By Juan Barquin
By Ciara LaVelle
By George Martinez
By Kat Bein
By Ciara LaVelle
By Travis Cohen
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Monica McGivern
At first glance you wouldn't think there's much in common between the ragtag Mad Cat in dirty downtown Miami and the stylish Dreamers Theatre in restaurant-infested Coral Gables. Mad Cat goes for in-your-face gonzo drama and aims for a pierced, punk crowd, while Dreamers opts for more elegant, refined material and decorous audiences. But a closer look reveals more than a few similarities. Both companies are new, both focus on world premieres, and both are led by skilled actors turned artistic directors, the Dreamers' Yolandi Hughes and Mad Cat's Paul Tei. Then there are some remarkable coincidences. Both have offered only two full productions this season. Both staged ghost stories in the fall and now are presenting plays about women committing murder, both of which premiered on the very day of the recent high school bloodbath in Germany.
Mad Cat's Shoot is a hyperrealistic tale of three disaffected high school girls whose anger at their parents, their teachers, and life in general rules their lives. All three are from poor, dysfunctional families and have adopted a spiky, dark goth grrrl look as a measure of self-identity. Blond Nikki lives in a ramshackle house nursing a secret crush on her pal Rachel, a tough-talking fury who has just knocked her drunken mother flat in yet another domestic dispute. Both girls take out their frustrations on the plight of their brainier pal Sondra. Sondra, who all hope will win a college scholarship and a ticket out of their dumpy Southern town, has just learned she received a B from their favorite teacher, Mr. Malcolm, thus effectively killing her chances, or so the girls think. Rachel is enraged that Mr. Malcolm, their favorite teacher and sometime fellow pot smoker, would betray Sondra, and her ire is further stoked when Sondra reveals she has slept with Malcolm. Eager to please, Nikki offers a gun she found in her house and soon the three wired sisters are caught up in a spur-of-the-moment plan to kill Malcolm in revenge.
The play was written by David Cirone, a veteran actor whose plays have cropped up at several area theaters. On the boards he recently fared well as the obsessed stalker in GableStage's Boy Gets Girl, another ripped-from-the-headlines social drama that appears to have strongly influenced Shoot. Cirone sets up intense, vivid portraits of the three girls as well as their unwitting target Malcolm (Joe Kimble), a hapless, weak-willed liberal whose empathy for Sondra turns into sexual desire. Cirone also brings a real affinity for class conflicts. These girls are trapped in a dead-end working-class world that's clearly falling apart around them. And the middle-class educators who are trying to teach them are tired, booze-swilling working stiffs well aware that the deck is stacked against the students they are supposed to inspire. This steely-eyed realism is what makes Shoot so scary. It isn't just teenage angst that's fueling these kids; it's a dawning recognition of the world's indifference combined with a self-serving willingness to blame that indifference for all their problems, a toxic combination that by the intermission sends this story rocketing toward disaster.
As is its style, Mad Cat makes a lot out of little. Christopher Jahn's backyard setting is perfectly grungy, replete with a cat-clawed sofa and tattered bedspreads draped over a clothesline. A couple of neon bar signs, a table, and some beer bottles immediately evoke a gloomy bar. Paul Tei directs with his signature visceral style laced with plenty of humor. His actors deliver high-energy performances, to varying levels of effectiveness. Kimble plays regret very well and he's most effective in a short barroom drinking scene with company regular Ken Clement as a school guidance counselor. But Tei's decision to use very young performers as the three teens has mixed results. Elaine Sanchez brings some emotional texture to Sondra, but otherwise there's a lot of energetic screaming going on with little insight.
The same can be said of the production itself: This Shoot makes a bang but doesn't hit the bull's-eye. Cirone and Tei skillfully set up these characters. But without examining the crisis and its aftermath, Shoot is just part of a play, its implications strangely right wing, given its rough language and outre characters. The play's underlying point, intentional or de facto, is an indictment of liberal -- read weak -- adult authority. These children/women have a total lack of parental supervision and the chief adult authority figure is sexually compromised. So what is the point? The way to stop teen violence is for teachers to avoid sex with students? Perhaps more important, what happens to these people afterward, in the lifelong wake of momentary violence? The play doesn't say, and perhaps it doesn't want to find out. But if not, why not? Mad Cat has justly won kudos for presenting challenging works with next to no resources. But thought is free and dramatic insight needs no grants to be envisioned. If this company seeks to present sensational subjects like teen violence, it has an obligation to deliver some insight or at least perspective -- something, anything more than what can be seen any day on the local TV news.