By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
Matt & Ben: Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers's little comedy receives its Florida premiere in this Mad Cat Theatre production. It's a cute fantasy about talent, male bonding, and fame, based on the real-life story of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's overnight rise to stardom when they won an Oscar in 1997 for writing Good Will Hunting. Young, hot, and incredibly lucky, the two actors-turned-scriptwriters instantly became tabloid fodder and the stuff of dreams. Matt & Ben also was written by two buddies, female friends who played the titles roles in drag for the original production. Mad Cat has Michelle Goyette playing Matt, Ivonne Azurdia as Ben, and Joe Kimble as the loopy cameos of J.D. Salinger and Gwyneth Paltrow, who were originally played by just Kaling and Withers. It is a lazy decision, but it is justified by Kimble's shameless, clever performance. The comedy feels like an overextended Saturday Night Live skit, but Paul Tei's direction makes it enjoyable and almost touching by the end. -- Octavio Roca Through August 6. Mad Cat Theatre at the Light Box Studio, 3000 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-576-6377.
Men on the Verge of a His-Panic Breakdown: The good news here is Guillermo Reyes is a major voice in Hispanic and gay theater, and his 1994 comedy Men on the Verge of a His-Panic Breakdown is nothing short of brilliant. The really bad news, however, is the amateur show of the same name that EDGE/Theatre is presenting at the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens doesn't do the playwright or his potential audience any favors. It is an incompetently directed, slow, and dull affair with a cast that -- with the exception of Andrio Chavarro -- is simply not up to the demands of the script. -- Octavio Roca Through July 31. EDGE/ Theatre at the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens, 2000 Convention Center Dr., Miami Beach; 786-355-0976.
The Merchant of Venice: Rafael de Acha's production is not perfect, but it also cannot be dismissed. It boasts gripping and often extraordinary performances by Steve Gladstone, Annemaria Rajala, Euriamis Losada, Nicholas Richberg, and Stephen S. Neal, as well as spectacularly lovely costumes by Estela Vrancovich and singularly touching original music by de Acha himself. One could quibble that the rest of the cast is not on that level, or that the streamlined script sacrifices much in the way of subtlety. One of Shakespeare's notoriously problematic plays, The Merchant of Venice has been banned as anti-Semitic and championed as an argument for humanism. The text seems to support both views, and the show in Coral Gables is far from certain in tone. But there is no denying the power of this staging. And though the famous trial scene remains troublesome, by the time the improbably happy musical finale comes around, it is easy to understand the ovation at the end. --Octavio Roca Through July 31. New Theatre, 4120 Laguna St., Coral Gables; 305-443-5909.
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