Friday, December 19, 2008

The Scene for December 19, 2008

It's been a busy week for me: trying to tie up all the loose ends before I take off for the Holidays. When I get back I'll be neck deep in new productions. But never fear, dear reader, I will still find time to bring you all the Theatre Happenings in South Florida!

the reviews

Florida Stage opened Mezzulah, 1946 last week. It's the tale of a "Rosie the Riveter" who didn't want to return to the confining niche that women were expected to fill following World War 2.

Christine Dolen of the Miami Herald had her review out on Saturday. And it seems she really enjoyed this one:
The cast, which also includes a blustery Anthony Giaimo as Mezzulah's uncle Charlie, David Michael Holmes as her tongue-tied would-be beau and Erin Joy Schmidt as her former right-hand gal at the Boeing plant, is a group of regional theater veterans shaped by Tyrrell into a finely calibrated ensemble. Along with Richard Crowell's imaginative set and lighting, Erin Amico's terrific period costumes, Matt Kelly's subtle sound design, and vintage a capella songs that underscore the era and serve as transitional moments, that rich acting and artful direction bring Lowe's distinctive voice -- funny, quirky, unexpectedly touching -- to vibrant life.
Jan Sjostrom reviewed it for the "Shiny Sheet" (Palm Beach Daily News). She may not have been quite as taken with the production as Dolen was:
Michele Lowe's trademark humor is the redeeming feature of Mezzulah, 1946. Her simplistic plot and improbable premise are its downfall.

The play's heroine, Mezzulah, is a self-taught genius in aviation design employed at a Boeing factory in Monroe, Wash., during World War II. It's a stretch to believe that a
relatively uneducated 19-year-old could design the sophisticated aircraft Mezzulah is supposed to dream up in her attic study.

Of course, I would suspect that the such a thing is a metaphor, and that this isn't a play about building a sophisticated aircraft so much as it's a play about someone trying to push beyond the boundaries forced upon them by society. But there are other things that bothered Sjostrom:
Lowe also has the characters burst into a capella renditions of popular tunes from the war years that usually have as little connection to the story as 1970s rock tunes do with the products they hawk on TV.
Ouch! She concludes:
This is a sweet, slight play that might dispel the bad news from Wall Street for a couple of hours. But unless you were unaware of the injustices done to women workers after the war ended, it doesn't have much more to offer.
Mary Damiano reviewed Mezzullah, 1946 for the Sun Sentinel. And like Christine, she found it to be a strong production.
Lowe has created a rich portrait of a small town and its inhabitants, although on occasion it all seems too precious for its own good. Still, Lowe does a nice job of illustrating both the innocence and timelessness of social mores, such as the ongoing struggle between working women and stay-at-home wives and mothers.

The Florida Stage production boasts an intriguing set by Richard Crowell and some fine ensemble performances. Wittig shines in her double duty as two distinctive characters: Clementine, the determined war widow, and Sally, Mezzulah's very pregnant friend. Allyn, who originated the role of Mezzulah in its world premiere in Pittsburgh, plays Mezzulah as an old soul in a young body, a woman who can see the future and longs to play a part in it.
Kevin D. Thompson reviewed Mezzulah for the Palm Beach Post. He likens the play to The Shawshank Redemption.
Lowe's show, after all, is all about dreaming big and never letting anyone - or anything - stand in your way. It's a girl power story told with verve, passion and the right dash of kooky comedy so the audience doesn't feel as if it's being preached to or beaten over the head with a heavy message stick.
Yes, Thompson found it to be a strong, and even uplifting, production:
Mezzulah, 1946 is the kind of feel-good story that's the perfect tonic in these uncertain economic times and is a must-see for all young women who have nothing more than hope and a dream to achieve something great.

As the title character, the flame-haired Allyn gives a bravura performance under Louis Tyrell's sure-footed direction. Despite her diminutive stature (she's really not much taller than a fire hydrant), Allyn, making her Florida Stage debut, imbues Mezzulah with a fiery passion that's almost infectious.
It looks like Jan Sjostrom is the odd one out, this week. Thompson even singles out the songs that bothered Sjostrom so much:
There are also several short songs sprinkled in (Don't Fence Me In, Coming In on a Wing and a Prayer, Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition), that could have felt out of place but don't, mostly because they're sung a cappella and aren't showy, Broadway musical-like numbers.
The result: Lowe takes a heavy subject, lightens it up a bit and ultimately makes us care more about it - and her soaring show - in the process.
Brandon K. Thorp wrote up the play for the Palm Beach/Broward edition of the New Times. He's now using his huge volume of print space to cover multiple shows each week. And we do appreciate the effort!

Anyway, his take on it is typically Brandon.
Will Mezzulah design planes? Will her widowed mum find true love? Will Rosie's female friends regain the independence they discovered in the war years? These are the initial questions posed by the play, and they are both hideously dull and, as it turns out, totally beside the point.
Vastly more interesting, unanticipated questions soon dominate the drama: Why is Mezzulah's dead daddy hanging around his cemetery, and why doesn't he have shoes? And what's up with this strange, ghost-like woman who lugs a trunk full of broken china everywhere she goes? Will poor, shy Suzannah Hart ever let her husband read her poetry? And, dear Christ, isn't it about time for Mezzulah's friend Sally Cauley to have that baby? She's painfully, outrageously pregnant — she looks like a snake that ate a bowling ball.

What would we do without Brandon to shake things up? But this is all relevant, and he quickly gets on to the meat of his review:
These questions won't exactly decide the fate of the free world, but they do inspire a lot of interest. Thank playwright Michele Lowe, whose writing gains strength and vibrancy the more ambitious she gets; the tale actually becomes more focused every time she drags a new plotline into the story. And thank a stunning cast (composed largely of theatrical carpetbaggers down from New York or someplace), which populates Lowe's Monroe with characters as real and surprising as life.
Mezzulah, 1946 runs through January 18 at Florida Stage, in Manalapan. other half of Brandon's review is Sol Theatre's production of The Reindeer Monologues. It replaces the previously scheduled production of Mart Crowley's For Reasons That Remain Unclear. Read Brandon's article to learn the story behind that, but the upshot is that they had to mount a replacement play in a very short span of time, and they apparently did it very well.
Monologues opened last Friday and will run through Sunday, December 21, with no breaks or interruptions. That's ten straight days of theater that libertines, perverts, and heathens shouldn't miss; an explosion of holiday cheer so bewilderingly wrong that Baby Jesus may decide to stay in the womb this year
It sounds like a companion piece to the movie Bad Santa, doesn't it? Or maybe it makes Bad Santa seem like a Rankin Bass special.
The Reindeer Monologues features all eight of Santa's reindeer, summoned to the stage one by one to discuss the terrible allegations recently made by Vixen against their boss.
You can read Brandon's review to find out about those allegations. They are, shall we say, "squicky."
The eight reindeer are played by four actors, with three of the four female roles going to Julia Clearwood. She handles them with the same lusty felicity with which she always dispatches her comic roles, hitting the floorboards with the energy of Tina Turner and working the crowd until everyone within eyeshot is rapt.
...Jim Gibbons and Angel Perez play Dasher, Comet, Prancer and Cupid with gusto and delight that is absolutely un-fakeable: they treat Monologues like a compelling novelty, which goes a long way toward helping audiences feel the same way.
The weirdest actor in Sol's stable is Daivd Tarryn-Grae, who cannot help but steal any show that puts him in a dress. This is just such a show: He is the last reindeer you'll see, Vixen herself, played as sort of a Hedwig with hooves.
Mary Damiano reviewed the play for Miami Artzine:
A wicked irony runs through The Eight: Reindeer Monologue from the very first moment, when Donner (Julia Clearwood) arrives on the scene wearing leopard print stilettos, carrying a matching purse--there's something about a reindeer wearing leopard that feels downright cannibalistic.
Jim Gibbons plays Dasher, a kilt-wearing Scots-deer, as well as Comet, a juvenile deer-linquent who credits Santa for reforming him. Angel Perez plays Hollywood (formerly known as Prancer) as a coke-snorting, manic star bitter about Rudolph stealing his spotlight; and Cupid, as the openly gay reindeer who doesn't mind feeling the crack of Santa's whip.
Wearing a clingy red evening gown and looking for all the world like he's taken the stage to impersonate some 1940s movie star, Tarryn-Grae brings an unexpected vulnerability to Vixen.
She concludes her review much like Brandon did:
So if you're ready to O.D. on December sweetness, if you're sick of Christmas songs spouting good cheer and you're just too cynical to fully embrace the whole holiday brouhaha, the Sol will give you a fresh perspective on the most wonderful time of the year.
You can see The Reindeer Monologues through this Sunday, Decemebr 21, at Sol Theatre Project.

Miami Herald's Christine Dolan covered the opening of the Unhinged Theatre, and their production of References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot.
If References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot isn't quite the powerhouse debut that the company members intended -- and it isn't -- it's worth remembering that Unhinged is a young troupe with time and the drive to grow.
This new company is filled with new artists: the company was formed by current and former FIU students. And even the most talented individual improves over time.
Salvador Dali is a complex script that needs textured, deft performances to fully draw the audience into its unsettling, magical world. Under Leon's direction, the cast turns in performances that are passionate but don't rise to that level. Grau, for example, is credible as a proud, frustrated man with minimal education, but Benito's heavy accent makes the exchanges with Gabriela less potent than they should be.
Overall, Dolan finds it a good production, if not a defining one. She also expresses surprise - and not for the first time - that this company is doing the same play previously announced by the Alliance Theatre Lab for their January slot. The reason for this surprise is that part of the licensing process is exclusivity: the licensing body (that is, the copyright holder or their agent) won't allow more than one production within a given area for a give amount of time.

But this is not the first time a licensor has screwed up: a few years back, both Actors' Playhouse and GableStage were granted rights to SLEUTH, even though the theatres are only a mile apart or so. Apparently, one of the companies used a Miami return address; but since both Miami and Coral Gables are in the same county, the second license should never have been issued.


The Chairs opens tonight at Palm Beach Drama Works. The Palm Beach Daily News has a story about it. So does the Palm Beach Post.

Regrets Only opens at the Waterfront Playhouse in Key West. It runs through January 10.

still playing

The Reduced Shakespeare Company's production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised], plays at the Arsht Center through January 18.

The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told is playing at the Rising Action Theatre Company through Jan 18, 2009.

Gutenberg! The Musical runs through January 4 December 28th at Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theater. The Theatre Scene will be there on Saturday; say hello to the man with the camera..

last chance to see...

The venerable M-Ensemble's production of Joe Turner's Come and Gone plays through December 21 in Miami.

Edge Theater isrunning its production of Ambition in Wilton Manors through December 21. This is one of the few plays where every single critic was
in complete agreement. No website: go to the Theatre League website for ticketing information.

for kids

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland at The Playground Theatre.

A Christmas Carol, The Musical, plays on Saturdays at Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre. Through December 27.

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