The Sorrows of Young Werther: Of the many reasons this adaptation of Goethe's play succeeds, the director's savvy use of the small venue ranks highest. Jesús Quintero and his upstart troupe recognize that close quarters allow for eye contact with the audience and for the use of nuances that would simply go unnoticed on a large stage. This intimacy adds to the emotional power of the play, particularly in scenes such as the giddy femme fatale tickling the tormented Werther's cheek with her eyelashes. This elegant, often delicate production conjures the sometimes slippery spirits of beauty and love, both of which dart in and out from the first act on. — Andrés Solar Through March 1. M&S Productions, 1415 NE 129th St., North Miami; 786-853-3915, www.myspace.com/thejesusquinterostudio.
Levee James: The trick to seeing S.M. Shephard-Massat's Levee James is patience. A portrait of a black family in rural Georgia in 1929, it's a play that tries to remain true to both the spirit and the aesthetic of its time and place. This means thick accents and antiquated dialect, which can make the play difficult. Get past it. By the middle of Act I, the actors have settled nicely into their groove, and we're free to enjoy the piece on its own terms: as a sweet, sad rendering of good people trying their best to live well and bravely despite a terrible mounting menace that grows and moves like the weather — implacable and unpredictable. — Brandon K. Thorp Through March 2. The M Ensemble, 12320 W. Dixie Hwy., North Miami; 305-895-8955, www.themensemble.com.
Nervous Smile: It's difficult to sit still through John Belluso's A Nervous Smile, a catalogue of almost every kind of selfish venality ever practiced by man, brought to life by three good actors and one human shark. The human shark is Barbara Sloan, who plays Eileen — a long-suffering, pill-popping, tit-enlarging heiress who is sick of being chained to her daughter, Emily, who has severe cerebral palsy. Eileen — along with her husband, a friend with a similarly disabled child, and Emily's "personal assistant" — must make a decision: At what point does she say "fuck it" to her responsibilities and run away? If this sounds like a nauseating thing to contemplate, that's because it is; your teeth will grind at the awfulness of these people and their thoughts. But who can judge? Not me, and probably not you. The most we can do is sit back and try to grok. — Brandon K. Thorp Through March 23. New Theatre, 4120 Laguna St., Coral Gables; 305-443-5909, www.new-theatre.org.
Miami local theater
The Wizard of Oz: The yellow brick road leads through Coral Gables in this Prince Street Players adaptation of L. Frank Baum's tale. Although the producers claim a stronger connection between the play and Baum's original text than to the 1939 Technicolor masterpiece, the opposite seems true, with the exception of Dorothy's slippers, which are silver rather than ruby-red. (Alas, no Toto either.) The play follows a similar musical conceit as the movie, though its songs pale in comparison to the film's. Still, that's the only sour note in an otherwise competent production suitable for audiences of all ages. — Frank Houston Through March 29. Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; 305-444-9293, www.actorsplayhouse.org.
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