October 23, 2008

Blog wars

Don't know about you, but I like to start my day catching up with what's going on in the world in general, the theater world specifically.  I read the Miami Herald, of course, plus the New York Times, and many of the stories on the Broadway Stars, Playbill and American Theater Web sites.  Sometimes I read Arts Journal, a highbrow site about all the arts (though it contains the work of a Philadelphia theater blogger who calls her blog Drama Queen -- and I'm sorry, but cyberspace isn't big enough for the two of us!).  Just kidding, sort of.

Anyhow, I now also read two South Florida theater blogs.  South Florida Theatre Scene is the work of Christopher Jahn, an actor/stage manager/theater pro, who most often uses it to review/recapitulate the work of South Florida's critics.  There are fewer of us doing theater criticism full-time now -- the Sun Sentinel's Jack Zink has passed away, and the Palm Beach Post's Hap Erstein took a buyout -- and Jahn also uses his blog to agitate for more theater coverage.  I'm down with that, but the perfect storm of a horrendous economy and the rapidly shrinking newsroom does not bode well for the return of one critical voice at either paper.  Think freelance critics, because that's the way it's going at more and more newspapers. Some, like Bill Hirschman and Mary Damiano, write knowledgeable, stylish reviews.  Others, not so much. And it's difficult -- for readers and those in the theater community -- to know whether you can trust a paper's reviews when the bylines keep changing.

The other South Florida blog, Theatre Row, is -- how to put it? -- more problematic.  Theatre Row is the work of "senior editor" Gert Rodon (whom I don't know), Rene Rodriguez (not the Herald's movie critic) and others, including a "critic" who goes only by the initials DSP.  The idea behind Theatre Row seems to be "fun" (that word gets used a lot) of the bitchy variety.  There's a weekly Friday gossip item called Blind Spot, in which the scandalous behavior of one or two local theater practitioners is dissected, with the guilty given a pseudonym.  The stories are pretty vile, and until a blog bitchfest broke out recently, people would comment on the items by posting what they thought were the real names of the subjects, thereby tarnishing the reps of both the guilty and the innocent.  Blind Spot will still appear, but now without the guessing game.

Apparently, the besmirched have been asking about the cred of those behind Theatre Row.  Rodon wrote recently, "As for who we ARE and ARE NOT [caps hers].  We have stated ALL that we are going to on the matter. You get nothing more."

Pretty touchy for someone who tied Blind Spot to the tradition of blind items written by greats like Edward R. Murrow, Louella Parsons and Hedda Harper(sic).  Probably Hedda Hopper too (old school things like spelling and grammar aren't high on Theatre Row's list of priorities).

As arts journalism changes at what seems like warp speed, blogging has given journalists, theater pros, really anyone with an interest in the arts the chance to get in on the conversation.  That's a good thing.  But journalistic standards, training and experience do matter.  The blogosphere is like the wild west.  You just have to read enough to figure out whom you can trust.  Or not.



October 22, 2008

A heartbreaking tale of shattered innocence

How_i_learned_to_drivePaula Vogel won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for drama for How I Learned To Drive, a play that was produced by both New Theatre in Coral Gables and the Caldwell Theatre Company in Boca Raton the following year.

Now students at Broward College are reviving the play, a harrowing and involving study of how a sexually abusive alcoholic steals his young niece's innocence.  Li'l Bit, played by Connie Fernandez, goes out with her Uncle Peck (Jonathan Varillas) for "driving lessons," beginning when she's just 11.  Their complicated, incestuous relationship goes on and on, like the miles stretching before Li'l Bit on her road to safety and maturity.

The play runs through Nov. 2 in the Fine Arts Theatre (on the second floor of Bldg. 6) at Broward College, 3501 SW Davie Rd. in Davie.  Performances begin tonight, with shows at 8 p.m. Thurday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.  Tickets are $10 ($5 for students and seniors).  For information, call 954-201-6842.

October 20, 2008

Thieves hit the Women's Theatre Project

After everyone had gone home following Friday's performance of Silent Heroes, thieves broke into the Fort Lauderdale warehouse space used by the Women's Theatre Project (TWTP) and stole all of the company's technical equipment, its cash box and its cell phone.  That would be a blow to any theater, but it's especially rough for a company as small as the 45-seat TWTP -- particularly in a tanking economy.

Womens Board president Meredith Lasher and her colleagues sprang into action once they discovered the loss, cancelling Saturday-Sunday performances, moving ticket holders into the upcoming final weekend of shows, arranging to rent equipment and working with police.  Lasher put out a press release about the theft and its impact on the small company, commenting: "The robbery is a critical hurdle for our small theater company...we will require additional funding to replace our entire technical setup -- you cannot do theater without it."

Even with the additional fundraising ahead, however, Lasher and company vow to finish out the run of Silent Heroes.

"As you can imagine, we are pretty pissed off,'' she writes. "But the show goes on."

The final performances of Silent Heroes, about wives of Marine fighter pilots anxiously awaiting word of their husbands' fate, will be at 8 p.m. Thursday,Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.  Tickets are $25 ($10 for students).  Call 1-866-811-4111 or visit the theater's web site.

October 17, 2008

Yes, you can see theater for less

Tktsopening_3If you've been to a show on Broadway lately, you know that even a single ticket isn't cheap -- $100 is at the lower end of what it costs for a decent orchestra seat to most shows.  If you're going with a spouse, partner, date or the kids, as the bridge-and-tunnel crowd might say, "Fugedaboudit.''

Actually, though, you really can see theater for less.  Since 1973, the Theatre Development Fund (TDF) has been selling half-price, same-day theater tickets to Broadway plays and musicals in Duffy Square at Broadway and 47th Street.  Those long lines you'd see snaking around the square before matinees and evening performances were tourists and New Yorkers hoping to get a deal (50 percent off, plus a service fee) on a show.

Those tickets used to be sold out of a trailer. But as of yesterday, the TKTS Discount Booth is an architect-designed thing of beauty.  Australian architects John Choi and Tai Ropiha won a competition to create the booth, a fiberglass shell within an all-glass structure under a glowing red glass staircase, which sightseers can climb for an elevated gander at Times Square.  The booth has a dozen windows, including one for plays only (where there's far less waiting time), and tickets to Broadway, Off-Broadway, music and dance events are available.  TKTS operates from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday and Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday for evening performances; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday for matinees.  For more details, check the TDF web site.

Closer to home, you can also see theater for less, and you don't have to stand in a long line to get the discounts.  WLRN Radio and Television and the Theatre League of South Florida have partnered in Cultural Connection, an online program that sells half-price tickets (plus a $4.50 per ticket service fee) to shows at most South Florida theaters.  Theaters offer unsold tickets up to 5 p.m. each day.  You pay with a credit card, and the tickets are waiting for you at the box office that evening.

At both TKTS and Cultural Connection, you can't always get that hot show you want (a ticket to Wicked or Jersey Boys, for instance).  But you can save some serious money.

October 16, 2008

Art imitates life in AAPACT's "Zooman"

ZoomanandthesigneflyerJust two years and three months ago, not so far from the place where the African American Performing Arts Community Theatre (AAPACT) will open its production of Charles Fuller's Zooman and the Sign next week, a little girl died.

Sherdavia Jenkins was nine and sitting on her porch at the Liberty Square Housing Project when she was caught in the gunfire between suspected drug dealers.  After her death, her grieving family was outraged that of the many potential witnesses outside on a hot July day, almost no one came forward.

Fuller's play, written in 1980, powerfully forshadows a tragedy like the one that took Sherdavia's life.  A tough, remorseless Philadelphia kid who goes by the name of Zooman (Derrick Chiverton) accidentally shoots and kills a 12-year-old girl who was sitting on her porch.  Her distraught family tries to get witnesses to tell the truth, eventually posting a sign accusing neighbors of allowing the killers to roam free because of their silence.  The parallels are obvious and chilling.

The disturbing, resonant play is offering two very low-priced previews -- with tickets just $5 -- at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 22-23 at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, 6161 NW 22nd Ave., Miami. The performance Oct. 24 will cost $5 for the first 50 people, $10 for everyone else, and it will be followed by a talk-back with director Andre Gainey and actors Carey Hart, Larry Robinson, Teddy Harrell Jr., Curtis Holland, Lamar Swan, Kevin Johnson, Catherine A. Williams, Rachel Finley and Chiverton.

Zooman runs through Nov. 16 with performances at 8 p.m. Friday-Sunday, 3 p.m. Sunday.  Opening night tickets Oct. 25 are $30, with subsequent shows priced at $25.  For information, call 305-638-6771 or visit AAPACT's web site.

October 15, 2008

Theater greats get an ultimate honor

Baseball has Cooperstown, football has Canton, rock and roll has Cleveland.  American theater has its own Hall of Fame, names etched on the walls of Broadway's Gershwin Theatre at 222 W. 51st St., the place where hundreds of thousands of musical fans have flocked to see Wicked.

Nathan_laneThe latest group of inductees has just been announced, and Producers star Nathan Lane (who is expected to be on Broadway this season opposite Bill Irwin in a revival of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot) is among the stage greats being honored.

Also chosen this time around are playwright Alan Ayckbourn, actor Richard Easton, choreographer Patricia Birch, producer Emanuel Azenberg, composer Marvin Hamlisch, orchestrator Jonathan Tunick and the late actor Roscoe Lee Browne.  Members of the American Theatre Critics Association (including me) are among those who vote on nominees.

Honorary chair is Palm Beach resident and former Broadway actress Dame Celia Lipton Farris; mistress of ceremonies is 2007 honoree Dana Ivey. The ceremony takes place in the Gershwin's North Rotunda at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 26, with a celebratory supper at the Friars Club to follow.  For a list of all Hall of Fame inductees, check out the Best Plays Yearbook online.

October 14, 2008

"Tortilla" reunites Ferra and Santeiro

Max_ferra_2Max Ferra, the founder of New York's INTAR Hispanic American Arts Center, liked Luis Santeiro's first play -- Our Lady of the Tortilla -- so much that he staged its world premiere at his Manhattan theater in 1987.

Fast forward to 2008.  Santeiro, a writer of the vintage bilingual TV series Que Pasa, U.S.A.? from 1977 to 1979, is still doing Emmy Award-winning work as a longtime writer for Sesame Street, still turning out plays.  And Ferra is now running the Actor's Arena, a bilingual theater training program at Miami Dade College's North Campus.

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, Ferra is staging the Miami premiere of Our Lady of the Tortilla, which Santeiro has altered so that the comic chaos takes place in Hialeah instead of the original New Jersey setting.  During one crazy weekend, a Cuban-American college kid named Nelson (Bryant Del Toro) brings home his southern belle girlfriend Beverly (Monica Abreu) to meet the family, which prompts Nelson's sleazy brother Eddy (Logan Fernandez)  to hit on her.  Mama Dahlia (Alejandra Cossio) is determined to keep her straying hubby from seeing his new squeeze. Her sister Dolores (Lizaida Mansito) spies the image of the Virgin Mary in a tortilla, setting off a mad media frenzy.

The play opens at 8 p.m. Oct. 25 after a reception from 6 to 8 p.m.; an exhibition titled Celebrating 30 Years of Que Pasa U.S.A. (featuring photos, video clips, original scripts and other memorabilia) will be open before and after each performance in the North Campus Gallery. Additional performances of Our Lady are at 5 p.m. Oct. 26, 11 a.m. Oct. 31, 8 p.m. Nov. 1 and 5 p.m. Nov. 2.  The play takes place in the Lehman Theatre, 11380 NW 27th Ave., Bldg. 5, Miami. Tickets are a budget-friendly $10 -- and just $5 for students and seniors.

For information, call 305-237-1450 or visit the college's web site.

(Photo of Max Ferra)

October 13, 2008

An undercover(s) political play

Dirtybizbw013With just over three weeks to go until the presidential election, and with both campaigns now slinging mud, you could be forgiven for thinking that politics are a dirty business.

William Mastrosimone, the Emmy Award-winning playwright and screenwriter, apparently thinks so too.  His newest play, Dirty Business, gets its world premiere at Manalapan's Florida Stage next week.

The script is both scorching and riveting.  And if the characters' names -- Jack, Sam, Judy, Frank and Joe -- make you think of a young senator who ran for president in 1960, a mob boss, the beautiful woman who bedded them both, a famous singer and the senator's manipulative father, so be it.  History, with its secrets and differing perspectives, clearly inspired Mastrosimone's play.  But he takes us deeper, inside the minds of people obsessed with sex and power (not necessarily in that order).

Florida Stage's Louis Tyrrell is directing Dirty Business, which features James Reynolds as Jack, Elizabeth Davis as Judy and Gordon McConnell as Sam.  Previews begin Oct.22 at 8 p.m. (additional previews at 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 23).  The play runs through Nov. 30, with performances at 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday-Sunday, 7 p.m. Sunday.  Tickets are $42 and $45 ($35 for previews).  Florida Stage is at 262 S. Ocean Blvd. in Manalapan (south of Lake Worth in Palm Beach County). For information, call 1-800-514-3837 or visit the theater's web site.

(Photo by Sigvision Photography)

October 09, 2008

Bringing back Baltimore

Hairspray_2John Waters' Hairspray is the movie that became a Broadway musical that became a movie musical. The bubbly, tongue-in-cheek stage version is headed back to South Florida.  Winner of the 2003 Tony Award as best musical, Hairspray has been here before, and it's not part of the official touring Broadway lineup at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.

But its short run (Oct. 17-19) does usher in a season's worth of big Broadway musicals coming to the Broward Center, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami and the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.  Will star Brooklynn Pulver (pictured here with hairspray-wielding dancers) will be a memorable Tracy Turnblad?  We'll see. But one thing is for sure: You can never hear Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman's homage-to-the-'60s score too often.

Performances are 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.  Tickets are $25-$65.  The Broward Center is at 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. For information, call the box office at 954-462-0222 or visit the center's web site.

October 08, 2008

Sarah Ruhl interprets a classic

RuhlsarahPlaywright and MacArthur "genius" fellowship winner Sarah Ruhl has a varied body of work, little of it (except for The Clean House, done by Boca Raton's Caldwell Theatre Company) seen in South Florida -- until now.  Her most recent play, Dead Man's Cell Phone, will be produced by Plantation's Mosaic Theatre Feb. 26-March 22, 2009. 

This weekend, though, Florida Atlantic University is offering a demonstration of Ruhl's gift for crafting a play rooted in mythic literature.  Eurydice, Ruhl's retelling of the Orpheus myth from the perspective of his bride, finishes its run on the Boca Raton campus with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.  In Ruhl's version, after Eurydice's death on her wedding day, she travels to Hades and reunites with her father.  When Orpheus risks all to fetch her, she must decide whether to return to life with her husband or remain in the land of the dead with her father.

Tickets to the FAU production are $16 ($10 for faculty and alumni, free to students), and the show is in the Studio One Theatre on the campus at 777 Glades Rd.  For information, call 561-297-3810 or visit the university's online ticketing site.