Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Scene for September 26, 2008 UPDATE: Brandon Weighs In

It's official; summer is over, and we're into the fall. The traditional start of the South Florida Theatre Season is next week, but that doesn't mean there's nothing going on this week.


Brandon K Thorp makes it official: Everyone hates the Edge's Ambition. He writes this week for the Miami New Times. And Brandon cuts to the chase:
In the latest play from the Edge Theatre's artistic director, Jim Tommaney, a young, queer drama critic (like me) works for an alternative newsweekly in South Florida (like this one, but called CityTimes) and writes nasty, bitchy notices about everything he sees, regardless of quality ("It's not about the play!" he explains to his boyfriend. "The reviews are about me!").
To be fair, I have accused Brandon of focusing too much on himself. But presented with his actual reviews, I didn't make up a fantasy land to justify my skewering of him. Tommaney, of course, wrote a play. As Brandon says:
Within minutes of curtain-up, it becomes apparent that Tommaney knows nothing about the practices of alternative newsweeklies. We critics do not dictate our stories, and our editors do not cower before us (quite the opposite). Nor do they glory in negativity (again, quite the opposite; editors love it when we can say something nice about the local arts community — it is the community to which they have the most philosophical allegiance).
Now is usually the time I complain that Brandon (or any reviewer) is focusing too much on one aspect of the production. But Brandon does mention the acting:
I haven't yet begun to discuss the performances themselves, which are so bad that I shall refrain from naming the actors. They are plainly amateurs and are unlikely to show up at another venue. I will, however, offer them some advice (and I'm speaking especially to the gentleman who played Herrin): If you refuse to act, at least try to learn your lines. Please. People are paying money to see you.
I'll close this section on Brandon's review with a sentence he wrote earlier in his review about a particular scene. I think it sums up his review quite well.
This really happened onstage. No kidding.
Christine Dolen of the Miami Herald wrties her review of a play about reviewer. Edge Theatre's own Jim Tommaney wrote their current offering, Ambition. And its title is too suggestive, according to Dolen.
Jim Tommaney, a South Florida director-playwright whose ambition far outstrips his dramatic gifts, has written his own gay fantasia and called it (what else?) Ambition.

The work Tommaney writes for his 13-year-old Edge Theatre company is drama's equivalent of vanity publishing. No matter how he tries to dress things up -- the new show's program proclaims ''Cirque du Noir Productions presents the Edge Theatre interpretation of the world premiere of Ambition,'' for example -- Tommaney is doggedly determined to produce his own work (among other plays). Without that drive, Edge and Cirque du Noir wouldn't exist.
Of course, writing a play targeting those who are going to sit in judgment of of that play is at best a treacherous balancing act. But it seems that Dolen doesn't think Tommaney managed it:
''Terrible'' doesn't begin to describe Ambition, which is made worse by Tommaney's casting of Elmore as Herrin. Like Polanco, Elmore has a nice body (which, as is typical in an Edge show, gets shown off in a series of tight tanks, with one short bare-buns sequence). But if he were in a paper bag, he couldn't act his way out of it. Which might be a public service.
Ouch. Maybe making the main character a theater critic with a poison pin wasn't such a great idea, huh? But this is just one critic's view, it wouldn't be fair to present only one utterly stinging review without some kind of rebuttal.

This week, Mary Damiano is reviewing for the Sun-Post. And the often hesitant reviewer seems to be finally finding her footing.
Jim Tommaney and the theater he founded, Edge, have received a lot of bad reviews over the years. A lot. Now, Tommaney has written and directed a new play, Ambition, and you know what? It’s going to get a lot of bad reviews. In fact, you’re reading one now.
Be still, my heart! This is my kind of review; no lengthy synopsis or explanation or boring outline of past productions, we're getting right into THIS production.
I bring up Tommaney’s past bad reviews because they seem to be the basis for Ambition, which is about a young, gay freelance drama critic who trashes plays, whether he likes them or not, to make a name for himself. The only excuse for Ambition is that it’s Tommaney’s therapy. Through the play, he’s found a way to deflect the blame and rationalize every bad review he’s ever received, as well as indulge in a fantasy that gives the critics who wrote those reviews their comeuppance.
This is going to be an ongoing theme with this play, it seems. But a play is more than script, it takes an enthusiastic cast to carry the story to the audience:
As for the performances, well, there aren’t any, just as there are no actors onstage. The cast consists of four people who recite lines. The only thing that deserves any recognition is their ability to memorize — and recite with a straight face — the drivel that makes up Tommaney’s script.
C'mon, how bad could it be? Really? Well, Mary does offer one direct quote:
“Your butt, it’s irresistible. It’s like a magnet for my gonads.”
Yeck. I need mouth wash. In fact, I think I might need to bathe in it...on the positive side, this ... production ... seems to have helped Mary Damiano find her critical side. Just because this one was resoundingly negative doesn't mean that the same insight and humor can't be applied to a GOOD production. This is the kind of writing we need to see more of. Keep it up, Damiano. Ya done good.

Finally, a review from a new source: Theatre Row, the other South Florida theatre blog, is now in the play review business, and their first review, by "DSP," is entitled simply "Ambition - Sucks; a review."

Now I'm always harping at reviewers to cut to the chase, but wow! Do we even need to read the review itself? Well, it is their first, so let's have a look.
The Edge Theatre has reached a new low with its production of Ambition. a play written by “Director/Writer” Jim Tommaney.
Wow! Not even a single sentence to summarize the play! Talk about getting down to parts! Actually, after this stinging start, the reviewer gives a very appropriate - and brief - summary of the plot. DSP then asks some very relevant questions:
Reading reviews in this town is seldom interesting or entertaining and critics are not the most charismatic individuals (I would rather watch Christine Dolen eat her breakfast than watch this play again), so why would anyone want to see a play about a guy who by nature, sits alone at his computer? Why would a playwright want to write a play that has no real plot or interesting characters?
DSP also gets down to the heart of the matter, and answers for us, and it's that recurring theme:
It is no secret that The Edge Theatre puts on theatre productions, that have been poorly reviewed. So I guess by writing Ambition, Jim Tommaney is hoping to put the critics in South Florida center stage and expose them for the HACKS they really are. Only problem is that when it comes to Jim Tommaney and his Edge Theatre, the critics are right. For those of you who have ever seen a Jim Tommaney show, you are familiar with the feeling of wanting to run out of the theatre screaming “THIS FUCKING SUCKS” at the top of your lungs.
Any regular SCENE reader knows that I'm not all that impressed with the writing acumen of some of our local critics; someone should let Jim know that there's now a professional around to take them to task; but only for their REAL sins. I might disagree with a critic's conclusions, but when you suck, you suck.

DSP has no problems expressing an opinion:
How much longer can the Edge continue to pass shit off as art?
I give the Theatre Row's DSP a B+ for a coherent and consistent (if agressively passionate) review; Edge Theatre's Ambition - well, I don't review plays. And right now, I think I'm glad of that.
If you want to see if any play can really suck that much, it runs through September 28. See for details.


Rising Action Theatre Company opens Terrence McNally's Some Men tonight.
This is a new play with music, by four-time Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally (Love, Valor, Compassion). It highlights the moments when guests, gathered together at a gay wedding ceremony, found true love in their own lives.
Some Men runs in Fort Lauderdale through November 2, 2008.

Christine Dolen just blogged about another opening; this one a college engagement. The FIU Theater Department is producing The Cook, by Eduardo Machado:
The 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
The Cook plays at FIU's Wertheim Performing Arts Center at FIU's main campus on SW 8th Street at 117th Ave. Information available at their website.


Three Blonde Moms
opens at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts tonight, and runs through this weekend.
From television, stage and screen, these are the really Desperate
Housewives you've been waiting for. Three completely different Moms and
unlikely friends in the cul 'd sac, talk about everything we all go
through in the most hysterical of ways. If you have a family, know a
family, or need a family, this is the show for you!
Don't wait too long; this very limited engagement in the Broward Center's intimate Amaturo Theater closes Sunday.


August Wilson's Radio Golf plays through October 5th at Mosaic Theatre.
An imperfect production of a playwright too rarely staged in South
Florida, two out of three critics recommend this play. (see last week's Theater Scene)

Broward Stage Door Theatre, (The Theater with South Florida's Worst Website for a Professional Theater), is still running both The Convertible Girl and Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?
through October 22 and October 5th, respectively.

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