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The Reading's the Thing

Spectacular sets, fancy lighting, and extravagant costumes wow the crowd at some theatrical productions, but not this one. In West Boca Theatre Company's "Evening of Staged Readings," the actors, scripts in hand, work with a table and chairs against a plain wall. The focus here is on powerful dialogue and interaction among characters.

The productions, put together by veteran South Florida director Genie Croft of Coral Springs, feature handpicked scenes from about a dozen American plays, including dramas, comedies, classics, and avant-garde works.

Croft says she intends this sampler as a showcase for the work of some of the best playwrights, past and present. "I wanted to go back to the really strong foundation of theater, which is strong writing," she explains. "They're beautiful scenes, wonderfully written."

Among the selections for the March 6 show at the Adolph and Rose Levis Jewish Community Center in Boca Raton is a seduction scene from The Art of Dining, a bride who locks herself in the bathroom from Plaza Suite, violence against a gay teenager in The Laramie Project, and the relationship between a college professor and a student in What the Butler Saw.

The West Boca Theatre Company is a professional showcase organization that produces conventional, full-length plays along with the occasional production of staged readings. The show on March 6 features 20 professional actors, some union members, some nonunion, who relish the opportunity to portray an assortment of characters and create a variety of moods.

That diversity should also be a treat for the theatergoers. "You have some of the best playwrights in the same evening," says Linda Bernhard of Fort Lauderdale, whose scenes include The Tale of the Allergist¹s Wife. "You get an opportunity to see a variety of different styles of acting, a variety of different styles of theater."

Jeffrey Bruce, a Boca Raton actor, says the performers' use of scripts on-stage doesn't disrupt the flow of a scene. These experienced pros know how to glance at their dialogue discreetly. Bruce adds that he enjoys the emotional variety offered in staged readings as well as the chance to perform sans props and other conventional theatrical embellishments. "I like it even better," he says. "It's unencumbered. It's all about the words."

There's also another distinction at the staged readings: The crowd doesn't rush the aisles when the show's over. Instead, spectators are invited to chat with the actors, who sit around the stage and answer audience questions. It's a discussion the theater company calls a talkback.

"Normally in a show, you take your bows and you leave," Bruce says. "These audiences don't hold back. These audiences have a lot to say. It's like they've been on a nice ride and now they're sharing it with you."

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Patti Roth

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