The Sunken Living Room: This is one instance when the story behind the scenes upstages the action in the play. David Caudle's family drama was scheduled to open in New Orleans last summer, but Hurricane Katrina hit. The play is about a 24-hour period in the life of a dysfunctional family. It is not so much a new Long Day's Journey into Night as a particularly potty-mouthed, appropriately Seventies ABC After School Special. Comparisons to television's recent That '70s Show or to Luis Santeiro's pioneering Qué Pasa, USA? are not always flattering to Caudle's new play. Even for a sitcom, Sunken is a minor work. Although the cast is a fine-tuned quartet, the priceless moments are rare, and too much of the script's character development is broad, didactic, and obvious. Octavio Roca Through May 7. New Theatre, 4120 Laguna St., Coral Gables; 305-443-5909, www.new-theatre.org.
The Taking of Miss Janie: Ed Bullins is one of the most influential and controversial names in African-American history. Spike Lee may be more familiar and in modern literary circles, Toni Morrison's moniker may spark more interest. But Bullins, a prize-wining African-American playwright who dominated the theatre scene between 1962 and 1982, is playwright royalty. And this is one of his finest works. Set at a UCLA college party during the Sixties, Miss Janie traces the near impossible relationship between black radicals and white liberals. If you think this sounds like every other racially based play that predictably ends up preaching a life lesson about learning to love one another, think again. Bullins means business, and no one is exempt from his in-your-face, sulphorously frank prose. "Jews, niggers, politics, Germans, sociology, the past, drugs, men, dykes, phonies everything is bunched up together," strung-out Jewish junkie Mort Silberstein spits out during the final scenes. And that sums up the plot. Well, almost. Miss Janie offers a frank and sincere look at race relations from a slightly different vantage point. And it hammers home the point that no matter what creed or color, every single one of us has a devil inside. Joanne Green Through April 23. AAPACT at Charles Hadley Black Box Theatre, 1300 NW 50th St., Miami; 1-866-390-4534, www.aapact.com.