October 31, 2008

Private sorrow shifts a season

AdalbertoAdalberto J. Acevedo, the founder and artistic director of the Miami Lakes-based Alliance Theatre Lab, should have been in rehearsals this week for his company's planned Nov. 6 opening of James McLure's Pvt. Wars, a dark comedy about Vietnam veterans coming to grips with their injuries.  But his father passed away last month, and Acevedo said he hasn't been able to focus on putting on a show.

So Alliance has dropped Pvt. Wars from its lineup; instead, it will begin its season with its planned production of Jose Rivera's References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot Jan. 8-25.  The rest of the Alliance's provocative season includes the controversial My Name Is Rachel Corrie March 12-29 and Martin Sherman's Bent June 11-28.

For information on Alliance, call 786-587-0372 or visit the company's web site.

October 29, 2008

A revolutionary's daughter looks back

Marissa20chibas Marissa Chibas is an actress/playwright who comes from a family enmeshed in Cuban history.  Her father Raul coauthored the manifesto for the Cuban revolution with Fidel Castro, fleeing his homeland after the two had a falling out.  Her uncle Eduardo, who ran for the Cuban presidency in 1951, committed suicide during a live radio broadcast.  Her mother Dalia was a runner-up in the 1959 Miss Cuba contest.

Chibas herself has been a mainstay in America's prominent regional theaters' including Arena Stage, Actors Theater of Louisville, Baltimore's Center Stage and Miami's Coconut Grove Playhouse, where she appeared in a production of Edward Albee's Seascape.  She currently heads the acting program at the California Institute of the Arts.

Chibas has written a solo show about her famous family, and her place in it, titled Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary. The Cultura del Lobo series is bringing it to Miami as part of the Cultural Fringes Festival in conjunction with the 25th Miami Book Fair International.

Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary will be presented at the William and Joan Lehman Theater at Miami Dade College's North Campus, 11380 NW 27th Ave., Miami.  Performances are at 8 p.m. Nov. 14-15 in English, at 3 p.m. Nov. 16 in Spanish.  Tickets are $10 and $15 ($8 for students and seniors).  Call 305-237-3010 or visit the college's web site.

October 28, 2008

City Theatre tries on some shorts

Logocitytheatre_3 If you're not busy tonight -- and theater happens to be your thing --  head on over to Books & Books in Coral Gables.  Starting at 7:30 p.m., City Theatre's artistic director Stuart Meltzer and a company of actors will present five short plays under consideration for inclusion in this year's Summer Shorts festival.

Pieces that will be read are Christopher Demos Brown's So I Was Wondering..., Patrick Link's Cry on Cue, Victor Lodato's When Jerry Comes Home, Don Scivoletti's Zealand and Zealand, S.W. Senek's Milk Cartons and J. Stephen Brantley's Struck.

After the free reading, you can get in on the artistic process by offering feedback during a discussion period.  Books & Books is at 265 Aragon Ave. in Coral Gables.  For info on City Theatre, call 305-755-9401 or visit the company's web site.

October 27, 2008

Miami's McCraney keeps soaring

TarellIn the entire United States, just two major regional theater companies -- the Center Theater Group in Los Angeles and the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J. -- have been chosen to receive the first grants in the National Endowment for the Arts' Outstanding New American Play project.  At the McCarter, that project involves Tarell Alvin McCraney (that's him at right, writing).

Drama Queen blog readers will recognize the name. Or maybe think, "Oh. Not another post about Tarell McCraney!"  But when you're hot, you're hot, and McCraney is.

The McCarter has already announced plans to stage all three of McCraney's Brother/Sister Plays this spring.  He wrote the scripts while he was earning his master's degree at Yale, and earlier productions of two of them -- The Brothers Size and In the Red and Brown Water -- have earned the Miamian a rep as one of theater's most vibrant young voices, both in the United States and Great Britain (where he's an international writer in residence with the Royal Shakespeare Company through 2010).  The McCarter will present both plays plus the world premiere of the third, Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet.  After the New Jersey run (Red and Brown begins April 24, with the other two joining it in rep May 14 through June 21), the trilogy moves to New York's Public Theater.

Thanks to the NEA grant, the McCarter will have an additional $90,000 to do McCraney's work proud.  The company's producing director, Mara Isaacs, notes: "...We love that Tarell's first major work is an enormously ambitious project, and we want to be able to stage that project in the manner that will best showcase it to the rest of the country and the world, which is why we are mounting all three plays in a single production."

If the Coconut Grove Playhouse were still operating (it isn't) and were of the caliber of the McCarter or the Public (it wasn't), one would hope to see McCraney's work, his trilogy, anything, in the city where he began forging his artistic identity.  Perhaps the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts will find a way to put the work of a young man who grew up not so far from its angled edifices onto one of its stages.

October 24, 2008

Spring('s) Awakening

Spring_awakeningSpring Awakening, the sensationally good musical by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, won the Tony Award as the best musical of the 2006-2007 Broadway season.  Like Hairspray and Spamalot, the musical has fallen victim to these tough economic times and will close Jan. 18, after a two-year, 859-performance run.

The touring version has yet to play South Florida -- here's hoping strongly that it will next season -- but the theater program at Florida International University isn't waiting that long.  The original 1891 Frank Wedekind play -- variously called Spring Awakening or Spring's Awakening, depending on the edition you choose -- is being produced at the university's Wertheim Performing Arts Center Nov. 6-16.  And given the script's content, it's likely to cause the same kind of sensation that the play (which has often been banned throughout its history) usually does.

What's so incendiary about Spring('s) Awakening?  Basically, Wedekind's frank approach to the sexual stirrings of teens in a repressive society.  The plot touches on teen pregnancy, suicide, masturbation, gay sexuality and more.  Directed by FIU Professor Phillip M. Church, the play is aimed at mature teens and adults.

Performances will be at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday at the Wertheim Center, 10910 SW 17th St., Miami.  Tickets are $12 ($10 for students, alumni and seniors).  For information, call 305-348-0496 or visit the FIU web site.

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.