By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
Told through the Jewish rituals surrounding death, courtship, and marriage, Yentl is as much a loving paean to Jewish life as a dramatic narrative, although this production tends to infuse the play with more reverence than humanity (Killian-Bush as the bubbly Hadass and Alana J. Gerlach as her concerned mother are standouts). Director Jana S. Tift's well-conceived staging brings the past to life, as her homespun-clad townsfolk tell their tales using a few simple props. On the other hand, Tift's respectful handling of the religious material and languid pacing suggest that we are watching a historical pageant and not the humorous, albeit bittersweet, coming of age of a cultural rebel.
But at least Tift conveys some overall impression as opposed to the company's arid staging of Tennessee Williams's steamy and oppressive Southern plantation saga Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. While the series' first two offerings glory in masquerades, Williams's 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama serves up a fractured family on the night all their masks fall away. As Maggie (Gaynelle Caldwell, Jr.) tells her alcoholic ex-jock husband Brick (Richard R. Haratine III) in the drama's opening scene, "There's just some things in this world you've got to face."
His personal favorite among his works, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was constructed by Williams to be a pulsating game of dramatic pinball. Kept inert by alcohol and a paralyzing inability to face his doubts about his own sexuality, Brick is sent careening by the news of the imminent death of his overbearing father, the self-made millionaire Big Daddy (Haig). Before Brick can skid back to the skids, however, he collides with Maggie's desire to put lovemaking back into their passionless marriage, then bumps up against his mother's (Mary Ellen O'Brien) efforts to transform him into a dutiful son, and is banged around by his brother's (Wilkinson) accusations that he is unfit to share the inheritance -- until, finally, he must come to terms with his life.
Set in one room over the course of a single evening, the drama's snowballing momentum fuels the inevitable unraveling of the lies that have bound the family together, yet Thomas Atkins's measured, soap opera direction turns the final hours of Big Daddy's dynasty into just another installment of a gothic melodrama. The production is further crippled by Haig, who confuses the script's unyielding, larger-than-life Big Daddy with one of the title characters in Grumpy Old Men.
Williams's classic, along with the series' other plays, is better served by the festival's talented design team, who certainly lend credence to the rep's professional ambitions: P.D. Wilson's snazzy costumes range from the manmade textiles of the turn of the century through flippantly fun Twenties togs to the ghastly fashion statements of a nouveau riche Southern family. Scenic designer Rex Fluty provides a delightful stone and vine-covered patio for Twelfth Night, minimalist screens and suggested beams for Yentl, and a wicker plantation prison for Williams's caged family. Richard J. Gamble's lighting design evokes Shakespeare's shimmering seacoast, the murky shadows cast by Williams's dissembling characters, and the crisp, unpolluted daylight that shines on the determined Yentl's boundless horizons.
In a scenic element found in all three productions, two trees, one on either side of the stage, form an inner proscenium with their branches. Although supporting young performers in their education is a worthwhile effort, the dramatic offerings found under these elms leave a lot to be desired.
Written by William Shakespeare; directed by Jean-Louis Baldet; Yentl. Written by Leah Napolin and Isaac Bashevis Singer; directed by Jana S. Tift; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Written by Tennessee Williams; directed by Thomas Atkins. Through July 20. For more information call 954-462-0222 or see "Calendar Listings.