Here are the best and worst plays of 2010. If you caught the good ones, congrats. You really saw something special. If you caught any of the bad ones, my condolences. Don't let it put you off the form. There's fabulous stuff out there.
This is my last year-end roundup. I am moving to New York City with my spouse and writing partner, the journalist Penn Bullock. I'm sad to go. From seats in the gloom of South Florida theaters, I have seen and heard extraordinary things. Look for the full year-end theater roundup in the next issue. For now, read on for a glimpse at what worked on Miami stages and what didn't.
Never again will Florida see a production quite like Sarah Kane's
Blasted. It is expensive to produce, and those few companies with
the pocketbook to pull it off don't have the inclination. For Blasted is
bloody -- very bloody. The play begins with a rape, ends with the
cannibalism of dead babies, and there is little light in between. The beauty of Kane's script lies in how a girl's smallness and defenselessness enables her to survive in the brutal world imagined by the play. The beauty of GableStage's production lies in the dramatization of the world's brutality.
Oh, James Samuel Randolph, we could listen to you talk all day. Even if
all you've got to talk about are the weird psycho-sexual issues of a kid
who likes horses a little too much. So it was with Equus, Peter
Shaffer's haunting play about Alan Strang, a disturbed teenager whose
confused ideas about religion and his own libido drive
him to an act of terrible violence. On New
Theatre's small stage, Equus played as a surrealist festival of light
and shadow, full of barely-glimpsed leaping beasts, who seemed to have
freshly escaped from the walls at Lescaux.
What the hell happened to the Alliance Theatre Lab? Two years ago, they
were barely on the radar, and then - bam! Suddenly they're Miami's
coolest theater. Their best show this year was Orphans, a
strange and touching tale about two brothers who have had to scrounge for
themselves since the long-ago departure of their parents. It's a simple
show with a simple premise, but at Alliance, it was full of life and
wisdom. The spaces between the actors' performances were
full of need and listening. One felt they were reaching out to one
another across some vast darkness, nearly touching, and then falling
New Theatre gave it a good shot, but Hour of The Tiger was
un-salvageable. Allegedly a love letter from playwright Sandra Riley to
the Japan she visited in the 70's, The Hour of the Tiger told the story
of a Japanese geisha's lesbian love affair with an American writer. In
the telling, Riley managed to screw up basic facts about geisha life
(they don't have pimps; they haven't worked as prostitutes for over a
hundred years; etc), and what Riley didn't mangle, New Theatre's stable
of under-experienced actors did.
Though the raw material was fine, the director had done some
neat editing, and it was framed with historically accurate English folk
tunes, the SoBe Arts Council's re-imagining of The Twelfth Night was
mostly abysmal. It also lacked basic consideration for the
comfort and aesthetic pleasure of the audience. An errant spotlight
shone directly onto a front-row seat, and an un-oiled hinge of an
off-stage door squealed angrily each time an actor prepared to make an
entrance. The small band of musicians off to the side of the stage were
obscured by a sloppily-hung black curtain. It should have been used to mask the glare of headlights from the rear exit of
the stage, which opened directly onto a busy South Beach street. SoBe
Arts may not have much of a budget, but these were not failures of
financing; they were failures of imagination.
Pulitzer Prize-winning Miamian Nilo Cruz may have jumped the shark with
The Color of Desire. What a pity! If Cruz had only subjected his work to
another re-write or two, and if only director David Arisco had allowed
The Color of Desire to be what is so clearly wanted to be: A symbolic,
highly figurative meditation on love, lust, and control set at the
violent apex of the Cuban revolution. Instead, the play was produced as realism, which made the whole thing rather difficult
to believe. This is, after all, a play about a Cuban actress seduced by
an American entrepreneur, who demands that, in the bedroom, she play
the role of his long-lost love. The production presented these
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characters as ordinary people, bleached of their darkness and mystery. A
more serious disconnect between script and director I have seldom seen.