Everything Goes Right, Delightfully, After Frau Loses Her Underpants

From: The Cleveland Plain Dealer
Date: March 8, 2004
Author: Tony Brown

The Underpants” is exactly the kind of entertainment the Cleveland Play House has been searching for: a play smart enough to be considered literature and slam-bang funny enough to qualify as slapstick.

It’s an unbeatable combination that gives us a fun and funny night out that will also satisfy a theatergoer’s hunger for just a little substance.

Although the pacing is a tad slow — the Cleveland production runs about 10 to 15 minutes longer than the zippy, 90-minute version seen off-Broadway in 2002 — the Play House gets just about everything right in this comedy about sex and sexual politics.

The play, about a neglected housewife, Louise Maske, who loses her underpants in public one day and suddenly finds herself pursued by strange men, began life in 1910. It was one in a series of social satires by German playwright Carl Sternheim, who saw his job as poking fun at the grim culture that would someday produce both Adolf Hitler and the Volkswagen Beetle.

Steve Martin, the wild-and-crazy guy who proved himself a playwright in 1993 with “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” takes Sternheim’s already very funny play and sticks a comic arrow through its head.

The resulting play has a quaint, old-time comic feel with a hip, post-feminist edge. There are a couple of clunkers among the flood of jokes, and the story at brief intervals feels a little like a “Saturday Night Live” sketch that is about to go on too long. But the play just barrels ahead, and you can’t help going along for what turns out to be a happy ride.

Most significantly, Martin adds a twist to the ending, introducing a Molieresque deus ex machina to the dramatis personae, a royal character who allows our heroine, she of the fallen bloomers, to triumph over all those exasperating men.

The Play House production, directed with invention, if not always with alacrity, by Artistic Director Peter Hackett, starts off right, from the first instant we see set designer Bill Clarke’s witty take on Dusseldorf’s industrial/suburban landscape.

As Louise’s thoroughly shocked and selfish husband, Theo, Chaz Mena looks like a roly-poly, barbershop-quartet version of a pipsqueak Hitler, the kind of guy who enjoys scolding his wife for being beautiful: “You are much too attractive for a man in my position.”

Happily, Tanya Clarke’s Louise proves him absolutely correct, with her blond ringlets and her cheeks rouged liked a doll’s, not to mention the frilly underthings costume designer Kristine Kearney provides her with. Louise endears us with her innocence while at the same time agreeing to engage in an extramarital affair as a series of men suddenly start showing up, ostensibly to rent a room from the Maskes.

It’s an illicit affair that never takes place, thanks to the flustered urbanity of Sam Gregory as Frank Versati, the poet who is too in love with his words to actually make love to Louise.

Louise gets encouragement from upstairs neighbor Gertrude, played with a randy brand of nosiness by Johanna Morrison. Brad Bellamy works tirelessly as Benjamin Cohen, a shaggy barber who denies his Jewish heritage with the same fervor with which he attempts to protect Louise’s virtue from Versati.

And, as an oddball scientist named Klinglehoff, who really does only want to rent a room and knows nothing of the underpants incident, cutely hapless Ron Wilson brings an extra dose of eccentricity to the proceedings.

Hackett and company play Martin’s surprise addition to Sternheim’s original script with fanfare and blinding light and fog, which may at first seem like a bit too much.

But all the hoo-ha proves just the thing to go out on. And “The Underpants” proves to be just the thing the Play House has been desperately in search of: a bit of a laugh, along with a bit of something to think about on the way home with your own spouse.

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The rabbi has something to say

The rabbi has something to say
From: The San Diego Union-Tribune
Date April 2, 2001
Author: Anne Marie Welsh

Like the wisdom of the Meister Eckhart or Lao-Tzu, the tales of Rabbi Nachman, the last Jewish mystic, come down to us as sayings: “Through joy the spirit becomes settled; through sadness it goes into exile.” So what’s the meaning of a 225-year old enigma in the age of information? Everything, it turns out, for Elliott Green, the San Francisco nebbish who leaves word processing behind when he meets the rabbi and his creations during Yehuda Hyman’s wild and raw music-and-dance fable, “The Mad Dancers.”

The quirky and surprisingly funny work-in-progress opened Friday at the Lyceum Space as the kickoff to the Lipinsky Family Jewish Arts Festival. Don’t worry, be happy, “The Mad Dancers” doesn’t require much historical knowledge of the rabbi from Breslov, impersonated here by John Campion, in a wizardly shape-shifting performance as sweet as it is sharp. Philosopher Martin Buber, who compiled and commented upon Nachman’s 13 published tales, said the nature-loving mystic told his Hasidic stories in response to questions from his disciples. How to rejoice in the midst of sorrow? The answer to that one came in “The Seven Beggars,” the only tale the rabbi did not finish and the one that inspired Hyman’s still-in-process musical.

It opens with Nachman and four followers gathered for one last story-telling session, a confab that rises magnificently into song, before the beloved rabbi fades away from consumption. Stroking the cheeks of his dear friends, his eyes lit with love, Campion’s Nachman pulls us into the narrative, himself becoming some of the beggars, speaking cryptically, time-traveling to meet Elliott, the IBM-er chosen to become a prince of the soul. “May you be as I am,” the rabbi-as-blind man tells Elliott, planting a big wet one on the baffled crack typist’s cheek.

The nerdy anti-hero meets other beggars bearing messages, his strange journey punctuated by comedy sketches, some so hilarious they could play “Saturday Night Live.” Leaving his cubicle behind early on, Elliott heads out onto San Francisco’s Market Street for the compulsive ritual of his morning break. Sip, Bite, Read. A latte, a chocolate croissant, the Chronicle. Sip Bite, Read. Madonna. Britney Spears. Johnny Depp. Writer/choreographer Hyman plays Elliott with a bewildered innocence that’s part Bill Murray, part Candide.

A later sketch is the comedic high point. Elliott has almost made it to the allegorical garden planted by a deaf, sign language-speaking farmer (Jaye Austin-Williams). Instead he chooses the seductions of the Cafe Torrero where a belly dancer undulates, pillows cushion his generous behind and a manic waiter (Chaz Mena) describes the oiling, spicing, rolling, and baking of a chicken with sex-chat gusto.

There’s a wonderful Yemenite song for Steve Gunderson, the local musical comedy pro who’s thoroughly convincing in the curls and robes of a disciple. And playing multiple tempters and villains is Dimiter D. Marinov, sleek, sly, and insinuating.

Director Todd Salovey has managed to unify an evening of many conflicting strands and styles, mostly by the strength of his cast, though also by the simple imaginative power of the staging. The ensemble often performs, whether dancing or not, with the unanimity of a dance company.

Still, there’s a flatness to the action as its sprawling, fairy tale-like narrative circles around a couple of themes rather than gathering momentum and moving forward. Elliott Green is a satiric creation and as he moves deeper into the mystic tales, we expect a soul-revealing discovery, a kind of emotional sea change. Instead the ending relies on external dramatic events, and feels tacked on rather than organic.

Performances, however, are tiptop. Campion has been here often in tough, scary roles, including Yank in “The Hairy Ape” at La Jolla Playhouse, and the sicko womanizer Menelaeus last year at the Old Globe. The range of his talent is quite amazing in “The Mad Dancers.” As Elliott Green, Hyman brings sharp timing to the Yiddish humor and infectious moments of abandon.

If the slow-going second act could find the more effective rhythms of the opening scenes, the show might be more consistently compelling. With some deepening of Green’s character, and an ending that feels more organic, Hyman and Salovey’s revised piece could have a joyous theatrical impact that exactly parallels its life-giving mystical message.

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From: The Miami Herald
Date: November 2, 1993

You might assume that a play about Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, those two great and decidedly unconventional 19th Century British romantic poets, would be arty and full of more poetry than you’ve heard since freshman English. That it would be a literary history lesson, probably a little on the dull side.

Wrong. Oh, I’m sure you could dramatize the Shelley-Byron relationship that way, but British playwright Howard Brenton certainly defies all those expectations in Bloody Poetry, his 1984 play now being given a thrillingly acted revival by the Florida Shakespeare Festival.

With its second production since Hurricane Andrew’s destruction led to a change of both venue and administration, the Coral Gables company further demonstrates its commitment to excellence, staging a provocative play that probably wouldn’t otherwise be seen here — and doing it very, very well.

Bloody Poetry IS a play of ideas, but it also is as juicily lusty a script as you could want. It’s a ready-made romp for good actors, and the six in Florida Shakespeare’s company dare to play it big. Under John Briggs’ intelligent, many-layered direction, they vividly convey the story of reformer-dreamers who inevitably left sorrow in their wake.

Bloody Poetry, whose title is both a curse and a vivid evocation of the poets’ duality (artistic genius coupled with spiritual chaos), spans the time from the first meeting of Shelley (John Baldwin) and Byron (Chaz Mena) at Switzerland’s Lake Geneve in 1816 to Shelley’s drowning in Italy in 1822.

Along for the exhilarating/misery-filled sojourn are Shelley’s common-law wife Mary (Liz Dennis), then working on Frankenstein, and her charismatic sister Claire Clairemont (Blaine Dunham), the unapologetic mistress of both men. Also on hand are Byron’s biographer, Dr. William Polidori (Adam Koster), to serve as a scandalized narrator; and, first as a guilt-inducing spirit, then as a ghost, Shelley’s legal wife, Harriet Westbrook (Stephanie Heller).

The actors artfully convey the discrepancy between philosophy and action. When Shelley receives word of Harriet’s death (pregnant by another man and long ignored by her husband, she drowned herself in a shallow lake), Mary’s first reaction is to ask the distraught Shelley to marry HER, though they have both disdained the institution of marriage. Free-loving Claire, pregnant with Byron’s daughter, schemes fruitlessly to wed the overweight, alcoholic, syphilis-ridden poet, who freely admits he prefers making love to boys. These four are unconventional in the extreme and, for all the pleasure it affords them, it also leads to misery and the deaths of their illegitimate children.

The acting, as noted, is wonderful.

Baldwin, often seen with the Acme Acting Company, is strikingly handsome in his frequent agitation, and he artfully conveys the disparity between Shelley’s political idealism and his careless amorality. (You should know that the script calls for him to moon the audience, but the moment is brief and tastefully done.)

Mena, one of South Florida’s best and most versatile actors, brings a detailed wantonness to his Byron, giving the man a slight hobble and a drunken expansiveness. His is the most over-the-top performance, but it works.

Dennis’ Mary initially seems much too restrained, but her cool logic and wounded spirit makes the choice work, as well as providing a contrast to the flamboyance of the others. Dunham is a revelation, making Claire a husky-voiced yet childlike seductress who actually seems to glow. What an alluring performance!

Bloody Poetry is really a kind of ghost story, so David Trimble’s classic and simple set — white curtains, behind which spirits can be outlined in shadow — is a striking and effective design choice.

If you see Bloody Poetry — and you should, if you love good acting — you will most certainly hear some of the verse that made Shelley and Byron literary legends. But you will also get lost in the far more complex and less orderly lives of geniuses who couldn’t shape their lives with anything close to the skill they brought to their poetry.

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Havana: Self-Indulgent Destination

From: The Cincinnati Enquirer
Date: September 29, 2002
Author: Jackie Demaline

Playhouse in the Park’s Shelterhouse embarks on theatrical adventure this season, inviting audiences to places they haven’t been before.

First stop: Havana, an attempt to discover identity by revisiting the past, a tentative and complicated gay love story (featuring some brief, heavy necking).

The play, in fact, opens with Federico (Chez Mena) in bed (alone), speaking what, to a melody, would be the sappiest of love songs with gushy rhymes and overly rapturous allusion. This love song isn’t to a longed-for partner, it’s to a long-lost homeland.

Look a little more closely at the largely bare stage and, inlaid in a Caribbean blue floor the silvery shape of Cuba slashes a diagonal across the playing space.

Federico (clearly a stand-in for playwright Eduardo Machado, who is in part inspired by personal experience) was one of the 14,000 Cuban children sent to the United States back in 1960 on now-controversial Pedro Pan airlifts, as parents tried to save their children from a life under Fidel and Communism.

Federico has been consumed by that rupture in his life for three decades. The play’s topic is his eventful first return trip to his homeland even as the issue of a new lost boy, Elian Gonzalez, rages around him.

Under the sure hand of director Ron Daniels, Mr. Machado’s drama gets a far better production than in its world premiere two years ago at the Humana Festival of New American Plays (under the title When the Sea Drowns in Sand).

Federico and his “straight” best friend Fred (Paolo Andino) and their Cuban driver Ernesto (Antonio Edwards Suarez), play off each other beautifully as they explore definitions of identity, friendship – even patriotism.

The topic “embargo” is intermittently dropped into the conversation, usually with the grace of a lead balloon – Mr. Machado doesn’t blend the personal and political with ease.

The performance is flavored by the underscoring of Richard Marquez, playing a variety of Cuban drums on a tiny balcony overlooking the stage.

But Havana is also underscored, far more monotonously, by the “me-me-me” of Federico’s self-involvement.

Mr. Mena does a terrific job of making Federico, an essentially egocentric, self-concerned intellectual, likable.

But his gleeful, ongoing self-torment – “Did I abandon my country? Did it abandon me?” – gets old, in large part because, as a 9-year-old, it wasn’t his decision to stay or go.

I couldn’t help thinking the playwright is as self-indulgent as his central character, whom he has romanticized even as he avoids the scariest questions – and most pertinent – dramatic questions like “Why can’t I let go?”

Leading off a Shelterhouse season that is going to be risky business compared to the recent past I wish the risks were being taken for a better play.

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From Richmond Times-Dispatch
Date: May 20, 2000
Author: Roy Proctor

Early in Theatre Virginia’s uneven production of Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” the young Albert Einstein (Richard Ruiz) examines a drawing on a scrap of paper.

“I never thought the 20th century would be handed to me so casually,” he muses after a long pause. “Scratched out in pencil .*.*. tools thousands of years old, waiting for someone to move them in just this way.”

The audience silence is appropriate and profound.

Even though the 1904 happenings in the real Paris bar in Martin’s play are fictional, we have that spine-tingling feeling that we’re standing on the threshold of modern history.

That drawing was made by the young Pablo Picasso (Chaz Mena), who will arrive soon at his favorite Montmartre haunt.

Picasso was beginning to attract a following in his “blue period.” He was only three years away from painting his revolutionary cubist masterpiece, “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” which turns into an emblem at the back of the stage before the final fade.

Albert Einstein was totally obscure in 1904 – he worked in a patent office in Switzerland – but his moment would come even sooner. He was only a year away from publishing “The Special Theory of Relativity,” which would revolutionize science as thoroughly as “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” would upend art.

Einstein apparently never set foot in Paris – much less the Lapin Agile, which still exists – in 1904. But Martin’s fictional situation is a clever conceit for a play that is philosophical, absurdist, sophisticated and cornball by turns.

At bottom, “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” is a comedy on the edge of farce. Call it a happy valentine to the 20th century.

Some of those profound silences have their effect.

Too often in George Black’s staging, however, they are symptoms of legitimate laughs missed in a production that often runs short of energy, lacks a compelling directorial vision and is finally a matter of each actor fending for himself for shine.

Martin is at his best in extended monologues, and some of the actors run with these to great effect.

Listen to Picasso’s art dealer Sagot (Allan Hickle-Edwards) hold forth on the reasons people won’t buy paintings picturing either sheep or Jesus.

It’s a hoot.

Hear Einstein expound on the virtues of baking an E-shaped pie.

In Ruiz’s telling, it’s delectable.

Or revel in several company members as they speculate on changes the new century will bring and hit on everything from Hiroshima being “completely modernized” to “a craze for automobiles” that will pass.

Martin also springs some nice surprises toward the end.

A “time traveler” (Scott Duffy) arrives in blue suede shoes and proves to be about as startling as the transformation of the pharaoh in “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.” The bar’s walls finally break away to reveal a starry sky full of promise for the young century.

Picasso may be in the title, but this is much more Einstein’s show. Ruiz plays the physicist as a fastidious man with self-assurance in reserve. His laid-back portrayal is not nearly so colorful or interesting, however, as Mena‘s macho take on the womanizing and occasionally flamenco-dancing Picasso.

Kate Konigisor makes something of the bartender’s mistress, but Jana Thompson has difficulty creating three distinct characters in the other female roles. David Sennett, as a zany inventor, and David Bridgewater, as the bartender, do the expected. Jim Hillgartner’s character tag – continually retreating to the bathroom – soon wears out its welcome despite Hillgartner’s efforts to make it fresh.

Sarah Eckert’s tellingly detailed paneled-bar setting is warmly lighted by John Carter Hailey, but one can question whether it’s not all a bit too dark to set and maintain the mood for comedy. Eckert’s period costumes are more than serviceable.

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From The Miami Herald
Date: October 5, 1996

Passage, Loretta Greco’s moving and deeply felt play about Cuban rafters who risked life itself for freedom, has found a brief new berth at Miami’s Coconut Grove Playhouse, where it runs through Sunday.

The play’s journey from the tiny, 49-seat Area Stage on Miami Beach to the comparatively vast expanse of the Grove has been a lengthy one — spanning almost six months, involving much shaping of the piece’s stories, adding or changing cast members, earning Passage an incredibly warm embrace from Miami’s Cuban exile community. Drawn from Greco’s interviews with dozens of Cubans in exile and some still in Cuba, this theater-of-testimony is — after all — a story that so many in the play’s audiences have lived.

Moved to the Grove to benefit Facts About Cuban Exiles (FACE) and the Guantanamo Refugee Assistance Project (GRASP), Passage has been physically broadened, with J.C. Rodriguez adapting James Faerron’s artfully run-down set. Two musicians have been added, as have several actors. And since Passage originally opened at Area, the gifted Chaz Mena has assumed the part originated by Carlos Orizondo.

Director John Rodaz has, necessarily, reworked his staging for the Grove’s much broader stage. Time and fine-tuning have tightened the piece, and several performances have grown stronger. Yet curiously, given all the tinkering, most of the flaws and virtues evident in Passage last May remain.

Understand, if you haven’t seen Passage and have a desire to understand what hundreds of thousands in South Florida have endured — or if you’re one of those who endured it — Passage will make that pain, hope, spirit and fear vividly real.

You won’t soon forget Emiliano Diez, as a veteran of Brigade 2506, voicing his frustration at taking in tiny children at Stock Island. You’ll hold your breath as Nattacha Amador tells a mother’s story, of watching a huge shark shadowing the spot where her son sat on a raft, and of the vision of a Chinese man who guided those rafters to safety. You will exult right along with Iris Delgado as she shares a young girl’s tale of plunging into the ocean clad in a black lace dress and satin shoes. And, far more than before, you will feel tears welling as Mena and Delgado tell the story of rafter Eddy Gonzalez, forced to leave his wife and sick baby behind in Cuba.

Still, Passage is political theater that could benefit from broadening of the points of view it represents. It needs more honing, more shaping, stronger focus in some of its stories. You trust that Greco, an astute and gifted ex-Miamian, will achieve that before Passage finds its next berth.

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From: The Miami Herald
Date: November 14, 1992
Author: Christine Dolan

So you say your wife never has dinner on the table when you get home, and when it comes, it looks like burnt mush. And your husband pays you a romantic courtesy call maybe once a month, if you’re lucky. And your mother-in-law has more gas than Chevron, a fact you’re reminded of over dinner every damned Friday. And you’re panic-stricken at accepting a dinner invitation because if you do, oh God, you’ll have to reciprocate and you just can’t handle that!

Calm down already. Steven Berkoff understands.

Berkoff’s Kvetch, which has just opened at Miami Beach’s Area Stage, is a kind of owner’s manual of free-floating anxiety. Hilarious and deliberately offensive, it bridges the vast chasm between what we say and what we think.

There’s no easy way to describe the plot of Kvetch,
because the absurdist play constantly stutters back and forth between interactive scenes and monologues revealing the hysterically agonized tapes constantly playing in the characters’ heads.

Frank (Chaz Mena) is a Jewish salesman, a blustering basket case who’s never, ever happy. His wife Donna (Karen Gordon) is a nervous wreck as she anticipates Frank’s next tirade, which should occur in two seconds from whenever. Donna’s mom (Ellen Davis) comes to dinner once a week because she thinks she should, not because she wants to, and her daughter’s lousy cooking provokes a symphony of belches and worse. Hal (Dennis Hall), Frank’s soon-to-be-single co-worker, reluctantly comes to dinner, erroneously imagines Frank and Donna to be a charming couple, and drives himself mad with feelings of withering inadequacy. George (Mike Benitez), a cigar-chomping businessman who shows up later, takes pleasure sticking it to Frank and Donna, in different ways.

Berkoff’s stylistic device, which admittedly wears thin now and then, must have been a real killer for director John Rodaz and the cast to master. The playwright rapidly flips from words to the thoughts behind them. Whenever someone voices his or her inner thoughts, the others freeze, the focal character goes nuts, then the action resumes. It requires split-second timing and concentration, and Rodaz has coached his actors to near- perfection.

Mena, Gordon and Hall give the key performances, and they’re a fabulously matched trio. Mena, who just won the Carbonell Award as last season’s best actor for Lisbon Traviata at Area Stage, speaks in a kind of Cuisinart accent (Jewish New Yorker, lapsing into vaguely British speech) but clearly articulates Frank’s constant, frenzied rage. Gordon plays a princess turned bitter, and her deft delivery of two sex-fantasy monologues makes the speeches simultaneously funny and erotic. Hall, with popping eyes and a fixed grin, just looks hilarious, and he makes Hal a man who can barely conceal an ongoing, lifelong nervous breakdown. Darin Jones’ set design is as unorthodox as the play: a giant, crimson-lipped screaming mouth that spews forth these kvetching characters.

A word of warning: If you can’t take nasty humor about Jews, “shiksas,” blacks, old people, bodily functions, gay urges, sex and so on, stay away from Kvetch, ’cause you’ll be enraged. But if you can, go for it. Area’s got another hit.

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From: The Miami Herald
Date: July 21, 1989
Author: Christine Dolan

The spirits of Indians — and of Tennessee Williams, Sam Shepard and David Mamet — are alive if not entirely well this week in the Acme Acting Company’s world premiere production of Janyce Lapore’s Dolores Rain.

The play, which is the first offering in Acme’s three-week new play festival in its performance space at Miami Beach’s Strand Restaurant, combines Mamet’s penchant for obscenity, Shepard’s love of myth and violent confrontation, and a maddened and emasculating Williams-style mama — but the result is only sporadically intriguing.

Dolores Rain (Kathleen Emrich) is a tough-talking, middle- aged mama who is loath to cut the umbilical cords, much less the apron strings, that bind her two grown sons to her.

She has managed to keep the stuttering, slightly dim Cassie (Gino Cabanas) close by and under her crushing thumb. But Johnny (Chaz Mena), who seems the reincarnation of the drunken Indian husband who long ago got wise and abandoned Dolores — well, Johnny’s gone off and got himself hitched to a silent Southern gal who does nothing but sit in their bedroom and paint her toenails scarlet.

Johnny has brought his bride (who is much-discussed and who ultimately perishes without ever making an appearance) back on the bus to beg Mama for $400 to get set up in his intended career as a novelist. (Sure, he could have saved the dough he spent on two bus fares and avoided the whole incestuous quagmire that is his mother, but then Lapore wouldn’t have had a play.)

Dolores, however, has other ideas. Though she’s a poor- woman’s Hugh Hefner — her favored attire is a tattered blue terry cloth bathrobe, even for takeout trips to Burger King — Dolores is determined to seduce Johnny back into her life on a full-time basis, little scarlet-toed wife be damned.

I don’t envy any actress the challenge of breathing credible life into such a lunatic, but Emrich is wildly out of control. Her Dolores finds and strikes every false note the playwright has composed for her, and rather than being seductive, she seems in need of being sedated. At least she’s already dressed for the trip to the psychiatric ward.

Mena and Cabanas are less interesting when acting with Emrich than when they’re on their own. Director Juan F. Cejas has guided Mena to a charged, highly physical performance that would be at home in Orphans or almost any Shepard play. Cabanas is funny and twitchy, his work full of subtle and appealing touches. The production is classic Acme — loud, flashy theater for the rock-and-roll generation. Lapore, a Pittsburgh playwright who now lives in Hollywood, has done some of her loveliest, most poetic writing in the characters’ pre-recorded monologues. She’s a woman with talent, but her own voice seems too muffled by the echoes of others in Dolores Rain.

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From: The Miami Herald
Date: May 31, 1993
Author: Christine Dolan

T Bone and Weasel are two petty South Carolina crooks who keep going back to the pen as reliably as the buzzards return to winter atop the Dade County Courthouse.

It’s not that T Bone (James Samuel Randolph) and Weasel (Jon Elliott Matchen) especially like prison life. It’s just that, as lawbreakers, the only thing they seem to do really well is get arrested.

Jon Klein’s darkly funny T Bone N Weasel, first done at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Ky., has now burrowed into Miami Beach’s Area Stage. In cramped quarters against walls sporting a giant South Carolina map, T Bone and Weasel undertake a peripatetic and star-crossed crime spree, with a few boxes and prop guns and the wonderfully chameleonic Chaz Mena as their only companions.

Mena, voted South Florida’s best actor by the area’s critics last season, plays all the characters the hapless pair would love to victimize, unfailingly turning the tables on them.

He’s Mr. Fergus, the proprietor of a country store (called “De Sto”), who just happens to be cleaning his rifle when the guys walk in with robbery on their minds. He’s also Happy Sam, the used car dealer who smugly refuses to pay T Bone any more than $105 for a stolen Buick worth $5,000. And “Reverend Gluck,” a homeless “preacher” who demands an offering at gunpoint. Also Verna Mae Beaufort, a less-than-attractive steel magnolia (“That woman could gag a maggot”) who demands real special service from her new employee Weasel. And so on.

It can’t be easy to do nine variations on redneck types, but Mena pulls it off zestfully and convincingly. His versatility is a large part of the fun in T Bone N Weasel.

As the oddball buddies, Randolph and Matchen are well cast and thoroughly believable.

Randolph is an accomplished classical actor and drama professor, yet he’s got all the rhythms and attitudes of T Bone — a cynical African-American graduate of the prison system who rightfully sees racism wherever he turns — down cold. He brings just the right understated tone to lines such as, “Ain’t too many black folks name they kids Bob.”

Matchen makes Weasel a whiskey-voiced Creedence Clearwater Revival fanatic who has obviously pickled a few thousand too many brain cells. Yet, for all the jail time, he’s a genuine innocent who really doesn’t see the color of T Bone’s skin, which leads to recurrent problems for them both and gives deeper meaning to Klein’s twisted comedy.

T Bone N Weasel is something of a technical horror, since the guys are never in one place for long, but director John Rodaz and designer Darin Jones have solved the problem with spotlighted titles announcing locale (“A Stolen Buick on U.S. 21,” for instance).

Very early in its run, T Bone N Weasel needs to get tighter technically and lighter in spirit. Still, it’s another appealing production from Area Stage.

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From: The Miami Herald
Date: June 10, 2003
Author: Christine Dolen

Showbiz gets its due, and then some, during City Theatre’s Summer Shorts 2003, the company’s annual smorgasbord of bite-sized theater.

Theater-as-hell, tres gay cable access TV, lives played out from an actual script, an aspiring poet-performer’s life cut short – all flow from the imaginations of playwrights delving into write-what-you-know territory.

Grouped into two programs, this year’s 15 short plays (now at the University of Miami’s Ring Theatre, next month at the Broward Center) run the gamut from artsy theatricality to naturalistic warmth to hilarious parody. The deftly versatile eight-person acting company – Chaz Mena, Stephen Trovillion, Elizabeth Dimon, Kim Ostrenko, Brandon Morris, Gary Lee Smith, Lauren Feldman and Jenny Levine – is a joy to watch, even if that doesn’t apply to every single one of the plays, staged by eight different directors.

Program A begins with Mark Harvey Levin’s Scripted, in which a couple (Trovillion and Levine) wakes up to discover a script containing every word they’ll utter throughout the day. It’s a look at free will and boredom, the latter applying to the play itself.

In Bret Fetzer’s Capsule, a cosmonaut who has never been alone (Mena) freaks out as he prepares for a space walk. Frightened into silence, he responds only to the voice of his German lover (Levine). A ground communicator (Smith) and narrator (Dimon) are the other voices in this so-so theater-as-high-art piece.

William Mastrosimone’s 5 Minutes offers a vulgar, funny, tender look at a dying man (Trovillion) who makes a last request of his best friend (Mena), exacting a promise that will benefit both his buddy and his soon-to-be widow.

Hell becomes an audition, with Lucifer (Mena) as a superstar director, in Jon Robin Baitz’ Show People. Though it’s an inside-theater piece – the man in the very hot seat, Jerry (Smith), is modeled on Shubert Organization chairman Gerald Schoenfeld – it’s a furiously funny play, with Mena sparkling as a self-satisfied, almost pixieish devil.

Susan Miller’s The Grand Design at first seems a dullish lecture by a scientist (Morris) on the subject of images sent into outer space. But after his down-to-earth mother (Dimon) appears, the play finds its human connection and tenderness.

Popcorn Sonata by Jenny Lyn Bader speaks to the perfectionist, having-it-all moms (Ostrenko in this case) who find managing their difficult little darlings nearly impossible, though a teenage sitter (Feldman) makes it look maddeningly easy.

José Rivera’s Impact, which might have been heart-rending, instead is a bafflingly calm recitation of treasured memories by co-workers leaping from the burning World Trade Center – though you could be forgiven for missing the context entirely.

In My Name is Leslie, customers (Trovillion, Morris, Feldman) declare war (and utilize the conventions and clichés of war movies) on a waitress (Ostrenko) who blithely promises to take their orders – then smilingly ignores them.

Program B, also with more treasures than duds, begins with Shel Silverstein’s One Tennis Shoe, in which a middle-class man (Smith) confronts his wife (Dimon) about her not-so-inner bag lady tendencies. It’s followed by the bizarre Merge from Neil LaBute, whose characters inevitably act out our worst fears. This time, a woman (Levine) returns from a business trip, and on the drive home slowly (and nonchalantly) confesses to her husband (Mena) the details of a drunken group sex experience. Ugh.

In Louis Felder’s Flight of Fancy, a seasoned salesman (Smith) and hot-shot young “marketing” rep (Feldman) explore the commonalities and differences in closing a deal. Marco Ramirez’ lovely Pipo and Fufo: 1969 considers the easy, mock-insulting friendship of two Cuban men (Morris and Mena). Mary Gallagher’s First Communion, in which a woman (Dimon) remembers the pure ideal and dispiriting reality (including a rampaging nun) of that experience, will mean most to those who have lived through it, little to anyone else.

Feldman stars in her own soaring play Asteroid Belt, juxtaposing a doomed woman-child dreamer and her worried parents (Trovillion and Ostrenko). And Paul Rudnick’s outrageously funny Mister Charles, Currently of Palm Beach is the gem of both programs, giving Trovillion the chance to dazzle – tastefully, of course – as the droll Mr. Charles, host of his own gleefully gay cable show.

Design-wise, the festival similarly ranges from terrific (Steve Shapiro’s evocative sound) to tepid (Michael M. Williams’ rolling metallic grids, a distracting and cheap-looking background). But on the whole, Summer Shorts 2003 is one of City Theatre’s meatier efforts.

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