Wednesday, February 19, 2014

New Theatre: Visiting Hours (reviews)

visiting_hours_posterNew Theatre opened its production of David Caudle’s Visiting Hours at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center on February 7, 2014.
Coral Gables, Florida. The Present. A lesbian couple's longtime relationship is threatened when their estranged adult son resurfaces, having been arrested for aggravated assault. Their struggle mirrors that of any couple faced with the prospect that their child will never be "okay." Miami native David Caudle's engaging drama Visiting Hours questions whether parents can ever escape the guilt for the sins of their children.
Margaret M. Ledford directed a cast that included Madelin Marchant, Barbara Sloan, Maria Corina Ramirez, Kitt Marsh, and Alex Alvarez.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Resonant yet deliberately slow to reveal its secrets, Visiting Hours centers on a devoted lesbian couple, Marian (Barbara Sloan) and Beth (Madelin Marchant).
Directed by Margaret M. Ledford, Visiting Hours plays out in a cramped apartment that is as ugly as Marian and Beth’s ongoing exploitation by Paul (Alyiece Moretto designed the odd set). The acting is strong, though on opening night some lines were blown or forgotten. Too, one more clarifying rewrite wouldn’t hurt Visiting Hours. The facts and history contained in the plot are sometimes more confusing than revelatory.
Sloan and Marchant are convincing and compelling as the couple who are deeply bonded despite their differences… and they make you believe that the final test of the relationship could play out either way. Marsh is lascivious as Nat comes on to the much younger Shelly, amusing and sad as she grows ever more inebriated, poignant in her expression of loneliness.
But it’s Alvarez and Ramirez as the sneaky, raging young couple who prove both fascinating and frightening. Both of the younger actors walk the sociopath’s tightrope, radiating reason (Alvarez) and kookiness (Ramirez) until their masks fall away, and it becomes clear that no amount of a parent’s redemptive love is going to make any difference in their exploitative cruelty. And in its waning moments, Visiting Hours becomes a study in hard-wired familial dysfunction.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Until the final scene, it’s not terribly clear what New Theatre’s intriguing Visiting Hours is about or what it’s trying to say – and then the ideas come at you so fast that it takes a while afterward to sort out what playwright David Caudle has been setting up all  night.
Fortunately, the production led by director Margaret M. Ledford is consistently engaging and Caudle’s characters are absorbing enough to keep your attention... Ledford is one of the region’s best directors and she has worked hard to make this show land well with a competent cast.
Sloan, the New Theatre veteran with a dozen terrific performances on her resume, deserves credit for making Marian’s unconditional love of Paul nearly credible… but Paul’s callousness and cruelty makes Marian’s Pollyanna denial very close to implausible and only Sloan makes this work although you want to shake Marian for being such a pitiful dishrag.
Marchant’s Beth has seen too much emotional betrayal in the world outside not to be on guard.
Alvarez… has been building a reputation for reliably portraying nasty, intimidating and violent characters. Paul adds to the list. Alvarez fearlessly accepts that Paul is an absolute heartless bastard. But there’s also a bit of charismatic likability that makes Paul’s eventual meltdown a bit jarring.
Playing quirky, mercurial and crazy is fun but also a difficult challenge; Ramirez pulls it off. Looking a lot like Penelope Cruz, Ramirez’s 20-something Shelly is not just a bit unhinged, but simultaneously an experienced hustler with a street pragmatism that knows no boundaries whatsoever.
Sam Deshauteurs’ lighting changed regularly as emotions ebbed and flowed, but actors often ended up in dark spots on the stage.
This is the first production in New Theatre’s new home in the Lab Theater at South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, a new facility in Cutler Bay. The room gives the company the most space it has ever had in its history plus more equipment than ever before.
Roger Martin reviewed for Miami ArtZine:
Not that we want rainbows and doughnuts at every final curtain but seeing unlikeable characters change not one whit hardly fosters care and concern.
Madelin Marchant in a solid, grounded performance is Beth, Marian’s longtime partner and sees Paul with a much clearer eye than his mother.
Kit Marsh, as Nat, desperate for affection, plays the lonely drinker well. Marina Corina Ramirez as Shelly acts in all directions at once, watchable at times, annoying at others.
Alex Alvarez, a big man, spreads the snake oil with ease, the ultimate dodger of all responsibility with no care for others.
Margaret M. Ledford directed with set design by Alyiece Moretto, sound by Matt Corey and lighting by Samuel Deshauteurs.

John Thomason reviewed for the Miami New Times:
If it seems like New Theatre's latest production has an extra spring in its step — if the set design, lighting, and actors appear unusually dynamic — it might be because the peripatetic company has finally found a decent home.  One thing is certain: It picked a quality piece of a drama to relaunch its brand. Visiting Hours, a Florida premiere by Miami native David Caudle, is set affectionately in his childhood metropolis; keep an ear out for references to Coral Castle, CocoWalk, and Joe's Stone Crab.
Under the direction of arguably South Florida's most skilled theater freelancer, Margaret Ledford, each actor plunges deep into his or her emotional well.
The criminally underused Alvarez, who has proven he can be quirky and funny… as well as monstrous and harrowing… gravitates mostly to the latter as Paul. His sheer size makes him an intimidating force when surrounded by slender women, and his Paul is a self-destructive loose cannon, a psychopath careening toward an early grave. It's a performance built equally on small gestures — sniffing like a cokehead after convincing his mother he's clean — and uncontrollable, animalistic maneuverings, like a bipolar Stanley Kowalski.
Ramirez… plays sexy and straggly at the same time, a devious dynamo whose presence in a room can warp its energy faster than a passing poltergeist.
Sloan and Marchant make for a believable couple, each one's yin playing off the other's yang. The former is a classic motherly archetype, forever hoping there's an angel somewhere hidden in the demon seed she brought into the world. She effectively turns on the water works a couple of times, but it's the small touches that resonate the most, like the few times she reaches for her son only to have her affections ignored or rebuffed. Marchant's Beth anchors the show as its most grounded character, but she's also its least expressive performance, and it teeters at times toward emotional disconnection; it doesn't help that she rushes through a number of her lines. She stuns, finally, in an arresting confrontation and its aftermath in the second act.
Marsh may be onstage the least, but she's terrific every moment she's on... She plays Nat with a drunkard's loudness and lack of self-awareness, like a bedraggled matriarch from… the Tennessee Williams canon.
New Theatre presents David Caudle’s Visiting Hours at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center  through March 2, 2014

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