By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
Talented actors in South Florida are far enough away from New York that some are tempted to stay here, and we benefit when they do. In addition, local audiences can listen in two languages, unlike almost any other part of the country. (If all the kinks of bilingual theater haven't been smoothed out, at least we're working on them.)
What could improve theater in South Florida?
I'd like to see controversy and risk play a bigger role in the theater here. "Without danger," says the Maggie Smith character in Peter Schaffer's Lettice and Lovage, "there is no theater." We could use more danger in the choice of works being staged. Few places can match South Florida as a cultural crucible, yet local theater seldom takes advantage of that.
Indeed, it's frustrating to see outsiders such as Los Angeles's Culture Clash visit and then create an eye-opening show like Radio Mambo: Culture Clash Invades Miami, when the resources and talent exist for Miamians to portray and comment on one another. I'd like to see more theater that challenges our ideas about Miami.
I'd also like to see more home-grown productions that defy our idea of theater itself. Where's the street theater Latin America is famous for? Where's the political satire? Where's the agitprop? Where's South Florida's answer to Robert Wilson and Philip Glass?
What's the best theater I've seen in the past six months?
The most compelling theater I've seen in the past six months was Sen. Robert Byrd's performance on the Senate floor in mid-September. (Honestly, it would be difficult even for someone as visionary as Eric Bogosian to make a lasting impression, given the drama that's being played out in the national arena.) Byrd's speech exhorting his colleagues to consider impeachment was show-stopping testimony that nineteenth-century oratory is alive and well in West Virginia. I only wish I had taken notes.
What's the worst thing I've seen?
Not enough South Floridians at the recent "Inroads" festival presented by Miami-Dade Community College. Not enough publicity about it beforehand. Not enough discussion of the acts afterward. Opportunities to see groups from a dozen countries ripping apart stereotypes of their own cultures don't present themselves often.
What's the most formidable aspect of writing about local theater?
Reviews I've written, like those of any critic, have elicited a wide range of responses. I've been yelled at by Tommy Tune. I've even been yelled at by the producer of Beverly Hills 90210. But none of the attention has ever equaled the exhilaration -- or presented the responsibility -- of writing about the community in which I live, where each week at the theater and on the street I encounter the people I reviewed the week before. Owing to the monolithic nature of the film and TV industries, directors and actors rarely read the articles written about their work. (The 90210 producer saw my Herald article about his show only because his mother lives in South Florida.) The people I see onstage are not abstractions to me, and neither is the effort they put into their work.
Why did a naked man sit on my lap?
His name was Tim Miller. He was one of the so-called NEA Four, the quartet of performance artists condemned by conservative congressmen who successfully undermined public support for the National Endowment for the Arts by highlighting the sexually explicit material in their work. I saw Miller's show, My Queer Body, in Boston in the early Nineties. His account of negotiating a tricky childhood, adolescence, and manhood struck some people as offensive. His act, consisting of a transfixing monologue and a segment in which he strips and sits in the lap of an audience member, was not an example of gratuitous nudity but rather of the exquisite beauty of human vulnerability. It was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. Even after seeing weeks of bad theater, I never forget what art can deliver. And I keep going back.