The Fling's the Thing

Madame has her charms, but this Houseguest needs to be thrown out on the street

The problem with this fine cast is that it doesn't quite mesh with the play's demands, at least automatically. Both the female characters feel like women in their thirties, while Carl seems like a boy teetering on manhood. (The London cast featured Macaulay Culkin and Irene Jacob.) This New Theatre cast spans a somewhat wider age range. Not a problem in itself, but if this Mme. Melville is interested in this Carl, what is it exactly about him that gets her going? De Acha hasn't solved this problem; he pretty much just leaves the sex appeal as a given. This was also his strategy in Anna in the Tropics, in which sexual fireworks kicked off without much clear reason why. That's a cavil, though, in a production that's another little pearl in a string of fine productions. The New Theatre is tiny in size but not in scope and has come a long, long way in the past few seasons. Those who haven't sampled this company's wares might do well to get over there right now.


Meanwhile, the Juggerknot Theater is presenting Houseguest, Mario Diament's play that purports to be a comedy of menace but offers little of either. The production features an array of local talent, but the result is so ghastly, this revival might better be called an exhumation. The story has to do with a milquetoast stockbroker, Lucio, and his sex-starved wife, Nora, who devotes herself to caring for her elderly, wheelchair-bound Papa, who is completely disabled by a stroke. This bourgeois ménage is upended by a clever, disturbing housepainter who moves in, has sex with the wife, manipulates the husband, and bad-mouths both behind their backs. Written in 1979, the rarely produced script aims for the black-comedic style of British provocateur Joe Orton but feels derivative, obvious, and dated. The Argentine-born, locally based Diament has acquired a well-deserved acclaim based on his Smithereens and The Book of Ruth, both recently produced at the New Theatre, but if he wants to maintain his reputation, he would be advised to keep such early work as this to himself.

Beware of Houseguests who paint and sleep with your wife, and of silly plot lines
Beware of Houseguests who paint and sleep with your wife, and of silly plot lines

Details

Madame Melville
Written by Richard Nelson; directed by Rafael de Acha. With Bridget Connors, Barbara Sloan, and Alex Weisman. Presented through February 2 at New Theatre, 4120 Laguna St, Coral Gables, 305-443-5909.

Houseguest
Written by Mario Diament; directed by Heath Kelts. With Erik Fabregat, Joseph Kimble, and Deborah L. Sherman. Presented through January 26 by the Juggerknot Theater Company at PS 742, 1165 SW 6th St, 305-448-0569

Script problems aside, the production is a misfire. Heath Kelts directs with little insight or invention, opting for a broad, comedic style that insists on endless variations of horny-housewife shtick, a ploy that grows tedious after ten minutes. Deborah L. Sherman as the voluptuous Nora and Joseph Kimble as sad-sack Lucio give a game try, but neither has the resources to hold the stage. As the intrusive houseguest, Erik Fabregat adds energy, but his take on the role is a two-hour impersonation of Paul Tei. The silent role of Papa is played by a dummy in a wheelchair, a performance that starts to look pretty good by intermission.

Production elements also stumble. Set designer Chris Jahn apparently never got the word from Kelts on the directorial concept: The thrift-store realism of the apartment setting has zero to do with the cartoonish acting style. Meanwhile award-winning lighting designer Travis Neff, usually so resourceful, could have lighted this show just as well had he pulled up his car and flipped on the high beams. How this car crash of a show came to be may be chalked up to the accidents of creative collaboration. Certainly all involved can be expected to get back on track in the future, as each will soon deliver new work in other upcoming area productions. But for now, this Houseguest is one visitor you will want to avoid.

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