Sunday, December 4, 2011

New Theatre: Twain and Shaw Do Lunch (2 reviews)

New Theatre opened its new play in a new space.  Chamber Stephen's Twain And Shaw Do Lunch is the company' first production at The Roxy Performing Arts Center.
This witty and based-on-truth play is set in 1907 when the world's two greatest living writers, Mark Twain & George Bernard Shaw, had lunch together. This, their first meeting, was monumental. It would be Mrs. Shaw's job to make sure they didn't destroy each other.
Stephen A. Chambers directed a cast that featured Stephen Neal, Bill Schwartz, and Pilar Uribe.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
With no dramatic conflict, no character development and no narrative arc, Stevens’ 90-minute comedy is primarily a procession of the title characters telling each other funny anecdotes and plying each other with witticisms.

It’s possible that two supremely gifted actors with irresistible charisma could invest this script with enough verve and topspin for the content alone to be entertaining, but Stephen Neal as George Bernard Shaw and Bill Schwartz as Samuel Clemens are simply competent journeymen.
Stevens acknowledges that much of the script – a fictional account of a real meeting – is drawn from the duo’s writing and speeches. The problem in this production directed by New Theatre Literary Manager Steven Chambers (no, not the same person) is that the script sounds exactly like that: an artfully woven pastiche of the sages’ greatest hits.

Uribe’s energy drives the first third of the play, but she is offstage struggling to fix an indigestible dinner for long stretches, leaving the play’s forward motion to the century-old quips and tales.
In a white wig and moustache, Schwartz looks and moves like the aging lion, but the only time he gets to show his acting chops are in a few sad reveries about the loss of his wife and daughter.
Neal tries hard, but he doesn’t look, sound or act like any incarnation of the curmudgeonly and intimidating Shaw we’ve ever heard of.
This show is the first in New Theatre’s new home at the Roxy Theatre Group in west-central Miami-Dade. The former multiplex movie theater is not hard to get to, especially from the Turnpike and has free parking... Among many pluses, the stage is nearly three times the postage stamp that New Theatre had in its late home on Laguna Avenue...
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
The New Theatre world premiere of (Chamber) Stevens’ script, the first production at the company’s new home at Miami’s Roxy Performing Arts Center, has been directed by literary manager Steven Chambers. And yes, the flipped first and last names of playwright and director is a funny coincidence, not a typographical error.

If only Twain and Shaw Do Lunch had turned out to be similarly amusing.
...director Chambers is able to move his cast around a set that would never have been possible on the company’s tiny stage in Coral Gables. Designer Andrew Rodriguez-Triana tries to suggest the Shaws’ affluence, but it’s tough to approximate elegance on a thrift-shop budget. Chuck Roeder’s period costumes (including a trademark white suit for Twain) and Ricky J. Martinez's lighting design work well, but several botched sound cues marred a key opening weekend performance.
As for the actors, Schwartz fares best as the wry, deadpan Twain. Neal’s trained, American-sounding speaking voice isn’t hugely different from Shaw’s... but Neal is saddled with playing a man who seems more like the beleaguered lead in an inferior Neil Simon comedy than a deep thinker who would go on to win the Nobel Prize for literature. Uribe efficiently plays straight woman to the famous gents, though she struggles with projection and a light Irish accent which she eventually discards.
New Theatre presents Twain And Shaw Do Lunch at The Roxy Performing Arts Center through December 18, 2011.

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