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Theater Notes: Four plays in four days

By Staff | Jan 20, 2016

Lucky me. Oh, the joys of being a critic. To see four utterly satisfying and important plays, four days in a row. Here’s what I saw. I urge you to go see them all. Here are the first two.

Play 1: TheaterZone, Naple’s, production of the musical “The Sweet Smell of Success” is a smash hit. Truly a superb piece of theater. It’s based on the film that starred Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. Mark Danni, artistic director and his staff, amazingly working on that miniature stage, brought to life a Broadway musical that had garnered seven Tony Award Nominations. I was truly dazzled by the outstanding performances, the brilliant choreography, the delightful music of Martin Hamlisch and the right-on lyrics of Craig Carnelia. You sensed every performer was thrilled to be on that stage. They certainly put out enormous energy, vitality and dedication to their craft. It’s worth going down to Naples for that joy alone.

The story is about celebrities being bought and sold, and the 60 million people among us who eat up the columns of gossip and scandal the way Walter Winchell coughed it up. The evening had all of us in the audience grip and hanging on as the plot thickened, thanks to a superb book by John Guare. You’d have to go to Broadway itself to see something equal to this production. It’s not necessarily a frothy feel-good evening. It’s more than mere entertainment. It demands something from an adult audience. The people portrayed are often ugly, manipulative and violent. It is solidly contemporary, a mirror to the greed and avarice running through the society right now. You sit there thinking, “What would I have done in that situation?”

There’s not a bad performance. Kudos go to: Gerritt VanderMeer, Daniel Schwab, Lana Neuman, and Tim Russell. They make this an evening worth every moment you give to the play. You will remember Ms. Neuman’s heartfelt rendering of “What If?” and the angst of Tim Russell’s “I Cannot Hear The City.”

Don’t miss this show. Sadly, it only runs until the 17th. The box office number is: 1-888-966-3352, or buy online at TheatreZone-Florida.com.

Play 2: The Laboratory Theater of Florida. This play is “The Velocity of Autumn” by Eric Coble. It is a two character play, an aging mother, and one of her sons. Off stage there are two other children she bore. The story is so real, you ache for each of them, and wonder if there can ever be a solution to what to do with an aging parent. Putting them out on an ice flow, or sending them up a mountain to be eaten by bears isn’t an alternative, not in Brooklyn.

The utterly marvelous Louis Wigglesworth plays the mother. She told me that when she read the play a year ago, she said to herself, “That is me.” And oh how she embraced that role on opening night. She found every nuance in a fine script, and gave it all of herself. One marvelous monologue was about the journey to the Guggenheim Museum. She was a perfect museum mom.

The son, Chris, played by Mark D. Haffner has some torturous terrain to deal with as he got himself into the house with all the fireworks and a woman with a will of iron. He certainly earned my respect. When you see him, you will remember for a long time his powerful monologue about the “Girl on a bicycle and the woman with the blue scarf.” Memorable moments.

The play opens with the mother ready to spark a Zippo lighter and one of many bottles of something like gasoline that she has set up to burn down the whole house and her with it. Two of her kids are clearly ready to drag her against her will to assisted living, or worse. She wants to die alone where she is. She won’t give in to the greedy offspring.

The playwright knows what he’s doing. It is in the deep, dark lines he’s written. But, the play is not without humor and irony, or even hope. Not a person in that audience could dodge what has been their own experience, either dealing with their own kids as they’ve gotten older, or remembering where they came down when their parents aged and become incapable of taking care of themselves. There’s no place in real time to pretend not to know what you know at those moments in our lives.

Annette Trossbach, artistic director at “The Lab,” went to New York to see the play, and did some tricky negotiations to be able to give us a regional premier of this courageous play. Come support her vision, call the box office and make “The Velocity of Autumn an important piece in your season’s plays. It runs only until Jan. 23. Call 239-218-0481, or www.laboratorytheaterflorida.com