UPDATE 2: Added a review of MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN: see below.
The rainy season may be at an official end, but the theatre season is still getting up to speed. Lots of shows to see across the region; comedy, drama, musical: whatever you like, it's playing in South Florida this week. And there are still holdovers from the Free Night of Theatre! Participating productions are marked, contact the theatre for details.
This week we'll start from the north end of South Florida, where Charles Passy is reviewing for the Palm Beach Post. He saw Makeover; a Contemporary Fairy Tale at the Cuillo Center. Makeover played last year at the Hollywood Playhouse, and the consensus then was that this new musical needed work. Charles' take on it this time?
...a work overflowing with heart and spirit, but also a work that suffers from a telltale degree of amateurishness. The musical is full of potential, but it's difficult to determine whether the 61-year-old Poncy, who's responsible for the music, book and lyrics, understands that he's not quite out of those scary woods just yet.
...if Makeover works in the first half, it's because of Jack James' delightfully over-the-top turn as a Mephistopheles...
The standouts include not just Jack James, but also Katie Angell Thomas (Valerie), James Cichewicz (Joe) and Don Stanfield (in a couple of supporting roles).
Still, no matter how strong the cast, Makeover is going to need a makeover itself if Poncy wants the musical to reach a broader audience. In the dog-eat-dog world of theater, a fairy-tale story will get you only so far.
...O'Neill presents a monumental challenge to even the best theater artists.But that's not to say he didn't enjoy the production:
So it is no shame that Palm Beach Dramaworks' troupe have only partially conquered the mountain.
Director William Hayes skillfully leads Todd Allen Durkin, one of the region's finest actors, and Kati Brazda, who understudied her part on Broadway, through morphing stages of a last ditch effort to connect at the end of a long, painful relationship.
Miami Artzine's Mary Damiano weighs in with her online review. Like all the other reviews, she starts off with a Cliff notes recap of the play. But she does get to the meat and potatoes of the play:
Brazda understudied the role in the Old Vic production on Broadway, and she is the heart and soul of the show. She makes you ache for Josie, for the life she won’t have and the one she does. She is matched by Haig, and during their scenes together you can’t help but marvel at their ease in these other skins. It never feels as if they’re playing characters, because they so completely become the people in the story.She also liked Mike Amico's set design enough to mention it:
Durkin has a tougher job to pull off, as Jim Tyrone is condemned to stumble through an alcoholic haze, a “dead man walking behind his own coffin” as Josie describes him. Durkin swings between stillness and flailing, but it is a performance that can gain nuance over time.
Michael Amico’s scenic design fills the intimate space so perfectly, you really believe the rest of Connecticut is just up the center aisle.I recently realized that I've been neglecting the other Palm Beach newspaper, the Daily News, aka "The Shiny Sheet." Jan Sjostrom is still reviewing plays, and I've done you disservice by failing to include her. She also reviewed Moon for the Misbegotten, and she feels a little more strongly about this production than Bill Hirschman:
Kati Brazda's seemingly spontaneous portrayal of Josie, who finds love and loses it in a single moonlit evening, sears itself in memory like a brand.
Sjostrom also comments on director William Haye's firm hand, but she finds the performances more noteworthy than Hirschman did:
Peter Haig gives one of his finest performances as Josie's father, Phil Hogan, a wily tenant farmer who loves his daughter dearly and won't be pushed around by the gentry.
She wasn't so taken with Todd Durken's performance as James Tyrone, but she notes that he's give a tough row to hoe:
The model for Tyrone is O'Neill's older brother, who died of drink in middle age. Durkin looks the part —the city slicker in his suit and moustache, thanks in part to Leslye Menshouse's spot-on costumes. But his performance lacks the dynamics that would have made Tyrone truly come alive.
That said, it's no small task to make a cry-baby like Tyrone sympathetic. Durkin rises to the challenge in the poignant ending.
As you can see, she liked the design elements, including the set design:
Michael Amico outdoes himself in the set design, re-creating the Hogans' shanty in weatherbeaten wood on Dramaworks' small stage, and making it seem as though the farm's rocky fields were right around the corner
Dramaworks deserves praise for bringing one of the milestones of American theater effectively to the stage and casting it so superbly with Brazda.
And there's more: the Broward/Palm Beach edition of the New Times has Brandon K. Thorp's review of Moon for the Misbegotten. And as we've come to expect, he's got a spin all his own: let's look at his take on Durkin as James Tyrone;
In the taxonomy of theater, he is a close cousin to Durkin's recent turn as haunted, womanizing Guy in Neil Labute's Some Girls. But Tyrone makes Guy look positively well-adjusted. My thought upon leaving the theater was: Jesus! Playwrights had more grit back in the day!
Brandon was as taken with Durkin's performance as Jan was with Brazda's:
...I'm tempted to say that the hairs on your neck will stand up, that your knuckles will be white on your armrests. This is all true, because Durkin's performance is nowhere near a cliché. He is a picture of a man whose very mind is poison....The performance is enough to make you wonder about Durkin's health or even long-term prospects...
There seems to be a clear gender bias in the reviews: like Bill Hirschman, Brandon didn't find Brazda to be quite as strong;
Kati Brazda, as Josie Hogan, is almost as good, and one suspects she'll get better after another weekend or two. As of now, she still seems vaguely flummoxed by some of the rhythms in O'Neill's dialogue.
But that's not to say that he doesn't like the performance, or the production as a whole:
It's a minor complaint that barely undermines her effectiveness, and it should be said: Moon, even during its weakest moments, or in moments that have nothing to do with Tyrone and Josie's booze-soaked date, is an extremely well-put-together production.
Now that looks like an ending point to a review, doesn't it? But Brandon hasn't finished praising this production yet: he goes on to praise the set (that's four plugs for Amico: you never get that many separate mentions of set!)
But Brandon's highest praise is for Peter Haig, who is no stranger to the DramaWorks stage:
After being put through O'Neill's dramatic grinder, Haig's performance, which really feels more like a benediction, is the one thing that will allow Moon's audiences to sleep soundly come nighttime.
Last but not least, Charles Passy reviews for the Palm Beach Post. And right from the start, he's weighing in with Dolen and Damiano on Kati Brazda:
If there's one reason to see Palm Beach Dramaworks' new production of Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten, it's simply this: The image of Kati Brazda, as salt-of-the-earth farmhand Josie Hogan, looking into the distance.And while he also felt that Durkin "didn't fully inhabit" his character, Passy wonders if it might not be a choice rather than a failing:
Perhaps that's intentional since Dramaworks director William Hayes plays up the second half of O'Neill's drama for all its pondering weightiness. And certainly, there's a case to be made for such an approach: O'Neill's play, considered the sequel to his autobiographical Long Day's Journey Into Night, can be a brooding rumination on lives gone bad, where resignation to one's fate becomes the only true form of escape
...her hardscrabble father, Phil (played to a decently crusty turn by Peter Haig).And the scenic elements get their fifth review:
...neighboring landholder, T. Stedman Harder (played with foppish brilliance by Michael McKeever).
We also see the rural world of the play, courtesy of scenic designer Michael Amico, whose ramshackle, dusty farmhouse becomes almost a character of its own, and lighting designer Ron Burns, who captures the moonlit night (and the reddish dawn that follows) without a note of theatrical contrivance.
Next, we move to Broward County, and Christine Dolen's review of Still the River Runs for the Miami Herald. It's the latest production of The Promethean Theatre, out in Davie. This is only the second time this Barton Bishop play has been produced, and it may be that many directors are daunted by its complexity and contradiction:
Its mixture of crazy Southern Gothic humor and sobering truths requires director Margaret M. Ledford and the cast to walk a tonal tightrope, and while there are no major falls, the balance is sometimes shaky.
The actors draw fully fleshed portraits of the two markedly different brothers.
The Promethean Theatre’s production of Still the River Runs is only the second ever of the play, and it’s one of their most fully realized shows. Staged in a black box space, the glorious backdrop and atmospheric scenic design by Dan Gelbmann conveys the wild environs that Florida once was. Robert Coward’s lighting design believably depicts the change from day to night and back to dawn as Wyatt and Jesse take their grandfather on his final journey. Matt Corey’s sound design and his musical knowledge is impressive.**************UPDATE************
Bill Hirschman "special to the Sun Sentinel" reviewed Still the River Runs in Thursday's edition, and he likes what he saw.
you realize you're hearing a sparkling, vibrant new talent in the Promethean Theatre's hilarious and poignant production of Barton Bishop's Still the River Runs.Bill was quite taken with Bishop's script and lyrical writing, and goes on about it at length, comparing Bishop to Sam Shepard. But after waxing loquacious about the script, he does get back to the production at hand:
All this is made flesh by the Promethean crew. River would likely slide into cruel caricature or bathos if not for the pitch-perfect direction of Margaret M. Ledford and the dead-on performances of Mark Duncan as the hulking, affable bear and Scott Genn as the tightly wound brother.And just as Damiano had more to say about the production than Dolen, Hirschman has more to say than Damiano:
Every aspect of this bare-bones production is skillfully executed -- from Barbara A. Ryan's panoramic backdrop of unspoiled Florida to Matt Corey's sound to Robert Coward's lighting, which takes us from the hapless boys using headlights to read a map to a growing dawn over the landscape. Pam Roza deserves a shout-out for helping the actors achieve a molasses-dripping drawl.Still the River Runs plays through November 2nd at Nova Southeast University's Black Box Theatre in Davie.
Southward, Christine Dolen also covers the Jesus Quintero Studio production of 27 Wagons Full of Cotton. She is intrigued by the choice of venue:
Williams' 1946 one-act, which he expanded into the screenplay for the Elia Kazan-directed Baby Doll 10 years later, is set on a couple's front porch in Mississippi. Director Quintero has staged his 27 Wagons on the back porch of The Yellow House, a vintage Miami home not far north of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
...seeing Jeff Keogh as the shifty Jake striding from the street toward the porch, or watching Melissa Almaguer as a terrified Flora disappear inside the house followed by Quintero as the menacing Silva helps draw the audience into the story.
The actors do a decent if not spectacular job with the text, which has been altered to eliminate racist language and moved to an indeterminate year (Flora hums and sings Hello, Dolly, a song from 1964, as she dances and wiggles behind Jake). More problematic is that Keogh uses his own Australian accent and Almaguer doesn't bother with a southern one. So the context of time and place slips away.
Finally, our southward march brings us to Coral Gables, and the Gablestage production of David Mamet's election tale, November. Like 1776 at Actors' Playhouse, November is a perfect choice given the upcoming election.
Brandon Thorp spoke with Joe Adler about it last week instead of reviewing anything, but Christine Dolen with the Herald has the first review of the production.
The review begins by telling us how perfectly timed this production is, what with the big election and all, and that although some of the antics are absurd, they're not as far-fetched as they ought to be given some of the recent twists in the real world. I'm not sure that it should take half the review to tell us that, but eventually we start learning about this production:
The play, whose six-month Broadway run just ended in July, contains five juicy comic roles, and under Joseph Adler's direction the GableStage cast delivers performances pitched just right.
(David) Kwiat has the tough task, for anyone who caught Nathan Lane in the Broadway production, of crafting his own distinctive President Smith -- and he does.As Brown, (Wayne) LeGette paces his performance beautifully and proves the perfect foil: deadpan, truthful yet somehow respectfully condescending. (Stacy) Schwartz makes Bernstein -- a lesbian who maneuvers the president into marrying her to her partner -- the most decent character in the play, and she suffers so convincingly that you start to worry you'll catch her cold. (Kevin) Reilley and (David) Corey have to convey, respectively, mounting frustration and fury, and both get laughs as they get the job done.
Set designer Tim Connelly gives the actors a small-scale Oval Office in which to cavort, and sound/music designer Matt Corey offers all-American music that is slightly twisted and distorted -- the aural equivalent of what Mamet is doing to the occupant of the nation's highest office.
The resident critic at Theatre Row, DSP, also reviews November. (I wish those kids would learn about paragraphs and line breaks; very tough reading one long run-on paragraph.)
Like Christine, DSP uses most of her article to address how suited this play, is given the current election. Blah blah blah, Mamet's vision, blah blah imagine the current administration, et cetera, AH. Here we go:
But with a cast and Director this good one can over look the script’s pitfalls. Stacy Schwartz is brilliant as a speech writing lesbian with a cold that no Doctor can cure. Wayne LeGette gives a great turn as Kwiat’s straight man aide, Archer Brown. And the always wonderful Kevin Reilley is quite funny as the representative from the National Association of Turkey and Turkey By-Products.
November runs through November 16 at GableStage in the Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables.
Lots of openings this weekend:
Dirty Business started previews at Florida Stage on the 22nd, and opens Friday the 24th. It's a world premiere of a new play William Mastrosimone. Theatre Row describes the collaboration as "One of South Florida's most respected companies and one of Theatre's best playwrights come together." They may not know that Mastrisimone lived in Palm Beach County for much of the 90s. When he moved to Seattle, he donated some of his office furniture to Theatre Club of the Palm Beaches. Whatever happened to them? They changed their name - to Florida Stage.
Zooman and the Sign also started previews on the 22nd, at the African American Performing Arts Community Theater. Christine Dolen tells us about it in her blog. AAPACT is located in Miami at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center.
Smokey Joe's Cafe opens at the Stage Door Theater in Coral Springs on Friday. Even if you don't know the show, you know all the songs: Lieber and Stoller wrote tons of hits from the 50s to the 70s, and they're all here. If you don't know their work, you'll be shocked when you recognize each and every song.
On the other hand, Mad Cat Theatre's production of MixTape is their own concoction, and you don't know any of it. The describe it as "a collection of 11 pieces that have been compiled together much like the mix-tapes your sweetheart made for you back in the 90's." This "theatrical stew" comes to a boil on Friday at the Miami Light Project in Miami. This is the kind of edgy stuff that MadCat is know for.
The national tour of The Wizard of Oz comes to the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday. This is a stage adaptation of the MGM movie.
The critically acclaimed production of 1776 is a show you don't want to miss at Actors' Playhouse in Coral Gables. It closes this Sunday, and yes, that's way too short a run for a big musical. Catch it while you can. Seriously, do not miss this play!
Silent Heroes plays at the Women's Theatre Project through October 26. This is a production that has had to overcome the theft of their lights and sound equipment, so please show your support for this worthy company.
The Rant plays at the New Theatre, through October 26.
Some Men at the Rising Action Theatre Company through November 2.
Musical of Musicals - The Musical! at the Tamarac Center for the Performing Arts. Sure, it's community theatre, but it MoM-TM! It runs through November 9.
The Wizard of Oz, Saturday at Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theater. This version is based on the books, and not the movie. Before (or after) the show, you can get ice cream at the parlor across the street, or browse the kids' section at Books'n'Books just a block away.
Sleeping Beauty is a popular show this weekend; this is a touring production making its way across South Florida. It starts Saturday at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre at 10:00 am. On Sunday, you can catch it Broward County at the Miniaci Performing Arts Center. Monday it moves east to the Parker Playhouse.
Little Monster Tales plays Monday at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the weather along Fort Lauderdale's beautiful Riverfront Park. Or visit the Museum of Discovery and Science.
Pocahontas plays through Sunday at Sol Children's Theatre Troup.