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15 posts from November 2008

November 26, 2008

FIU students and grads come Unhinged

Mike_headshot Eight young theater artists -- Ashley Alvarez, Jose Grau, Dixon Gutierrez, Morgan Howland-Cook, Bertha Leal, Michael Leon (that's Michael, the artistic director, in the photo), Matthe Mur and Denisse Schwartz -- believe there's room for another professional company in Miami-Dade County.  Particularly a company that gravitates toward experimental/engaging interpretations of plays.

Mostly current and former students at Florida International University, they have founded a company called Unhinged Theatre, planning a six-show season which they'll kick off Dec. 11 with a production of Jose Rivera's References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot. (Note, however, that the Miami Lakes-based Alliance Theatre Lab has already announced a production of the same play for January. Curious.)

Also on the Unhinged docket: Patrick Hamilton's Gaslight, Stephen Adly Guirgis' Den of Thieves, Paula Vogel's Mineola Twins, Craig Lucas' Stranger and Shel Silverstein's A Night of Shel Silverstein.

Rivera's play runs Dec. 11-21, with performances at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday.  Tickets are $15 ($10 students). The show goes on at Studio 1415, 1415 NE 129th St., North Miami.  For info, call 305-785-7377 or visit the Unhinged web site.

November 24, 2008

Seeking Carbonell solutions

CarbonellA room full of theater pros (and a few infiltrating critic types, who really were invited) met Sunday evening for two hours at Sixth Star Studios in Fort Lauderdale, where the Theatre League of South Florida hosted a discussion on the topic that has sparked great angst, numerous E-mails and plenty of blog commentary over the past week:  What's going to happen to the Carbonell Awards?

A week ago, the Carbonell board announced via a press release that it was pulling the plug on giving awards to productions that open in 2009, in order to give it adequate time to fix a system that doesn't seem to be working well (if you ask a few theater types who have groused about the process and threatened to pull out of the awards).  The board took the action, however, without seeking any input from the theater community or the nominators and voters who actually see shows and make decisions on what's award worthy.  Overwhelmingly, despite scattered criticism of the Carbonells, the theater community and Carbonell panelists reacted with alarm, fearing that if the 32-year-old program goes away for a year, it might never return.

So this meeting at Sixth Star was to kick around ideas that might be presented to the board.  League president Meredith Lasher and founder Barry Steinman presided over a lively discussion and productive meeting. The turnout was impressive, and in the crowd (which included actors, Carbonell nominators and judges, playwrights, directors and critics) were a number of artistic directors, including Deborah L. Sherman of Promethean Theatre, Paul Tei of Mad Cat, Genie Croft of the Women's Theatre Project, Adalberto Acevedo of Alliance Theatre Lab, Stuart Meltzer of City Theatre, Richard Jay Simon of Mosaic Theatre, Antonio Amadeo of the Naked Stage and Joseph Adler of GableStage.

Though there were a few pointed exchanges and moments of discord, in general, the vast majority present seemed anxious to keep the Carbonells going.  Even Adler did, though during his brief time at the meeting, he delivered the evening's foulest diatribe, ending with several "f**k you" comments before storming out (or as he put it, taking his ball and going home).  Which is not the way you reach a consensus, behave as a major player in a theater community or represent an otherwise admirable artistic institution.

At any rate, nothing is certain but this:  South Florida's theater pros have ideas about a better Carbonell system, and over time would like changes.  But more urgently and significantly, the community doesn't want the Carbonells to go away, not even temporarily.


November 21, 2008

New World seniors put their plays on

Klodike_3To graduate from the New World School of the Arts' college theater program, seniors need to research, write, produce and perform in a 20- to 30-minute solo show.

Sixteen of those shows will be presented, in four programs, on Dec. 5-6 and Dec. 12-13 at the Tower Theater, 1508 SW Eighth St., Miami.  Each program will have get two performances: Program A is at 5 p.m. Dec. 5, 8 p.m Dec. 6; Program B is 8 p.m. Dec. 5, 5 p.m. Dec. 6; Program C is 5 p.m. Dec. 12, 8 p.m. Dec. 13; and Program D Baby_2 is 8 p.m. Dec. 12, 5 p.m. Dec. 13.  Most terrific of all is that you get to see all that creativity and up-and-coming talent for free.

Among this year's plays are Bethany Pollock's The Adventures of Klondike Kate and Meredith Bartmon's And Baby Makes Two (both pictured), Ashley Olberding's For As Long As We Both..., Betsy Graver's Mind, Body and Susan, Elyse Fischer's Piece of My Heart and Max Danesh's My Friend Jim.  Among the eclectic famous folk referenced in the shows are Eva Braun, Jim Hensen and Janice Joplin.

For more info, call 305-237-3541 or visit the New World web site.

November 20, 2008

Listen to a play or three for free

RaisinConundrum Stages celebrates its fourth anniversary at 2 p.m. Saturday with a free reading of Lorraine Hansberry's great play, A Raisin in the Sun.  Rachel Finley directs Will Barnes, Yvone Christiana, Crystal, John Fell, Devounte Hohing, Kevin Johnson, Dorothy Morrison, Gary Simpson, Me'lissa Smith and Keith Wade in Hansberry's story of a black family, its differing dreams and the price of prejudice.

The reading happens at the Northwest Branch of the Broward County Library, 1580 NW Third Ave., Pompano Beach.  For more information, call Conundrum at 954-786-2186.

And there's more. Rising Action Theatre in Oakland Park is inaugurating its free Senior Readers Theatre program on Sunday and Monday.  Program director Jerry Jensen has paired the first act of Terrence McNally's Bad Habits with The Cruise, a play by Readers Theatre member Harry Wagner.  The plays will be read at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Stonewall Library and Archives, 1717 N. Andrews Ave., Wilton Manors, and at 7 p.m. Monday at Rising Action, 840 E. Oakland Park Blvd.

For info, call 954-561-2225 or visit the Rising Action web site.

November 19, 2008

The Carbonell conversation continues

Monday's abrupt announcement by the Carbonell Awards board of directors that it was suspending judging of productions that open in 2009 brought a firestorm of reaction, most of it negative.  For a sampling, read and ponder the comments that follow my first post on the situation.  Arts journalists, Carbonell voters and the theater community itself reacted with surprise, dismay and anger at the notion that, so soon after the death of program founder Jack Zink in August, the awards themselves were going on a hiatus from which they might never come back.

Members of the executive committee of the Theatre League of South Florida (which has nothing to do with running the Carbonells, though it's often Theatre League members who actually win them) huddled over the situation.

League president Meredith Lasher commented, "The Carbonell Awards are seen as an integral part of the South Florida theater community.  This announcement follows so closely [on] the untimely passing of Jack Zink...and is coupled with an acute reduction of media space allocated to the arts.  It's really been a double hit to the theater community.  Our constituents have naturally had very emotional reactions to the announcement, and the Theatre League Board of Directors will be holding forums for discussion.'' 

The first gathering will be at 6 p.m. Sunday at Sixth Star Studios, 505 NW First Ave., Fort Lauderdale, the home of the Women's Theatre Project.  Anyone who is interested is invited to come, share ideas and "explore constructive opportunities."  Judging from the feedback since Monday, it should be a lively conversation. 

November 17, 2008

With a founder's passing, whither the Carbonells?

Jack_zink_sunsentinel_phot My friend Jack Zink died in August.  So many times since then, I've been listening to the buzz of theater talk at an opening or read something about theater or pondered political maneuvering in South Florida's theater community, and I've wanted to talk to Jack about it.  Oh, what I wouldn't give to hear what Jack might say about today's announcement that the Carbonell Awards program is suspending operations for 2009.  I think it would be a long, emotional conversation.

Jack, you see, was one of the principal founders of South Florida's theater awards program in 1976.  He treated the not-for-profit program, which honors the best work in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties (touring shows and those who contribute to the arts get recognition too), as a second job.  Workaholic Jack not only covered theater, classical music and arts politics for the Sun Sentinel, but he also labored for his church, his condo board and the Carbonells.  Without him, it's safe to say, the Carbonells wouldn't exist.

This morning, a press release from the Carbonell board made that point distressingly clear.  Board chair Les Feldman, the publisher emeritus of Playbill, cited the high cost of gas for nominators and judges, the downsizing of South Florida's arts media pool, the crummy economy and Jack's death as reasons that the board (which also includes producer Jay Harris, PR exec Savannah Whaley, Broward Center CEO Mark Nerenhausen, Kravis Center CEO Judith Mitchell, Jerome Cohen and Ricardo Gonzalez, nephew of sculptor and awards designer Manuel Carbonell) voted to spend 2009 revamping the program.  True, there will still be a Carbonell ceremony this spring to honor the shows of 2008.  But as for anything that opens in 2009?  It will fall into this black hole in the 33-year-old awards program.

Through the years, there have been uncounted voters, volunteers, board members and theater pros who have contributed to the Carbonells' success.  From the beginning, dissent and kvetching have been part of the experience, and what wasn't said in today's press release is that some theaters have complained bitterly about the current nominating/judging process.  But when Jack was around, problems got addressed, even if some weren't happy with the outcome.  It absolutely takes a village for a program like the Carbonells to happen. But Jack was king of the village.

Perhaps, with the hiatus, the Carbonells will come back in grander fashion.  Or maybe they'll be leaner but better.  Or maybe they'll not come back at all.  I can't help thinking that, given the fact that Jack worked right up 'til his death on trying to make sure the Carbonells could continue, this isn't the choice he would have made.

How about you?  Vote in the poll, and if you have more to say pro or con, please comment.

November 13, 2008

Show business...and shoe business

GarciasWhen Nicole and Vanessa Garcia's father died unexpectedly, the two took over his business, The Shoe Store in Coconut Grove.  Nicole (at left) is an actress, Vanessa an artist and playwright.  The sisters had an ah-ha moment when they decided to merge business and art in a project they're calling Shoes & a Show: Miami Vignettes.

On Nov. 20 at 8 p.m., The Shoe Store becomes a theater when three short plays -- Vanessa's Property Management, Wendy White's 5 Temps in a Closet: Foreclosure and Megan Roth's Around the Block -- get their premieres there.  Each play is connected to Miami, none is more than 20 minutes long, and it costs just $7 to get in.

But wait, there's more: Anyone who attends gets 15 percent off on the store's "cheap chic" shoes, purses and artwork.  The store is at 3062 Grand Ave. in Coconut Grove.  For more info, visit the store's web site or Vanessa's arts web site.

November 12, 2008

A famous actor's sister returns to Barry

Nancy_murrayIt's probably not too surprising that Nancy Murray was drawn to theater.  The eldest of nine children in a large Catholic family from Wilmette, Ill., she is the sister of both Bill Murray and Brian Doyle-Murray.  At Barry University in Miami Shores, she was a drama major, and she is still performing.

What is a bit more surprising, perhaps, is that she is also a nun.  Sister Nancy Murray, a member of the Dominican Order, returns to Barry tonight in her one-woman show St. Catherine of Siena: A Woman for Our Times.  In it, she plays the 14th century saint, a woman who was politically outspoken even as she devoted herself to working with the poor, the sick and those in prison.

It's a show she has taken to more than 200 venues, and tonight at 7 she'll perform it in the Landon Events Room at Barry's student union on the southwest corner of North Miami Avenue and NW 115th St.  Part of Barry's Founders' Week celebration, the performance is free and open to the public.  For information on the show, visit Sister Murray's web site.

November 11, 2008

Laughs, politics and bawdy bits

Playwrights_3So the second 24-Hour Theatre Project is history now.  I'm exhausted, and all I did was watch people like playwrights Jonathan Wemette, Andrew Rosendorf and Andie Arthur (all mustering exhausted smiles in the first photo) work.  If our incoming president could harness the all-out creativity of South Florida's theater community the way the founders of The Naked Stage do for this annual creative fundraiser, that would be one more source of sustainable energy.  Or maybe renewable energy, after the more than four dozen people involved get some sleep.

Speaking of politics, the recent election figured heavily into what the audience and artists saw at Actors' Playhouse on Monday evening. So did comedy, the ubiquitous "f" word and theater itself.  I asked one artistic director who was in the audience but not able to participate this year whether this on-the-fly creative euphoria made him want to direct at the next event.  "No," he said, "sketch comedy isn't my thing."

RehearseThat's not an altogether accurate or fair description of the eight plays that were written overnight, rehearsed all day and presented Monday evening, but I get what he meant.  When you have no time to perfect and polish, you go for what you know will work: resonant topics, humor, inside-baseball (or in this case, inside-theater) material that will play well to a crowd with a far higher than average proportion of theater pros.

The most ingeniously crafted play was Michael McKeever's The Real Life Story of Craven Titweiler (that's director Meredith Lasher working with actresses Kim Ostrenko, Stacy Schwartz and Katherine Amadeo).  McKeever also had GableStage artistic director Joseph Adler in his cast, so he wrote a play about three very different women looking back at their relationships with the same older man.  They did all the talking; Adler had one great pickup line, repeated several times, and he read a suicide note that was somehow both wistful and raunchy.  Perfect.  Both funny and poignant, McKeever's beautifully structured little play gets my vote as the best of the fest.

Andie Arthur's Don't Cry for Me...Wasilla! imagines Sarah Palin losing a future presidential race and giving a defiant "concession" speech ala Eva Peron in Evita. Some of its whimsy (Hillary Clinton as a futuristic prime minister/good witch, with Condi Rice as her out-and-proud partner) didn't play well, but Irene Adjan got the hairdo, glasses and Alaska accent down cold.  Despite a technical problem with the music to Don't Cry for Me Argentina, the cast (which also included Nancy Barnett, Wayne LeGette and Tom Wahl) delivered the program's best political satire.

Lucas Leyva came up with two plays:  For Love and Play-Doh, a wildly imaginative and somewhat disturbing piece about a third grader (John Manzelli) who uses Play-Doh to craft his own world and exact vengeance; and #*%@ You, Harold Pinter, a short and sweetly clever spoof of that playwright's sometimes unfathomable work.

Antonio Elena Maria Garcia went for the comedy gold with Randok's Retirement Villa for Galactic Scoundrels and Their Craptastic Catastic Holiday Show! (whew). Basically, she spoofed the very bad condo shows that are the stuff of don't-let-that-happen-to-me nightmares for the theater crowd.  Chris Demos Brown's The Secret Lives of Superheros shows what life might be like for the Invisible Man (and his dad, mom and brother), with all kinds of voyeuristic possibilities, but it gets bogged down in familial drama.  Jonathan Wemette's 15 15 tracks the same girl at 15, full of anything-is-possible dreams, and again at 30, when the dreams are smaller but doable.  Andrew Rosendorf's Heterophobia (A Love Story), despite the frenetic efforts of actors playing instruments, Actors' Playhouse artistic director David Arisco in a pink dress and blond wig, and a big assist from the plot of Romeo and Juliet, was a nutty mess.

Putting what wound up onstage aside, the real behind-the-scenes heros (among many, including costume designer Ellis Tillman, who stayed at the theater all night and costumed all eight shows) were producer Antonio Amadeo (that's Antonio, looking exhausted in the Popeye shirt), his actress-wife Katherine (who also did the show's sound design) and actor/director John Manzelli.  The three came up with using the instant-theater format here last year, to benefit their own Naked Stage and three other small companies, and they demonstrated that South Florida's far-flung theater community has the chops to pull it off -- and then some.  On Monday at Actors' Playhouse, using different combinations of playwrights, directors and actors, they made their point again.  That bow at the end, when the stage is jammed with a whole region's worth of theater talent? Priceless.

(Photos by Charles Trainor Jr. of The Miami Herald)

November 10, 2008

Weary playwrights, wired actors

Naked18_plays_mds_mcbThe second annual 24-Hour Theatre Project, which will have its one-time-only performance tonight at 8, is coming together.  How do we know this?  Some observations from hanging around Actors' Playhouse since this morning:

* Irene Adjan sounds enough like Sarah Palin that she could give Tina Fey a run for her money, don'tcha know.

* David Arisco is having a little too much fun doing Andrew Rosendorf's play Heterophobia in a pink dress.

*  Lucas Leyva is young, so he wrote two plays overnight -- For Love and Play Doh and F**k You Harold Pinter.  And he looks the least tired of the seven playwrights.  Because he's young.

All three founders of the Naked Stage, the company putting on this wild fundraiser, are here.  John Manzelli (at right in the photo) is acting in Leyva's plays.  Katherine Amadeo is in Michael McKeever's The Real Life Story of Craven Titwieler, a play about an older man who influenced the lives of three younger women.  The older man is played by Joseph Adler, artistic director at GableStage, which hosted the 24-Hour event last year. The women are Amadeo, Kim Ostrenko and Stacy Schwartz, all of whom have worked for Adler.  Very art imitates life.

The third Naked Stager, Antonio Amadeo, is overseeing it all and trying to stay awake.  He admitted a few minutes ago that he's "fried," but he said it with a smile on his face.  Come see what all this high-speed theater is about.  Call Actors' Playhouse at 305-444-9293, visit the web site or just show up.  A ticket is $58, and you'll be helping four small theater companies -- not to mention being the only audience for some interesting short plays.