SoBe Arts kills Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

In a story in last week's Miami Herald, Carson Kievman said South Florida "doesn't have access to as many great performers as other cities" and that acting talent is "sparse" in these parts. To Kievman, director of the SoBe Institute of the Arts — and director of the anemic Twelfth Night now floundering at the Carl Fisher Clubhouse — I say, Fie! With an attitude like that, you should be grateful to have any actors at all.

A word of advice: If you keep mounting productions as shabby, lifeless, underthought, and undercooked as Twelfth Night, you will soon find yourself working exclusively with community theater rejects and unpaid interns, and then you'll really have something to complain about. (It pains me to write these words because I have it on good authority that the cabaret you mounted during the holidays was great and helped earn you and your theater a New Times MasterMind Award.)

You can't blame the shoestring budget for this shoddy production. Plenty of destitute South Florida theaters — from the Women's Theatre Project to Inside Out Theatre — have crafted transcendent productions while avoiding the boneheaded errors now plaguing your show.


SoBe Institute of the Arts

Twelfth Night: By William Shakespeare; directed by Carson Kievman; with Joshua Ritter, Michael Joseph, Ryan Rodriguez, Glen Lawrence, Ken Clement, Jody Owen, Merry Jo Cortada, Michelle Antello, and Johnny Vargas. Through April 4. SoBe Institute of the Arts at the Carl Fisher Clubhouse, 2100 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-674-9220; sobearts.org

For example: Even SoFla's least moneyed theaters avoid blinding their audiences. At opening night last weekend, I observed one middle-aged lady repeatedly shielding her eyes with her program when she found herself in the spotlight. Later she donned sunglasses. (I don't think this can be blamed on a lighting tech: The offending bulb was in a fixed position and had presumably been beaming down on the same seats throughout rehearsal.) Also, it has occurred to even the most mediocre of our local directors that doors in the backstage area should open and close as quietly as possible. In your theater, many actors' exits are followed, ten seconds later, by an ungodly screeching sound from what I assume is an unoiled hinge.

Mistakes like these add up. It is not aesthetically satisfying to see your musicians, skillful though they may be, half-obscured from the audience by an ugly black cloth not two feet from where the actors stand and declaim. Nor does it help us maintain our suspension of disbelief when actors exiting from a particular door grant us unobstructed views of busy Dade Boulevard. (The ugly cloth used to obscure the musicians might have been put to better use protecting audients from headlights.)

I wish there was more to this production than a collection of venal oversights and slipups, but there isn't. Twelfth Night is allegedly a comedy, yet I cannot remember hearing a single honest-to-goodness belly laugh. The mean energy level in the house wasn't high enough to generate one. Shakespeare's tale of cross-dressing, misplaced love, and filial devotion should be a barnstormer — lusty, fast, and zany. This Twelfth Night is torpor-bound: cursed with a leading lady, Elena Sanchez, who, though cute in drag, seems nearly as lost within Shakespeare's rhythms as she is bored with his story. Her love interest, Duke Orsino, played by Joshua Ritter, is no livelier. Their ultimate courtship smacks of double necrophilia.

The production's hook, as I understand it, is that it incorporates the very music Shakespeare originally intended to accompany his play. To give it voice, you selected a talented young man, Andres Lefevre, with an entirely inappropriate vocal range. He squeaks his way through almost every song. Only late in the evening, when Lefevre snatches a single opportunity to deploy his surprisingly sturdy baritone, do we realize this is a man with singing experience beyond the shower.

Lefevre is a capable actor in scenes that allow him to speak rather than sing, and other members of the ensemble also display a fair amount of chops. Amy McKenna is elegantly icy in her early scenes as Countess Olivia and downright charming when she begins to thaw. Jody Owen, as the steward Malvolio, is lovably hapless — there is no one I'd rather see grinning foolishly while cross-gartered in yellow stockings. But their solid work doesn't have a hope of saving your show. The only really credible efforts to do so come from Ken Clement (Sir Toby Belch), Merry Jo Cortada (Maria), and Glen Lawrence (Sir Andrew Aguecheek), who work their asses off in scenes of drunken revelry to inject some spark, some humor, some verve into a stillborn production. For a few giddy moments, they succeed.

But that's their success — those South Florida actors — and not yours. Luckily for you, there are many, many more of their ilk around. If you'd like to attract them to your casting calls — and you can, given the success of past work — please consider giving them reasons more compelling than the promise of screeching doors, scenes interrupted by highway traffic, dumb lighting schemes, and contempt.

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