We Can Be Heroes

Two plays prove Florida does too have the talent for theater

Holder's play begins as a weary, mature Hurston returns to her Florida farmhouse, now a ramshackle mess after years of neglect. As she sets about to clean it up, she spins many a tale about her early days at school, her salad days with Hughes in Harlem, her literary successes, and her eventual decline. Holder's script is crisp and evocative, a nicely wrought evocation of an indomitable spirit.

The play also includes some intriguing insights into the ongoing conflicts between various philosophical camps within the black intelligentsia of the time. Hurston was largely apolitical, focusing on black culture and achievement, while sterner, more political writers like Richard Wright focused on racism and oppression. Holder's script does well with these historical details but plays fast and loose with some facts. Hughes is portrayed as solidly heterosexual, and the play posits that his attentions to another woman were the cause of his falling out with Hurston, this despite well-reported evidence that Hughes's sexual preferences were at least as much directed at men as at women.

Their eyes are watching Carey Hart
Their eyes are watching Carey Hart

Details

NE 2nd Avenue
Written and performed by Teo Castellanos, directed by Michael John Garces. Through April 21 at the Coconut Grove Playhouse Encore Room, 3500 Main Hwy, Coconut Grove; 305-442-4000.

Zora
Written by Laurence Holder, directed by Jerry Maple, Jr. With Carey Hart. Through March 3 at the M Ensemble Company, 12320 W Dixie Hwy, North Miami; 305-895-8955.

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As Hurston, Carey Hart tends toward a vigorous, broad characterization that seems at odds with the worldly, dignified language -- at times this Zora seems more Moms Mabley than Maya Angelou. Some of these choices may be laid at the feet of director Jerry Maple Jr., whose staging seems overly busy and ingratiating, as if he didn't trust the text or the audience. Maple uses complex, intrusive sound effects and a musical score to accompany the narrative, adding a number of mime and dance interludes. These may be intended to inject life and energy into the production, but most result in just slowing it down. In solo shows simple is usually better: When Hart sits down and tells Hurston's tale, the character is clear, the scene is evoked, and the connection with the audience is direct.

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