Theater Project Stirs Spontaneous Creation

Six plays come to life in 24 hours.

"It's mind-blowingly amazing, the structure of the piece," says Sherman. "There's a real arc — a beginning, a middle, an end — a great story. You know about these people. And you care about them. Hopefully. If we don't fuck it up."

"Are we feeling competitive? It didn't even occur to me," says Sherman when asked. "I guess I'm naive a little in that sense. I figure we're all equally fucked."

People keep wandering in and out, laughing, checking in on each other. It's unheard of to have so many people from the theater scene together in one place at one time, and the assembled seem to be delighting in the number of familiar faces. It's like a class reunion, if a class reunion involved memorizing 15 pages of dialogue in less time than it takes most people to read 15 pages.

Even though the writers went home last night, almost everyone else kept the party going for as long as possible. Many got home well after 1 a.m. and slept only three or four hours before returning to Coral Gables at 7:30. By midafternoon, much of the adrenaline has gone out of them. Out front, Deborah Sherman is looking fidgety and drawn. On a nearby stairwell, Carlos Alayeto, Arnaldo Carmoze, and Michaela Cronan are preparing for doomsday (their costar, Erik Fabregat, is MIA for the moment). They're looking as tired as everybody should have felt hours ago, trying to learn the lines of the talky minidrama Dinner at the End of the World. In it the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse have a last meal at Denny's before destroying the planet. Famine, played by Carmouze, is trying to make a point about Casablanca. Pestilence, played by Carlos Alayeto, is having none of it.

"Any conversation not having to do with the end of the world needs to end now!" he screams. "All I'm saying is that the problems of two demonic angels don't amount to a hill of beans!" Michaela Cronan, fresh from the similarly themed End Days at Florida Stage, is looking especially harried. She misses a cue. "Is that me?" she asks, looking up from her script. "Shit."

If Amadeo had to bet, he'd anticipate the first stressed-out diva meltdown arriving in two or three hours. "You're already starting to see little tiny cracks. People are getting tired; people are getting anxious about how they're going to learn their lines — that kind of thing."

But he insists it's unimportant. "That sort of all dies down as the show is coming. It's like, 'Fuck it! Let's go!'"

It hasn't happened yet, though. The finishing touches are being added to How My Sister, Sally, Collected Her Winnings Despite the Dead Mime in Her Car. The mime is onstage, angry as hell. "Yeah, I'm fucking her!" he yells. "Mime fucking! Fuck you!"

Actor Todd Allen Durkin creeps backstage, horrified at his inability to nail his lines. "Oh, man," he whispers, "this is gonna be fucking bad. It's like sketch night at GableStage."

The place gets quiet as the audience assembles outside. Amadeo gathers his actors, directors, and writers in the house, and exhorts them to have fun, whatever happens. The sounds of assent are half-hearted in comparison to the gleeful noise the crew was making seven hours ago. And then the doors open.

Less than Beautiful is first, and an amazing thing happens: They do not fuck up. The actors, portraying four plastic-surgery-addicted friends attending the funeral of another friend who died during lipo ("She went in to have her fat taken away — not her life!"), do everything right. And in contrast to the typical staid, polite theater audience reception, the crowd hollers, screams, and cheers. You could go all night without realizing that most of this response originates with the participants themselves, seated in chairs off to the side of the stage. But it doesn't matter. Once the hooting starts, the paying public joins in lustily.

Actors improvise like mad in I Was the Only Lemming on Noah's Ark. Dinner at the End of the World elicits crazy laughter. People actually cry during Ramirez's Twenty-Six, which turns out to be as artful and gorgeous as any non-24-hour production. During Strike, the crowd goes ape-shit when Joe Adler removes his Stormtrooper helmet. Scott Genn explains that his brother was injured during a youthful speeder bike crash involving Ewoks. "Fuckin' Ewoks!" cries Adler, madly firing his blaster at offstage rebels. The crowd goes ape-shit again.

Up next are Dime Store Novel, inspiring more laughter (especially when, after a particularly overcooked scene, the actors break to award Lisa Morgan a Carbonell), and How My Sister, Sally, Collected Her Winnings Despite the Dead Mime in Her Car, which elicits more guffaws. Then it's done. It was nowhere near perfect — everybody fucked up, except for Meltzer's crew, and Adler wasn't even off book — but the theatergoers are thrilled to have seen such a thing, and together with the project's principals, they quickly take to sucking down booze in the parking lot.

"It happened," says Amadeo. "It went off, so that's a success." He looks exhausted. Despite his words, he seems unsure. Like everybody else involved, he's still too close to see the thing clearly, uncertain how to weigh the various onstage goofs and gaffes. But it was the project itself that mattered — its sheer audacity, the abandon with which it was pursued. You get the sense they'll be doing this again.

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