Sunday, May 16, 2010

Florida Stage: When the Sun Shone Brighter (7 reviews)

Florida Stage opened the premiere of Christopher Demos Brown's When The Sun Shone Brighter on May 14, 2010. 
Mayor Jose Sanchez-Fors, Jr. of Miami is a charismatic politician of unlimited potential, but his own lust for power entangles him in a web of sex, lies and ambition. A sultry story from a new South Florida voice.

(This play contains brief nudity and adult themes)
The play is a landmark in that it is the last production to be mounted in the small theater they carved out of Manalapan's Plaza del Mar shopping center over the last nineteen years, their 120th play on that stage.

Louis Tyrell directed a cast that included John Herrera, Dan Domingues, Cliff Burgess, Bill Schwartz, Brandon Morris, and Natasha Sherrit.  (Brandon and Natasha are graduates of Palm Beach County's Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts).

The Sun-Sentinel has declined to review this production.*

Michael Martin reviewed for, and is predictably disappointed that Demos-Brown focused more on the mayor's moral turmoil about accepting the political support of an organization that apparenty murdered his father, rather than on the hypocrisy of a "moral majority" conservative with a wife and family involved in a long-term tryst with his homosexual lover:
Why is Joe attracted to Tony? How did the two get together? When did Joe discover his homosexual self? These questions, and many others, are never answered by Demos-Brown.
Of course, if Demos-Brown had decided that the lover would be a woman, would these questions even arise?  While the dramatic tension is intensified by the gender selection, a man running on a "family values" platform shouldn't have ANY lovers, right?
On a "brighter" note, the author does possess amazing writing skills that seamlessly allow the flow of one scene to the next without the use of arresting blackouts; and his written words are often punctuated by the infectious performances by the cast.

Domingues, especially, does an amazing job in portraying Joe’s diametrically adverse facades as the strong and confident politician, and an equally insecure closeted gay.

Herrera, too, shines with enormous vitality as he underscores Manny’s passion to help place a Cuban-American in a higher political office.

Only Burgess seems to have missed a bit of the mark. While he certainly brings Tony’s entitlement issues to light, the character appears to be too angry from start to finish. The audience needs to also see the juxtaposition of a possible softer side that perhaps attracted Joe in the first place.

Still, the play exudes an enormous potential for growth at the hands of this very talented playwright. Kudos to director Louis Tyrrell for ending the season on such a strong note.
John LaRiviere reviewed for Talkin' Broadway;
Dan Domingues is charismatic as Joe, and has the right tension with long-suffering wife Natasha Sherritt. Cliff Burgess' Tony appeals to another side of Joe's character. There is an intellectual partnership between the two men matched with the physical. It is believable that Joe would engage in a relationship that has this appeal over one that was just based on sex. Still, the two actors seem a bit more like friends than lovers in their chemistry. John Herrera has great presence as Manny. There is an old world feel, like that of an Italian Don, about the way he behaves with Joe. It is at once both nurturing and threatening, and undeniably masculine. Herrera and Domingues work the complex connection between their characters beautifully.
But he didn't like everything
The opening scene contains a moment of truly unnecessary gratuitous nudity. It serves no purpose, as we don't need to see Tony naked to get that he and Joe are sexually involved. The introduction of the adopted son in rehab (whom we never meet) seems under explored, as there is no explanation of why he is there, and no sense of the relationship he has with his parents. It is a tad disappointing that we never see Joe called upon to demonstrate his role as a father, especially considering his strong memories of the relationship with his own father.
Brandon K. Thorp reviewed for the Broward/Palm Beach New Times:
When the Sun Shone Brighter at Florida Stage represents Florida's contradictions by cramming them into the person of Jose "Joe" Sanchez-Fors Jr. (played by Dan Domingues). He is an anti-Castro Cuban who would have cause to hate other anti-Castro Cubans but doesn't. He's the head of a beautiful archetypical Floridian family (tanned; smelling of sea spray, money, and Botox). He's a closeted gay man in a long-term relationship. He is a thief with dreams of genuine accomplishment, and he is an idealistic liar. He is unsettled, in other words — motivated by the raw human electricity of his outlaw pioneer spirit. He is a Floridian to his bones.
Playwright Christopher Demos-Brown never tries to illustrate Joe's success...(the play) is a meditation on history and on the nexus of power and personal responsibility... it is not...the study of politics as it is practiced by top-dollar senatorial campaigns... For this reason, the worst bits of When the Sun Shone Brighter are downright boring. Windy, pretty prose cannot quite mask a creeping irritation at having to listen to yet another exegesis of the beauty of Batista's Cuba.
Manny Arostegui (played by John Herrera, who can be the picture of wrath when the script demands but stiffens up in moments of levity)  ...a cop trying to solve his father's murder (Brandon Morris, lending his innate verve to lines more suited to a Lifetime original movie)  ...Tony Rinaldi (an unusually tanned and toned Cliff Burgess, who turns in a nimble, intelligent performance).
...Domingues' sweaty but slick interpretation gives a fine feel for the kind of reptilian half-life entered into by those who make their livings in politics.
The set is a simple affair: silhouettes of trees behind a big, polychromatic scrim; a few elegant pieces of furniture scattered across the vastness of the stage. Tyrell's Florida looks like a thin veneer of civilization spread across the uncontrollable chaos of nature. If there is a better conception of our state or the state of politics in general, I haven't seen it.
Mary Damiano reviewed for South Florida Gay News:
The last production in the ocean- side space that Florida Stage has called home for nearly 20 years is a fitting one, because it showcases what Florida Stage does best: produce provocative new work by talented playwrights.The fact that this play, When the Sun Shone Brighter, is by South Florida playwright Christopher Demos-Brown, is proof that when it comes to talent, we don’t have to look further than our own backyard.
...Demos-Brown has given us a glimpse into the world of political intrigue, where the truth plays second fiddle to ambition. It’s a remarkably tight play for a world premiere, with a carefully crafted structure, believable characters and a wealth of beautiful language.
Louis Tyrrell skillfully directs a strong cast. Domingues makes a camera-ready politician and pulls off Joe’s cockiness and sincerity. Burgess makes the most of the mostly thankless job of serving as Joe’s conscience, and he gets most of the funny lines. Bill Schwartz plays Joe’s dead dad Jose with a wistfulness that carries most of the play’s poetry. John Herrera, as Joe’s chief patron and political boss, is often the most compelling actor on stage, although too often he shouts his lines. He doesn’t have too, because his presence and performance are enough to keep the audience riveted.
Jan Sjostrom reviewed for the Palm Beach Daily News:
The story calls to mind The Godfather movies. But this is no movie knock-off. Playwright Christopher Demos-Brown makes full use of the possibilities of theater.
Louis Tyrrell conducts the script like a world-class maestro, sounding notes of anger, yearning and blind hypocrisy with an infallible ear and coaxing immaculate performances out of the cast.
John Herrera as Manny lovingly bullies Joe with a resolve that’s as steely as the wheels of the political machine he runs. Dan Domingues cannily navigates the gaping contrasts between Joe’s public and private selves, calling to mind too many real-world comparisons.
This is Demos-Brown’s first full-length play to be professionally produced. Florida Stage’s superb rendition heralds great things to come from a first-rate talent
Hap Erstein reviewed for the Palm Beach Post:
...the smartly written political drama by Christopher Demos-Brown now receiving its world premiere at Florida Stage... In his final production at the company’s Manalapan playhouse before the move to the Kravis Center this summer, director Louis Tyrrell both introduces a writer of great promise and gathers a terrific ensemble cast.

Foremost among them is John Herrera (Tony nominee for The Mystery of Edwin Drood)... Herrera dominates the production...
As Joe, Dan Domingues exudes confidence and affability...
Natasha Sherritt has a nice edge as Joe’s fed-up wife; Cliff Burgess oozes smugness as Joe’s boy toy; Bill Schwartz floats in and out of Joe’s brain as his late father; and Brandon Morris acquits himself as a Miami detective newly assigned to the murder case, a role that is more plot-motivated than flesh and blood.
Roger Martin reviewed for Miami ArtZine:
When the Sun Shone Brighter, in a world premiere at Florida Stage, is Miami playwright Christopher Demos-Brown's powerful, engrossing account of Cuban exile terrorism in Miami and the slick machinations of a politician and his handler trawling therein.
Admirably played by Dan Domingues, the mayor has secrets and his uncle Manny, the formidable John Herrera, has to dig them out and spin them before the Senate race begins.  Lies.  Of course, Uncle Manny has secrets of his own.  Lies.
The production values at Florida Stage are always at the top and there's no change here, with Kent Goetz (scenic), Richard Crowell (lighting), Michiko Kitayama Skinner (costumes) and Matt Kelly (sound) contributing well to this last show at Manalapan before the move to the Kravis Center.

There's a good cast at work under Louis Tyrell's direction and Chris Demos-Brown is well on his way to a great new career.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
With When the Sun Shone Brighter, a provocative (and, for some, controversial) political drama now getting its world premiere production at Florida Stage, Christopher Demos-Brown deftly demonstrates that he gets that principle: drama first; politics second.
The acting, especially from the slyly charming Domingues, the larger-than-life Herrera and the sympathetic Burgess, is terrific.
Demos-Brown and director Louis Tyrrell keep the tension over whether Joe will triumph or be undone pulsing through the play, and even in the script's final moments, the answer remains intriguingly ambiguous.
That a hot-button play so relevant to Miami's Cuban exile history and present-day politics would get its first production two counties to the north might seem surprising. But Tyrrell and Florida Stage have built an enviable national reputation by taking chances with powerful material. And more often than not, as with When the Sun Shone Brighter, those risks pay off.
The world premiere production of When The Sun Shone Brighter plays at Florida Stage through June 20, 2010; future Florida Stage productions will be staged at the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach.

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