A Plan For All Seasons

Glancing over everyone's promised new seasons, the highlights at this point appear to be A Few Good Men and Sight Unseen at the Caldwell; a host of interesting contemporary works by ACME, AREA and The Drama Center; Speed-the-Plow at New Theatre; and Falsettos, Six Degrees of Separation, and Keith Carradine in The Will Rogers Follies on the road show circuit (which includes the Parker Playhouse, The Broward Center, TOPA and the new Kravis Center in Palm Beach). Finally, you might want to witness Marriage Play by Edward Albee at The Coconut Grove Playhouse, just to see if both venue and playwright show any sign of getting back on an exciting dramatic track.

In sum, the season wasn't as bad as it could be, but still needs fewer hacks and more highlights if this area wants to be viewed in the same vein as Seattle or Minneapolis, for premiering significant regional theater. In that spirit, I urge you to support the gifted and shun the disabled because, as a newer, hipper population, it's time you separated caviar from old carp.

They work, day into evening, a company of dedicated actors, directors, and support staff, sprucing up and literally reshaping an old Masonic temple at Tenth Street and Alton Road in Miami Beach. Through the sweat of rehab, they cling to a fierce optimism and an allegiance to quality theater, even in the face of possible extinction. As the ACME Acting Company prepares for its sixth season, its members hope the same rabbit's foot that worked in the beginning will click again; on October 23 they'll present Balm in Gilead, the great playwright Lanford Wilson's first full-length play, with a cast of more than twenty. It is the same piece, with the same director and six of the same cast members, as ACME's January 1987 production, which launched the company in Hialeah. Back then, with an unusual show and virtually no publicity, packed with talent and a new approach, they manufactured a hit.

Although Juan Cejas, ex-artistic director of ACME and director of Balm, maintains that "more than anything, it's important this is a good show," the facts of show business are that four weeks of nearly full houses are required to erase the company's deficit and to meet its comparatively modest yearly budget of $250,000. According to Cejas and artistic director Eric Fliss, due to the recession and hurricane-relief demands, local grant funds from such sources as the Dade Foundation have dropped, necessitating at least $100,000 in ticket sales for the season, which, Cejas and company quickly add, "is far from impossible." Indeed, when ACME was still at The Strand restaurant, with only 40 seats to fill, the company cleared $60,000 yearly. With this new 200-seat space, salvation remains possible, provided theatergoers spread the word and South Floridians rally to help the closest thing they have to a professional repertory company.

ACME has suffered more than its fair share of knocks recently, apart from last season's eviction when The Strand's buyers made room for the SoBe fashion set. One of the only companies to feature new playwrights, ACME had to cancel the final original play in its summer festival, after a long lag in getting power restored post-Andrew. Prior to the big wind, thousands of dollars worth of sound and light equipment was stolen. And if that isn't enough, they still need a downstairs tenant ("preferably another arts organization, a catering service, or even a day-care center," comments actress Ellen Rae Littman) to help meet the $6000-per-month rent.

Because Fliss and troupe believe that hurricane relief is necessary and don't resent having arts funds being earmarked for the needy, every actor and staff member in this cast is donating his or her time as a benefit for ACME itself. And they're betting on a fine horse: Balm, an electric, eccentric, and enthralling dramatic work certainly launched Wilson's grand career. Perhaps it can keep a true flagship of Dade County's theatrical fleet afloat, and pave the way for an exciting new season with more Equity actors, a balanced budget, and even the fiscal ability to build a funky bar where people can hang out after the show.

"We'll do it," Cejas assures Peter Paul de Leo, one of the original company members. "Look, you finished the elevator in just one night."

For more information and reservations call 531-2393.

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