The Merchant of Venice: Rafael de Acha's production is not perfect, but it also cannot be dismissed. It boasts gripping and often extraordinary performances by Steve Gladstone, Annemarie Rajala, Euriamis Losada, Nicholas Richberg, and Stephen S. Neal as well as spectacularly lovely costumes by Estela Vrancovich and singularly touching original music by de Acha himself. One could quibble that the rest of the cast is not on that level or that the streamlined script sacrifices much in the way of subtlety. One of Shakespeare's notoriously problematic plays, The Merchant of Venice has been banned as anti-Semitic and championed as an argument for humanism. The text seems to support both views, and the show in Coral Gables is far from certain in tone. But there is no denying the power of this staging. Though the famous trial scene remains a problem unresolved, by the time the improbably happy musical ending comes around, it is easy to understand the ovation at the end. (Through July 31 at the New Theatre, 4120 Laguna St., Coral Gables. Call 305-443-5909.)
Men on the Verge of a His-Panic Breakdown: The good news here is that Guillermo Reyes is a major voice in Hispanic and gay theater and that his 1994 comedy, Men on the Verge of a His-Panic Breakdown, is nothing short of brilliant. The really bad news, however, is that the amateur show of the same name that Edge Theatre is putting on at the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens doesn't do the playwright or his potential audience any favors. It is an incompetently directed, slow, and dull affair with a cast that -- with the exception of Andrio Chavarro -- is just not up to the demands of the script. (Through July 31 at the Edge Theatre at the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens, 2000 Convention Center Rd., Miami Beach. Call 786-355-0976.)
In his engagingly cute Modern Orthodox, playwright Daniel Goldfarb brings culture clash to temple with a battle between Orthodox Jews and their liberal, Reformed Jew opposites. Yuppie Manhattan financier Ben and his doctor girlfriend, Hannah, may have met their match, though, in young Hasidic diamond merchant Hershel. Hershel, who looks like a Hasidic Beastie Boy, sells Ben an engagement ring and then weasels his way into the couple's apartment while he looks for a suitable bride. As Hershel searches, he berates the frazzled Ben and Hannah for their slackness of religion until they surreptitiously place an online personals ad that connects him with quirky but Orthodox Rachel. The production's comedic timing is on, although that doesn't always save the play from its muddled plot. Starring Benim Foster, Jason Schuchman, Rachel Jones, and Margery Lowe. (Through July 31 at Caldwell Theatre Company, 7873 N. Federal Hwy., Boca Raton. Call 561-241-7432.)
Sisters of Swing: The Andrews Sisters, who rose to megastardom during the World War II Big Band era, were the Dixie Chicks of their time. That is, if you replace the Chicks' antiwar sentiment with patriotism and then add an unbridled popularity no girl group since the Andrews Sisters has ever quite matched. OK, so they weren't the Dixie Chicks of their time; they were the Andrews Sisters. During their long career, the three recorded more than 700 songs and sold more than 90 million records. There may have been other sister acts back in the day, but it's difficult now to think of any more closely linked with patriotic support of troops than the A-sisters. To many, LaVerne, Maxene, and Patty were the home front. Getting behind the home-front-girl iconography is the musical's well-realized intention. Among the production's many surprises -- besides an excellent supporting six-piece band, a retro Big Band orchestra set, and clever musical arrangements -- is the ambitious legwork of the play's two male costar Everymen. Whatever energy created the Andrews Sisters phenomenon is also rabidly contagious. The talented cast and crew of this play have caught that energy and are having as much fun giving good show as the real Andrews Sisters certainly had. (Through August 28 at the Florida Stage, 262 S. Ocean Blvd., Manalapan. Call 561-585-3433.)
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