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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)

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