By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
For complete up-to-date South Florida stage listings, click on Culture on the home-page navigation bar, scroll down to the Listings Search and "Category" pulldown, then select "Stage."
House and Garden: Alan Ayckbourn's two comedies share one large cast of characters and myriad plot lines comprising failed marriages, adultery, and other romantic permutations. One play is set in an English country house, the other in the adjacent garden, and all must run in perfect synchronization: An exit in one show means an immediate entrance into the other. House's superior comedic plot is quite entertaining, but Garden's is rather soggy. Although performances range widely in caliber, Gary Marachek shines in his role as a philandering country squire. -- Ronald Mangravite Through June 5. Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; 305-444-9293.
Isabelle and the Pretty-Ugly Spell: The winner of the tenth annual National Children's Theatre Festival is a musical fairy tale with deep social and political undertones. A bumbling fairy godmother, Izzy, is charged with the protection of a beautiful baby princess. Fearing the infant's physical grace will tarnish her sensibilities, Izzy casts a spell rendering the young girl unattractive and deems only a prince's kiss can reverse the magic. In a lively and comical manner the story examines the pressure placed on teenagers through well-crafted songs and a showstopping performance by David Perez-Ribada as Clyde, a clumsy inventor turned lover-boy. -- Ronald Mangravite Through May 28. Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; 305-444-9293.
The Loman Family Picnic: It's difficult to decide which moment is the most disturbing in this masterful production. Is it the opening, with a haggard housewife endlessly repeating her desperate mantra: "Ilovemylife, Ilovemylife, Ilovemylife"? Is it the end of the first act, as her equally panicked husband hunches alone in the light of a TV set, feverishly gobbling ice cream from a half-gallon container? Or is it the last, as their bewildered eleven-year-old son crouches in his upper bunk bed, listening in on his parents' bleak, hopeless dining-table conversation? All of these moments painfully and precisely portray a family in profound crisis. But Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies and director Michael Hall take the particulars and spin them into something even more unsettling. This Picnic, for all its comedic elements, evokes a deeply disturbing vision of American cultural meltdown. Hall's staging is visually compelling, beautifully paced, and deliciously unpredictable. Strong acting is backed with Tim Bennett's outstanding set design, a colorful but emotionally dead living space. Thomas Salzman's lighting design is equally effective, ranging from high-wattage sit-com-style lighting to decidedly sinister elements that create a subtle, harrowing sense of danger and isolation. -- Ronald Mangravite Through May 22. Caldwell Theatre Company, 7873 N. Federal Hwy., Boca Raton; 561-241-7432.
Louie & Ophelia: Set in the late Seventies, M Ensemble's season finale exposes the tumultuous relationship between a middle-age man and a slightly younger mother of two, but lacks enough warmth and care to demonstrate they are indeed in love. Any weakness rests on the shoulders of the playwright, Gus Edwards, whose script runs the gamut of fight-causing topics (money, being a good role model, friends liking one person more than the other), but omits the loving components that keep this duo together. Loye Hawkins (Louie) and Carey Hart (Ophelia) keep things energetic and interesting, with Hart's trio of powerful breakdowns proving she is a truly talented actress. It's worth seeing if you're sensitive to the trials and tribulations of the heart and can handle the words I love you being taken for granted. -- Dan HudakThrough June 12. M Ensemble Actors Studio, 12320 W. Dixie Hwy., North Miami; 305-895-0335.
Reality TV: When ratings at Fly Television begin to slip, London-based TV executive Judson Weaver (Peter King) brainstorms potential programming ideas with his assistant Pamela (Monnie King). Between them they create Death Derby, a show in which people with suicidal tendencies compete for the right to die, with the "winner" chosen by the public. Although the quality of EDGE Theatre productions may fluctuate, those written and directed by Jim Tommaney are always thought-provoking and heavily dosed with biting wit. This unflinching exposé divulging the unscrupulous happenings among the upper echelons of multimedia corporations is one of EDGE's better efforts. -- Dan Hudak Through May 22 (except May 15). EDGE Theatre at the Main Street Playhouse, 6766 Main St., Miami Lakes; 954-733-8735.