Acting Up, Acting Out

Written by the somewhat obscure Selig, Terminal Bar offers Merrill, Parks, and Gonzales an opportunity to deliver zany performances that skirt the border of camp. Gonzales plays teen queen Dwane, unfazed by the horrors he's seen, with quirky authenticity. As Martinelle, Parks brings to mind an AIDS-era Miss Adelaide from Guys and Dolls; the actress also roller-skates around the stage as a character she calls Miss Liberty, dressed in a chain-mail halter and brandishing a sparkler. And Merrill delivers a rivetingly dizzy comic performance as the manipulative, waiflike Holly, who remains tethered to Earth by the barest shred of sanity.

Rough-hewn and raunchy, both productions may prove unnerving to someone seeking slick production values and easy-to-digest story lines. And yet an unpolished, offbeat absurdism propels each, making them edgy, compelling, and worth a foray into the Design District to catch.

Stage Whispers
J.C. Carroll opened ART-ACT on Miami Beach in 1987 with partners Vince Mrazovich and Tom Vallette. "I was just getting out of college," Carroll recalls. "I had a lot of friends -- artists and actors -- and there was no place around then. [ART-ACT] provided a space for people who had a lot of talent but who had no place to exhibit or produce things, especially in an alternative vein."

In addition to producing multimedia events, the partners mounted the occasional conventional theater piece. "We did Forty Deuce by Alan Bowne, which is a play about male prostitution," Carroll remembers with a laugh. "And then we did A Midsummer Night's Dream just kind of to throw everybody off."

By 1991, however, Miami Beach was no longer a hospitable environment for such an untraditional venue. "Things got hard financially," Carroll explains. "Miami Beach was getting really hot. The coding board got very intense. It's just really hard running an alternative art and theater space. You get by sometimes on a prayer." So Carroll and Vallette headed for New York, Mrazovich to Spain. In New York, Carroll sought to be what she calls "a free agent. After running an organization and all that involves, I just wanted to be able to worry about myself for a while and explore my own acting and painting." She did set design, created mosaics, and performed at the Naked Angels Theatre Company.

This past fall during a visit to Miami, she produced a performance of Shakespeare's love sonnets outdoors on Lincoln Road. Friends had been urging her to return here and resurrect ART-ACT, but she had no intention of staying -- until she saw a particular storefront in the Design District. "It was really nice compared to New York, where everything's so cramped," she notes. "I have all these connections here. And the art and theater scene has grown. So I thought, 'Well, okay. I'll give it a shot.'" (Although no longer a codirector, original partner Mrazovich lends technical support to the new ART-ACT; Vallette still lives in New York.)

Plans for upcoming ART-ACT theater events include Claudia Allen's Movie Queens, about being gay and lesbian in old Hollywood, and a stage adaption of the screenplay from the Thirties film Reefer Madness.

Carroll thinks that Miami seems more receptive to art and theater now than it has in the past. But will increased interest keep a gallery and theater afloat? "I hope I can feel optimistic at the end of every month," she quips, "when the electric company is calling for payment.

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