The Stage Is All the Rage
Dear New Times Reader:
You are hip and young, or so we tell the advertisers. In 2006 you turned the entertainment culture on its ear with your bloggings and YouTubings. You whipped Congress like it was an obstinate mule and burned America in effigy at the altar of Sacha Baron Cohen. You are smart and I love you for it, which is why I am asking: Please, please come to the theater in 2007.
I am a theater critic, I am in my twenties, and I am lonely. The same faces turn up at just about every performance in town; these days they have to buy extra seats for their oxygen tanks. New audiences haven't sufficiently sprung up to replace the ones who will soon pass over to that Great White Way in the Sky. And this leaves the performing arts of SoFla in a frightful conundrum. Either young people will miraculously catch the drama bug and take the reins of this whole collapsing business, or theater as we know it is doomed, and we're all gonna have to rely on J.K. Rowling and Ask a Ninja to explain the meaning of life from here on out.
There are approximately one billion good reasons why you should plant your ass in a theater in 2007. Here are my top ten:
10. Gender-bending apes: At the very beginning of the new year, Davy Jones, late of boy-band prototype and death-metal pioneers the Monkees, will bebop around the tri-county area with the Gold Coast Theatre Company in a twisted version of Cinderella. There will be physical comedy, magic, audience participation. The Wicked Stepsisters shall be men, and Prince Charming shall be an English prima donna. No telling how much of it is kink and how much of it is just reviving old theatrical drag convention, but is there really any difference?
9. Punk rock (obesity): Since the dawn of punk, it's been common knowledge that all the best art makes you squirm a little, and that is a truism well understood by Joseph Adler, GableStage's producing artistic director. GableStage might be an unlikely place for punk epiphanies, because it's situated in the Biltmore Hotel, but whatever enlightenment's where you find it. Come February, you might find it in GableStage's production of Neil LaBute's Fat Pig, the story of a man who "becomes interested, then friendly, and then attracted to a grossly overweight woman," says Adler. "We are not talking about somebody twenty pounds overweight. His friends see this, and they bother him about it, and [the show is about] how this affects his relationship with her. And that's pretty edgy, to call a play Fat Pig and have your lead actress be grossly overweight."
8. Punk rock (smut): GableStage will also present this coming June's world premiere of Smut, written by Alice Jay in collaboration with Adler. The play is about the collision of Puritan values with the first rumblings of the American sexual revolution. Big baddie Anthony Comstock, the Ed Meese of the Gilded Age, is pitched in a battle to the death with sexual libertines, proto-feminists, and orgasm-loving people of all stripes. "The aim," says Adler, "is to use realistic, historical characters, mixed with fictional characters, to create an impression of how little things have changed." Facile? Nope. The roots of prudery run deep, and nobody's gotten to the bottom of them yet.
7. Punk rock (gore): It's impossible to resist mentioning one more GableStage production. In August the company is hitting us with the Southeast premiere of Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore, a timeless drama about the awful heartbreak of Irish militants and their dead cats. This is a work that features an extraordinary amount of violence. "There is so much blood on the stage by the end of that play that the actors are literally slipping in it when they come out to take curtain calls. It's beyond anything you can imagine. And it's funny as hell," Adler says. Of course. You've gotta laugh any time somebody willingly reduces the ideological mania of Northern Ireland to pet-love. It's too Dada to understand and too crazy too ignore.
6. Kids on Kushner: Tony Kushner is one of the best English-language writers in existence. His words have a way of ennobling everyone who mouths them, as anyone who's seen the HBO version of Angels in America can attest. When the BFA candidates at New World School of the Arts put on Part One: Millennium Approaches this coming February, the run will be too brief for New Times to review, so consider this your warning: Some pieces of theater are strong enough to force everyone who sees them to live a little more intensely, and this production of Angels stands a chance of being one of them. New World has been turning some of these kids into dramaturgical monsters since they were in high school, and if you miss their take on Kushner, God might never forgive you.
5. Save money and get to know Neil Simon: University of Miami students will present two of Neil Simon's more serious, semiautobiographical works in repertory. Many otherwise smart people are dismissive of Simon's work, writing him off as a mere purveyor of comic fluff. But these two plays, from Simon's Family Trilogy, contain trenchant, clear-eyed takes on growing up (Brighton Beach Memoirs) and the dissolution of the family and the beginnings of adulthood (Broadway Bound). Because they will be running concurrently in February, you could conceivably catch one in the afternoon, grab some grub, and then catch the other the same night. The good people at UM's Ring Theatre have even agreed to offer the second set of tickets at half-price.
4. A chance to one-up New York: New Theatre's new artistic director, Ricky J. Martinez, describes the place as "a tiny, humble gem in Coral Gables." It is extremely funky, and the productions are always ambitious. The year's first will be Sin Full Heaven, by Martinez himself. He calls it a "cross between The Tempest and Romeo and Juliet, but set in the Caribbean, so it's hot 'n' sexy." The Bard goes dub! After opening at New Theatre in January, Heaven will then make its way to off-Broadway. At least in this one instance, SoFla is ahead of the curve.
3. Empathy: After Heaven, New Theatre will present something decidedly un-sexy. Sonja Linden's I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady from Rwanda is the story of a London poet's encounter with a survivor of Rwanda's 1994 genocide who is seeking a writer to help tell her story. If the show is a success, people could theoretically pay $40 to enter a theater and be put into spiritual and emotional communion with victims of an inhuman atrocity half a world away.
2. Sleepwalking is hip: Vincenzo Bellini's La Sonnambula has been performed regularly since the bel canto revival in the Fifties, and with good reason: It's got flashy coloratura work, gorgeous melodies, and a story that's no sillier than what you find in any other bel canto opera (it has to do with a town mistaking a sleepwalker for a ghost, and later mistaking her for a harlot). Beautiful voices can make La Sonnambula transcendent. Florida Grand Opera's February version features the largely unknown soprano Leah Partridge, but any production directed by Renata Scotto and conducted by Richard Bonynge is almost guaranteed to blow minds.
1. Seeing the future is hipper: If you could be persuaded to take in only one theatrical event in 2007, consider New World School of the Arts. In April graduating BFAs will be putting on The One Festival eight college seniors, eight self-produced one-man shows. This is Art with a capital A, unsullied by commercialism, pragmatism, or any other real-worldism. The students aren't necessarily aspiring playwrights, but that doesn't matter: "We have such a strong creative atmosphere there that we have no trouble asking them to do the impossible," says David Kwiat, one of NWSA's full-time theater faculty members. "I've been heading up this project for sixteen years, and it's unbelievable what they come up with." If this kind of action doesn't turn you on, you're a whole lot deader than the white-hairs who come to these things anyway.
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