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19 posts from February 2008

February 15, 2008

A veteran returns

When Rafael de Acha abruptly left his job as artistic director of New Theatre in April 2006, one of the reasons he gave was the desire to spend more time enjoying life with his wife (and New Theatre co-founder), actress and college prof Kimberly Daniel.

Rafael_de_acha Both artists have been through a lot since then.  Daniel had a bone-shattering accident first, followed by long months of rehab.  Then her hubby, cleaning leaves from the gutters at the couple's home, fell off the roof. More broken bones, more rehab.

There was also, though neither side wants to talk about it, an acrimonious split from the board and current management of the company the couple founded 22 years ago.  While they were still in charge, the theater commissioned and premiered Nilo Cruz's Anna in the Tropics, a play that went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

With all that drama and some savoring of life behind them, Daniel and De Acha have decided to ease back into theater.  They're starting a new venture they call Theater by the Book, planning staged readings of plays at the church they attend, Coral Gables Congregational Church (the very pretty church that is across the street from the historic Biltmore Hotel and its resident theater, GableStage).

"It was the right moment," De Acha says of the new venture.  "The pastor [Laurie Hafner] said why don't we start a theater group. I said, 'Hey, why not?'"

Dispensing with sets, costumes and props, they plan to focus on actors and text, tackling many large-cast classics that don't get done in South Florida for economic reasons.  Their first play is Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning Our Town, with a cast featuring David Kwiat, Bill Schwartz, Robert Strain, Barbara Sloan, Cecilia Torres and Daniel, all actors who worked with De Acha at New Theatre.  The show happens at both 2 and 6 p.m. on Sunday, April 27, in the church's small chapel.  Tickets are $20 ($15 for church members, military and seniors; $5 for students and kids).

Theater by the Book plans more readings of American and English classics -- musicals included.

For updates, visit De Acha's blog.

February 14, 2008

Talk about cultural diversity!

The Broward Center is presenting them both, but it's difficult to imagine two more different musicals than the ones hitting two Fort Lauderdale stages next week.


First up is African Footprint, a dance- and music-driven show that draws on the performing traditions of South Africa, including gumboot dancing, Kwela-jive and hip-hop pantsula.  The show, in the no-language-barrier genre that made Stomp, Riverdance and Tap Dogs so popular, followed its seven-year run in South Africa with tours of Europe, Australia, China, Israel and India.  It plays the Broward Center's big Au-Rene Theater at 8 p.m. on Wednesday.

Trailer_park_musical_3  Next Thursday, The Great American Trailer Park Musical begins at four-day run at the Parker Playhouse.  Set in Florida's fictional Armadillo Acres mobile home park, the show features a score (by David Nehls) that travels from country ballads to pop and R&B.  The soapy plot involves a troubled marriage, a stripper on the run and an approaching hurricane.  Sounds like another typical day in paradise.

For info on African Footprint, visit the Broward Center's web site; for Trailer Park, go to the Parker site.

February 13, 2008

"Red Tide" surges

Red_tide It has been a very good week or so for The Promethean Theatre, playwright Juan C. Sanchez and his play Red Tide

Last Tuesday, Sanchez and Promethean learned that Red Tide, which had its world premiere in October in the small theater Promethean uses on the Nova Southeastern University campus in Davie, is one of just three plays nominated for the Carbonell Award as best new work of 2007.

This week, Promethean artistic director Deborah L. Sherman (that's her, looking all vampy in Red Tide, at right) learned that the show will be traveling to the 2008 Minnesota Fringe Festival July 28-Aug. 10 in Minneapolis.

Sherman, who is rehearsing for Promethean's Feb. 29 opening of Nilo Cruz's Two Sisters and a Piano, is very excited about winning Minnesota's artistic lottery -- literally.

"There were only nine slots available for the 75-minute pieces.  We were one of over 270 companies submitting a show to the festival,'' she says in an E-mail.  "It was a luck of the draw thing to be picked, since Minnesota Fringe is based on a lottery system."

Red Tide is a mysterious, noir-ish play about two brothers and the woman who comes between them.  Promethean plans to travel with its original cast: Sherman, Mathew Chapman and Andy Quiroga.  Playing Minneapolis will be a homecoming of sorts, as Miamian Sanchez workshopped the play at the Playwrights Center there.  And it certainly will give the playwright, his script and Promethean wider exposure:  Last year, some 45,000 people went to Minnesota Fringe shows.

February 12, 2008

Stage rarities

Professional theaters in South Florida, even smaller ones that dare to do new work, tend to play it safe when it comes to doing the work of challenging playwrights who don't exactly embrace realism.

Ring_american_play_mad_forest So it's usually up to the region's colleges and universities to give us productions of plays we wouldn't otherwise see.  From Feb. 20 to March 2, the University of Miami comes through with a pair of gems: Suzan-Lori Parks' The America Play and Caryl Churchill's Mad Forest.  Churchill's 1990 play, featuring Mark Ramos, Arianna Hoeppner and Alix Paige (at left in photo) takes place before, during and after the Romanian Revolution of 1989.  Parks' 1994 piece, featuring Amir Abdullah, Bliss Griffin and Clyde Voce (top to bottom at right in photo), was a kind of prelude to her Pulitzer Prize-winning Topdog/Underdog.

The America Play runs Feb. 21, Feb. 23, Feb. 27 and Feb. 29 at 8 p.m., and Feb. 24 and March 1 at 2 p.m.  Catch Mad Forest Feb. 20, Feb. 22, Feb. 28 and March 1 at 8 p.m., Feb. 23 and March 2 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $16-$18 (discounts for students and UM faculty, staff and alumni).  Both shows are at the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre, 1312 Miller Dr., Coral Gables.  Call 305-284-3355 or visit the Ring on the web.

February 11, 2008

Seeking talented women

Here's one more bonus from the fact that this is a leap year:  Women theater artists have an additional day to apply for the Francesca Primus Prize.

That could be a very good thing for a woman playwright, artistic director, director, actress or designer.  The prize, named in honor of the late critic, writer and dramaturg Francesca Ronnie Primus, brings the honored artist $10,000.

The money is wonderful, of course.  But the significance of winning the prize runs deeper.  Playwright Victoria Stewart, who was recognized as last year's winner during the Orlando Shakespeare Theater's PlayFest over the weekend, said the validation and encouragement that come along with the prize is, yes, priceless.  It encourages artists who might be doing temp work to survive, and in Stewart's case, it has brought greater attention to her winning script, a hard-hitting political comedy titled Hardball.

The prize is funded by the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation and administered by the American Theatre Critics Association. The award is aimed at recognizing women of significant achievement who haven't reached national theater prominence.

Artists can apply themselves or be nominated by others. Playwrights must have had a fully staged, professional production of the script they're submitting between January and December 2007. For other women theater artists, the committee will consider either achievements from a single production or a body of work during the past several years. Applicants need to send a portfolio of no more than 20 single-sided pages. The portfolio should include a letter recommending the candidate written by a sponsor, a synopsis of her body of work, and materials sufficient to familiarize the committee with the applicant's work. Reviews, a statement of the artist's philosophy plus other supporting materials are also helpful. Playwrights should also include six copies of the script (and note: portfolios aren't returned). Six copies of an applicant's entire portfolio, along with an application fee of $25 (checks made payable to ATCA) should be to ATCA in care of Katie Burger, 773 Nebraska Ave. W., St. Paul, MN 55117. Postmark deadline is Feb. 29, and the winner will be announced during ATCA's Washington D.C. conference in June.

February 08, 2008

Carbonell kudos (and carping)

I'm up in Orlando for the Orlando Shakespeare Theater's annual Harriett Lake Festival of New Plays (a.k.a. PlayFest), an American Theatre Critics Association winter conference and various other cultural experiences (yeah, there's a lot more to Orlando than theme parks).  Yesterday I visited four museums, and last night saw a very good production of N. Richard Nash's The Rainmaker at the Mad Cow Theatre downtown.  (Mad Cow is in no way connected to Miami's edgier Mad Cat Theatre Company; the Orlando bunch has been around longer, has two smallish but very nice performance spaces and is way better funded, though you could see Mad Cat growing that way if the many people who like its work pony up bigger bucks.)

Anyhow, I've been pondering the nominations for the 32nd annual Carbonell Awards since they were announced early this week, and wanted to share a few thoughts.

The Carbonell judges (I'm not one, nor do I vote on winners) did a pretty good job of sorting through the 100-plus professional productions that were done in South Florida in 2007.  Yes, you could point out a few omissions (Lisa Morgan for best actress in Golda's Balcony at GableStage, anyone?), but the artists who did get nominated are a worthy bunch.  And yet, because it's what critics do, I offer a few little kvetches.

Lieutenant_of_inishmmore_1 Leading the race for best play is GableStage's production of Martin McDonagh's darkly comic, blood soaked The Lieutenant of Inishmore.  It's up for best production of a play, best actor (Todd Allen Durkin, madly smooching best supporting actress nominee Kim Morgan at left), best supporting actor (Erik Fabregat), best director (Joseph Adler), best set (Lyle Baskin), best costumes (Ellis Tillman), best lighting (Jeff Quinn) and best sound (Matt Corey).  I loved the show and probably would have nominated all those folks, had I been nominating.  And yet...GableStage won big at the last Carbonells with its production of McDonagh's The Pillowman, and you get a little bit of a "hey, awesome show, let's nominate everything" vibe from this slate of nominees.  I'm not so sure critics (myself included) are quite discerning enough when it gets down to technical categories like lighting and sound design, and you could argue that some of the work on other GableStage productions (or productions at many theaters) was just as nomination-worthy.

Paul_tei_talk_radio Similarly, Mosaic Theatre artistic director Richard Jay Simon has every right to be glowing about his theater's dozen nominations, a feat that underscores the Plantation company's position as Broward's dominant theater company.  Simon got two directing nods, for Eric Bogosian's Talk Radio and David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, and Paul Tei bagged two acting nominations for those shows (that's Tei at right as shock talker Barry Champlain in Talk Radio).  But for all of the hoopla about doing new work in South Florida, those two are now vintage scripts.  Both were very well done by Mosaic, but you'd like to see judges recognizing theaters' risk-taking a little more -- Tei's Mad Cat, for instance, got shut out of the Carbonell race, despite some excellent work there in 2007.

The let's-do-something-old aesthetic is way dominant on the musical side of the Carbonell nominations.  Yeah, the judges recognized the sly wit and general excellence of Urinetown at Actors' Playhouse in Coral Gables with nine nominations.  But otherwise? The Maltz Jupiter Theare leads all companies with 11 nominations for its production of the retro musical The Boy Friend, followed by the Maltz's Man of La Mancha with 10 and, just after Urinetown, Actors' production of La Cage aux Folles with eight nominations.  What year is it again?  Can't you just feel the audience's hair turning grayer?

Whatever. We'll see how this all shakes out on April 7 when the winners are announced in a glam ceremony at the Broward Center's Amaturo Theater.

February 05, 2008

Carbonell buzz

George Schiavone, one of the best theater photographers in the biz, sent this as a tease to the about-to-be-released Carbonell Award nominations:

Carbonell5374_copy The producers, artistic directors, directors, actors and designers who were involved in more than 100 shows from Miami to Jupiter in 2007 don't have long to wait.  Nominations will be posted online after 6 p.m. today.  Until then, our lips are zipped (in person, in cyperspace and in print) as to who's up for South Florida theater's most coveted honor at the 32nd annual Carbonells.

We can tell you that the awards ceremony will happen at 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 7, in the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.  Hosting is an incredible actress-singer who has been on Broadway and is no stranger to South Florida.  And the George Abbott Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts is going to a very worthy recipient.  You want names? Check the Herald's online theater page early this evening.

February 04, 2008

See it live for less

Lonesome1 From the such a deal department, The Naked Stage is offering half-priced tickets to its terrific production of Martin McDonagh's The Lonesome West (running through Feb. 17) to people who really like theater.  Just how would the company separate the bargain hunters from real theater aficionados?  Easy.  All you have to do to get a half-priced ticket (a mere $12.50) is present a ticket stub from any other theater in Miami-Dade, Broward or Palm Beach counties when you show up at the Pelican Theatre (it's on the campus of Barry University) to see the show.  Note to students (who already pay just $12) and seniors (whose discounted tickets are $18): The half-priced deal is just for regular tickets, so if you're a senior and want to save, order a regular ticket.

This is a show worth seeing.  Company founders Antonio Amadeo (at front in the photo) and John Manzelli play warring Irish brothers who can't live with or without each other, at least not without getting into a scuffle (or several) on a daily basis.  Just in case you missed it, here's my review:

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Grisly comedy hits the right nerves

The Naked Stage has picked Martin McDonagh's The Lonesome West as its second production. So naturally, murder, comic mayhem and foul language that flows as freely as the play's bootleg booze follow.

The Lonesome West, an homage to the warring brothers of Sam Shepard's True West, is part of a trilogy that includes the Anglo-Irish playwright's reputation-making The Beauty Queen of Leenane and A Skull in Connemara. Set in a tiny town in Ireland's rugged County Galway, these well-built plays involve people who cannot get along, are prone to outlandish violence yet manage to make us laugh despite grisly plot twists.

Last summer, GableStage did a hit production of McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore. The Naked Stage is a smaller, newer company, but its Lonesome West is as artfully crafted and laugh-out-loud enjoyable.

Even more than in its solid first effort, an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, The Naked Stage achieves excellence in nearly every aspect of its new production.

Company founders Antonio Amadeo, John Manzelli and Katherine Amadeo are all in the show (along with actor Adam Simpson), but each also played multiple roles offstage: Antonio Amadeo created the perfect hovel of a set, with its stomach-churning color scheme; Katherine Amadeo did the artful sound design and served as dialect coach; Manzelli designed the lighting and did the rough-and-tumble fight choreography.

Director Margaret M. Ledford has helped the cast achieve a moment-to-moment richness, and others contributed to the production. But what The Lonesome West demonstrates is that even with modest resources, terrific theater can be the result if a show has the assets of talent and a vision.

Though it spins quite the tale, The Lonesome West is in many ways a character study (or a lack-of-character study). The Connor brothers, Coleman (Manzelli) and Valene (Antonio Amadeo), have been at war all their lives. Having just buried their father after an ''accident'' involving Coleman and a gun, the brothers resume their favorite hobby: tormenting each other.

The sad-eyed alcoholic village priest, Father Welsh (Simpson), tries to talk sense into them, even as the flirty Girleen (Katherine Amadeo) delivers the hooch that helps fuel their combat. Those two share the play's sweetest yet most melancholy scene. But it's the Connor boys, delivering the music of McDonagh's language like virtuosos, who make The Lonesome West so delicious.

Less a Cain and Abel than a Cain and Cain (with a touch of Laurel and Hardy), the lads would just as soon kill as look at each other. Manzelli's Coleman is a volatile moocher driven mad by his brother's obsessive collecting of religious figurines. Amadeo's Valene is nothing less than a wondrous comic creation, a guy so loose-limbed it appears his real father may have been Gumby.

© 2008 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

February 01, 2008

Warm wishes to a legend

Michael Riedel reports in his New York Post column that Broadway legend Harold Prince has suffered a minor stroke.

Hal_prince_2 Prince, who counts Miami Beach among the places he calls home, is already on the mend at his Manhattan residence.  The man who has won more Tony Awards than anyone else -- 21 -- turned 80 on Wednesday, and though both a birthday celebration and a reading of his new show Paradise Found were postponed, the Broadway community expects Prince to be back at work soon.

That would not be at all surprising.  Prince, like his long-ago mentor George Abbott, is a dynamic man who doesn't dwell on his many successes (which include the original productions of Cabaret, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Evita, Sweeney Todd, The Phantom of the Opera and Kiss of the Spider Woman).  Instead, he is forever looking ahead, with enthusiasm and intellectual rigor, to his next show.

May there be many, many more of them.