Capsule reviews of current area stage shows.
Edge Theatre, which last year served up Men on the Verge of a Hispanic Breakdown, is now offering Family Secret, written and directed by Jim Tommaney. God smiles on roaming bands of small theater troupe experimentalists. One week, they might be playing in an art gallery, the next at a Unitarian church. It shouldn't really matter as long as the experiment has merit and gives you a good reason for coming out. Even so, it's always a gamble. Family Secret, with its erudite upper-class family attempting to decode why Dad is so obsessed with black-and-white television, starts out promisingly, and it's just cryptic enough to make you think you have an evening of Ionesco in front of you. But as soon as the second act hits, you realize that your prayer for cool, absurdist comedy has been answered instead with a lame reflection on war and conspiracy. In this case, you've lost the gamble and ended up in the parlor of someone who may have appeared normal during dinner but has since brought out weird theories about government cover-ups along with the coffee and hazelnut liqueur. What's puzzling is the fine performance in there by Kathryn Bain as the mother, and some fun, kooky characters played by Joshua Wien and Carol Reinoso, all of which make you wonder why the actors aren't scratching their heads as well. (Through April 30 at Art Temple, 7141 Indian Creek Dr., Miami Beach. Call 786-355-0976.)
The Taking of Miss Janie: Ed Bullins is one of the most influential and controversial names in African-American history. Spike Lee may be more familiar, and in modern literary circles, Toni Morrison's moniker may spark more interest. But Bullins, a prize-wining African-American playwright who dominated the theater scene between 1962 and 1982, is playwright royalty. And this is one of his finest works. Set at a UCLA college party during the 1960s, Miss Janie traces the near-impossible relationship between black radicals and white liberals. If you think this sounds like every other racially based play that predictably ends up preaching a life lesson about learning to love one another, think again. Bullins means business, and no one is exempt from his in-your-face, sulphurously frank prose. "Jews, niggers, politics, Germans, sociology, the past, drugs, men, dykes, phonies everything is bunched up together," strung-out Jewish junkie Mort Silberstein spits out during the final scenes. And that sums up the plot. Well, almost. Miss Janie deals with the relationship between Monty (Reiss Gaspard), a college-educated black civil rights activist, and Janie (Erika Robel), a liberal white woman who becomes his friend and ultimately his unwilling sex partner. This may sound relatively straightforward; it is anything but. When Monty first meets Janie who initially comes across as a stereotypical dumb blond his sexual interest is aroused. But Janie is deceptively naive. "I think colored people are neat," she says. Miss Janie offers a frank and sincere look at race relations from a slightly different vantage point. On the whole, the crew gives rousing performances, hammering home the point that no matter what creed or color, every single one of us has a devil inside. (Through April 23 at Charles Hadley Black Box Theatre, 1300 NW 50th St., Miami. Call 866-390-4534, or visit www.aapact.com.)
Anne Frank wasn't the only Jewish teenager hiding during World War II and the Holocaust, but she's certainly become the symbol of all of them. Through her diary and the play that first saw light in 1955, Anne Frank, immortalized and trademarked, has become one of the oldest 13-year-olds around. The joint production of The Diary of Anne Frank by the Public Theatre and the Cooper City-based PPTOPA is full of warm and natural performances in a late '90s adaptation of the original play that has reinserted material censored from the original diary. Now you get to see, beyond young Anne's saccharine hopes, her disdain for her mother, her anxieties and nightmares, and her sexual development and longing. The talented Katie Schwartz makes Anne credible throughout, especially in some tender and dynamic scenes between Anne and sister Margot (Danielle Tabino) and Anne and teenaged attic-mate Peter (Chris Gandero) that bring out the best in the actors. But despite the updates, which make Anne more real by adding material from Anne's notebook that had been cut out by her father, Otto Frank, the sole survivor of the Frank family, The Diary of Anne Frank still ultimately feels something like a chore, like going to church or temple, something you have to endure in order to remember and reflect on the past. (Through April 23 at the Public Theatre of South Florida, 6501 W. Sunrise Blvd., Plantation. Call 954-537-3648.)
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