Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Zoetic Stage: South Beach Babylon (4 reviews)

Zoetic Stage made its debut at the Arsht Center with the world premiere of South Beach Babylon on December 2, 2010.
South Beach Babylon explores the hopes and ambitions of five South Beach artists in the weeks leading up to Art Basel. A fascinating look at what it takes to create art without selling one's soul in contemporary America. McKeever is South Florida's most produced playwright. His plays have been seen extensively throughout South Florida, America, and Europe.
Stuart Meltzer directed a cast that included Stephen G. Anthony, Michael McKeever, Elena Maria Garcia, and Erik Fabregat.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Playwright Michael McKeever explores South Florida's art world and the different artists who work in it in South Beach Babylon, a crackling world premiere comedy launching Miami's newest theater company, Zoetic Stage, in the Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
(McKeever) has come up with a collection of vividly rendered characters, some tailored to the talents of the actors originating them. That's part of Zoetic's deal: playwrights creating work for an ongoing company, something that can help the troupe claim a distinctive place in South Florida's theater landscape.
...Babylon is structured as a memory piece, the memories belonging to the young artist, Jonas Blodgen (Andrew Rosenberg). But at least in this first production, Jonas is almost a tangential figure. That's partially because the script needs trimming and another rewrite or two, partially because the fabulously funny Elena Maria Garcia sashays away with the show.
Stephen G. Anthony is caustic yet charismatic as photographer Tony Everette... as (sometimes topless) model Lennox Montel, the striking Amy McKenna makes vapidity amusing.
Thanks to Zoetic artistic director Stuart Meltzer's fluid staging, Jeff Quinn's abstract set design, Travis Neff's gracefully astute lighting and Alberto Arroyo's character-defining costumes, South Beach Babylon has a style and look befitting its subject. Dancer-choreographers Rosie Herrera and Octavio Campos deliver the play's striking performance art piece, a scathing commentary on artistic exploitation.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for the South Florida Theater Review:
The premiere of South Beach Babylon Friday at the Arsht Center wasn’t a promising debut as the inaugural offering from Zoetic Stage—it was a promise fulfilled.

Credit Meltzer and the actors for lushly embroidering the dialogue with physical movements and tiny curlicues that spice up delightfully fresh line readings.

And no one excels at this like South Florida’s funniest comic actress, Elena Maria Garcia, who uses contemptuous snorts, patronizing sighs and arched eyebrows to
punctuate every sentence in her standout performance as a cannibalistic
juggernaut of a superagent/facilitator.
While (all the characters) sound like “types,” McKeever’s repartee, Meltzer’s direction and the cast’s earnestness make each three-dimensional characters rather than chess pieces for a playwright.
Additionally, you have to love a show that makes vicious fun of artists’ pretentious “explanations” of what a piece of art means, riffs that you’ve always suspected are utter horse manure.
Someone also might argue that there is no revelatory epiphany here (“Commercial-driven compromise poisons art”) to support a full evening, but McKeever takes us on a tour of a world of the sublime and the ridiculous populated with quirky Wonderland-like denizens.

And if you’ve heard it all before, it’s doubtful you’ve heard it expressed so entertainingly or with such love and wonder.
Roger Martin reviewed for Miami ArtZine:
Although you won't actually see any flaming babies on stage at Zoetic's South Beach Babylon, they do get talked about a lot along with barbed wire and a girl getting intensely personal with herself.

But what you will see are bare boobies (only two), hilarious knock-offs of Romero Britto's art, and the vainglorious machinations of artists with an e and the enablers who mishandle them.
All... roles are well cast and well played, but the crown has to go to Elena Maria Garcia as Semira Mann, the manic event planner. It's not that she's a better
actor than the others, and they're all good, it's just that she's born
to this role. She'd steal scenes from a blind baby and a three legged
dog and absolutely revel in it. And she's fascinating and very damn
Smoothly directed by Stuart Meltzer, this show has many more highs than lows, and the highest has to be The Performance Piece danced by Octavio Campos and Rosie Herrera. Choreographed by Herrera in collaboration with Campos, it's clever, it's funny and performed with such talent and vigor that it dimmed the lights of the Merce Cunningham troupe that had performed just an hour before in the main auditorium.
It's first time out of the box for Zoetic Stage, and South Beach Babylon comes gift wrapped and tied with a big red ribbon.
Mary Damiano reviewed for South Florida Gay News:
McKeever, who is also a successful artist, has explored the art world before in his plays, most recently his 2006 drama The Impressionists. In that play, the focus was on artists, including Renoir and Monet, who challenged the established art community with their impressionistic paintings, which were considered radical at the time.

In South Beach Babylon, McKeever focuses on art as big business as opposed to art for art’s sake.
The performances in South Beach Babylon are top notch. Anthony is understated and charismatic, never resorting to stereotype. McKeever is funny and earnest. McKenna embodies the image of empty-headed elitism. Octavio Campos and Rosie Herrera dance a provocative performance piece which serves as a statement on the commercialism of art.

But Garcia steals the show. Her Semira is a shark other sharks would fear, a pretentious, tactless snob who fancies herself queen of taste and trends in South Beach. Semira is monstrous, but in Garcia’s hands, this evil whirlwind in a red dress is nothing short of delicious.
...South Beach Babylon is an entertaining play, marked by McKeever’s trademark wit and insight.
The Zoetic Stage production of South Beach Babylon plays at the Arsht Center through December 12, 2010.

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