Saturday night, local theater collective White Rose Miami brought 15 smashing sketches to the stage at the Performing Arts Exchange (PAX). After a serendipitous meeting at another show inside the dark-walled and dimly lit den, PAX co-owner Roxanne Scalia struck up a deal with White Rose founders Melissa Almaguer and Ivan Lopez to host the troupe's various initiatives every third Saturday of the month. This weekend's show was the third in the group's ongoing series of plays, and it was a rolling riot (with a few serious departures).
More than 40 performers, some first-time actors, some veterans of the stage, and at least one thespian better known as a director (New Theatre's artistic director Ricky J. Martinez) donated their time and art to put on the show in 15 acts. (When White Rose sent out the call for submissions, they received nearly 40 and intended to choose 10, but said they couldn't bring themselves to weed out any more than they did.) The theme of each work had to revolve around either "Miami" or "time" or both, motifs which, evidently, lend themselves to a lot of laughs about the lovely ridiculousness of our "magical" city.
After an intro by Lopez, in which he explained an exchange with his grandfather that inspired him to collect works around these ideas, the screen behind the stage lit up with an animated short about an alligator and an ibis, written by Paul Poppe. The silly "photochopped" film, the second half of which was shown after intermission, managed somehow to make the idea of dwindling wildlife in the Everglades funny and cute. Each animated piece was followed by a sketch about a young couple (Lovanni Gomez and Kristina Abreu) parting ways for college, one of the night's few serious productions.
Next up was a brilliant one-act that put the spotlight on one of Miami's favorite subcultures: drag queens. MIA: North Beach, written by Renier J. Murillo, starred Matthew Donovan and Armando Acevedo as two glittery, gaudy, heterosexual drag queens in the dressing room, swiping off their makeup, stripping off their pantyhose and wigs and trading dresses for jeans and jerseys, all the while bitching about the daily task of convincing their girlfriends that they're not into men.
The next act, Brunch Soon (Marla E. Schwartz), might have doubled as a twisted advertisement for Miami as the brunch capital of the Americas. In it, bored couple John and Lisa (played by James Carrey and Roxanne Lamendola) mime a frustrating car ride which serves as the backdrop for an argument about where to eat. Lisa's struggle to convince John to try the Forge, Versailles, the Rusty Pelican, anywhere but Denny's, with its Hobbit-themed menu and creepy "Shire sausage," seems to signify deeper troubles in the couple's relationship... without making the situation any less hilarious.
MIA: Westchester (by Renier J. Murillo) brought the chonga love as slick ponytailed, dark lipsticked Yaima (Victoria Collado) and Zulma (Melissa Almaguer) shamelessly shook their TJ Maxx-clad booties all over the carnival --- that is, until they realized Yaima's ex-boyfriend (Alex Garcia) was there courting some cornflake girl (Michelle Antelo) from South Carolina! What happened next was like someone made a mixtape of Shit Miami Girls Say and a Neil Simon play.
Missing in Miami (written by Kaley Rose) was a scene that introduced one more all-important element of Miami culture: the tourists. Bill (Luis Navarro) and Susan (Gema Calero) played doltish redneck visitors who have stumbled off the trolley and into one of Miami's less amicable 'hoods. Calero's exaggerated drawl, drivel about face-eating zombies, and deadpan facial expressions, paired with Navarro's red-faced ranting and tell-tale tourist-yellow button-down and straw hat made the duo a hilarious target for an opportunistic teen and another essential Miami character: a shivering, bumbling crackhead (Gabriel Villasmil).
The writing of the next piece was sculpted with clever, modern, hyper-analytical wit that might have been cut out of an episode of the HBO series Girls. Israel Garcia's What Ifs Revealed saw the return of Acevedo, this time as Carlos, the quiet guy praying in a church. Karla (Ilana Isaacson), meanwhile, armed with some deranged accusations about something that didn't happen 15 years ago, slinks irreverently into the pew next to him to chew him out. Wearing a misleadingly demure pastel pink dress, Isaacson spewed a hilariously neurotic monologue filled with thoughts that would have unequivocally been better left unsaid, while Acevedo intercepted each weird revelation with impossible straight-faced cool.
Time, written by Gian Sol and starring Sofia Sassone and Gonzola Garcia Castro, sewed together themes like cunnilingus, modern communications, brain cancer, and Miami's signature impatience with a thread of continuous laughter, while Condo Talk (written by Barbara Levis and featuring Ricky J. Martinez, Wayne Robinson, Francesca Toledo, Daniel Suarez, Janae Catt, Kristin McCorkell, Almaguer, Lopez, and Acevedo) painted an all-too-real portrait of what it's like to sit in on a typical anal-retentive association meeting in one of Miami's high-rises.
Saving the Brisket (by Don Sheer and starring McCorkell) was another wonderfully absurd look into one more facet of Miami life, paying homage two more fixtures of our great city: Jews and hurricanes.
The aforementioned slew of waggish sketch comedy left the audience a bit unprepared for the two semi-serious skits that followed: Dominoes (Paul Poppe) showcased two Cuban brothers (Ozzie Quintana and Ivan Lopez) with opposing views of their cultural heritage, while Leaving Home (by Marj O'Neill-Butler and starring Almaguer and Stephen Kaiser) took a personal look at one of Miami's least celebrated realities: the foreclosure crisis.
The grand finale, a piece called The Gateway written by 16-year-old Don Grimme, took a turn back toward the funny side, giving a breathless comedic history of Miami's quickly changing culture and inhabitants, touching on the reign of the indigenous Tequesta and other American Indians, the arrival of Ponce de Leon, Henry Flagler, the emergence of Art Deco, the growth of tourism, race rivalries, hurricane Andrew, and our magically weird city as it is today. Best of all, the entire rundown was performed by the same four actors (Lopez, Zakiyah Iman Markland, Jair Bula and Erik Rodriguez), who announced their role changes by exchanging one velcroed-on name badge for another.
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"We were counting on everyone's creativity," said a visibly tired but satisfied Lopez after wrapping up the show (and dissembling the stage so that a musical act could take it over a few minutes later). "We hadn't even seen most of the performances until they went on yesterday," he went on, explaining that actors and writers had rehearsed their productions independently beforehand. "It's amazing that all these artists volunteered their time and that everything came together as smoothly as it did. I think we really succeeded in showing different parts of the community," Lopez said.
Next month (March 21 to 24) at PAX, White Rose will put on Martin McDonagh's Pillowman. Visit paxmiami.com for more information.