By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
These assets aside, the chief pleasure of Portrait is its acting ensemble, which is the focus of this production and, we may assume, the company in general. Each actor or actress's performance is nuanced, bringing to life many emotional layers. Samara Siskind's Elise is a difficult role, the adored canary who realizes her gilded new home is nevertheless a cage. Elise's progress is a scary descent into helplessness and death, and Siskind takes us there, moving from sweet innocent to frightened, helpless soul. When she returns as Elise's ghost, the actress is especially unsettling. As Malcolm, Tei brings an underlying sense of menace and a solid physicality that is strongly reminiscent of the young Orson Welles. Ken Clement as the captain and Michael Vines as his valet are thoroughly engaging, and their timing is excellent: They really seem as if they have known each other for years. The cast is anchored by the work of Kevin Reilly, who plays the haggard, beaten Parsons. Reilly has a knack for acting in the silences. It's what he doesn't say that speaks so clearly, the mute emotions of a romantic heart trapped in a life of subservience.
A few minor flaws mar Portrait. The staging is bogged down by abrupt blackouts and set changes that slow the pace, especially in the first act. This seems unnecessary, especially when Parsons is available to move the furniture and the airy space allows for a flow, an overlap, from scene to scene. Tei's performance feels a bit less detailed than the others, an understandable imperfection, because he must direct himself and as an actor lacks some of the objectivity and invention he as director clearly brings to the scenes in which he does not act. The play itself could use a bit more development to add more conflict and payoff in the second half. It is significant that Parsons, Azurdia's one completely original character, is really her secret protagonist, the character with the longest and most affecting emotional journey. In the current version of this script, Parsons tends to fade in the second act, in deference to the captain, Poe's original protagonist. Should Azurdia continue to develop this material, Parsons could become more central to the plot.
Such debate and speculation is to be expected from a new production. Like wine and human beings, plays need to mature. If Mad Cat continues to develop Portrait, improving and reviving it in years to come, this play could become a dandy Halloween tradition.
As Halloween approaches, South Florida theaters provide treats for children. For example the Fort Lauderdale Children's Theatre presents The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a stage adaptation of Washington Irving's spooky classic. The Fantasy Theatre Factory serves up Little Monster Tales, four short plays from well-known children's authors; the Miami Shores Performing Arts Center hosts this one-day event. And it may not exactly be Halloween scary, but the Hollywood Playhouse spins out a fantasy tale, E. B. White's Charlotte's Web. See "Stage Listings" for details on these upcoming events.