Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Caldwell Theatre: The Old Man and the Sea (3 reviews)

Caldwell Theatre Company opened their production of The Old Man and the Sea on February 21, 2010. The classic Ernest Hemingway story was adapted for the stage by Eric Ting and Craig Seibels.
The poetry and lyricism of Ernest Hemingway brought to life in a new stage adaptation. You will ride in the boat with The Old Man, emotionally engaged in his epic struggle with the fish. See first hand the poignant relationship between The Old Man and the boy. Magically the story is underscored with expressive guitar stylings and songs from 1950’s Cuba.
Clive Cholerton directed a cast that included David Pendleton, Ismael Cruz Cordova, and Leajato Amara Robinson.  (Gordon McConnell took over the title role for David Pendleton for the final week of performances.)

Michael Martin reviewed for EdgeMiami:
Ting and Siebel’s attempt to stretch the simple story into a two-act theatrical evening proves unsuccessful.
Caribbean styled background music by John Gromada and played live on guitar by actor Leajato Amara Robinson (coined as Cienfuegos in the program) offers a gentle reminder of setting, but does little to move the story along its elongated course.
Thankfully, most of Act II belongs to Cordova, who repeats the same short Hemingway tale, only from the boy’s point of view. The story itself never alters. The differential in acting, however, thankfully spans a sea’s width.
Brandon K. Thorp reviewed for the Broward/Palm Beach New Times:
...successes and failures are abetted in Caldwell's uneven production by a cast that communicates the essence of Ting's and Siebels' creation while utterly flubbing its tone.
The chief difficulty in rendering a credible The Old Man and the Sea onstage is, first, that you cannot train a fish, and second, that the ocean will not fit in a theater. Unless you are willing to invest serious coinage in special effects, the Old Man's fight with the marlin must be mimed. And unless you are willing to build a pool or invest in hydraulics, your boat will be a sad and stationary thing. Set designer Tim Bennett's ancient-looking skiff is visually appealing but unmistakably landlocked. Its stasis may be overcome only by acting, and though the fellow playing Old Man Santiago (David Pendelton) often succeeds, the freneticism with which he does so robs the character of his grit and stoicism. In his rush to sell the part, Pendelton's voice often swoops up into an excited falsetto.
...it is left to a tertiary character, Cienfuegos (Leajato Amara Robinson), to create atmosphere and anchor the production to a time and place.. assuming a small handful of supporting roles, playing his guitar, and singing.
That said, The Old Man and the Sea is an effective drama as long as you agree to leave your thoughts and feelings about Hemingway, Cuba, and oceangoing at the door... The play's successes are mostly owed to Ismael Cruz Cordova's achingly gorgeous portrayal of Manilo, whose love for his old mentor is evident in his every word and gesture.
Christin Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Just about a year ago, at the Tony Award-winning Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Conn., Eric Ting and Craig Siebels debuted their stage adaptation of Hemingway's work. Now, the play-with-music has come to Boca Raton's Caldwell Theatre Company, in a problematic production that has no chance of thrillingly evoking the man-against-beast struggle in Hemingway's book.

Some of that has to do with the limitations of even the most magical theater experiences.
Set designer Tim Bennett provides a blue-tinted stage floor that stands in as the sea, and lighting designer Thomas Salzman paints the sky with stars and clouds and sunset colors. But there's no escaping that Santiago's little flat-bottomed boat is resting solid as a rock on those wooden "waters,'' and that Pendleton must mime Santiago's superhuman struggle.
(Pendelton), who has plenty of television and movie credits, has a wiry look that works for Santiago, but in no way, shape or form is he persuasive as an elderly Cuban fisherman.
Córdova is better, wide-eyed and tender toward his aged friend, but the casting imbalance works against him in their scenes together.
One can't help wondering this: In South Florida, which is so full of Cuban-American actors, musicians and singers, was it really impossible to find performers who could infuse The Old Man and the Sea with some authentic flavor?
The Old Man and the Sea plays at the Caldwell Theatre Company through March 28, 2010.

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