The Boy from Russia: What begins as an icky feelings-fest ends as a smart meditation on suburban values, parental instinct, and the way privilege or deprivation can twist a person's sensibilities. The new, semiautobiographical play by South Floridian Susan J. Westfall follows yuppies Beth Marshall and Jack Goldman (Sandy Ives and Avi Hoffman, respectively) as they journey to a small city in Russia to adopt a child they glimpsed on an adoption agency video. The way the play illuminates the contrast between the couple's life at home and the hardscrabble existences they discover in Russia is stunning; it communicates with the feeling of safety nets being removed. Directed by David Arisco. Brandon K. Thorp Through June 3 at Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theater, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables. Call 305-444-9293, or visit www.actorsplayhouse.org.
A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings: This may be the musical for ages ten and up with the finest lineage of any ever produced. Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez wrote the story, centered on a man fallen from the sky and discovered by two children. The stage adaptation and lyrics are by Pulitzer Prize winner Nilo Cruz. Director Stephanie Ansin, not intimidated by all this literary gold, also deserves laurels for the PlayGround Theatre's production. The cofounder of this troupe dedicated to audiences that include youngsters, Ansin deeply understands this book and makes sure that both its power and its nuances come through. Though its origin is highbrow and Cruz's dialogue exquisite, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings is presented here with a friendly nonchalance that keeps it from weighing itself down. The mix of intelligent, original songs affirms that this show is not for babies. Alternating between genuine Afro-Latin rhythms, voodoo-style chants, and upbeat soul/funk, the music rises several leagues above most contemporary children's songbooks. The action and acting in this rootsy adventure never pander, either. Restless phantasms swirl in the salty Caribbean ether, troubling the multicultural inhabitants of a nameless island. Ricky Waugh satisfies with his bold take on the shark-headed patriarch, Pelayo, who marches in a circle around a trespasser before interrogating him. Jesús Quintero and Melissa Almaguer, who play his children, Momó and Fefé, infuse their roles with convincing, comedic brother-sister chemistry. The other standout is the kinetic queen of the PlayGround, Kristen McCorkell. Her multiple roles in the show give it added sparkle and speed. This version of A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings features wonderfully absurd costumes with giant heads that allow for gentle, comic symbolism, such as the matriarch's headdress (decorated with baby dolls), and conversely, in the conspicuous absence of big heads on Momó and Fefé. Andrés Solar May 24 through 27 at the Shores Performing Arts Theater, 9806 NE Second Ave., Miami Shores. Call 305-751-9550, or visit www.theplaygroundtheatre.com.
The Actor's Nightmare/Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You: As always, Sol Theatre boozily walks the line between creation and chaos, inspired anarchy and flagrant incompetence. This is an aesthetic that's been pursued to grand effect by the world's better punk bands, gutter novelists, and unpop artists, and Sol Theater tends to pull off its productions with the same aplomb. Plus or minus a few missteps, its current offering a Chris Durang double-header is no exception. The Actor's Nightmare follows an accountant named George as he's dragged onstage with some of the greatest British stage actors of the Nineteenth Century to star in plays he's barely ever heard of. Then there's an intermission, and Sister Ignatius (played by David Tarryn-Grae in what is certainly one of the most terrifying performances of this or any season) shows up with her freakish little catamite, Thomas, to get down with some hardcore catechism. Then some former pupils show up, and everything goes to hell. Robert Hooker directs. Brandon K. Thorp Through June 2 at Sol Theatre Project, 1140 N. Flagler Drive, Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-801-9207, or visit www.soltheatre.com.
The Boy from Russia, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, The Actor's Nightmare/Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You and Voice of the Prairie
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Voice of the Prairie: Voice is a huge, sprawling slice of Americana in which Palm Beach Dramaworks's three actors Todd Allen Durkin, Gordon McConnell, and Nanique Gheridian are transmogrified into what seems like a cast of thousands. John Olive's twenty-year-old play is the story of the meeting, young love, separation, and eventual reunion of Davey Quinn and "Frankie the Blind Girl," but it's a whole lot more than that: It's also about the way American identity can be shed or summoned at will, and how the stories Americans tell themselves can be just as real as the stories they're told by the world. This is a very old and much-lamented take on the national identity, and though it probably makes for bad politics, it also makes for good lives and great drama. William Hayes directs. Brandon K. Thorp Through June 10 at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 322 Banyan Blvd., West Palm Beach. Call 561-514-4042, or visit www.palmbeachdramaworks.com.