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The opening — and closing — chapter of The Hayes Project, a year-long series of events bringing this play of family, history and hope to an Orlando stage.

"A fascinating mix of contemporary issues about class, race, circumstance and relationships against a uniquely Florida historical background." ~ Matt Palm, Orlando Sentinel

Laughter, tears, music, pride and fear; strong women and willful men; longing and unrequited desires; family and home; the past, the future and the magic of citrus blossoms.

A young woman, Margaret Perry, educated in the North, reluctantly returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing mother. Finding herself in the same ranch kitchen where her mother and grandmother toiled all their lives, she resents every aspect of her situation, rejecting friendship and suitors, until her abrasive and bitter attitude is broken by a person she considered invisible: the Italian POW, Piero Alloca, brought to the ranch as replacement help.

Me and my sister Mae would sit in this kitchen, babies hid invisible under this table, watching with wide eyes through the forest of big people legs, talking about their big people business. The magic of Mama’s slim hand appearing over the heavy tabletop to conjure a carrot chip or stray flake of fried batter as we heard lord knows what coming out of their mouths, then we would slip out and fly like wild birds among the trees, giggling at all the words we didn’t understand.

America is still in the grips of the War, not knowing Germany will surrender within months. A combined cattle operation and citrus grove in an unnamed Central Florida town (based on Kissimmee), the ranch is owned by Nathaniel and Alicia Jamison. At the time, Central Florida is the country's great seat of citrus and cattle ranching, long before the Texas longhorn exodus and theme parks took over the local tourism industry.

And then the citrus groves bloom, and during one magical, perfume-filled night, every relationship in the house changes. Set in 1940s Florida, where the realities of WWII and its drain on local manpower meant a shortage of workers on local farms, a shortage addressed by the US Army by "lending" residents of area POW camps to fill the gap - Kissimmee Air Base was developed as an Italian detainee camp and became such a part of local community that POWs would often be seen shopping in downtown Kissimmee and even going to the movies.

THE JUNE 2022 production

    video coming soon


  • ‘If I Had My Way’ illuminates thwarted lives

    Is there anything worse than feeling trapped in your own life? The main characters in “If I Had My Way,” the new play by Orlando writer Joseph Reed Hayes, all are facing a metaphorical prison of some sort. And the play itself is an evocative character study of the different ways people react to difficult situations. Director Avis-Marie Barnes does thoughtful work in making the play’s characters spring to life in a realistic manner. And the bustle of activity in the kitchen of a cattle and citrus ranch creates an apt mirror for the inner turmoil that keeps these characters’ brains whirring. Maggie, who wishes that everyone would call her Margaret, has unwillingly returned to the Central Florida ranch where she played as a child to tend to her ailing mother. It’s the waning days of World War II, and the ranch has another new face: Piero, an Italian prisoner of war sent by the government to help out with the farmwork.

    “But Piero ends up more useful in the kitchen and helping Maggie see that some prisons are thrust upon us and some we create ourselves. Also interested in Maggie is Bo, the ranch foreman, given a masterful gravity and honest nobility by Stelson Telfort. Marian Tuck adds a dose of comedy as Bennie, a young kitchen worker who prattles indiscriminately with the optimism and blinders of youth.

    As the ranch owners, Holland Hayes and Eileen Antonescu create a real bond of affection for each other, and nicely convey both the hope — and blinders — of parenthood in regard to their wayward son, Ty. He’s the sort of young man who has joined a Ku Klux Klan-like gang of sheet-wearing bigots and says things like, “Ain’t nobody getting killed … if they know their place.” That’s just one of the lines that underscores the tenuous positions of Maggie, Bo and Bennie — all of whom are Black and forced to tolerate Ty. Benjamin Mainville smartly doesn’t sugarcoat Ty’s obnoxiousness in the first act, then lets us see a more human side of the young man in the second.

    [I]t remains a pleasure to spend time with Hayes’ writing, chock-full of historical references and poetic turns of phrase. And Maggie and Piero are most appealing windows into this slice of life. On TV’s Hallmark Channel, they’d be a meet-cute instant romance. Here, they create something so much more. Iris Lynne Sherman carefully makes sure we see more than anger in Maggie’s brusqueness. As Piero, the prisoner of war in a strange land, Jesus Kahwati reminds us we have the power to affect our own circumstances — and even in dark times try to be a light to others. No one is getting their way in “If I Had My Way.” But these folks engagingly show us how to behave, and not to behave, as we cope with what life hands us.

  • Joseph Hayes, one of Central Florida’s most prolific playwrights, moves from a Fringe hit to a world premiere with barely a pause

    Among the score of shows honored with Critics' Choice awards at last month's Orlando International Fringe Festival, only The Mockingbird News nabbed more than one win, claiming both "Best Individual Performance in a Drama" for star Sarah Lockard and "Best Director" for Leesa Halstead Castaneda. After that triumph, you might expect writer-producer Joseph Reed Hayes to take a break, but he's back at Loch Haven Park with this weekend's world premiere of If I Had My Way, the latest and largest work from one of Central Florida's most prolific playwrights.

    [The Hayes Project] series culminates in If I Had My Way, running June 16-20 at the Orlando Science Center's Digital Adventure Theater, which, with seven actors and a full set, breaks from Hayes' tradition of small-cast black-box shows. Inspired by true events, the show is set during 1945, when Kissimmee was home to a prisoner-of-war camp holding Italian combatants, and features a diverse cast helmed by local stage and screen legend Avis-Marie Barnes.

    "When one of the people I asked said, 'Avis is interested in talking to you about directing the show,' I burst into tears," Hayes recalls. "She is just a delight and has understood the story from the moment we sat down and talked about it. She is bringing out things that, to be honest, I'm not even sure I knew about these characters; she just makes those connections, and she connects so well with the seven people on stage that I'm delighted beyond words." He also gives Barnes credit for recruiting the majority-Black cast, which includes Eileen Antonescu, Holland Hayes, Jesus Kahwati, Benjamin Mainville, Iris Lynne Sherman, Stelson Telfort and Marian Tuck.


freelance writer

As a writer on assignment, I've traveled to Italy, Scotland, England, New Orleans, California and New York City, with a specialty on all things Orlando. Whether it's a story about Arts & Crafts houses in Florida or new styles in computers, a Mounted Police squad or alien abduction insurance, I've written it. Environmental issues, music, movie and theater reviews and in-depth conversations with legends in jazz. Interviews and personality profiles are my specialty.


My plays take place on buses and in bars, in hotel rooms and government offices, farmhouse kitchens and jazz stages. 50 productions and readings of my plays from coast to coast and in three countries; creator of House Theater Project and the year-long 13in13 series of shows.

"Best local playwright: Joseph Hayes" - Orlando Sentinel

food writer

Florida Magazine Association Award winning food writer and Orlando restaurant critic. James Beard Foundation judge, knowledgable champion of world cuisine and avid advocate of undiscovered chefs.

EVENT producer

Producer of the Jazz On Edge series, spotlighting new and original jazz from Central Florida since 2008, showcasing the best that Central Florida has to offer in jazz to appreciative audiences, giving creative hometown and nationally-known musicians a place to perform their own music, without boundaries, in person and online. Founder Word Play series, former Chair of Alternative Programming, Timucua Arts Foundation.