A Saint Goes Marchin' In

Two productions have a little fun playing with historical events

Drinking green beer. Vomiting green beer. Pinching fellow green-beer drinkers who are not wearing an article of green clothing. Let's face it, this is the stuff of Saint Patrick's Day. But that's in the rest of the nation. South Florida doesn't have many bars that attract would-be bagpipers and other enthusiasts looking for an excuse to drink. For this reason I'm not sure why Mad Cat would choose this holiday as the theme of its second production at Miami Light Project's Light Box Studio. Shepherd's Pie (or Helluva St. Patrick's Day) traces the life of Saint Patrick, formerly known as Maewyn (Michael Vines), the son of Cal and Conchessa Suckit (Pamela Roza and Jennifer Lehr) and grandson of a minister. Uninterested in the fire and brimstone of his family's religious leanings, he leaves home, has an encounter with some evil forces, and is banished to the hills to live with sheep. Occasionally he receives a few one-line prophecies via Victor (Ivonne Azurdia), a belching, cigarette-smoking angel just trying to earn his feckin' wings.

Mad Cat already demonstrated that a largely commercial celebration can be cause for comedy with its first production, Helluva Halloween, a hilarious parody of slasher movies with a South Beach twist. That said, Shepherd's Pie is a helluva good time. From The Brady Bunch to The Silence of the Lambs, the production's pop-cultural references are legion and quite clever. Five microphones, a couch, several hats, and a few other props set the stage for a standup comedy-style production. The actors, dressed in grungy costumes, portray a variety of sadistic, sarcastic, roughhousing pagans. Oh yes, and a herd of sheep. Nate Rausch's sound effects and curious musical mixes keep the format from growing stagnant.

Artistic director Paul Tei has chosen his company well. The Mad Cat Players are funny and energetic, and the troupe is quickly establishing its m.o. of spontaneity, physicality, and irreverence. As Maewyn, Vines manages to create a character who is amusing. He's not just a comedy act amid innumerable pop-cultural references and sound bites. In an expandable green top hat and zebra-skin jacket, Ken Clement is appropriately self-mocking and Rodney Dangerfield-esque as the narrator. Whether a rich Beverly Hills brat in GableStage's Popcorn or a neurotic Polly Purebred in Helluva Halloween, Jennifer Lehr consistently stands out as a very self-contained actress. She makes each character she plays unique, and that ability is displayed in Shepherd's Pie more than in any other work. She succeeds in succinct portrayals of myriad characters, from the tight-ass, rosary-clutching mother of Maewyn to a roller-skating servant. Mad Cat's troupe of actors is definitely the highlight of the show.

Another helluva holiday: Mad Cat counts on the luck o' the Irish (top), while the players of Storyville do their best to laissez les bons temps roulez
Another helluva holiday: Mad Cat counts on the luck o' the Irish (top), while the players of Storyville do their best to laissez les bons temps roulez


Through March 31, 305-576-4350.

Storyville. Written by Ed Bullins, music and lyrics by Mildred Kayden, directed by Marion J. Caffey. Starring Ernestine Jackson, Katura, Tristan Montague, Murray Gaby, Adrian Bailey, Myiia Watson-Davis, and La Tanya Hall. Through April 1 at Shores Performing Arts Theater, 9806 NE Second Ave., Miami Shores, 305-751-0562.

Miami Light Project Light Box Studio, 3000 Biscayne Blvd., Miami

The story line about the rise of Maewyn/Patrick to sainthood is interesting enough at first, but too much quality time with the sheep, followed by the tedious conversions of the protagonist and 10,000 others, becomes a little drawn out, even when articulated to a funky bass beat. Although the script, written by Azurdia and Tei, is fresh and comic, all the laughs in the world cannot disguise the fact that it is built not around a plot but rather a time line. Even funny jokes hanging on a threadbare story line weigh down a performance if it goes on too long, as Shepherd's Pie does. Easter is just around the corner, and though I know this crew could pull it off, I hope I won't be witness to an updated Crucifixion (in zebra-skin jacket?) with several thug bunnies throwing stones. Like anyone else I love a helluva good time, but I am hungry to see what the Mad Cat Players can do with a more challenging script.

There's a different type of good time going on over at Shores Performing Arts Theater, where the musical Storyville is now being staged. Granted it does have all the components of a Life magazine spread: the cute kid in his knickers and cap playing hooky and hanging out at the docks; the jaded cabaret singer; the heavyset vodou mama; the country boy come to town to make it big -- not to mention the multitalented/multiracial palette of prostitutes for hire. Storyville is the name of the red-light district that prospered just two blocks from New Orleans' French Quarter from 1899, when it was created by city ordinance, to 1917, when it was abolished by the federal government because of increasing violence and the death of a U.S. Navy officer. The plot of the musical is nothing new: Boy meets girl, boy wants girl, boy must battle many evil forces (among them his own stupidity) before he finally gets girl. Butch "Cobra" Brown (Adrian Bailey), a heavyweight boxer turned trumpet player, is new in town and looking to make his name as a jazz musician. He meets and falls in love with Tigre Savoy (La Tanya Hall), a cabaret singer who is raising a son, Punchie (Tristan Montague), on her own while trying to keep one step ahead of the corruption around her. What is exciting about Storyville is the caliber of performers and musicians who unite to deliver a three-hour show packed with compelling characters, high-quality music, and a dynamic stage presence.

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