By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
After wracking their brains during a long August 30th meeting, committee members voted in favor of dual eligibility. The ruling went public in the September 14 Carbonell Awards nomination announcement, which stated, "Because the play differed greatly from the Area Stage and the Off Broadway theaters, the show was ruled as two separate productions." A panel of 30 local theater critics and theater professionals (including this critic) awarded the show seven nominations: Best New Work, Best Director, and Best Set Design for Area; Best Production of a Play, and Best Set Design for Off Broadway; and Best Actor nominations for Bill Hindman and Walter Zukovski, who appeared in both productions.
In a letter to the South Florida Critics Association, Rodaz protested the decision, claiming, "The Area Stage production of Neil's Garden at the Off Broadway Theatre was not recast, was not redirected, was not reworked, was not rehearsed, was not rewritten and redesigned enough to be considered anything other than a move to a new venue." Additionally he asked for a "correction" from the nomination committee.
"We find nothing in John's request to make us change our decision," says Hap Erstein, theater critic for the Palm Beach Post and president of the critics association. "The decision of the committee was in no way a comment on quality. What we wanted to define was what, in general, makes any one production different from the other, and we determined if they have different directors, they are by definition different productions."
Smith insists the productions were radically different. "If he [Rodaz] was going to have this violent a reaction to nominations that are mostly in his favor," Smith notes, "then it might be credible if he'd come to see the show to have a point of reference."
"My protest has nothing to do with the nominations," counters Rodaz. "But to say that the productions were significantly different I cannot accept. We had the play too long and worked it too hard. We had it for three and half months. They [Off Broadway] had it for three days, one day of which I directed, and as anyone in the theater knows, two days is not enough time to make significant changes in a play."
Having seen only the Area Stage production, I'm not in a position to judge whether Smith recycled or redeveloped Rodaz's work. I did, however, receive countless press releases and postcards from Off Broadway heralding its production, with nary a reference to Area Stage. Regardless of the extent of any changes, the show did originate at the Miami Beach theater, and acknowledgement of that should have been explicit. Smith asserts it was: "I put Area Stage in the program. It said, 'Neil's Garden first produced by Area Stage and directed by John Rodaz.' I did not deny them any credit they deserve. After we had the final break, I just felt there was no reason for me to be connected to him."
Not a cordial situation. Lest Neil's Garden and its multiple nominations appear to dominate this year's Carbonells, however, congrats are in order to other nominees. The Caldwell Theatre Company garnered the highest number of nominations (twelve), including four for The Price and five musical nominations for Company. Ruthless! which played both the Colony Theatre in Miami Beach and the Vinnette Carroll Theatre in Fort Lauderdale without contentious directorial changes, led the musicals category with seven nominations, including Best Actress (Margot Moreland) and Best Actor (Hugh M. Murphy). New Theatre in Coral Gables earned nine nominations, including two -- Best Director for Rafael de Acha and Best Play -- for the theater's production of Sight Unseen. Todd Durkin captured a Best Actor nomination for Lenny, with Larry Jurrist up for for Best Supporting Actor in the same production. And for its debut as a company, New World Repertory secured four nominations for Faith Healer.
Reserve a seat for the awards presentation on Monday night, October 30, at the Royal Palm Dinner Theatre in Boca Raton. Dinner and show tickets are $35. Call 800-841-6765 for details.