By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
Betty's Summer Vacation: To playwright Christopher Durang, hell is psycho roommates screwing up your seaside holiday. That's the freakish situation in Betty's Summer Vacation, a comedy of menace that is receiving a first-rate staging from Miami's Mad Cat Theatre Company. The tedious script, featuring rape, murder, and genital mutilation, is intended as a critique of the moral depravity of popular culture. It has been overpraised (it won an Obie, among several other awards), but the production is so fiery and funny that most Mad Cat fans won't care. -- Ronald MangraviteThrough August 14. Miami Light Project, 3000 Biscayne Blvd. 305-576-4350.
Heaven Help Us! The Swingin' New Rat Pack Musical: This toe-tapping world premiere about God sending the Rat Pack back to Vegas to help a suicidal lounge owner is stylishly presented, with the terrific cast belting out some great tunes -- some 29 hits pop up in the show, ranging from brief refrains to full-blown song-and-dance numbers. Co-creator Ray Roderick's snappy direction and choreography and a fine onstage jazz combo also sparkle. But the performance and production strengths only emphasize the weaknesses of the decidedly half-baked script: Heaven's creative team needs to get back in the kitchen. -- Ronald Mangravite Through September 5. Florida Stage, Plaza Del Mar, 262 S. Ocean Blvd., Manalapan. 561-585-3433 or 800-514-3837.
In the Heart of America:This ambitious critique of America as the Great Imperialist Satan tracks two gay U.S. soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War of 1990. It also involves the ghost of a Vietnamese woman chasing the soul of Lt. William Calley, who led the infamous My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War. Naomi Wallace's script doesn't make for particularly effective theater, and her ideas, while articulate and poetic, aren't very coherent. Robert Hooker's direction features detailed scene work but he hasn't found a strong theatrical concept to give shape and focus to Wallace's wild, hallucinogenic narrative. While individual scenes click, the play as a whole lurches from sequence to sequence without much momentum or clarity. -- Ronald Mangravite Through August 22. Sol Theatre Project, 1140 NE Flagler Dr., Fort Lauderdale. 954-525-6555.
King Lear and A Midsummer Night's Dream: The New Theatre's annual Shakespeare fest is played in true repertory, with King Lear, the Bard's greatest tragedy, alternating nightly with A Midsummer Night's Dream, that popular comedy of lunacy, love, and poetry. Director Rafael de Acha and his superior design team deliver two visually striking productions, but while the journeyman acting company is competent, few individual performances soar. Lear is given a formal, stark staging that's powerful if not emotionally stirring. Dream has an interesting East Indian look with the battling faerie king and queen -- Oberon and Titania -- presented as dancing dervishes, but the show's comic antics are more amusing than flat-out funny. -- Ronald Mangravite Through August 22. New Theatre, 4120 Laguna St., Coral Gables. 305-443-5909.
Take Me Out: This Tony Award-winning drama takes on an ambitious range of subjects -- homophobia, tolerance, and the lure of baseball being chief among them. The play offers two stories. One is a dark drama about a major-league slugger who is revealed to be gay, pitting him against a bigoted teammate. The other plot is a comedy, as the slugger befriends a gay accountant who is thrilled to discover the joys of the sport. The Caldwell's visually striking production features a fine acting ensemble, but both the story and the staging feel somewhat flat. The overall effect is somewhat less than might be hoped for. -- Ronald Mangravite Through August 15. Caldwell Theatre Company, 7873 N. Federal Hwy., Boca Raton. 561-241-7432.
The Water Coolers: Looking for a little something to while away a hot summer night? This refreshing, fast-paced musical revue about life in the corporate world is graced with an exceptionally gifted cast and stylish, inventive staging from Playhouse director David Arisco and his choreographer Barbara Flaten. Cole Porter it's not (the jokes and the music are rather bland), but the show's upbeat charm and five terrific performers make for a sparkling entertainment that goes down as cool and easy as a summer cocktail. -- Ronald Mangravite Through September 5. Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables. 305-444-9293 or www.actorsplayhouse.org