Friday, October 31, 2008

The Scene for October 31, 2008 (Updated!)

UPDATE: added Palm Beach Post review of Dirty Business.

We've had the first taste of fall, which only means that we're getting deeper into The Season here in South Florida.


Once again, we're going north to south, because that's the way the action has gone this week.

Florida Stage opened Dirty Business, a world premiere of a new play by William Mastrosimone. It's the playwright's take on a love triangle inspired by the events surrounding the Kennedy assassination. This powerful story has the backdrop of a presidential election, making it another fitting choice for this time of year.

Christine Dolen of the Miami Herald is the first to tell us about it;
Now getting a promising if not quite dazzling world premiere at Florida Stage, Dirty Business probes the hubris and manipulative drive for power that got one of the country's premiere political families entangled with its primo crime family, the mob -- with fatal results, Mastrosimone suggests.
Like Terry Johnson's Insignificance, Dirty Business doesn't come right out and call them JFK or Frank Sinatra, but you know all the players. As for the events, we're left to decide how accurate this story really is.
In the play, Frank dumps Judy but introduces her to Jack, who slips into an incautious affair with her before and after his successful race for the White House. Sam, whose influence with labor helps the Catholic candidate win a crucial primary in mostly Protestant West Virginia, embarks on his own courtship of the future president's mistress, seeing it as a way to deepen his own power with the world's most powerful man. And Judy? Crazy for Jack and charmed by Sam, she becomes the pawn in a deadly game, though not the go-between the real Exner eventually claimed to be.
She credits the artistic team of director Louis Tyrell, Victor A. Becker, Richard Crowell, Suzette Pare, and Matt Kelly. But eventually she does get down to the business of explaining why this production doesn't manage to be dazzling:
Perhaps Mastrosimone's caution in crafting the play made Tyrrell and the cast skittish; with one glorious exception, the performances seem more carefully crafted than honestly inhabited. (Elizabeth A.) Davis and (James Lloyd) Reynolds, for example, are attractive but palpably missing the electric allure of the originals. (Gordon) McConnell, however, is sensational -- edgy and crass, yes, but irresistible. His bad guy is oh so fun to watch. Dirty Business should be half as fascinating.
The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel brought in Mary Damiano to cover Dirty Business. Unlike Dolen, Damiano's a bit less forgiving of the production's shortcomings:
Mastrosimone's script is whip-smart, full of entertaining banter and laugh-out-loud lines. Cinematic in tone, with lots of scenes set in different cities, the play is too long and needs to be streamlined. The problems are exacerbated by several elements of the production. These include a scenic design that requires stagehands to redress the stage for nearly every scene, interrupting the pacing and creating an unpleasant drag to the evening.
But like Dolen, Damiano found one performance to be particularly notable:
Performances are competent for the most part, with a very funny turn by Gordon McConnell as the mobster. His is the showiest role, and McConnell is very entertaining. But his breezy performance seems incongruous with the deadly Mafioso he's portraying.
Jan Sjostrom covered Dirty Business for the Palm Beach Daily News. Palm Beach has an affinity for the Kennedys; the family kept a winter home there until fairly recently.
Those who cherish fond memories of Jack Kennedy and the days of Camelot will find them tarnished by Dirty Business. William Mastrosimone's taut, chilly play about Kennedy's march to the White House strips off the kingly veneer to reveal mobsters and machinations worthy of Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. Even the play's flashes of humor are cold.
Like Christine Dolen, Sjostrom liked the work of the artistic team:
The show is being given a stylishly mounted debut at Florida Stage in Manalapan under the incisive direction of Louis Tyrrell, producing artistic director.
And chalk up another fan for McConnell's mobster:
Gordon McConnell's sinister Sam rules the production like great white shark commands the sea. He's charming, funny, ruthless and ultimately terrifying.
But she also liked the Kennedys, or rather, "Jack and his dad;"
The Kennedys — Jack and his father Joe, Sam's match in cunning and amorality — are just as frightening. Joe, in a steely performance by Dan Leonard, plots Jack's campaign. But Jack, suavely played by James Lloyd Reynolds, learns quickly and proves to be as underhanded as the old man.


Across the lake, Charles Passy covered Dirty Business for the Palm Beach Post. And he starts off by making a request:
Forget for a moment that Dirty built on the shaky foundation of the speculative.

And forget that it's a political drama being served up in a volatile election year, making us all the more eager to parse every word for further meaning.

Otherwise, you may lose sight of the real pleasures of this powerhouse of a play: Dirty Business is simply a devil of a ride.
Passy also like Gordon McConnell's turn as mobster Sam Giancana. (oops! No last names!)
the always impressive Gordon McConnell does the best job: He's slick and sinister at the same time, charming his woman until he's - literally - biting his way into the meat of the matter. It's a bravura performance that plays up the mobster shtick just enough so you can laugh along, but never lets you forget that a goodfella and a good fellow are not the same.
He also liked Jack Gwaltney as Frank Sinatra:
Jack Gwaltney's Sinatra is pure pleasure, however - the swinging cat who ends up being blindsided by his powerful associates: Rarely does an actor convey so much cool and so much naiveté in a single turn.
And he also gives kudos the Louis Tyrell and his artistic team:

There's a deftness to his handling of the script that's most apparent in a scene where Judy essentially disappears and the three-way conversation becomes a direct discourse between Kennedy and Giancana.

In striking fashion, the men emerge from the shadows - or in this case from the see-through curtains in Victor A. Becker's smartly minimalist set - to make their intentions known.

Brandon K.Thorp covers Dirty Business for the Broward/Palm Beach New Times in a two-for-one column that includes his write-up for Still the River Runs at Promethean (see below). As always, Brandon always sees things a little differently than everyone else:
...William Mastrosimone's Dirty Business is something else entirely: one third Oliver Stonish inquiry into the assassination of JFK, one third urbane sex comedy, and one third sordid bedroom drama. It's a schizophrenic little play that makes sense only because its characters are so familiar...

...a pedestrian intrigue of power lust, political ambition, and ordinary romantic yearning that is completely overshadowed, even in the moment of performance, by the history behind it. The play takes us from various bedrooms on the Kennedy campaign trail to the Oval Office to the Palm Beach residence of Giancana, and characters talk and scheme as though they were doing nothing more substantive than planning a weekend outing...
Brandon goes into a little more detail on the performances than his counterparts:
James Lloyd Reynolds is a passable Kennedy...But it's not a showcase role. Kennedy was too much a cipher.

None of Sinatra's native intelligence — so obviously on display, in that era, in Sinatra's role in The Manchurian Candidate — comes through on (Jack) Gwaltney's face, which is a mess of uncomprehending anxiety.

I've never seen Gordon McConnell do a Mafioso before, but he's perfect: charming, kindly, and dangerously unstable.
Brandon concludes with yet another observation of how some of the plays being produced fit their time slot so well:
...the real draw here has to do with seeing the sacred cow that is Kennedy dragged off to yet another well-deserved slaughter. And it's more than that: in a weird way, it feels good to be reminded of what a vicious, dishonest little racket politics have always been.
Dirty Business runs through November 30th at Florida Stage.

Next on the rack is MadCat Theatre's eclectic concoction, MixTape. A collection of original short plays, it was inspired by the cassette tapes we made for our, um, love interests, back before the digital age and a bit after 8-track tapes faded away.

They also describe it as "a theatrical stew."

Christine Dolen of the Herald gives us her views on it:
Mixtape is an ambitious venture for Mad Cat. Unlike Summer Shorts, which has a longer rehearsal period, a bigger budget, a protracted play selection process and multiple directors putting it together...
MadCat's founder and artistic director Paul Tei directed the entire evening, wrote one of the plays, performs in two of them, produced a short film, and even co-authored a photo play. That's a lot of hats to wear.
The result is both bold and uneven. The acting ensemble veterans (Tei, Joe Kimble and Erik Fabregat) and relative newcomers (Sofia Citarella, Erin Joy Schmidt and first-timer Troy Davidson) are terrific when the material is good, palpably struggling when it isn't.
And what about the material? The scripts, we mean:
The standout plays are by three South Floridians: Michael McKeever,Marco Ramirez and Tei, with a wild piece (involving the rock star Meat Loaf) by fellow Miamian Lucas Leyva not quite coalescing but intriguing nonetheless.

McKeever's Move On or Stephen Sondheim at Studio 54 is a wry, funny, touching little play about the way a song in Sunday in the Park With George unexpectedly resonates with a resistant husband (Kimble) who sees the show with his wife (Schmidt) on their first anniversary.

Ramirez's 3:59 AM, though simply staged, is the work of a distinctive voice, one who knows how to take the audience to imaginative places.

is a weird-yet-hilarious play, set to a sitcom laugh track (the expertly executed sound in Mixtape
is by Matt Corey), about what might happen if two clueless guys (Tei and Fabregat) wrote a screenplay about female roommates (Citarella and Schmidt).
MadCat's demographic is skewed towards the college crowd and aging hipsters, so Christine tries to keep an open mind about some of the pieces that don't quite hit the mark:
If you're a fan of the band Wilco, you might not consider the Jeff Tweedy poetry assembled into a piece called Adult Head a bore. But I'm not, so I did.
Which allows us to segue into a review by someone smack dab in the middle of MadCat's target audience: The Miami New Times' Brandon K. Thorp. And he starts off by examining the metaphor of the title:
The mixtape cannot achieve perfection... On almost any mixtape, at least one song will fail to connect. What a mixtape can be is dynamic. If it's good, it can be illuminating. And every now and again, in spite of its necessary flaws, it can be transcendent.

Mad Cat Theatre's Mixtape is one such work — flawed and gorgeous, with the absurd nestling comfortably beside the sublime.
And with that lovely examination of the one professed conceit of MixTape, Brandon examines the production, taking full advantage of the vast amounts of column granted him by The Miami New Times:

Mixtape feels like a good mixtape; you can tell from the selections' divergent subjects and tones that their authors were working in ignorance of context. But there is still a feeling of intention, of a compiler's sensibility. You get the sense that somebody — in this case, probably director/actor Paul Tei — is using someone else's words to tell you something specific.

If you go, you are unlikely to care about the message until a good ways into the show. Mixtape's first two selections are awful...

But like Dolen, Brandon finds some worthwhile bits within the greater collection:
"She," a photomontage of Citarella putting around her house, is set against the voice of Tei drolly reciting the lyrics to Beatles love songs.

At first the exercise looks like a mistake. Here we have deliberately ordinary, often-unflattering photographs of an apparently random girl, and Tei expects us to extrapolate from them — what? Romantic longing? Not happening. But after a minute, you realize that whenever you hear these songs, you imagine they express feelings about somebody important to you; this is what gives them their power. Imagining a relative stranger (Tei) feeling this way about another stranger (Citarella) dramatically illuminates how incredibly subjective and private love really is.

And he also liked some of the selections that Dolen commented on:
In "Move On or Sondheim 54," by Michael McKeever, an average New Yorker who is usually indifferent to art (and especially high art) is reduced to tears by a Sondheim show. His wife of one year, played with perfect cocktail-party huffiness by Erin Joy Schmidt, is deeply embarrassed, even though she's the one who ordinarily "appreciates" things such as Sondheim.
He also liked the final piece, "The Wereloaves of Brickell Avenue." In it, a mild man is transformed from a milquetoast into the 70's rock star Meat Loaf.
(Joe) Kimble plays the man in his non-Loaf guise — beaten, shy, and locked into an office job he despises. When he becomes Meat Loaf, played by (Eric) Fabregat (who looks like he has never had such fun in his whole damn life), he is a creature of myth and motorcycles, love and one-night stands, danger, adventure, and 19th-century tuxedos. It's ridiculous and innocent and beautiful. It's also the funniest 15 minutes of theater I've ever seen.
MixTape by Mad Cat Theatre plays at the Miami Light Project in downtown Miami through November 22.

Zooman and the Sign opened last week at the African American Performing Arts Community Theater. The Miami Herald's Christine Dolen talked it up on her blog, and is the only one, so far, to review it.
Charles Fuller wrote his play Zooman and the Sign in 1979, winning Off-Broadway's Obie Award for it in 1980. But nearly 30 years later, the drama's story seems as tragically timely as when Fuller created it.
It's obvious that Dolen is interested in this script; it's a starkly relevant play. Just two years ago a similar story played out in real life in Miami:
Sherdavia lived at the Liberty Square housing project, not far from the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, where Zooman and the Sign is being presented by the African American Performing Arts Community Theatre (AAPACT). Sherdavia, you may remember, lost her life in 2006 when she was playing on her porch and got caught in a shootout

The story Fuller tells is eerily similar. Before the play begins, a 12-year-old named Jinny has been killed while playing on her porch in Philadelphia. A street thug known as Zooman (Derrick J. Chiverton) is the shooter -- as he tells us in the menacing monologue that starts the play.
But the fact that Dolen finds the script and its story to be sadly suitable for the company and its location, she still has the job of analyzing the production for what it is:
This is the stuff of sobering, resonant art. Unfortunately, director André L. Gainey can't coax strong enough performances from most of the cast, so Zooman is weighted down by its flaws. Some of this is Fuller's doing, as he unnecessarily complicates the plot with an estrangement between Jinny's parents, and he gives some of the characters lines that no one in the fresh throes of grief would utter.
That's not to say that's not to say there were not some notable performances:
On the plus side, young actors Lamar Swan, Holland and Chiverton, while not pros, actually inject some welcome passion into the production.
Dolen concludes:
Zooman and the Sign concerns a tragedy that is still playing out too often, in too many places, including one discomfitingly close to where AAPACT is performing it. But a more deftly acted production would make the connections between art and life so much deeper
Zooman and the Sign plays at the African American Performing Arts Community Theater through November 16.

Since my hometown Phillies are in the World Series, I will toss in a bit of baseball lingo here and describe our next two reviews as "pitching clean-up." These shows were reviewed by most of the critics LAST week.

First, we'll look at the top half of Brandon K. Thorp's two-fer for the Broward/Palm Beach New Times, and his review of STILL THE RIVER RUNS at the Promethean Theatre. It's classic Brandon:
...get your ass to Promethean for River's one remaining weekend. You'll be glad you did. Still The River Runs is a profound, and profoundly moving, meditation on death, family, and meaning that would be intolerably tragic if it weren't so sweet.

Mark Duncan plays the older, dumber brother with bruised, jubilant innocence....

The younger brother is played by Scott Genn...Genn's portrayal is slow and sad, imbued with a gravitas ... Bishop's script doesn't hold out much hope for the guy, but Genn's acting, rather than his lines, might convince you that even untreatable wounds can be redeemed by... well, I would say "grace," but for the religious connotation. Call it wisdom.

NOVEMBER by David Mamet
Last up, (and keeping up the baseball lingo), the Sun-Sentinel sends in a green rookie to cover the GableStage production of David Mamet's November. For some unfathomable reason, Sun-Sentinel chose Fashion Editor Rod Stafford Hagwood to review a timely production at one of the area's pre-eminent companies.

Reading the review, three thoughts clash for supremacy:
  1. My opinion of the skills of the Sentinel's editorial staff is actually way too soft.
  2. Joe Adler pissed off someone at the Sun-Sentinel.
  3. Hagwood lost a bet with someone.
The amount of white space in the review fits with the fashion side of Hagwood. Why waste time writing, when you can attempt to say something with the mere format of the article?
The play November will make you chuckle.

Oh yes, that it can do.

But if it's basso profundo laughs from the gut you want, expect the confident GableStage at the Biltmore production to graze the funny bone, not slap it silly.

At least not yet.
This man's an editor? "Butcher" would be more accurate. So would "hack."

It's sad when a writer's work illustrates that writer's lack of knowledge more than the subject he's writing about. And that's what this "review" does more than anything else.
Locally directed by Joseph Adler...
"Locally directed?" That doesn't make any sense. November was locally produced. Everything about the production is "local." Why single out the direction? Maybe he left out some words again, like this bizarre construction:
...the mayhem is set in the Oval Office just days before a major presidential election for the venal leader of the free world. Same-sex marriages, gambling casinos, American Indians, lesbians, presidential libraries, turkey pardons and campaign contributions — it's all delivered with the right pacing, and much of it is very funny.

Aah, but you should have seen the ones that got away.
Huh? Is he referring to jokes? Sermons? Fish? "American Indians" are "delivered with the right pacing?" A "turkey pardon" got away? What the hell is he talking about?

No wonder the Sun-Sentinel is such a crap newspaper, sucks ass, is barely tolerable sucks, This is the kind of illiterate doofus they consider editorial caliber? Hagwood not only should never, ever be allowed to do a theatre review again, I wouldn't trust him to oversee anyone's copy. Somebody sign him up for a freshman english class, quick.


Lucky Stiff opens October 31 at Broward Stage Door Theatre


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.

Smokey Joe's Cafe at the Stage Door Theater in Coral Springs.


The critically acclaimed production of 1776 is a show you don't want to miss at Actors' Playhouse in Coral Gables. It was extended through this weekend. See it Halloween Evening for just $17.76.

Some Men at the Rising Action Theatre Company closes November 2.

Still the River Runs closes November 2nd at The Promethean Theatre


The Wizard of Oz, Saturday at Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theater.
This version is based on the books, and not the movie. It closes on Saturday.

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