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Weak Script and Stale Jokes Sink Otherwise Solid Acting Performance in High Dive

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Written by award-winning playwright, Leslie Ayvazian, High Dive, which opened this past Saturday at New Theatre, is a light comedy about the indelible task of overcoming one's greatest fears while finding the absurdity in them. The story tackles one woman's fear of heights while she chronicles her misadventures of past vacations.

High Dive's concept and plot are certainly original and creative. It's a play where audience participation is key and the acting engaging. But the concept and performance fall victim to a tepid script that delivers few genuine laughs or anything else of real interest.

Five-time Carbonell nominated actress, Barbara Sloan stars as Leslie, as she recounts her adventures in calamity, getting older, and overcoming fears. The play features a unique device where a half-hour before the performance, Sloan casts willing audience members to play hotel guests who goad her into taking the plunge.

The overarching theme in High Dive is overcoming fear, and Leslie has gobs of it to beat down. She's hitting half a century, and her life has been filled with traumatic experiences that have left her timid and fearful or, more to the point, she's treated her life-experiences with timidity and fear. But life is to be grabbed by the balls, and the high dive she keeps trying to conquer is the proverbial metaphor for trouncing those fears.

You start off by rooting for Leslie, thanks mostly to Ms. Sloan's plucky performance. She nimbly marches across the stage throughout, recounting Leslie's adventures in calamity, getting older, and overcoming her worst fears with enthusiasm and charm. But Leslie's stories quickly turn from zany, humorous anecdotes of misadventure, to an interminable whine-fest. It's one calamity after another with nary a humorous climax. Someone else's misfortune is always great comedy fodder. But the jokes never hit home.

The audience members who audaciously volunteered to take on a role were handed a clipboard with their lines, and given their cues via a series of numbers that are displayed on stage. But the audience participation device actually hurt the production more than it helped (unless you find awkward reading of lines or a person clumsily dropping a clipboard in the middle of a silent moment hilarious and entertaining). Everyday people, for the most part, have the acting chops of a Kardashian sister. The script should compensate for this by giving them funnier lines, rather than the weedy dialog found in Ayvazian's script.

New Theatre -- who plan on putting on productions of The Radiant and A Streetcar Named Desire later this year -- shouldn't be judged by Ayvazian's play alone. Sloan's solid performance and Ricky J. Martinez's stripped-down directing makes the most of a weak script and stale hackneyed jokes.

Look for our full review in this week's issue. 

See High Dive at New Theatre (4120 Laguna St., Coral Gables). It runs through February 13 with performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m and Sundays at 1 p.m. Tickets start at $35. Call 305-443-5909 or visit new-theatre.org.

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