A Plan For All Seasons

'Tis the season to face the theater of 1992-93, so a broad review of last year's high and low points seems to be in order, as well as a peek into which shows ahead merit breaking into the piggy bank. And since everyone in this place remains too polite to say it, leave it to me -- the hard-bitten New Yorker, who keeps having to look up the word "polite" in the dictionary -- to opine on those venues consistently offering interesting drama and, by omission, suggest those more prone to either hambone ineptitude, super-glitz vacuous spectacle, or plainold dog meat.

Of course, South Florida history will note the past season as one of wanton disaster, such as Hurricane Andrew blowing through Homestead, and Pia Zadora hooting and hollering her porcine pipes out at the Coconut Grove Playhouse, though not necessarily in that order. As far as dead, exfoliated trees are concerned, George Peppard did his bit as King Henry in the leaden Lion in Winter at the Parker Playhouse. And the Public Theater demonstrated that a sometimes revered institution can hide a shaky foundation; for example, when the company directors allowed one playwright's mommy to produce, under the Public's name, the almost inconceivably inept Yetta & Sophie in Miami Beach. Independent producers who fostered upon us Unbeatable Harold at a temporary Beach club/theater claimed that the playwright received accolades at Circle Rep in New York and The Actors' Theater of Louisville; after seeing the play, I would have picked him as a possible runner-up of the greased pig contest at the Fargo State Fair.

Many more hapless souls blundered, stumbled, overacted, misdirected, and offended too many for a weekly column to enumerate. New theater groups sprang up -- the New River Rep in Fort Lauderdale, the Ensemble Stage in Davie -- but never quite reached the status of quality, while at the same time the audience for theater stayed status quo, meaning that the few good houses and productions struggled in the shadow of financial gloom (see "Stage Notes").

To prevent this misguided behavior in the future, I wish to leave the turkey brigade behind and praise the dramaturgs who do exist in the region.

As far as production highlights, Duet For One, first at the Public and then at The Drama Center in Deerfield Beach, offered expert dramatic action and superb acting by Carolyn Hurlburt and Peter Haig. The event was equaled in excellence only by the Parker Playhouse's unveiling of Tru, in which Robert Morse brought Truman Capote back to life, complete with savage wit.

A Final Evening with the Illuminati at the luscious Theatre Club of the Palm Beaches showed that even the avant-garde -- when well written, directed, and acted -- can captivate audiences of all ages. ACME's Road combined skillful writing and offbeat staging to address the issue of homelessness. And Guillermo Gentile wrote, directed, and starred in a magical adult fairy tale called With Folded Wings at the Carrusel Theater. Speaking of the Carrusel, it played host, along with the Minorca Playhouse, to the Seventh International Hispanic Theater Festival, in which several productions stood out, most notably Perdonen La Tristeza by the Spanish troupe La Zaranda and a lighthearted erotic version of Lorca's Don Perlimplin by the Brazilian Teatro Do Ornitorrinco.

As for the musicals, one production eclipsed all the others -- the moving, fluid, politically correct Falsettoland, a coup for the Caldwell Theatre. They grabbed this third part of a trilogy of plays, which soon afterward became the much-praised Broadway hit Falsettos.

New Theatre should be commended for a tidy production of Educating Rita, ACME for Prelude to A Kiss, Coconut Grove for The Substance of Fire (the first act, anyway -- no one from Tigertail to Times Square has been able to figure out what playwright Jon Robin Baitz was trying to do in the stagnant second act), and the Off-Broadway Theater for a lovely if corny rendition of The Immigrant.

And now -- fearless of retribution but still humble enough to remind you that the following is nothing more than an educated opinion -- I'll divulge, based on what I've seen in the past year, and in no particular order of excellence, the names of those theaters most likely to produce the real goods.

ACME and AREA Stage on the Beach prove, season after season, that drama as an art and a craft still thrives, no matter how impoverished the company or how small the venue. In these productions, the actors can act and the directors do more than move bodies around. The Theatre Club of The Palm Beaches, guided by the fine taste of Louis Tyrell, and the newly re-formed Drama Center at Deerfield Beach, benefiting mightily from the big league experience of artistic director David Spangler, are similar gold mines, and well worth the drive up I-95. All four rarely falter, and even when they do, there's always something meritorious, or simply creative, in their fare.

Less consistent, but still well worth checking out, are New Theatre in Coral Gables, and the Caldwell in Boca. When the Parker Playhouse hosts a true road show gem -- as it will in the coming season with Falsettos and Six Degrees of Separation (if you can stomach Marlo Thomas in the lead) no better and more comfortable house exists in the area, or in many other places in the country.

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