MAIN STREET PLAYERS DELIVERS EMOTIONAL, RAW REALITY IN ‘TOPDOG/UNDERDOG’

Written By Christine Dolen

Originally published on artburstmiami.com

The 20th-anniversary production of “Topdog/Underdog” begins previews on Broadway Sept. 27, with an opening set for Oct. 20. TV and movie actors – Corey Hawkins and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II – will play brothers Lincoln and Booth in the revival directed by Tony Award winner Kenny Leon.

Still, you don’t need to travel nearly that far to see a production of the searing, Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by Suzan-Lori Parks.

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FAU Theatre Lab’s “Red Riding Hood” Brings This Overdone Story Back to Life

“Comedy is a language I love and one that seemed right for this iconic fairytale.”  – Allison Gregory 

   As the kick-off to the 2022-2023 Theatre Lab season, the playwright Allison Gregory couldn’t be more dead on. When you think of the story of Red Riding Hood, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t typically a comedic whirlwind for all ages – but in this case, it was.  

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Empire Stage’s “Bent” Is Agonizing Yet Incredible

The 2022-2023 season came to a rather electric startand my current tenure as a regular reviewer in residence for South Florida Theatre Magazine to a rather electric endwith Empire Stage’s production of Bent, a 1979 Martin Sherman play that earned a lasting place in the canon with its premiere but is seldom produced given its inflammatory subject matter: the treatment of homosexual men during the Third Reich. 

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Two Great Performances Create a Compelling Connection in Fade

A fascinating season for Miami’s Gablestage comes to a close with their current production of Fade by Tanya Saracho, an intriguing exploration of the relationship between two Latinx employees at a Los Angeles television studio. The first of these we meet is Lucia, an earnest newly-hired writer who was born and raised by a relatively well-off family in Mexico and is new to the TV industry after making a name for herself with a first novel. Through her, we meet Abel (pronounced Ah-bell not “able”), a guarded but compassionate American-born janitor of Mexican descent hailing from hard-knock neighborhood El Sereno. 

Though the two initially seem able to develop a camaraderie and even a friendship thanks to the shared frame of reference their shared ethnicity allows, as the play goes on—and as Lucia slowly outgrows her initial nerves and disdain for her job and begins instead to ascend the corporate ladder with gusto—these class differences grow from a palpable but surmountable obstacle to the source of an irrevocable reckoning. 

Actors Alexandra Acosta and Alex Alvarez, who are probably the production’s greatest asset, do much to make this unlikely connection both credible and compelling. Acosta’s portrayal of the high-strung Lucia effectively balances the two opposing sides of the character, with both her surface congeniality and self-doubt and her deeper shrewdness and hunger for recognition coming across as completely believable. Meanwhile, Alvarez is a pitch-perfect straight man to Acosta’s more neurotic woman, and goes on to reveal his aptitude for conveying greater emotional depths when the plot finally delves into his character’s backstory. 

Since the technical elements of the play also seem to be in ship-shape, with costume designer Camilla Haith worth a special mention for Lucia’s array of appealing outfits, there is only really the script itself to blame for the production’s somewhat underwhelming nature. Not to say that it isn’t an enjoyable ride nonetheless—especially at only an hour and forty five minutes, there’s enough humor and suspense to smooth over the play’s deeper structural flaws. Director Teo Castellanos also well manages the ever-shifting dynamics between the characters while building in enough playful blocking to help keep the audience engaged.

Reportedly, Fade is based on playwright Tanya Saracho’s real life experiences as, at one point, the only Latina writer on a show about four Latina maids. This gives the play an aura of authenticity that fuels many a satirical joke at the nonsensical world of television’s expense, moments that serve as some of the play’s brighter spots. One also never doubts the plausibility of the humiliating and racially charged incidents Lucia recounts of being ignored while her less qualified white colleagues are asked to weigh in, being singled out to translate for her boss’s maid because of her ethnicity, or being plainly called a “diversity hire” by a mean-spirited co-worker. 

Tanya Saracho Headshot. [Photo Credit: Jackson Davis]

But, in the end, though these microaggressions and many other culturally charged issues that Fade explores are important ones, there’s a sense in which the script only skims their surface rather than offering a particularly original perspective on them or even a particularly well-constructed story. For instance, one of the script’s most notable flaws is that Lucia’s entitlement, obliviousness, and self-absorption make her relatively unsympathetic as a protagonist. 

Though her underdog status allows us to give her the benefit of the doubt for quite a while, a moment toward the end of the play where her actions cross the line from merely annoying and insensitive to profoundly traitorous confirms our worst suspicions while also feeling like an unnecessarily cynical twist where a conclusion more redemptive for both characters might’ve sufficed.

Though the play ultimately chastises Lucia for this behavior, the fact that it is quite clearly her story, with Abel ultimately only serving as a pawn in her schemes rather than an active driver of the plot, makes the whole thing ring a bit emotionally hollow. At worst, the fact that the script is more focused on the moral dilemma of the more privileged character than in exploring the repercussions for the less privileged one means that it could perhaps be considered akin to the more obviously exploitative works it takes such pains to condemn. 

While I wouldn’t actually go quite that far in my own criticism, I did also find myself wondering whether Fade was chosen more for its topicality than for its quality, and what the implications would be if that were so. While the intention behind selecting a work that showcases the talents of diverse artists and speaks to the concerns of underrepresented community members is an admirable one, I can imagine that there are many plays by Latinx playwrights out there that offer a more insightful take on similar subject matter and that would have made for more interesting picks.

However, if you’re the kind of person that doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about class clashes and racial issues, you may still find Fade’s take on them and the glimpse it offers into the life of characters that grapple with them genuinely enlightening. And, for others of us, especially those of us who find ourselves marginalized for some aspects of our identity while being privileged via others, perhaps Fade is most valuable as a cautionary tale about the dangers of assuming that the ways in which we are disadvantaged justifies anything we might wager in pursuit of success, even if that success comes at a more vulnerable person’s expense. But that’s certainly a lesson that might be both more fun to learn and that might end up more viscerally ingrained if explored firsthandwith the help of two great actorsif you choose to attend Fade at Miami’s GableStage before this September 19!

REVIEW: AT ACTORS’ PLAYHOUSE, ‘NOW AND THEN’ EXPLORES ROADS TAKEN AND PATHS IGNORED

Written By Christine Dolen

Originally published on artburstmiami.com

A man walks into a bar and – OK, we’d stop right there if we’d vowed to keep this particular review 100 percent spoiler free.

But Sean Grennan’s dramatic comedy (or “dramedy,” as director David Arisco describes it) is neither a joke nor a shaggy dog story.  Even if you guess what’s going on minutes into the new Actors’ Playhouse production of “Now and Then” (and many people will), Grennan’s play keeps you hooked from start to finish.

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Reimagined Beauty And The Beast Brings New Magic To An Old Classic

What has always set theatre apart as a medium is the chance it offers us to not only tell or hear stories but to connect with others through the shared experience of stories. And though the uniquely immediate and uniquely communal nature of the theatre can sometimes get lost, amidst the multitudes of other concerns that go into putting together a season and then putting up a show, both aspects of the art form were back at the forefront of up and coming director Giancarlo Rodaz’s immersive reimagining of modern classic Beauty And The Beast via Area Stage.

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Review: A Faithful ‘Kinky Boots,’ With All Its Pizazz and Pitfalls

This post was originally published on NY Times - Theater

Written by: Elisabeth Vincentelli

The Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein musical, in which the drag queen Lola saves a provincial shoe factory, makes an Off Broadway return at the spacious Stage 42.

You can’t keep a drag queen down, at least not for long. It was only April 2019 that the Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein musical “Kinky Boots” closed on Broadway after a six-year run, and already it’s back in town. The Britain-set show, in which the statuesque performer Lola saves a provincial shoe factory by inspiring a line of toweringly outré footwear, is now running Off Broadway.

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REVIEW: AREA STAGE COMPANY’S TRANSFORMATIVE ‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’ MAKES CONTEMPORARY CLASSIC ORIGINAL

Written By Christine Dolen

Originally Published on artburstmiami.com

Area Stage Company’s new immersive production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” is, as the French would say, magnifique.

Presented in a transformed Carnival Studio Theater at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, the show is a two-year labor of love and creativity on the part of Giancarlo Rodaz, Area Stage’s associate artistic director.  Working with numerous collaborators, the young director has achieved a larger-scale success on the order of his immensely popular immersive version of “Annie,” which the company presented in June of 2021, in the company’s smaller South Miami theater.

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