Miami's four must-see stage shows of 2010

Doing theater in Miami is like walking on a tightrope high above an unfriendly crowd of critics, aesthetes, and old people who will beat you and take your money if you fall. How to do the kind of daring, exciting work you always dreamed of when you were a budding young artiste wearing hemp and eating ramen? How to make the kind of money you need now that you realize you can't get laid if you're 40 and still living with Mum? How to do great theater and keep the Carousel crowd buying subscriptions?

You don't. You do a little of this, a little of that, try to produce work you're not totally ashamed of, and make enough money to afford a duplex somewhere near Barry University. And every now and then, maybe only once a year, you say, "Fuck it! I'm doing something cool!" Unless you're Florida Grand Opera, that is, in which case you just reach into the canon and pull out a lollipop. (The real avant-garde in opera is so hard to handle that not even opera people like it that much.)

It's impossible to tell whether the three fantastic plays and one fantastic opera listed below will be as good, exciting, vivifying, scary, brave, and mind-boggling as they should be. But they stand a chance. Without further ado, predictions for the best shows of the 2009/'10 theater season:

Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Donizetti's opera is based on Sir Walter Scott's musty novel The Bride of Lammermoor, but the opera is not musty at all. Its portrayal of the luckless young Lucia (who's supposed to be Scottish, despite the Italian title) is fast-paced (for opera), deeply moving, and completely accessible to anybody who appreciates musical dramas of any kind. The opera's famous "Mad Scene" finds a blood-splattered Lucia, having just betrayed the man she wanted to marry and murdering the man she did marry, descending on horrified party guests. She's lost it.

In a long aria, she imagines she's getting hitched to her true love, Edgardo, and has a conversation with a ghost. Momentarily, the ghost seems to inhabit the lithe music of the flutist in the orchestra pit, and the coloratura soprano playing Lucia matches it note-for-note. Then she sings one of the loveliest melodies every written — twice, the second time with adornments — and collapses. The "Mad Scene" is one of the all-time showstoppers in opera: moving, technically demanding, and full of opportunities for a really excellent coloratura to show off. For this Lucia, FGO has gotten its hands on a stunner. Her name is Eglise Gutierrez, and three years ago, at Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, she proved herself one of the best Lucias working today — possessing fine dramatic instincts and a pathos-soaked voice with a gorgeous upper extension. She'll be something to see.

Lucia will play January 20 through 31 at the Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami.

Sarah Kane's Blasted. Just about every critic in England loathed Blasted, Sarah Kane's first play, when it made its debut there in 1995. It took Kane's suicide in 1999 — by hanging, in a hospital — to effect a complete turnaround in public opinion. Apparently, and contrary to what all of those mid-'90s critics thought, a play that begins with a graphic heterosexual rape, proceeds to a graphic homosexual rape in which the rapist eats the victim's eyeballs, and concludes with man-on-baby cannibalism is not necessarily gratuitous. Indeed, by the time Blasted was last seen in England, the Evening Standard said it had a "fine moral purpose." Whatever. Director Joseph Adler knows that redemptions of the kind Sarah Kane has experienced are highly provisional and probably local. "We're going to make it very clear that this is not a play that everyone will want to see," he says. "And if our subscribers want to use their tickets for something else, they can do that."

I suspect — and hope — his warning is, at least partially, the beginning of a brilliant marketing scheme. If anybody can pull off Blasted in this theatrical clime, it's Adler. Over his decade-long career as executive artistic director of GableStage at the Biltmore, he has trained his audience well. Former members of the Carousel crowd themselves, his viewers have been turned into something else entirely by years of exposure to Adler's dramatic peccadilloes — Stephen King's Misery and the gruesome Pillowman, inter-species romance in The Goat, and exploding cats in The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Sarah Kane will be their greatest test.

Blasted will run February 20 through March 21 at GableStage, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables.

Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit. Maybe it's not so daring for a theater to produce a 65-year-old play. Of course, No Exit is not just any 65-year-old play, and the Naked Stage is not just any theater. The Naked Stage is a magical place, seemingly held together with spit and chewing gum during its lean months, but always fueled by the burning aesthetic visions of Antonio and Katherine Amadeo and John Manzelli, which make the tiny Pelican Theatre at Barry University a portal into a crazy, psychedelic, alternate universe. For Macon City: A Comic Book Play, the troupe used a bit of secondhand wood and paint to turn the space into a Gothic cityscape full of strange buildings and hidden rooms. Their vision for No Exit will almost certainly be as compelling: Katherine Amadeo has been pushing to get the play produced for almost two years.

No Exit will run next summer on dates yet to be announced.

Peter Shaffer's Equus. Peter Shaffer's shopworn show experienced a kind of rebirth when Daniel Radcliffe starred — and famously exposed his Hairy Plonker — in a revival in New York last year. Shaffer's 1973 play tells the story of an adolescent boy who has somehow confused sex and violence, slavery and passion, and gods and horses, and who — for reasons explicated in some of the smartest, scariest scenes ever to hit the stage — ultimately wounds six of the very animals he loves in a hellish crime that nobody, save we audients, will ever understand.

Equus will be performed February 26 through March 28 at New Theatre (4120 Laguna St., Coral Gables), which is somewhat troubling. Very few really talented young actors have appeared on New Theatre's stage in the past several years. When it casts for characters under the age of the 30, too often its charitable instincts take over and the part is given on the basis of a young actor's, ahem, potential (read: sex appeal). Equus demands a good deal more than that. If New Theatre delivers, expect Equus to be arguably the most exciting show of the year. Stay tuned.

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Brandon K. Thorp