October 07, 2008

The Bard goes bite-sized

5_austin_tichenor_and_adam_long_for Say the letters "RSC" almost anywhere in the English-speaking world -- well, anywhere that people care about theater -- and you immediately think of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

But say "RSC" in Miami between Nov. 26 and Jan. 18, and you'll be referring to a company that thinks funnier, shorter Shakespeare is a fine idea.

The Reduced Shakespeare Company has been in the business of getting fast-paced laughs at William Shakespeare's expense since 1981.  Its signature show -- The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised] -- is coming to the Carnival Studio Theater at Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, where members of the funny RSC will deliver a 97-minute show that makes at least passing reference to all 37 of the Bard's plays.  The Miami company will feature managing partners Austin Tichenor and Reed Martin, plus Matt Rippy, Michael Faulkner and Mick Orfe.

The performance schedule, with some holiday variations, will be 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.  Tickets are $45 and $50.  For information, visit the Arsht web site or call the box office at 305-949-6722.

October 03, 2008

Such a deal -- free theater

David00_stagesea28_mss_ho_2The Theatre Communications Group has an invitation for you:  How would you like to see a show at some of South Florida's best theaters -- for free?

TCG, with almost 500 not-for-profit member theaters around the country, is presenting the fourth "Free Night of Theater" at 600 theaters nationwide, including 10 participating companies in South Florida.

From Oct. 16-30, you can catch a performance of 1776 at Actors' Playhouse, the world premiere of William Mastrosimone's Dirty Business at Florida Stage, GableStage's production of David Mamet's November, New Theatre's world premiere of The Rant, the Jesus Quintero Studio's 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, Palm Beach Dramaworks' A Moon for the Misbegotten, the Promethean Theatre's Still the River Runs, the Women's Theatre Project's Silent Heroes, JCAT's At a Loss and a staged reading of Shakespeare Miami's Macbeth.

The idea behind "Free Night of Theater" is to attract new folks to theater or introduce theater fans to companies whose work they've never seen.  So do not take this as an opportunity to avoid paying for a ticket you'd otherwise purchase.

Each theater decides how many tickets to offer, and they go fast.  For information on what's available, visit the "Free Night of Theater" site, and go to the listing of participating South Florida theaters.

October 02, 2008

A star and a producer, together again

Arnold_mittelman_brow_cpy_2 During the 25 years that Arnold Mittelman was producing artistic director of the still-shuttered Coconut Grove Playhouse, award-winning actor and singer Theodore Bikel appeared at Miami's oldest regional theater a number of times.  He was there in The Disputation in 1999, back later that year in The Gathering, starred in The Chosen in 2004 and was part of the theater's final season as the star of About Time (opposite Patricia Conolly) in 2006.

Bikel When Mittelman learned that Bikel would be premiering Sholom Aleichem: Laughter Through Tears at Washington D.C.'s Theater J Dec. 17-Jan. 11, he persuaded Bikel to follow that run with one at Fort Lauderdale's Parker Playhouse.  Bikel, pianist Tamara Brooks and Bosnian accordion player Merima Kljuco will appear at the Parker Jan. 28-Feb. 1, 2009, under the auspices of Mittelman's two not-for-profit companies, The American Theater Festival and the National Jewish Theater.  Last season, Mittelman presented The Soul of Gershwin (a show he had brought to the Grove in 2002) at the Parker, and he plans to bring it back again Nov. 12-23.

Tickets for Bikel's Sholom Aleichem are $32.50-$65, and they go on sale Saturday, Oct. 4.  Performances will be 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. For information, call the box office (which is handled by the Broward Center) at 954-462-0222 or visit the Parker web site.

October 01, 2008

Times wigs out over McCraney

Port26_mccrny_trop_jml Adding to his rep as one of America's hottest young playwrights, Miami's Tarell Alvin McCraney just scored a major rave from Ben Brantley, the New York Times' lead theater critic. 

Though Charles Isherwood usually covers major Off-Broadway productions for the Times, it was Brantley who made the trek downtown to the Vineyard Theatre to see Wig Out!, McCraney's play about the glamor "girls" who find family and identity as members of two highly competitive drag houses.


McCraney, who grew up in Liberty City, graduated from New World School of the Arts, DePaul University and the play-writing master's degree program at Yale.  He was inspired to write Wig Out!, he has said, by men from that world whom he met in Miami.  He also worked on the script when he participated in the Sundance playwrights' program.

Brantley's glowing review of a play that is set to close Oct. 19 will certainly inspire transfer talk.  When you have the Times' lead critic writing things like "the astonishing young dramatist Tarell Alvin McCraney," and finding "...reverberant echoes of Homer, Milton, the Bible, Shakespeare, vintage Hollywood and homespun American melodrama" -- well, that spells golden future for both the play and the playwright. 

And this just in Oct. 2:  Wig Out! will now be at the Vineyard through Nov. 2.  And don't be surprised if transfer news follows.

Not that Wig Out! will be McCraney's only presence in the New York area this season.  Princeton's McCarter Theatre, a short train ride away from Manhattan, will be running all three of McCraney's Brother/Sister Plays (In the Red and Brown Water, The Brothers Size and Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet) in repertory May 7-June 14 (Red and Brown begins its run earlier, on April 17).

McCraney is, clearly, one of the most talented and promising playwrights ever to come out of Miami. And here, we're still waiting to see his work.

(McCraney photo by Jared Lazarus; Wig Out! photo by Carol Rosegg) 

September 30, 2008

Savoring a classic for free

Mary_stuart Rafael de Acha's Theater by the Book is getting the jump on Broadway -- at least, on a spring Broadway production -- with a reading of Friedrich Schiller's Mary Stuart on Sunday, Oct. 5.

British actresses Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter will reprise their roles from the 2005 Donmar Warehouse production of Schiller's 1800 play (Peter Oswald updated the script) at Broadway's Broadhurst Theatre beginning March 30, 2009.

DeAcha has cast Annemaria Rajala, Harriet Oser, Jana Tift, Wayne Robinson, Carlos Orizondo, James L. Randolph Jr. and himself in the reading of Schiller's play about the rivalry between Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I.

The drama happens at 1 p.m. at the Bass Museum, 2121 Park Ave., Miami Beach, and admission is free.  For more information, visit the Theater by the Book web site.

September 26, 2008

Savoring theater's masterful playwrights

Series_logoPalm Beach Dramaworks begins its season with a production of Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten Oct. 17-Nov. 30, and then moves on to another classic, Eugene Ionesco's The Chairs Dec. 19-Feb. 1.  But the award-winning West Palm Beach company isn't limiting its exploration of classic drama to those two productions.

The company's Master Playwright Series, which kicks off Oct. 27, will explore the work of O'Neill, Ionesco and Anton Chekhov through programs presenting scenes from each playwright's work plus a staged reading of a full-length play by each.

200pxoneilleugeneloc The series begins Oct. 27-28 and Nov. 3-4 with readings of scenes from various O'Neill plays.  A reading of O'Neill's 1922 play The Hairy Ape takes place Nov. 10-11 and Nov. 17-18.

Ionesco's work is highlighted in scene readings Dec. 29-30 and Jan. 5-6.  His first play, 1950's absurdist The Bald Soprano, will be read Jan.12-13 and Jan. 19-20.

Chekhov scene readings will take place May 11-12 and May 18-19.  The company will do a staged reading of his Uncle Vanya May 26, May 29 and June 1-2.

Nearly all readings take place at 7 p.m. at the theater, 322 Banyan Blvd., West Palm Beach.  Admission to each event is $15, but you can attend all three playwrights' scene presentations and full-length readings for $75.  For information, call Dramaworks at 561-514-4042 or visit the company's web site.

September 25, 2008

Divine decadence comes to the Ring

CabaretThe more things change, the more Cabaret feels trenchant and relevant:  As the world seems to be crumbling around us, we hunger for escape.

Based on Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories and John Van Druten's stage play I Am a Camera, the 1966 Broadway smash owes an immense debt to the vision of its original director, Harold Prince.  It was Prince who assembled the team of book writer Joe Masteroff and composer-lyricists John Kander and Fred Ebb, Prince who took the story artfully from straightforward dramatic scenes to the boundary-pushing entertainment of the show's Kit Kat Klub.

Theater students at the University of Miami (including Jed Alevizos, Grace McCabe and Becca Kotte at right) are betting that a little come-to-the-Cabaret escapism is just what the show doctor ordered in these troubled times.  Their production runs Oct. 1-4 and Oct. 7-11 at the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre, 1312 Miller Dr. on the UM campus in Coral Gables.  Performances are at 8 p.m., with matinees at 2 p.m. Oct. 4-5 and Oct. 11.

Tickets are $18-$22 (seniors, faculty, staff and alumni pay $16-$18, students $8-$10).  For info, phone the theater at 305-284-3355 or visit the Ring web site.

September 24, 2008

Revolution and beyond in a Cuban kitchen

Cuban_flagThe work of Eduardo Machado, a masterful writer and teacher/mentor to many other playwrights, isn't produced in South Florida nearly often enough.  It was the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles that put together an epic production of Machado's Floating Island plays (Broken Eggs, Fabiola, The Modern Ladies of Guanabacoa and In the Eye of the Hurricane) in 1994, not a theater in Miami, home to a vast population of Cuban exiles for whom Machado's pungent storytelling might resonate with special power.

Thanks to the theater department at Florida International University, however, Miami gets a Machado from Thursday (Sept. 25) through Oct. 5.  FIU is doing The Cook, a play inspired by Machado's visit to a Havana paladar (private restaurant) in 2001.

Gladys_adria The Cook unfolds over a 40-year period, as a servant named Gladys stays behind when her aristocratic employers flee Cuba after the Revolution.  Gladys is keeping a promise to watch over the house, but as the years roll by and life in Cuba changes vastly, she comes to think of her employers' home as her own.

Performances are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $12 ($10 for students, alumni and seniors).  The show is on the Wertheim Performing Arts Center main stage on FIU's campus at SW Eighth Street and 117th Avenue.  Call 305-348-0496 for tickets and information.

(Production photo by Fred Murray)

September 23, 2008

Smoke gets in your eyes. Mine too.

Cig300Maybe you've seen them as you're getting ready to walk into a theater:  the signs that let you know there will be smoking or gun shots or strobe lights used in the play you're about to see.

I'm glad to know those things in advance, I guess, but that early warning system usually makes me cringe.  The rapid flickering of a strobe light makes me squeeze my eyes shut 'til it's over.  When I see an actor pull out a gun, I stick my fingers in my ears until the bullets have flown.  And the smoking?  If I could hold my breath for the duration, I would.

I know, sometimes smoking onstage is meant to reveal something about a character. Neil LaBute wrote it into Wrecks, so when Gordon McConnell did the play at Mosaic Theatre last season, he had to smoke up a storm.  It looks like Todd Allen Durkin (pictured in the upcoming Moon for the Misbegotten at Palm Beach Dramaworks) will be smoking when he plays James Tyrone, and maybe that's right for the man and the era.  Intellectually, I get it.

But emotionally and physically, sitting in an audience while an actor clouds the air that we're all breathing is tougher to take.  For me, it's personal  My parents were both smokers. Heavy smokers.  Long after they managed to quit, they both died -- of lung cancer.  A friend who died recently had also quit years before he passed away.  Lung cancer got him too. 

I'm glad that, increasingly, states are affirming that non-smokers have the right to breathe clean air.  I prefer that kind of air when I go to the theater. How about you?

September 19, 2008

24-Hour Theatre Project back on the boards

2008_24_hour_theatre_logo_white_sma Naked Stage's oh-so-creative fundraiser, the 24-Hour Theatre Project, was supposed to have happened on Aug. 25.  Then longtime Sun-Sentinel theater critic Jack Zink passed away, and because the date conflicted with his memorial service, the play-in-a-day event was put on hold.

The trio that founded The Naked Stage -- Antonio Amadeo, Katherine Amadeo and John Manzelli -- have found a date that works for this year's host theater, Actors' Playhouse, and for many of the writers, directors and actors who had planned to participate.  So now the frenzied celebration of creativity will happen on Monday, Nov. 10, in the Balcony Theatre at Actors'.

The fun begins the evening before when eight playwrights get together to pick a theme for the short play they'll spend the night writing.  Actors and directors arrive early the next day to rehearse, block the play and memorize it.  The shows go on at 8 p.m. Nov. 10.

Artists who have signed on so far are Irene Adjan, Katherine Amadeo, David Arisco, Andie Arthur, Chris Demos Brown, Marjorie O'Neill-Butler, Clive Cholerton, Michaela Cronan, Todd Allen Durkin, Scott Genn, Sandy Ives, Christopher A. Kent, Wayne Legette, Lucas Leyva, Margery Lowe, Joseph Adler, Kim Morgan Dean, David Perez-Ribada, Deborah L. Sherman and Barbara Sloan -- with more to come.

Tickets are $58.  For info, call the Actors' Playhouse box office at 954-444-9293, visit
Actors' web site or the Naked Stage site.

Just fyi, last year's inaugural 24-Hour Theatre Project was a packed-to-the-gills success, an impressive artistic statement about just how far South Florida's talented theater community has come.  This one is positioned to be bigger and, its founders hope, better.  It's a good thing that they've proven they have the vision and energy to pull this off:  Just two days before 24-Hour Theatre kicks off with the playwrights picking their topics, the Amadeos open in Naked Stage's production of Nerve, directed by Manzelli