Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Florida Stage: Cane (7 reviews)

Florida Stage commissioned Andrew Rosendorf to write Cane; the first in a series of plays that the company refers to as "The Florida Cycle."  The play made its world premiere on October 29, 2010.
In 1928, a farmer is losing his land to rising water. Today, the same area is days away from having no water at all. The past and the present are deeply connected in a story of betrayal and bloodshed, water and wind, family and fortune. Inspired by Florida’s rich history, this gripping mystery from an extraordinary new talent explores how a state once so wet has become so dry.
Louis Tyrrell directed a cast that included Dan Leonard, Trenell Mooring, David Nail, Julie Rowe, and Gregg Weiner.

Brandon K. Thorp reviewed for the Broward/Palm Beach New Times:
In the first act, the dynamic between Wilson and Brooks is as taut as piano wire, driving toward its violent conclusion with a kind of star-crossed inevitability. Weiner is expansive and elusive — a warm cloud of goodwill hovering about a cool and calculating core, the existence of which may be unknown even to his character. Nail, in one of the finest performances of the young theater season, imbues Noah with a beat-up dignity that is painful and ennobling to see. The men are surrounded by fully formed supporting characters: Dan Leonard plays an educated local do-gooder with an engaged crankiness that calls to mind both Mark Twain and Gladys Kravitz; Julie Rowe plays Wilson's hard-bitten wife as resolute but dreaming of a life with radio and culture and free of bugs; and Trenell Mooring, a great beauty, brings a silent survivor's intelligence to the character of the black farmhand, Harriett.
In the second act, the reappearance of these same actors as their previous characters' descendents seems contrived, like a grab for unnecessary symmetry... Perhaps trying to link Florida's past with its present and future is a mistake — perhaps the divide between the two is too great and any equivalence is necessarily artificial. Whatever the reason, Cane could do with some trimming, lest this feast of biblio-Floridian archetypes devolve into mere crackers and cheese.
Mary Damiano reviewed for the South Florida Gay News:
Rosendorf seems to nail the desolation and pioneer spirit of Florida in the early 20th century. His characters have an authenticity to them. His dialogue here is excellent, full of the everyday poetry and lyrical rhythms from people of that era.

Unfortunately the interesting situations he sets up in the first act remain unfulfilled in the second act. Perhaps the second act takes place too many generations after the first, perhaps it would have been better to keep the entire play a period piece. The second act feels as unrealistic as the first act feels authentic, and that shift is too jarring. Worst of all, the most interesting thing that happens in the second act is a story told to us in a lengthy monologue by Zora (Mooring) Harriett’s great-granddaughter. When the most memorable part of the second act is something the audience has been told, not shown, there’s a problem.
John LaRiviere reviewed for Talkin'
The set... completely immerse(s) the audience in the time and place of the play. The ...staging is beautifully choreographed. Though they are playing to three sides, the focus is always clear to the audience, and always seemingly spontaneous.
The cast masterfully makes each conversation feel fresh and organic, and tangibly establishes the tension between their characters. Gregg Weiner's performance nears brilliance... Weiner has a knack for making what he says look like it really is the first time he's ever said it. David Nail creates a dirt covered Noah Brooks that is fascinating in his physicality...
Aside from the presentational nature of Zora's (Trenell Mooring) monologue in the second act, and an ending that doesn't really tie everything together, Cane features excellent writing and some truly impeccable acting.
Jan Sjostrom reviewed for the Palm Beach Daily News:
Cane demonstrates Andrew Rosendorf’s potential as a creator of well-crafted, character-driven plays. But as yet he’s a sprinter, rather than a marathon runner.
The nearly perfect (first) act is powered by a taut, emotionally charged story, persuasive performances and the design team’s recreation of the wicked weather and brutal setting, with the leaky dike towering overhead.

Act Two, set 80 years later in the same locale, fails to deliver on the first act’s promise.
The performers play the descendents or the equivalents of the characters they portrayed in the first act... The device isn’t enough to tie the two acts together. Furthermore, the second act’s story line and characters are underdeveloped, and the play’s ending is inadequately supported by the scenes that precede it.
Director Tyrrell makes the most of the uneven material, aided by standout performances from Gregg Weiner, playing the shrewd Wilson males, David Nail as the Brooks family members, and Julie Rowe as the two Mrs. Wilsons.

With Florida Stage’s mission of developing new work not every production can build on a fully realized play. Rosendorf’s talent needs more nurturing, and clearly deserves it.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for the South Florida Theater Review:
Andrew Rosendorf demonstrates deft craftsmanship in his new play Cane, which had its world premiere Friday night at Florida Stage, the playwright’s first produced full-length work. But craftsmanship is not enough. Cane still needs more work to generate that indefinable electricity necessary to engage an audience’s emotions.
But even with its shortcomings, the human drama that Rosendorf has created makes it worth seeing as an early step in a developmental process that will likely continue.
Rosendorf demonstrates a good ear for the stylized dialogue of ordinary people, a major challenge when capturing the slightly stilted cadences of 1920s Americans. He’s especially effective in writing arias for characters who manage to be nearly poetic while still speaking everyday language. His most moving moment comes as Wilson cradles his injured wife and lulls her to sleep with a description of his dream homestead.
The performances were all workmanlike, although again, never electric. Weiner and Tyrrell deserve credit for making the earlier Wilson a complex human being... Weiner embodies a man being crushed in a vise of economic and familial pressures. Unfortunately, the Wilson of the second act is written as a pragmatic opportunist with no redeeming qualities.
Tyrrell has skillfully adapted his directing style to the three-quarter thrust stage.
Richard Crowell has designed a tall dike looming against the back wall, two ramshackle stores and a slope of rain-rutted muck and stone jutting into audience. Crowell’s sense of place unique to the edge of the Everglades is enhanced by Matt Kelly’s soundscape of chirping birds, light rain splatters and torrential downpours, as well as Suzanne M. Jones’ chiaroscuro lighting effects. Erin Amico’s costumes are pitch perfect from the soiled rags of the indigent farmer to the not quite stylish outfit of Junior Wilson’s wife
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
This world premiere is the first professional production of a full-length play by the theater’s playwright-in-residence, a writer whose short plays have already brought him national recognition. Rosendorf’s talent is evident in Cane, though like most new plays, it needs more work if it is to have a life beyond its inaugural production.
Though Cane is steeped in Florida history, Rosendorf and director Tyrrell know that, grand outdoor dramas aside, history lessons don’t work onstage. So the two have sought to illuminate the many facets of life here — from the forces of nature to human political maneuverings — by crafting a gripping tale of specific people...
This is pretty turgid stuff, and try as they might, the cast’s skilled actors can’t mask that fact. Mooring must struggle in the second act to infuse a monologue by Harriet’s descendant Zora with more poetic feeling than Rosendorf has supplied. And Leonard, who has morphed into a slightly loony photographer, can’t quite pull off the trick of making either of his unnecessary characters more than a purveyor of information.
Hap Erstein reviewed for the (Thanks, Mr.Burke!) Palm Beach Post:
The first work in the open-ended series is Cane by Andrew Rosendorf, the company’s playwright-in-residence, an ambitious, epic tale contrasting the overabundance of water at the time of the deadly 1928 hurricane with the dearth of water today.
The trick with an issue play like this is to involve us with a human story and then slip in the cautionary conservation message between the lines. It is a balancing act that Rosendorf seems to have mastered in his first act. He hooks us in with a melodramatic, yet compelling tale of a farmer-merchant’s attempt to buy the land of a cash-strapped World War I veteran.
After intermission, the play jumps forward 82 years, which is challenge enough for an audience that has become emotionally invested in the characters, only to find them gone. That could be surmountable, but Rosendorf’s solution is both overly didactic and under-dramatic... That is unfortunate, because in the early going, Rosendorf demonstrates that he is clearly a writer to be reckoned with...
...the gale-force first act of Cane is a terrific showcase for Florida Stage’s new home in the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse. In this expansive, high-ceilinged space, scenic designer Richard Crowell is able to build a craggy, steeply raked earthen floor that rises at the back to simulate the precarious mud dike of Lake Okeechobee... lighting designer Suzanne M. Jones contributes some ferocious lightning and a waterless rain effect.
Director Louis Tyrrell has a worthy five-member ensemble, each capable of creating two vividly different characters.
Cane plays at Florida Stage through November 28, 2010.

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