Real-Time Car Talk

Here in My Car

The Mad Cat experience Here in My Car may not be for everyone, but it may be for you. The best way to tell is not whether you've acquired a studied cool or nerdy hipness; it's really more a matter of semantics. To find out if you qualify to get in the car, take the following quiz:

Define the following:

1. Spam

She drives me crazy
Juan C. Sanchez
She drives me crazy

Details

Through July 28, 305-576-4350
Mad Cat at Miami Light Project's Light Box Theatre, 3000 Biscayne Blvd.

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a. A clever acronym for angry mothers against spandex

b. A mysterious yet tasty canned meat to be served with hash and fried eggs

c. A clever young DJ who scratches and mixes rumba and hip-hop

2. The Road

a. Dadeland Mall dismembered, disguised as Art Deco, and plunked down between Washington Avenue and Alton Road

b. Miami's oldest bar

c. A long strip of asphalt between the Everglades and the Atlantic Ocean where Miamians feel most at home

3. Wings

a. A new line of feminine-hygiene products

b. Those tantalizing, tangy chicken parts they serve at the Gables Pub

c. Paul McCartney's post-Beatles creative effort

If you're still not sure, here's a small preview (sample scenes set in an older-model sedan):

•Two girls head to the mall. Perri (Maria Heredia), an aspiring fashion designer, kicks her foot up on the dash and intermittently snorts coke and paints her face. Sylvie (Ivonne Azurdia) alternates between bursts of road rage and lamentations that her boyfriend doesn't understand her poetry.

•Bruce (Ken Clement) and Eddie (Michael Vines) make their way to the Gables Pub for beer and wings after a night of gambling at the Miccosukee reservation.

•Joanna (Aubrey Zappolo) haphazardly steers with her right forearm, talks on her cell phone, and writes a shopping list on her left hand all at the same time.

I walked out of Mad Cat's current production, Here in My Car, wondering what separates the cast members from any other coke-snorting, pub-crawling, abuela-disrespecting group of artsy, twentysomething Miamians. And for that matter, what distinguishes me from being just another café con leche-slurping, DJ Spam-grooving, hostile Miami driver? The answer? Nothing. Really, nothing. And that's the beauty of it.

Mad Cat's third play, which is the third original piece penned by Azurdia and Paul Tei, combines a bit of Melrose Place with a healthy dose of The Real World, plunks it down in Miami, and just lets the "camera" (that is, the audience) keep rolling. This is not reality-based theater. It's real-time theater. To say it's local is an understatement. With references to Publix and the impossible parking situation on South Beach, Mad Cat's debut production of Helluva Halloween was local. But Here in My Car is beyond local. It's personal. It reveals the travels and travails of a group of young Miamians. Some of them are Cuban-American; most of them are artists, actors, and filmmakers. They listen to Green Day and Frank Sinatra, hang out at Tobacco Road (not Lincoln Road), and connect to the outside world via their cell phones.

One character who happens to be an actor, Nick (David Cirone), refers to a role he has in the GableStage production of Thomas Edison. (We recently reviewed Citizen Tom Paineat said theater.) Another character, Luis (Ralph De La Portilla), is obsessed with his new gig as a promoter for "Patatun," which is strikingly similar to its onomatopoeic counterpart, "Fuácata," the alternative night that Portilla and fellow cast member Erik Fabregat have created on Thursday nights in Little Havana's Hoy Como Ayer club. Here in My Car might have been conceived a while back, but it clearly continues to develop from the moment the actors start up their engines until the last illegal left-hand turn, and this is what gives the play theatrical vitality as well as an uncanny sense of temporality.

The series of vignettes connects the loves and lives of eleven characters. Some of their lives cross over from act to act, but luckily the writers do not try to hit us over the head with the Six Degrees of Separation principle. All the action takes place in an early- Eighties Honda, an artifice that gives the piece cohesiveness and a dramatic starting and finishing point. Despite the fact that actors and audience members alike are sitting for almost two hours, the piece never feels sedentary, thanks to Tei's crisp direction. The numerous transitions are made smoothly with simple blackouts and changes in music. When the lights go down, actors jump in and out of the car, change hats, peel off jackets. The radio spits out the Russian roulette of programming (Power 96, Howard Stern, the oldies station, Y-100) recognizable by any Miami driver. Because the play is set in a car, the music is crucial; sound designer Nate Rausch has mixed a phenomenal sampling of Eighties and Nineties tunes and thrown in some surprises.

With references as topical and recent as Jack Lemmon's death and subject matter so connected to a relatively small group of people, this play, in its original form, could not be seen two years from now -- maybe not even two months from now. For example, when Janie (Samara Siskind) explains to Luis that she wants to go dancing at "Pop Life" (the Saturday-night party in the Design District) because "they play old-school tunes like the Cure and the Smiths," you may think you too have recently had this same conversation. You either relate to this material or you don't, and if you do it's a sensation of déjà vu that could give you whiplash. One of the most interesting aspects of Mad Cat's work is that, in a world where theater still tries to be universally appealing, this troupe doesn't try to attract a broad range of theatergoers by performing universally themed plays. Tei is not creating a new kind of theater; he's creating a new kind of audience.

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