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10 posts from September 2007

September 28, 2007

Downstage Pays Off

If you're tired of the same old, same old in theater, check this out:  Three alums of the Downstage Miami playwrights' program (it's now known as the "Playwright Development Program," still run by the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs) are going to have world premieres at South Florida theaters over the next month.

Tic3_wkend21_likeness_photo_2 First up is Likeness by David Caudle. The play by the Miamian-turned-New Yorker officially opens Saturday at New Theatre, where it will run through Oct. 28.  This one is about a Boston painter (Matthew Leddy) who must create the perfect portrait of a British loyalist's daughter (Vanessa Thompson) in the turbulent days before the American Revolution.  Caudle, whose play The Sunken Living Room premiered at New Theatre and won the Southern New Plays Festival in 2005, has lured two colleagues from Lincoln Center -- costume designer Lynn Bowling and wig master Lazaro Arencibia -- to Coral Gables to work on his newest play.

Also premiering in the next few weeks are two more Downstage Miami-bred plays. 

Juan_sanchez_4 Juan C. Sanchez, who once worked as the house manager at the still-dark Coconut Grove Playhouse, has a second world premiere at the Davie-based Promethean Theatre, after 2005's Buck Fever. His new play, Red Tide, is an adults-only thriller about two brothers and the woman who gets between them. It opens Oct. 12 and runs through Oct. 28 in the Mailman Hollywood Theatre on the Nova Southeastern University campus.

Marco_ramirez_2 On Nov. 2, another Downstage Miami grad, Marco Ramirez, will be in the house at Miami's Mad Cat Theatre for the premiere of his full-length play, Mr. Beast.  Ramirez, who works as literary manager for City Theatre and its annual Summer Shorts festival, won the prestigious Heideman Award for his short play I Am Not Batman, which got its premiere during the Humana Festival of New American Plays earlier this year.  Mad Cat founder and artistic director Paul Tei describes Mr. Beast, which will run for four weeks in the Light Box performance space, as "a horror play set in a small town that has been recently inundated with a series of attacks."

It's true that, despite being home to talented playwrights like Nilo Cruz, Michael McKeever and Mario Diament, this part of the world has been behind the curve in terms of nurturing new works by local writers.  But thanks in part to Downstage Miami, that facet of South Florida theater is taking off.

September 27, 2007

Holding Action

The Rising Action Theatre was all set for a splashy opening this weekend -- new space, new production -- but construction delays on its 100-seat space in Oakland Park have pushed back the company's plans.  The production of Terrence McNally's Some Men, a collage of gay history built around the guests at a gay wedding, will now open Oct. 19, after a preview Oct. 18.

Somemen00_cast_mdw Doug Williford (seated) and Sam Yazbeck are in the eight-man cast, and Michael Reed (he staged Swinging on a Star on Broadway) directs.  The still-under-construction theater is at 840 E. Oakland Park Blvd.  Mayor Larry Gierer is expected to cut the ribbon to officially open the space at 7:45 p.m. Oct. 19.  The show will run through Nov. 18, with performances at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $25 -- but for $50, you can see the show and get dinner at Primavera Restaurant, 830 E. Oakland Park Blvd.  For info, go to the Rising Action web site or phone 1-800-595-4849.

There was another gay play in town, James Edwin Parker's Two Boys in a Bed Together on a Cold Winter's Night at  Fort Lauderdale's Sol Theatre Project.  But after a single weekend of performances, one of the two actors bailed from the show. And in small theater, there are no understudies. So you'll  have to wait for Some Men, or for the next production at Sol, to get your gay theater fix.

September 24, 2007

An Eloquent Silence

Marcel Marceau died in Paris on Saturday.  His was a special kind of art: the expression of drama, comedy, tragedy, whimsy and more, all through movement.  As the world's most famous mime, Marceau "spoke'' with an eloquence that transcended the words of any particular language and was, therefore, understood by all.  Bip, his agile alter-ego, appeared in movies, on Broadway, on television.  Marceau didn't need words; in a piece called "Youth, Maturity, Old Age, Death," he conveyed the cycle of life in a matter of minutes.

When he spoke as himself, the man born in 1923 as Marcel Mangel could be just as moving.  His father Charles was a butcher and sometime baritone who died at Auschwitz.  Marceau was active in the French Resistance, helping to save countless Jewish children.  In 2000, he said of the ones who weren't saved:  "Among those kids was maybe an Einstein, a Mozart, somebody who [would have] found a cancer drug. That is why we have a great responsibility.  Let us love one another."

One of Marceau's most priceless performances was in the 1976 Mel Brooks film Silent Movie.  Just one word of dialogue was spoken in the film. Guess who got it?

Au revoir to a masterful mime and an extraordinary man.

September 20, 2007

Hot Titles

Playbill has just shared the titles of last season's 10 most-produced plays in more than 400 of America's regional theaters (courtesy of the Theatre Communications Group, which keeps track of such things).  Nine of them should look very familiar to South Florida theater fans:  They've been here, we've seen 'em.  (The public-domain works of William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens' change-of-heart holiday tale, A Christmas Carol, aren't counted; if they were, they'd dominate the list.)

Mark_nelson_2 Remember Mark Nelson in Doug Wright's Pulitzer Prize-winning I Am My Own Wife at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in January 2006? That's Nelson (who won a best actor Carbonell Award/roadshow division for his performance as an East German transvestite who survived both the Nazis and the Communists) at left in the modest dress, headscarf and tasteful pearls.  That play is No. 1 on the list -- and was, in the now-shuttered theater's 50th anniversary season, its finest play.

No. 2 is Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman, which was produced at GableStage Pillowman_3  in Coral Gables' Biltmore Hotel in August 2006, winning the regional Carbonells for best play, best director (Joseph Adler) and best actor (Antonio Amadeo).  That's Amadeo (who played the author of morbid children's stories that inspired real-life murders) at right, being tormented by Paul Tei as a humorless cop in a totalitarian state.

At No. 3 is director Joe Mantello's adaptation of David Sedaris' The Santaland Diaries, about his misadventures working as a holiday elf at Macy's.  That one visited the Broward Center in 2002.

No. 4 is the only title not yet produced in South Florida: August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean.  Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens included a selection from the play in its celebration of Wilson's work last November, but for a full production, we'll have to wait for North Miami's M Ensemble to get to it, as the company works its way through all 10 of the late playwright's dramas chronicling African-American lives in each decade of the 20th Century.

Intimate_apparel_2 Lynn Nottage's Intimate Apparel, about the difficult life and the hopeful dreams of a black seamstress in New York in 1905, comes in at No. 5.  GableStage did the play in March 2006, with Dorothy Morrison (standing) as the landlady to Kameshia Duncan's Esther.

Next is Moonlight and Magnolias, Ron Hutchinson's imaginative farce about the writing -- actually, the interminable rewriting -- of the script for Gone With the Wind.  The No. 6 play was produced at Actors' Playhouse in Coral Gables last October.

At No. 7 is Rabbit Hole, David Lindsay-Abaire's play about parents struggling to Rabbit_hole_mdw cope with the accidental death of their young son. Produced last November by Plantation's Mosaic Theatre, the play featured Ken Clement and Wendy Michaels (right) as the grieving parents.  And though it wasn't one of three challenging works recommended by the jury that culled the best new scripts from last season, the play won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for drama -- probably, in part, as a nod to Lindsay-Abaire's body of work and to its more traditional structure.

Moliere's  classic farce Tartuffe, which has been produced by both professional theaters and colleges in South Florida, ranked No. 8.  Mitch Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher's Tuesdays With Morrie, based on Albom's huge best-seller about the wisdom imparted by his dying ex-professor, ranked No. 9.  It was also part of that star-crossed 50th anniversary Coconut Grove Playhouse season, in September 2005.  Finally,another farce: Steve Martin's The Underpants, produced by Actors' Playhouse way back in May 2004.

The good news in all of this? Great plays do get done in South Florida -- increasingly, not long after they make a splash in New York.

September 17, 2007

Rising Talent

Tarell_mccraney Tarell McCraney is hot (and we mean that in the most professional way -- though he is a nice-looking guy, too, as you can see). 

McCraney, who grew up in Liberty City, graduated from the high school program at Miami's New World School of the Arts, then majored in acting at Chicago's DePaul University.  Last spring, he got his master's degree in play-writing from the Yale School of Drama.  And today, he's a busy -- very busy -- working playwright.

Collaborating with Catherine Filloux and Joe Sutton, McCraney co-authored a Hurricane Katrina play called The Breach.  After a series of readings, including one at Florida Stage's New Works Festival in early March, it is running now at New Orleans' Southern Repertory Theater, in the glorious city that the hurricane ravaged two years ago.  David Cuthbert, theater critic for the Times-Picayune , calls it "...a capacious theatrical canvas encompassing the personal, political and poetic..." and "...a fervent dramatic embrace of our battered city and its people."

Though Cuthbert doesn't delineate which playwright wrote each of the three intertwined stories in The Breach, McCraney's is the one about a black family -- grandfather, grandson, granddaughter -- trapped on the roof by the rising, ravenous water.  Cuthbert calls that story the play's most dramatic and complex one, and several times invokes McCraney's imagery and language.

McCraney, however, has already moved on to the next stop in his high-profile, post-grad season.  At the moment he's in England, overseeing work on The Brothers Size, which will tour and then play London's Young Vic Nov. 8-Dec. 8.  That play, part of a trilogy McCraney calls his "Brother/Sister Plays" (they're inspired by his brothers, his sister and his own life story), gets its official world premiere at New York's Public Theater Oct. 23-Dec. 23.  The "Sister" play, In the Red and Brown Water, opens at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre Feb. 1-24, in a production directed by Tina Landau.

It's a fast start to what could become the most successful play-writing career to come out of Miami since Nilo Cruz became a regional theater superstar and then, a Pulitzer Prize winner. Bravo -- the first of many.

September 14, 2007

Just Add Inspiration

The Naked Stage, a small theater company formed last season by actors Antonio and Katherine Amadeo (yeah, they're married) and John Manzelli, is planning a fund-raising benefit Nov. 19.  But don't start yawning. This one is going to be crazy, creative and quite possibly loads of fun (at least for the audience).

Katherine_and_antonio_amadeo Importing a concept that has worked in New York and in many other cities, the Naked Stagers are producing "The 24-Hour Theatre Project," in which six short plays will be created, rehearsed and performed after 24 hours of  intense effort.  Antonio Amadeo (that's him at left, with wife Katie) says that at least two other small companies -- most likely Miami's Mad Cat and Ground Up & Rising, he says -- will participate in what he hopes will become an annual artsy fundraiser.

"I'm surprised it hasn't happened here yet," says Amadeo, whose group will share the proceeds from the one and only performance equally with the other companies.

"We'll meet Sunday night [Nov. 18] at the Pelican Theatre [Naked Stage's performance space on the Barry University campus]. Each company will bring two writers, two directors and six actors.  The names go into different hats (writers in one, directors in another), and there's a hat with titles in it. After names are drawn, each group has two hours to brainstorm, based on the title they get.  Then the writers go away and have until 7 a.m. to write a 12- to 15-minute play."

Then the actors and directors take over, and after a marathon of staging and rehearsing, the new works get their world premiere at 8 p.m. Nov. 19 at GableStage.

GableStage artistic director Joseph Adler, who is donating his theater's space in the Biltmore Hotel so that the participating companies can keep all the proceeds, says he's helping "...because I think it's part of the mission of our theater; any not-for-profit has to give back to the community."

The Naked Stage, which already announced Martin McDonagh's The Lonesome West as its season opener (Jan. 24-Feb. 17), has just added two more shows to its 2008 lineup:  4.48 Psychosis, the final work of young British playwright Sarah Kane (after suffering for many years from depression, she took her own life in 1999), and the "Scottish play" (a.k.a. Macbeth).

With the benefit and those challenging titles, it sounds like a season of fast and furious theater for The Naked Stage.

September 13, 2007

It's a Family Affair

Shock radio starts blasting tonight when Plantation's Mosaic Theatre unveils its production of Eric Bogosian's 1987 play Talk Radio.  Paul Tei, founder and artistic director of Miami's Mad Cat Theatre, plays the big mouth in the hot seat, shock jock Barry Champlain.  The play, which earned a Tony Award nomination for Liev Schreiber when it was done on Broadway last season, offers a scathing look at a guy who will say (and do) just about anything to fatten his ratings.

But there's another, happier behind-the-scenes drama playing out during the Talk Radio run.  One of the cast members is Dave Corey, a veteran actor with both radio and voice-over experience.  The production's Carbonell Award-winning sound designer is Matt Corey, former personnel manager and "utility bassoonist" with the late, lamented Florida Philharmonic.  He also happens to be Dave Corey's son.

Dave_matt_corey_2 This is the first time father and son have worked on a show together, and to say they're thrilled is an understatement.

Matt notes that his dad "...has worked in radio in some capacity since he was a teenager, so he has been an incredible resource for me in terms of ideas and creating an authentic radio sound.  But besides all of that...I am his biggest fan.  Seeing for the first time how he goes about his business of acting, from my position behind the scenes, is something that I will never forget."

Dad Dave says this: "Whenever I'm in the rehearsal process of a play, there comes a point where I feel like I'm having an out-of-body experience.  I look around and see me in the middle of all this talent and creativity. It's surreal.  Then, I break out in a huge smile -- sometimes even a tear or two -- and consider how fortunate I am to be living my dream.  OK, now put my son in the mix. Well, it just doesn't get any better."

The elder Corey is also sentimental in a way that Bogosian's scathing Champlain could never comprend.

"We've watched this dear child grow from a little baby I could hold in one hand to an incredible musician who played the bassoon in the orchestra with Luciano Pavarotti standing just a few feet away to the recipient of last year's Carbonell for sound design," Corey says of himself and wife Jo-Ann.  "Yet will always be the 'parental units' who remind him to eat his vegetables and put his seatbelt on.  What a beautiful and blessed ride we've all been on together."

(Photo of Dave Corey, left, and Matt Corey by George Schiavone)

September 11, 2007

Culture's Loss is Chicago's Gain

On Monday night at the Miami Science Museum, surrounded by the imposing skeletons of Chinese dinosaurs, South Florida's cultural community bid a reluctant goodby to a man who has been anything but a dinosaur during his 16 years at Miami-Dade's Department of Cultural Affairs.

Rem Cabrera is heading for Chicago to join his partner of 11 years, Christopher Schram, who became executive director of the Redmoon Theater in July.  No one, including Cabrera's boss Michael Spring, quite wants to believe that the guy who created South Florida's Theatre League, the Downstage Miami playwrights' program and the Dance Miami Choreographers Fellowships is really trading sand and sunshine for all that wind and snow.

Born in Cuba in 1958, Remberto Cabrera Jr. was a preemie whose twin sister didn't make it.  His hearing was severely damaged, so as he was growing up in New Jersey, then Florida, he became an excellent lip reader whose slight speech impediment is the only suggestion that his hearing isn't perfect.  A voracious reader, he fell in love with theater when Miami's old Players State Theatre brought its productions to Marathon, earned a bachelor's degree in English (with a minor in photography) from Barry University, then a master's in creative writing from Florida International University. 

Cold1_weather14_lnew_cmg But instead of pursuing a career as an artist, Cabrera has spent his career helping artists. He hasn't just encouraged uncounted playwrights, dancers, actors, choreographers, painters, directors, sculptors but has helped to sustain their work through the many grant programs he administered.  The Theatre League, which he created at Spring's behest, named its annual Remy Awards for outstanding contributions to the region's theater after him.

Now he's off  to Chicago, to who-knows-what job (he hasn't decided yet) and the certainty that the kind of cold weather that could make him break out his red coat in Miami will be considered absolutely balmy in the Windy City.  Wherever he lands in the arts world, his new employer will gain the services of a man with the soul of an artist, the vision of a dreamer and the very valuable skills of an experienced administrator.

Bon voyage y buena suerte, Rem.

September 10, 2007

He Wuz Robbed

Raul Esparza, Tony Award nominee for Taboo and for last season's illuminating revival of Stephen Sondheim's Company, was back home in Miami last week.  He wasn't working, just hanging out with family and friends, "touching base with life" after an emotional ending to one of the best theater experiences in his eclectic, deservedly praised body of work.

Everyone (me included) thought he would win the best actor in a musical Tony for his portrayal of Bobby, the perennial bachelor who looks at the lives of his married friends with a mixture of envy and horror, until he finally commits to risk via the stirring anthem Being Alive.  If you watched the Tonys June 10, you know that while Company got the Tony as best revival, Esparza (who had already won the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards) lost to former Frasier star David Hyde Pierce, the singing gumshoe in Curtains.

Company didn't last long beyond the Tonys, and Esparza remembers that the first performance on Tuesday after the awards show was, at first, painful.

"I was down and upset," he says.  "Being Alive was tough to get through that night.  But the audience started to applaud and wouldn't stop.  They rose to their feet and applauded for over two minutes.  They were screaming and cheering.  I started crying, and so did the other actors.  It happened almost every night after that until we closed."

Although Esparza says his heart "was just broken" that Company didn't run longer, he has moved on.  In November, he'll be playing the pimp Lenny in a Broadway revival of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, a 40th anniversary production that will also star Ian McShane (of Deadwood), Michael McKean and Eve Best, a Tony nominee for last season's revival of A Moon for the Misbegotten.  Esparza at first was weighing taking a replacement role on a television series, but Sondheim kept telling him to do the Pinter play.  And so he will.

Company hasn't entirely vanished. The production, directed by Tony winner John Doyle, was filmed before it closed on July 1 and will be shown on PBS in early 2008.  But just to tide you over, check out Esparza singing Being Alive on the Tony telecast.  See? He should have won.

September 07, 2007

Into the Blogosphere

I am an actor's daughter.  My dad, the late Bill Hindman, was a force in South Florida theater from the time he moved to Miami in 1965 (the New York air 0010264025_4 was hell on his asthma) until he died in 1999.  When he passed away, the ends of his white hair were still tinted a fading ginger.  That spring, he had played his final role, portraying Irish-American farmer Phil Hogan in Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten at New Theatre in Coral Gables.  He had dyed his hair red, because he was sure Phil's hair was red.  In the photo at right, he's playing Clarence Darrow (also at New Theatre).  He almost went for a prosthetic nose so he'd look more like the legendary lawyer, but settled for just the right suit and shoes and crisp handkerchief peeking from his pocket.  Note the watch chain, draped just so across the vest. When it came down to the little details in theater, no one cared more than Dad did.

That tendency toward obsessiveness, that passion for the minutiae of all things theatrical, are things I like to think I inherited from my father.  I have had a long run as The Miami Herald's theater critic, from 1979 to today, evolving (I hope!) from a curious neophyte to someone with enough hubris (or mileage) to call her blog Drama Queen.

Maybe you're wondering: Can you write about a subject for 28 years and still find it fascinating?  Yeah.  I really do.  Thanks to the men and women who create theater here, the actors and designers who work here, the companies that endure and the ones that don't, South Florida theater is its own constantly evolving drama: sometimes great, sometimes painful, never boring.

Today we begin a different way of talking about all kinds of theater -- local, regional, national, international.  We'll look at people, productions, issues, awards, controversies. Maybe even swap some backstage gossip.  Ideas?  Send me an e-mail. Curtain's up.