Rodgers and Hart Failure

Rodgers and Hart left Hollywood because they balked at writing movie musicals in which characters burst into song without any motivation. The cast of Beguiled Again! is robbed of the very sensibilities that the songwriting team treasured; without any context of whom they are singing to or what they are singing about, the frustrated singers have nothing to offer but shining eyes and gleaming teeth.

Musical arranger Craig D. Ames is the man most responsible for missing the mark. At the on-stage piano (backed by Carlos Moran on drums and Lee Harr on upright bass), he is not content merely to mime Rodgers to Kenaston's Hart; no, he has stepped into the great man's shoes and completely reorchestrated Rodgers's works into a bouncy "five-six-seven-kick" rhythm. For example, Laws valiantly tries to get across the despair of "Ten Cents a Dance," only to be undone by an up-tempo arrangement that makes her taxi dancer seem more like one of the hoofers in Fame. The one time the revue lets Rodgers and Hart's work speak for itself (a medley of "Isn't It Romantic," "Where or When," and "Little Girl Blue" sung by a sparkling quartet), the show and our hearts stop to marvel at the pair's genius.

Offered a chance to hear beloved standards again in any format, most of the audience seemed enchanted and, true to the title, beguiled again. I, on the other hand, can't get past the show's subtitle: an original Rodgers and Hart revue. Hardly.

In a decision that turned out to be as much about nurturing rookie companies as presenting premieres, New Theatre artistic director Rafael de Acha asked three emerging theater troupes to carry on the Coral Gables-based company's annual New Plays Project (June 3 to 22) while he prepared to stage Tony Kushner's mammoth two-part Angels in America.

Akropolis Acting Company started things off with playwright and director Ricky J. Martinez's unintelligible .Epar. Tracy Talavera, Carolin Edelen, and Jennylin Duany appeared as Speakers 1, 2, and 3, who are either different sides of the same woman, three different women, or three sisters. (In considering a play whose title is spelled backward, one can't expect explanations.) Joined by Giovanni Luquini, the four presented the story of a woman -- sexually abused as a child by her father -- who is later raped by an intruder but enjoys it; or at least she decides to marry the rapist and bear his children. This multimedia happening included up-close-and-personal closed-circuit TV monitor views of the actors unfurling their tongues and massaging their armpits, as well as a film by Dinorah de Jesus Rodriguez that intercut footage of a pig being slit open and a woman being beaten. Even aided by words scratched onto the film (including dog/ god), I'm afraid this Akropolis offering was Greek to me.

At the other end of the structural spectrum (and presented third), Theatre with Your Coffee? produced two linear one-acts, Roberto Prestigiacomo's Giorgio and Alan Kravitz's Chloe, both of which had been developed in a series of public readings and workshops. The former moved between two time periods to tell the story of Elena, a young woman (April Daras, and later Jennifer Fenn) who bitterly grows into her forties after being manipulated by her sickly, overprotective mother (Rosina de Luca) into giving up her independence. Daras infused the young Elena with believability, but Fenn failed to inform us if resignation or desperation drove the frustrated caretaker. In a major shortcoming, de Luca's hearty portrayal raised questions about how much attention the mother really required.

Despite its Lifetime Channel melodrama, Giorgio is much tighter than the messy Chloe, which recounts the tale of a 27-year-old woman (Finnerty Steeves) who is reluctant to give up her incestuous relationship with her father (Larry Jurrist) to run away with the young man (Andrew Pond) who loves her. Here, everyone's motivations were a mystery, as Kravitz's shallow script, Peter King's indecisive direction, and the confused cast failed to carry off the delicate subject matter and its debilitating psychological fallout.

Situated in the middle of the run, Potlatch Theatre Lab's Guernika provided welcome intellectual, if not emotional, rewards. Conceived by the entire company, the production aimed at interpreting Pablo Picasso's powerful masterpiece (it shows the aftermath of Germany's bombing of the Basque city in 1937) and succeeded in echoing the painter's passion with some lasting fractured impressions of its own. After a ghostly opening, the cast of New World School students and graduates enacted the sentimental joining of two rival families through a marriage occurring in the days before the town's destruction. The bombs that fall the moment the ceremony ends send the cast into reverse, propelling them back through the plot right down to actions and dialogue being performed backward. With nonsensical stage business to watch and no characters to care about, the abrupt effect demolished the audience's emotional investment in the work. I don't know if this stylized view of the event, which underscored the fact that Hitler's bombs erased lives and severed close ties, was entirely successful. But even weeks after seeing Guernika, I do know that I'm still thinking about it.

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