This past weekend, Miami Theater Center opened Everybody Drinks the Same Water, a decorous world premiere written by MTC artistic director Stephanie Ansin and resident artist Fernando Calzadilla. It's set in 13th century Cordoba, Spain, a fractious cauldron of faiths and cultures lorded over by a bigoted Christian queen (Barbara Sloan). When she discovers that the water in her castle has been poisoned, she blames the Muslim qadi (Steve Gladstone) who built the aqueduct, and disparages the local Jewish doctor (Howard Elfman) for failing to cure her son, who has become paralyzed from the water. It's only when news leaks that the entire village has been suffering from the groundwater that vindictive accusations are jettisoned in favor of multidenominational problem-solving.
Everybody Drinks the Same Water is pleasing to look at it, with the action commencing on a minimalist, rotating stage-atop-a-stage, where the actors, clothed in beautifully fitted robes, dresses, and turbans bedecked with gold and leather, enact Ansin and Calzadilla's moral fable. The soundtrack, composed by Luciano Stazzone, mixes rainforest tribalism with muezzin wails and ominous, single droplets of water.
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As for the story itself, there is nothing engaging for adults and very little for children, which is the seemingly targeted demographic. The play runs 70 minutes, has enough material for about 15 minutes, and feels something like two hours. The actors, most of them capable of great work, have been scrubbed of distinction, and they become little more than sluggish line-readers for a monotonous script.
Are these relevant criticisms? If I'm 10 years old and have trouble keeping up with adult vocabulary and pace and of realistic speech, I probably would have appreciated Ansin's and Calzadilla's deliberate approach. But even then, I imagine I would have liked a bit more life injected into the show's somnambulistic movements. While Everybody Drinks the Same Water has some lovely window dressing, it lacks both the infectious whimsy of a good kids' show and the intellectual stimulation of adult fare.
Everybody Drinks the Same Water runs through June 1 at Miami Theater Center, 9806 N.E. Second Ave., Miami Shores. Show times are 7 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, 10:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and 10 a.m. Wednesdays and Fridays. Tickets cost $25. Call 305-751-9550 or visit mtcmiami.org.