"It was an explosion!" Herb Ault proclaims and then splays his fingers to form a pair of jazz hands. You can tell the 82-year-old has a background in theater. He was long ago the North Miami Senior High School drama department head.
His glassy brown eyes widen behind a pair of rose-colored sunglasses as he describes a feud with the owner of the Hollywood Playhouse on Washington Street, Israel Valdes. "Valdes borders on a psychopath," Ault says. "He threatened me and sabotaged the show."
You might say the playhouse, a rather nondescript theater on a residential street, is cursed. In the past ten years, the historical landmark has been plagued with production flops, clashes over ownership, and nasty financial trouble. In 1999, a wealthy arts donor arrived at a theater fundraiser to write a check, but instead tripped on the stairs and shattered her right elbow. Ouch.
Ault is not the superstitious type. After 40 years of retirement, this past summer he paid $38,000 for rental space at the venue to produce The Matchmaker. The contract states that "practices are scheduled in the blue room dance studio." He recruited cast members from Coral Gables to Palm Beach County.
Last month, Ault tried to get in. He couldn't. Ten times he arrived to find the doors locked.
Valdes says the theater is locked because it is in a rough part of town. All Ault had to do, he says, was call the office on his cell phone.
Problem is, Ault has no cell phone.
So, on August 20, Ault's attorney, Jeffrey Seth Selzer, penned a letter to playhouse representatives. It noted that lockouts have "demoralized the cast."
The letter didn't go over well.
On September 10, Ault and his actors showed up for a 6 p.m. rehearsal. Again, they couldn't get in. "[Valdes] came out in a tirade, demanding I get off his property," Ault says. "He threatened to have me arrested and have our cars towed."
Valdes says Ault called him "a spic," poked him with his walking cane, and packed his stage props in a huff.
Cops showed up and calmed everyone down. Their report doesn't offer many details. It simply states, "[The owner] locked the director out of the business."
Oddly, the playhouse's executive director, Alice Pradere, explains there's still a chance the play will run in January. The guys just need to make up, she says. And keep the drama on the stage.