Miami Theater: 2012's Best Productions

It was a difficult year for theater in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Plantation's Mosaic Theatre, whose sudden closure was announced this month, was the third quality company to shutter for various reasons, after the Caldwell in Boca Raton and the Promethean in Davie. Luckily, Delray's Theatre at Arts Garage and Boca's Parade Productions and Outre Theatre Company have begun moving forward.

By contrast, Miami's theaters appeared to be solid. The news in the 305 was only positive: New Theatre began its first full season in its attractive, spacious new home at the Roxy Performing Arts Center, and the PlayGround Theatre rebranded itself as the adult theater company Miami Theater Center to mount its first production, an inventive take on Chekhov's Three Sisters.

Indeed, 2012 spawned more than ten new works in the Magic City, mostly from hardworking local playwrights such as Mark Della Ventura (Small Membership and Roomies), Michael McKeever (Moscow), Antonio Amadeo (A Man Puts on a Play), David Michael Sirois (Off Center of Nowhere), and Juan C. Sanchez (Property Line).

GableStage's production of Ruined: The absolute finest.
George Schiavone
GableStage's production of Ruined: The absolute finest.

Location Info

Map

GableStage at the Biltmore

1200 Anastasia Ave.
Coral Gables, FL 33134

Category: Performing Arts Venues

Region: Coral Gables/South Miami

Roxy Performing Arts Center

1645 SW 107th Ave.
Miami, FL 33165

Category: Community Venues

Region: Central Dade

Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre

280 Miracle Mile
Coral Gables, FL 33134

Category: Performing Arts Venues

Region: South Dade

Pelican Theatre

11300 NE 2nd Ave.
North Miami, FL 33161

Category: Theaters

Region: Upper Eastside/Miami Shores/Biscayne Park

Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts

1300 Biscayne Blvd.
Miami, FL 33132

Category: Music Venues

Region: Downtown/Overtown

Yet the year's best productions are largely made up of recent hits on Broadway and elsewhere, produced exceptionally by South Florida's finest companies. What follows is New Times' rating of the top shows, with number one being the absolute finest.

10. Winter and Happy, at New Theatre. New Theatre's fruitful relationship with prolific Portland playwright Robert Caisley continued with a pair of caustic works that picked at festering emotional scabs in familial units. In the world-premiere Winter, the relationship between fraternal twins reached a dramatic breaking point when it came time to plan their mother's funeral. In the recent hit Happy, a seemingly content middle-aged writer's will — and possibly his marriage — was shattered by a troubled modern artist with sadistic designs. Besides the polished writing, Scott Douglas Wilson was the main attraction in both plays, in which his characters' drunken binges led to uneasy pronouncements.

9. Becky's New Car, at Actors' Playhouse. Laura Turnbull gave her most endearing performance of the year in Becky's New Car, an eccentric comedy that explored uncomic territory such as cancer, grief, and infidelity in the context of a woman's hectic work-home balance. Director David Arisco deftly and economically staged the action on an unchanging, self-reflexive set in which the commute from work became a few steps from stage right to stage left. The script's required fourth-wall-breaking interactions with audience members revealed Turnbull to be a lovely improviser, and on the other side of the stage, she enjoyed pitch-perfect support from Ken Clement, Allan Baker, and others.

8. The Turn of the Screw, at Naked Stage. Naked Stage has a habit of turning its shoebox of a space into a place of dreams, fantasies, nightmares, and dread far removed from three walls and a proscenium. Aided by topnotch, transportive sound design and lighting, the theater's ambitious adaptation of Henry James's 19th-century English ghost story burned slowly and surely, rattling nerves and bristling with sexual tension and claustrophobic terror. Katherine Amadeo's governess was the very picture of wide-eyed, in-over-her-head fright bordering on hysteria, and Matthew William Chizever's subtle changes in his posture and gait beautifully captured the essence of at least five characters — male and female, adult and child alike.

7. A Man Puts on a Play, at Naked Stage. Antonio Amadeo's world premiere — and first-time effort as a playwright — was a cheeky meta-play that not enough theatergoers saw, to their cultural detriment. Inspired by his own conflicts that have arisen between working as a theater professional and raising a family, Amadeo conceived a partially improvised first act in which a character based on himself works to put a set together in a half-hour, sandwiched between state-of-the-union-like conversations with his wife. We get to eavesdrop on the transformation of an empty stage into an enclosed storage room set, completed before our eyes by the talented crew doubling as actors, or vice versa. In Act II, an equally compelling play materialized on the new stage, which was then disassembled and rebuilt the very next night.

6. Venus in Fur, at GableStage. David Ives's provocative layer cake of feminism, S&M, and theatrical artifice began popping up at brave regional theaters throughout 2012 after its Broadway premiere turned heads and turned its star, Nina Arianda, into a sensation. I would gladly hold up GableStage's version against any competing production. Betsy Graver was a revelation as the deceptive seductress Vanda, turning on a dime from Valley Girl ditziness to Victorian iciness and sadistic menace. Sparring partner Matthew William Chizever also turned in some of his most dexterous work in a part that could easily be swallowed by Vanda's force of nature.

5. I Am My Own Wife, at Zoetic Stage at the Adrienne Arsht Center. In my initial response to I Am My Own Wife, Zoetic Stage's production of Doug Wright's solo play about the German transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, I wasn't as enthusiastic as my colleagues about Tom Wahl's performance, which I found too mannered, almost bloodless. But it hasn't strayed far from my brain since — a multicharacter mélange that was chilly, sharp, and freakishly committed, the kind of one-man performance that almost qualifies for an ensemble acting nomination. His performance took place in front of one of the year's most astounding set designs, a giant dollhouse of antiquated furniture bolstered by an extraordinary lighting scheme.

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