By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
Snowbirds swiftly flying the co-op believe that the soggy South Florida summer results in nothing more than lethargic attempts at action and lazy, hazy days spotlighted largely by sweaty naps. Juan Cejas and Maria Romeu of the ACME Theater and Mario Ernesto Sanchez of Teatro Avante don't agree. For these theater mavericks, summer marks a time of rebirth and frantic activity. Through their exhaustive efforts the dramatic scene over the next few months -- and in the case of Teatro Avante's eighth International Hispanic Theater Festival, the next two weeks, beginning June 10 A may see more creativity and originality than it has all year.
In addition to the always intriguing summer Original Play Festival sponsored by ACME, Romeu and Cejas proudly announce an ambitious five-year goal for the brave but often financially embattled troupe, founded in 1986 by Cejas and Eric Fliss, presently the company's technical director. "We want to be on the cover of American Theatre magazine," proclaims Cejas, "and be known as a major force in the production of original works in this country."
For a company now almost $40,000 in debt A and unclear as to its future productions until Cejas returned from his one year hiatus in Los Angeles just three months ago A this seems like a fantastic hallucination. On the other hand, ACME didn't have Maria Romeu as administrative director until April, and she just might be the key to turning wild visions into reality. With an impressive track record in theater management (she founded two noted Latin theater companies in Chicago and San Francisco, and co-produced a Latin festival in 'Frisco with the late Joseph Papp), a positive attitude, and what appears to be a surplus of energy, Romeu declared her lofty ambitions to the theater's board of directors with a statement characteristic of her personality: "I told them that they could be absolutely sure of one thing A that everything we now plan is going to happen."
Romeu immediately set out to put the company on firmer ground by applying for grants from government and corporate sources previously untapped by ACME. Next, she and Cejas have organized a fundraiser for Saturday, June 19, at 8:00 p.m., designed to raise enough cash to underwrite what the pair considers to be ACME's most important event: the fifth Original Play Festival, featuring cutting-edge material from across the nation.
Plans for the cash-gathering fete, to be held at the ACME Theater Building, 955 Alton Rd. on South Beach, include a surprise performance by a special guest in the theatrical community. Cejas and Romeu prefer to be secretive about the identity of the performer, but they do reveal that the piece will be a monologue by David Mamet. Both before and after the performance, guests may enjoy champagne courtesy of Domain Chandon, wines courtesy of Wines of Spain, and hors d'oeuvres from I Tre Merli. After Mamet, the colorful Afro-Haitian band Koleksyon Kazak, a regular act at the Stephen Talkhouse, promises to rock the house until the witching hour, when the party moves a few blocks over to Bash at 655 Washington Ave.
Valet parking is included in the price of the $50 and $100 tickets. "This is going to be an elegant event," says Romeu. "At least as elegant as we get," adds Cejas. "Funky-elegant."
Cejas points out that the higher ticket price yields a dramatic bargain, as well. "You get a seat to all ACME shows in the 1993-1994 season, tickets to the Original Play Festival, which includes nine staged readings and one full production, plus four tickets to the eighth International Hispanic Theater Festival. This is a $180 value, not even including the party."
He stresses that the donation of tickets by the Hispanic Festival (more on that fiesta in a moment) to the ACME fundraiser demonstrates an encouraging spirit of cooperation among the theater community. In addition to the contribution by Festival producer Mario Ernesto Sanchez, the new Miami Skyline Theatre recently gave ACME a large donor mailing list, and members of the Coral Gables Playhouse serve on ACME's host committee for the party. Hosts help spread the word about the party and seek out corporate sponsorship for ACME's many endeavors. "This rallying represents a huge effort to promote theater in Miami," Romeu says. "Removing competitiveness among venues is essential, because we are all developing audiences for each other."
While the goal of the June 19 event is to supply roughly $20,000 A the operating costs of the Original Play Festival A if more moola comes in, ACME won't complain. And if the fundraiser packs the place, ACME plans another for New Year's Eve, to celebrate the opening that night of its second show of the season, Arthur Miller's classic play about dreamers, Death of a Salesman.
From July 4 to September 1, ACME will unveil nine dramatically staged original play readings, to be held at their theater on Sundays, at the Stephen Talkhouse on Wednesdays, and possibly at MDCC-Wolfson Campus on some other day of the semana. The play festival culminates in the world premiere production of Hadleyburg, U.S.A., a powerhouse work about bigotry by rising star playwright Matthew Witten, whose pieces have gained acclaim in Washington, D.C., Arizona, Buffalo, and Los Angeles.
Sometime in the near future, the company must bid farewell to South Beach because of wildly rocketing real estate costs and ultimately hopes to relocate to Coral Gables, where, according to Cejas, "permanent residents live and appear to support theater."
"There's a totally different tone around ACME now," insists Cejas. "We're coming out of crisis management and we're going to become one of the theaters that puts this area of the country on the theatrical map."
Speaking of maps, sponsors Teatro Avante and American Airlines certainly scoured the planet for the best theater groups to grace the eighth International Hispanic Theater Festival. Argentina, Costa Rica, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Spain, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, and Chile, as well as Miami, are sending stellar companies and plays to be performed in Spanish, English, and/or Portuguese from June 10 to June 27 at El Carrusel Theatre in Coral Gables. Those who have attended this festival before know that the quality is usually high and many of the world premiäres move on to success around the world. In the next two weeks, I'll be reviewing some of the highlights.
To a critic often disheartened by endless revivals of hackneyed work, both ACME's Play Festival and the Hispanic Theater Festival offer a summer tonic to wake the mind and refresh the spirit. In the midst of the muggy blues, you should take a dip in these play-full pools yourself.
For the perfect day trip and a pleasing production of City of Angels, the Tony Award-winning musical that features a plot within a plot and plenty of snappy dialogue, ride up to The Jupiter Theatre for fine dining and drama. Angels didn't thrill me when it opened on Broadway in 1989 or at TOPA two years ago, but the director of the Jupiter version, Norb Joerder, changed my mind by noticeably speeding up the pace of the piece. Also on hand to enhance the show is an exceptional cast, bar none.
Cy Coleman's compositions for this work far exceed his efforts on Will Rogers' Follies but come nowhere near his peak, when he penned tunes for Sweet Charity and Barnum. But Coleman's somewhat mundane melodies aren't the hook in this show; the clever book by Larry Gelbart, and lightning-quick witty lyrics by David Zippel, steal the spotlight. Set in Los Angeles during the late 1940s, the complex story revolves around a hack writer named Stine, whose claim to fame is a set of crime novels about a private dick named Stone. Stine sells Stone's story short by compromising constantly on the screenplay of one of the novels, slowly being mutilated (of course) by movie mogul Buddy Fidler. Both Stine's real story and Stone's fictional one emerge concurrently on stage, and in the end, actually merge.
At its debut, City of Angels was touted as the first great American musical in many years. Until I saw it at Jupiter, I couldn't see why. Who says dinner theater has to be second-rate