New Theatre, Alliance Theatre Lab debuting short-play collections

BY CHRISTINE DOLEN
cdolen@MiamiHerald.com

Thanks to City Theatre’s Summer Shorts and the Naked Stage’s 24 Hour Theatre Project, South Florida audiences have come to know and love the pleasures of short plays. Whether the brief dramas and comedies are wildly different in subject matter or joined by a theme, theater lovers know that with brevity comes a bonus. In other words, as playwright Vanessa Garcia observes, “If the audience doesn’t like a play, it’s short. You move on.”

Two companies are about to open thematically connected short-play programs.

This weekend, Miami’s New Theatre premieres Keeping A-Breast, a collection of nine plays (plus linking pieces by artistic director Ricky J. Martinez) about the beauty, joys, sorrows and sometimes-complicated feelings women have about their breasts.

After a Wednesday preview, the Alliance Theatre Lab opens Home Sweet Funeral Home, eight mostly funny plays set in the same funeral home, on Thursday at Barry University’s Pelican Theatre in Miami Shores. Keeping A-Breast launches a new venture New Theatre, something dubbed the BOOMfrog! Series. The idea and name came from Martinez, who explains, “I thought of hearing a ‘boom!,’ then a frog leaps, and a new, amazing, creative energy is born.”

Those collective projects are designed in part “to allow the theater community to have more time onstage, not just playwrights but also non-union actors,” Martinez says.

He and literary manager Stephen A. Chambers came up with the theme and are sharing directing duties. Breasts, breast cancer, reconstructive surgery, love, puberty and more emerged in the pieces by Ruth Pleva, Elly Rakowitz, R. Kent Wilson, Peggy C. Hall, David Caudle, James Carrey, Catherine Bush and Garcia.

Garcia contributed two plays, Reconstruction and Fruit. The first was inspired by an aunt who has had a tough time deciding whether to have breast reconstruction after a mastectomy. The second involves a mother who discovers that her 12-year-old daughter is fighting the changes puberty is visiting upon her body. The plays’ unifying theme, she says, is a natural in body-conscious South Florida.

“I live in Miami Beach, and I see a lot of plastic surgery,” she says. “It’s a very complicated relationship that women have with their own bodies and breasts.”

Caudle’s Motorboat was inspired by the true story of an Oregon woman who had a double mastectomy without reconstruction, then went swimming in a public pool without wearing a bathing suit top, only to be kicked out of the pool.

“She sued and won. I took off from that case and wrote a two-page monologue,” he says, adding that, given recent the controversy over laws governing women’s health and reproductive issues, “it’s great to devote an evening to celebrating women.”

Keeping-A Breast mixes serious pieces and lighter ones. The playwrights of Home Sweet Funeral Home, on the other hand, were told to create something funny.

Playwright and actor Mark Della Ventura, who had a hit with his Alliance Theatre Lab solo show Small Membership in May, dreamed up the project after brainstorming with friend and fellow playwright David Michael Sirois.

Sirois, whose Alliance hit Brothers Beckett will be presented at the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Carnival Studio Theater in March, had written a couple of plays set in a funeral home, plays that Della Ventura liked. Both wrote new plays for Home Sweet Funeral Home, and they got others from Marjorie O’Neill-Butler, Christopher Demos-Brown, Alexandria Iona, Mariah Reed, Andy Arthur and Tony Finstrom.

In addition to using the same set and keeping the plays light, each writer had two other assignments: work a toothbrush into the plot and use the line, “Why did it have to be that book.”

“We also told them to keep the characters in their 20s, since our actors are, and we gave each playwright a different number of characters and gender mix,” Della Ventura says. “We’re extremely happy with the variety.” Della Ventura and Sirois both started out writing short plays, and Sirois says he’s still influenced by the form. “Those plays are short and to the point, and even if you’re bored by one, the next thing is right around the corner,” he says. “Even in longer plays, I like to write short scenes so people don’t get bored.”

Demos-Brown, one of the founders of Zoetic Stage, contributed Protagonista to Home Sweet Funeral Home. It is, he says, “an argument between an author and a character in his book.” He adds that he didn’t mind Della Ventura’s rules.

“I enjoyed having constraints. With freedom, I become a victim of the tyranny of liberty,” he says. “I really wanted to work with Mark and David. And any opportunity to get your work done in front of a paying audience is good.”

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/09/01/2977018/new-theatre-alliance-theatre-lab.html#storylink=cpy