryan George, Margarita Leviev and Melissa Mawell.
Born in the Dominican Republic, Perez first came to New Jersey when she was four. She moved to Queens, New York shortly after became a voracious reader with the help of her mom's guidance. Perez got the acting "bug" while portraying a penguin in an elementary school production about Santa and the North Pole.
"PS 131 in Queens, that was a our music concert. We had to help Santa. We had kazoos. My mom helped me make a felt beak. I loved that school and that really opened me up to play."
Perez received her BA in Theatre from Bucknell University and trained at the London Dramatic Academy for a semester under Sir Richard Digby Day, before traveling to live in France and pick up the French language and capoeira. She then went on to receive her MFA in Acting at the Professional Actor Training Program at UNC-Chapel Hill, receiving additional training at the Guthrie Theatre under the beloved Ken Washington. She has had guest roles on such TV shows as Elementary and Madam Secretary.
Perez has been volunteering with the 52nd Street Project (www.52project.org) since grad school, making magic with the kids of Hell’s Kitchen. The Project is dedicated to the creation and production of new plays for, and often by, kids between the ages of nine and 18.
The Trial of Donna Caine will be performed at George Street Playhouse through November 11th. The theatre is presently at its interim location, at 103 College Farm Road, New Brunswick, just off of Route 1 South.
Click above to hear Doug Doyle's entire interview with Flor De Liz Perez.