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Theater Notes: Two plays I’m sad you missed

By Staff | Nov 26, 2014

Plays come and plays go. When they’re good, you have to buy tickets fast because the good ones sell out. And before you know it, they close.

Here are two you may have missed. They’re gone.

One was Christopher Durang’s 2013 Tony-award for best comedy, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” which closed at the Florida Repertory Theater on Nov. 19. I’m sad for you if you missed it.

It’s a nutty play, maybe not for everyone, but Durang, over his long career, knows how to build individual unique characters into a plot that sizzles, surprises and knocks you over the head occasionally with reality, causing you to look into the mirror of your own life.

Given a fine piece of writing, Florida Rep brought together a really remarkable cast of Equity Actors. One of my favorites in S.W. Florida theater was in the cast. She’s Michelle Damato, clearly at the top of her game, and a fierce creative force that enhanced the play for me. What a gift she is.

Robert Cacioppio, who directed, brought some of his abundant talents to make the play soar. The production values, always topflight at Florida Rep, start with the set, and there are the lights, the music, and the costumes, all truly Broadway quality.

“Tanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” was a solid play by an important playwright and given a production worthy of him. If you haven’t been to Florida Rep lately, make sure you look into the season ahead. They have gems coming up in both of their theaters, and I predict those will match this triumph as well. Florida Rep has a history of smash hits.

The second play you’ll be sad that you missed was at The Laboratory Theater of Florida out on Second Street and Woodford Avenue. They staged a truly a magnificent one-woman play starring Annette Trossbach, their artistic director, and clearly one of the finest actresses around.

“My Brilliant Divorce,” by the Irish playwright Geraldine Aron, has played around the world, but I doubt it was ever done better than the one right here in Fort Myers.

The play opens with this line: “My name is Angela Kennedy-Lipsky and I used to be one half of Angela and Max, the world’s happiest couple.” Shortly after, Angela finds out from her teenage daughter that Mr. Lipsky has become an adult doing adultery.

Ms. Trossbach enters Angela so profoundly that all the other people she plays, every accent she takes on, and there are, I think, dozens of them, every question she asks, every confrontation she faces, takes us deeper and deeper down the dirty road of divorce, and its impact on everyone it touches.

One of the poignant issues the script poses is Angela’s actual joy to be out of the relationship, while at the same time facing the utterly painful longing to be back in it. You will appreciate her gifted performance if you’ve ever walked in the shoes of someone caught up in divorce.

It’s as sober as the topic gets, and that includes amazing dialogues with a few people on the suicide hotline, and Angela’s ditsy Irish mother, and her even dizzier daughter, endless doctors and counselors, lawyers. Through it all there was boundless laughter, not cheap one-liners, but the ribald relief that becomes laughter after really exploring issues the playwright makes us to look at: Loneliness, the dating ratrace, the threat of aging, the yearning for a divorcee to have someone before she gets too old and ends up alone.

But all accolades go to Annette Trossbach. I found my mouth, almost all evening, open with wondrous awe. How can she do that? How did she remember all those lines? How can she keep bringing more and more variety, newness, freshness and dazzle to this performance? I defy you to think of anyone else in all of S.W. Florida who could have pulled off her tour de force. I just wish you had seen her. Just make sure you get to her theater soon.

On the ride home I was reminded of some other brilliant one-woman plays I have seen. Julie Harris in “Belle of Amherst,” Pamela Gien in “Syringa Tree,” and more recently Nijala Sun in “No Child.” Right now, Annette Trossbach is right up there with all three of them.

And with her gift for physical humor, and her vast array of voices and accents, she’s even funnier than any of them, and that made me think of Lily Tomlin, who might even have been a little envious of what Annette brought to “My Brilliant Divorce.”

Yes, Ms. Trossbach, you were brilliant. You gave a new definition to tour de force. But, sadly, the play has closed. Last performance was on Nov. 22.

So, dear theaterlovers, as soon as you can get yourself to downtown Fort Myers and see for yourself what community theater can be at its best. Their next production runs from Dec. 12-20. It is a take off on the classic “Christmas Carol.” The play is called “Scrooge TV,” and it promises to be fun for the whole family.

I wouldn’t miss it. Don’t be sad. Get there before a play closes.

Call the boxoffice at (239) 218-0481. The Laboratory Theater of Florida, 1634 Woodford Avenue, Fort Myers/33901. Also check laboratorytheaterflorida.com.