"I'm fed up not just with the fact that Mittelman won't employ local talent, I'm fed up with the fare he keeps bringing here," says Joseph Adler, who directed The Shadow Box at the Playhouse and won a Carbonnell Award two seasons before Mittelman came to town. "A regional theater should be doing cutting-edge stuff. We have the potential to become one of the most important regional theaters in the country, and we've got Arnold Mittelman standing in the way."
"The way a theater community gets on the map is by developing new local talent in directing, acting, and writing," says a former Playhouse employee who worked closely with Mittelman. "Doing revivals of pieces that have already been done better elsewhere isn't ultimately going to do anything for Miami's reputation. Mittelman is running a road house; he's duplicating what TOPA and the Broward Center for the Performing Arts are doing. What we need is someone who is developing more than tried-and-true box office successes. If you've got a state theater that's also supported by contributions, you ought to be less worried about selling tickets and take some more risks. As it is, we're looked upon as a sort of cruise ship on terra firma."
While Mittelman concedes that few leading roles on the main stage of the Playhouse go to local actors, he defends his approach as serving the ultimate goal of theatrical excellence. The world of regional theater, he says, has changed significantly from what it was just a few years ago, and has led to misunderstanding about what he's up to. "One part of what I believe in and do has the ability to be very popular and commercially successful," Mittelman notes. "The people who don't understand the breadth of what I'm about may judge me by their limitations, and make accusations as a result of that. Not-for-profit theater in America, not-for-profit regional theater, has become as wide-ranging, and correctly so, as the Goodspeed Opera House, which now has launched three or four major musicals for Broadway on direct transfer. The definition of not-for-profit theater over the last ten years has become so radically diverse and so unique unto its own institution, that when we all get together, my colleagues and I, it's very rarely that you see too many direct patterns."
Trustees of the Coconut Grove Playhouse, however, recently acknowledged they are attempting to draw the theater closer to a well-established national pattern. They are looking for a new managing director for the institution, someone to take over the business-side operations. The new structure would leave Mittelman with half his former responsibilities, radically readjusting the management formula of the Playhouse. Then again, the trustees also noted that they have been searching for someone to fill the position on and off for six years.