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8 posts from January 2008

January 31, 2008

On campus

I don't review college theater productions for the Herald.  Not because I'm snooty (well, I might be about some things, but not about college theater) but for other reasons.  First, there's a lot of professional theater in South Florida, more than enough to occupy a theater critic full time.  Second, if you've noticed, there's lots of competition for space in the Tropical Life section of the paper -- not just from critics writing about classical music, TV, movies, art and such, but from fellow features writers covering everything from health to fashion to food.  And third, as great as college theater can be (sometimes, it's clearly better than the work at some allegedly professional theaters), it's being done by talented people who are still learning their craft, and they don't need a critical hammer coming down on them at that stage in their development.

All that said, there are two college productions opening in Miami in February that you might consider checking out.

Electricidad First to open is Electricidad, Luis Alfaro's updating of Sophocles' Electra.  Alfaro moves the story to present-day Los Angeles, making Electricidad the grieving daughter of a gang leader done in by a heroin habit and his vengeful wife.  I saw a production of Electricidad in Chicago several years ago, and it's a very powerful script.  The play runs Feb. 7-17 at Florida International University's Wertheim Performing Arts Center Theatre.  And it's a bargain: $10 for general admission, $8 for seniors, students and alumni.  Call 305-348-3789 for info.

Nwsa_thepajamagame A week later, Miami's New World School of the Arts opens its production of the Tony Award-winning George Abbott-Richard Adler-Jerry Ross musical The Pajama Game.  Nicole Pettus plays Babe and Nicholas Duckarte is Sid in the show about a strike (and blossoming love) in a pajama factory.  New World's dean of theater, Patrice Bailey, is directing, and she has planned something special for opening night Feb. 15:  Abbott's widow Joy will be in the audience, welcoming theatergoers and making a few remarks about the work of her late husband, a longtime resident of Miami Beach.

The Pajama Game runs through Feb. 24 in the Louise O. Gerrits Theatre at New World, 25 NE Second Ave., Miami.  Tickets are $12 ($5 for students and seniors).  For info, call 305-237-3541 or visit the New World web site.

January 29, 2008

True confessing

The Rising Action Theatre in Oakland Park has just announced it will host a month-long run of Steven Fales' Confessions of a Mormon Boy, a solo show written and performed by Fales.

Steven_fales This isn't the first time Fales has told his story to South Florida audiences.  The show ran in the Encore Room at the Coconut Grove Playhouse for two months in the spring of 2003, and what folks heard then is what they'll hear starting Feb. 28 at Rising Action.

In brief, it goes like this:  Nice Mormon guy marries beautiful blonde actress and has two kids.  It's what his family and church expected.  But the nice Mormon guy knew he was living a lie.  He left his family and not only came out but worked as a gay male escort, which didn't suit him any better.

As for what happened next -- well, you'll have to see the play to find out.  Confessions of a Mormon Boy runs Feb. 28 through March 22.  Tickets are $25 opening week, $30 after that.

January 28, 2008

Road trip

It's not likePlayfestweblogowbackground2 we don't get to see brand-new plays in South Florida. We certainly do. Right now, Lauren Feldman's Fill Our Mouths is at New Theatre, Michael McKeever's Suite Surrender is at the Caldwell and Roger Hedden's The Count is at Florida Stage, where early March will bring the company's second 1st Stage New Works Festival, with readings of new plays by Nilo Cruz, Marco Ramirez, William Mastrosimone and others.

But from Feb. 8-17, the Orlando Shakespeare Theater will serve up its annual Harriet Lake Festival of New Plays, a.k.a. PlayFest.  It's a magnet for theater lovers (and, this year, members of the American Theatre Critics Association, who will hold their winter conference in conjunction with the festival).  Agnes of God playwright John Pielmeier gives the keynote address, teaches a master class and shares the first act of his new play, Madonna and Child.  There are workshop productions of plays by Deborah Brevoort, John Minigan and Aoise Stratford.  Plays by Mike Folie, Reina Hardy, David Karl Lee, Arlene Hutton, Ian August, Michael Vukadinovich and David Davalos will get readings, as will adaptations of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Miss Julie.  And Michael Hollinger's award-winning Opus, done last season at Florida Stage, gets its Central Florida premiere in a fully staged production.

And one of the coolest things about this cultural experience in the land of break-the-bank theme parks? A button to get into any PlayFest event (except for Opus, which costs a reasonable $20 to $37 to see) is $5, with individual readings just $3 and workshops $8.  Check out the details here.

January 25, 2008

It's no mystery

Zev Buffman (who spelled his last name "B-u-f-m-a-n" in his South Florida days) is president and CEO of the RiverPark Center in Owensboro, a picturesque Kentucky town on the banks of the Ohio River southwest of Louisville.  Though the town is home to only 55,000 or so souls, RiverPark boasts a state-of-the-art 1,479-seat theater, a place where Broadway touring shows come to get their act together before hitting the road.

Zev_buffman_2The not-so-little theater that could has just scored again:  This week, the three nominees for best play at this year's Edgar Allan Poe Awards are works that premiered at the International Mystery Writers' Festival in Owensboro last June.  David Foley's If/Then, Joseph Goodrich's Panic or Stuart M. Kaminsky's Books will be named best play when the Edgars are bestowed at New York's Grand Hyatt Hotel on May 1.

Buffman, who began his career as a producer and entrepreneur at the Coconut Grove Playhouse, is the man who brought touring Broadway to South Florida from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, when he left for California.  He also an experienced Broadway hand, the guy who persuaded Elizabeth Taylor to make her Broadway debut in The Little Foxes, and then (unfortunately) talked her into an onstage reunion with ex-hubby Richard Burton in Private Lives. And it's clear, from his statement about the Edgars, that he's still got his P.T. Barnum mojo working.

"The Edgar Awards are the Tony, Emmy and Oscar awards for mystery work," Buffman exults.  "For the International Mystery Writers' Festival to sweep that category in its first year is unprecedented."

This year's Mystery Writers' Fest runs June 12-22, and it features a lost Agatha Christie play, Chimneys, as well as Kaminsky's world premiere Sherlock Holmes mystery titled The Final Toast.  For more info, check out the festival on the web.

January 24, 2008

Opening night(mare)

I come to bury, not to praise, that ubiquitous prelude to nearly every opening night at almost every theater in South Florida:  the pre-curtain speech.  Oh, if only I could just wish away the pre-show thank yous, cheerleading, pitches for donations, photo ops and bestowing of plaques.

Sure, I understand the reasons that producers and artistic directors feel compelled to stand where the actors normally do and run through a "please" and "thank you" laundry list.  Please give us money, because we're a not-for-profit group and we need it.  Thank you for giving us money (or hotel rooms or food for our opening night party).  Please unwrap your cellophone-wrapped candy (a futile request) in advance, turn off your cellphone (ditto), let your neighbor know if his/her hearing aid is competing with the performers.  And so on.

Joe_adler_onstage_2 The producers do this because they can.  They recognize a captive audience when they see one.  They could E-mail us with their fund-raising pitches, but we might delete those. They could call, but we might hang up.  On opening night, what are we going to do -- walk out?  GableStage's Joseph Adler (left) is a dedicated pre-show speech giver, welcoming one and all, pointing out local dignitaries in the audience (even the wretches of the press!), sometimes veering into a political aside or two, as a spotlight/bully pulpit is hard to resist.  Mosaic Theatre's Richard Jay Simon, a fast talker, does a shorter/more efficient pre-curtain speech. But if he doesn't think the audience has responded enthusiastically enough to his greeting, he'll keep repeating his "hello!" until the crowd sends it right back at him at sufficient volume. Oh, the pressure.

Barbara_stein_2 However, the undisputed queen of the opening night speech is Barbara Stein (right), executive director of Actors' Playhouse in Coral Gables. Stein is peerless when it comes to getting goods, services and money donated to her theater, and unequalled in giving her donors time in the spotlight's glow.  However, this can make for some long  opening nights. First, the crowd has to be lured into the theater from the lobby, with its live music and open bars.  Then, rarely before 8:30 p.m. or so, Stein ascends to centerstage to thank each and every person/company who had anything to do with sponsorship of a show(cometimes, this feels like each and every person she has ever met).  There are commemorative plaques, air kisses, photos snapped.  And then she recognizes the politicians and such in the audience, and then brings up artistic director David Arisco, who delivers a rapid-fire summary of the show, plus the candy-unwrapping/cellphone-shutoff spiel (Arisco knows he has a restless cast waiting in the wings).

I guess this is just part of the extra "glamor" of opening night.  But instead of paying a higher price for a first-night ticket, as some theatergoers do, maybe they should get a discount, for having to sit through a pre-show commercial.

January 23, 2008

Isn't he romantic?

Oscar Isaac, the rising young star who got his start onstage under South Florida mentors like Area Stage's John Rodaz and GableStage's Joseph Adler, has been moving back and forth between stage and movie projects.

Tonight, he begins performances in Grace, a play by Mick Gordon and A.C. Grayling.  He's playing opposite Lynn Redgrave in the piece about a brilliant atheist professor who finds herself at odds with her son, who has decided to become a priest. It's at the Manhattan Class Company in New York through March 8.

Isaac has also just finished work on Ridley Scott's Body of Lies, a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, due out later this year.

Oscar_isaac_2 Yet even though his career is getting bigger, Isaac in many ways remains the same very talented and very nice Miami guy he was before he left for Juilliard in 2001.  On Christmas Eve, he popped the question to longtime girlfriend Maria Miranda (they met nine years ago at Miami Dade College's Kendall campus) in spectacular fashion:  After taking her to the Metropolitan Opera, he proposed by the Lincoln Center fountain.  She said yes.

Maybe that's not such a surprising romantic gesture from a guy who made his first big splash out of Juilliard playing Romeo at the Public Theater's summer Shakespeare production in Central Park. But it's lovely. Congratulations!

January 17, 2008

Liberty City -- New York?

The New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW) at 79 E. Fourth St. in Manhattan's East Village is a very cool place.  It's where Rent was born a dozen years ago, where new and edgy work gets developed.

April_yvette_thompson_pic_vertical Next month, a piece called Liberty City joins the list of shows born at NYTW, a list that includes Tony Kushner's Homebody/Kabul, Claudia Shear's Dirty Blonde, Caryl Churchill's A Number and more.  Thompson (left), an actress who grew up in Miami, coauthored the solo show with Jessica Blank, who collaborated with Erik Jensen on The Exonerated, the powerful play about former Death Row inmates.  Here's how NYTW describes the play, which will be performed by Thompson and directed by Blank:

"Liberty City: a place where people of the African Diaspora have settled; where urban and island cultures rub up against each other, and the site of Miami's infamous 1980 riots.  Enter April Yvette Thompson -- a child of children of the '60s, the daughter of a Bahamian and Cuban father and an African-American mother; free thinkers, youung radicals and movement people.  As the hope of the '60s and '70s gave way to the disillusionment and disintegration of the '80s, April's family struggled to survive and stay together.  Part history, part imagination, Liberty City is her personal story...[illuminating] the lives of one family through the context of social, cultural and political events."

Sounds pretty provocative/engaging.  And you have to wonder: Why isn't this play being done in the city where these lives were lived?  The Coconut Grove Playhouse might have given it a home, but probably would have jammed it into the smaller Encore Room.  The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts (a.k.a. the rechristened Carnival Center) could have grabbed it, maybe.  But shouldn't a play that is so relevant to Miami be seen in Miami?  Anybody?

In the meantime, should you feel like hopping a plane to New York to catch Liberty City, here's the 411:  The show begins previews Feb. 15, opens March 4 and runs through March 16.  Tickets are $45, available through Telecharge. In the run-up to the show, the theater is hosting a free panel discussion at 7 p.m. Jan. 29 to explore both the conditions that led to the 1980 riots and black activism in the last half of the 20th century.

Again, you have to wonder:  why not here?

January 07, 2008

Free theater

One of the biggest worries/complaints for any theater's artistic director is that audiences tend to be on the "mature" side.  Call it the graying of the audience, the erosion of the audience, whatever: It spells trouble for the future of theater.

Richard_jay_simon Mosaic Theatre artistic director Richard Jay Simon grapples with this, as do most of his South Florida peers.  They are thankful for and indebted to their older, loyal audience members, but they necessarily worry about who will fill those seats in years to come.

Simon would like to see more 25- to 40-year-olds in his Plantation theater, and he had an inspired idea about how to get them there:  free plays.

In a program he's calling "Triple Play," Simon is offering free tickets to each of the final three shows of Mosaic's season to the first 100 people in the targeted age range to request them.  That's a free pass to see John Patrick Shanley's Dirty Story Feb. 28-March 23, Lee Blessing's A Body of Water May 8-June 1 and Neil LaBute's Wrecks June 12-29.  Simon estimates the experiment will cost $10,000 in lost revenue.  But if the folks who sample Mosaic's work like what they see and return as paying customers, it may be a smart gamble.

As Simon says:  "Let's hope...it's a successful program, as it might serve as a national model. Can't be afraid to fail!"

The 100 freebies will probably go very fast, but if you're 25 to 40 and interested, contact Simon.  It's a bold idea, and a promising one.