People in the arts love to expound theories about talent: Is there such a thing? Can it be developed? Are some lucky souls just born with the right stuff and everyone else is lost? Is it just luck or a smart mouth?
In teaching, I like to offer my own concept of talent, which by the way, I believe does exist. A spark is born then worked upon -- but without the spark, mediocrity rules. Salieri knew he could never compose like Mozart. Sure, van Gogh learned the crafting part of his art across a decade, but I couldn't paint like that if I practiced for seven light-years. Talent (in my opinion) comes in the form of an internal teacher, a guide inside oneself who says "not yet," "work harder," or "this may be right, now, go carefully." Even when compliments gush at you, the all-knowing voice can't be fooled. This teacher within knows when to praise for a job well done, just as it informs you when you've done something rotten.
According to this theory, Alan Farago either: a) has an internal teacher who went into a coma while Alan wrote and directed Ms. Smith Goes to Washington or b) has no internal teacher.
Despite very good intentions in forming his new company -- Theater FLX (working temporarily out of El Carrusel Theatre) -- Farago should have picked a far better writer and director than himself to launch the costly ($25,000) enterprise. I understood that he wished to focus on new works, but I thought he was looking for something acceptable in this galaxy.
Beyond simply saying that Ms. Smith is terrible, I'll explain that it includes: the Environmental Protection Agency, bureaucrats, lobbyists, narcolepsy, whooping cranes, drag queens, rocks thrown through windows, lots of doors from God knows where opening and closing into God knows what, animal mating habits, the Florida Keys, the Drug Enforcement Administration, midgets, something called the God Squad that slaughters endangered animals (or doesn't slaughter them) for some reason. As you can tell, I cannot explain what the play is about. Nothing makes any sense in this hodgepodge of silly, sophomoric writing and directing, and even if it did, you wouldn't care. At its best, Ms. Smith plays like a bad sitcom episode of Mr. Belvedere; at its worst, a phrase from comedian Martin Mull comes to mind -- "Even when they showed it on an airplane, people walked out."
Samples of dialogue reveal a glaringly absent internal teacher. "Why don't we all go back to the Garden of Eden?" yells a lobbyist, cleverly adding, "If you give me the address, I'll put it in my Rolodex." Oy.
Actually, the most appropriate lines arrive just at the end, when one of the many brain-damaged characters played by dedicated over-actor Fermin Rojas says, "Beam me up. This is a nightmare," and then soon afterward laments, "It's all turned into shit before my eyes." Yep Fermin, it did.
As for the cast, I feel sorry for them. Farago as playwright positively glows next to his abilities as a director. As mentioned, actors keep falling in and out of doors, then stand frozen in space, then jerk around like puppets. Obviously, everyone received directorial instructions on how to go as far "over the top" (nicknamed OTT in some circles) as possible; the normally talented Barbara Bernoudy Lowery creates two ridiculous, annoying buffoons, while Rojas snorts forth the perfect example of an unashamed ham. Wendy Michaels and Bill Joerres play it much straighter, which conflicts with the broad physical comedy delivered by the others, and while they don't have to humiliate themselves as much as Lowery and Rojas do, they often bore you right to daydreamland.
Directors, actors, and producers from all over Broward and Dade turned out in force for opening night and packed the house. Too bad these crowds couldn't have been more discriminating and caught a quick bus over to ACME or AREA, who deserve healthy turnouts. Ms. Smith deserves termination.
Slightly better, but not much, is David Arisco's dull direction of the already tedious musical revue Closer than Ever at the Actors' Playhouse. It's basically a batch of tunes about different situations -- love, friendship, parenthood, adultery, divorce, exercise, Muzak (exercise? Muzak?) -- no plot ever builds to tie the skits together. Neither the lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr., who did better for Ain't Misbehavin', nor the melodies by David Shire, who did better for Saturday Night Fever, contain enough sparkle to stand on their own. And the show desperately needs four outstanding singers; Arisco hired only one in Margot Moreland, who belts like a wild angel and almost makes the night with a naughty number called "Miss Byrd." Moreland sings and acts, whereas her fellow cast members -- Kenn Christopher, Christopher Kent, and Lourelene Snedeker -- exhibit major problems with both skills.
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Oddly enough, this set also involves doors that open, shut, and make no impact but lots of nonsense and jerky movement. In fact, the first dreary song is called "Doors." Is this Jung's theory of synchronicity at work? Do all misguided writers, actors, and directors crave doors? Perhaps they're seeking the internal teacher of Jim Morrison.
Come to think of it, in the case of both productions, shame on them. Those doors should immediately be put to better use in Country Walk or Homestead. But leave the actors here -- they've suffered enough already.
MS. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON written and directed by Alan Farago; with Wendy Michaels, Bill Joerres, Barbara Bernoudy Lowery, and Fermin Rojas. At Theater FLX in El Carrusel Theatre, 235 Alcazar Ave., Coral Gables, through December 27. Performances Wednesday -- Saturday 8:00 p.m., Sundays 5:00 p.m. Tickets cost $12-$15. Call 532-0025.
CLOSER THAN EVER lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr., music by David Shire, directed by David Arisco; with Kenn Christopher, Margot Moreland, Christopher Kent, and Lorelene Snedeker. At the Actors' Playhouse, 8851 SW 107 Ave., through January 3. Performances Wednesday -- Saturday 8:00 p.m, New Year's Eve 9:00 p.m., Sundays 2:00 and 7:00 p.m. Call 595-0010.