Theater of the Mind

Somewhere between the club crowd and the couch potato set lies a group that doesn't mind going out late -- as long as the effort results in some form of "cultured" entertainment, according to Cody Thomas.

And Thomas, an actor and stage manager at the Academy Theatre in Fort Lauderdale, says that he and fellow actor Jim Grandfield have come up with a concept that should appeal to the in-betweeners. The two men -- who met last year while performing in the Pompano Players' production of Take a Number, Darling -- are producing and performing in edgy contemporary plays with their new repertory group, Thespians Live!

"I met Jim, and a rapport was just there," recalls Thomas. "We realized we had a lot of the same ideas and philosophies about what theater should be. We decided at that point to do a project together."

Their philosophy is simple: Theater should emphasize substance over style.

"Put four people on a bare stage, give them a good script, and they can captivate the audience for two hours," claims Thomas, who hopes to lure college-age patrons to 11:30 p.m. shows with plays that make audiences think.

The troupe opened its season last Friday with William Mastrosimone's Shivaree, in which Thomas plays the lead role of Chandler, a man in his early twenties whose overprotective, cab-driver mother shields her hemophiliac son from the world outside their home, which she runs as a boarding house. Chandler, however, wants to experience life, so he gets one of the boarders to procure a prostitute for him and later falls for another woman, a dancer named Shivaree. "The play is very highly sexually charged," says Thomas. "It's adult material, but not dirty adult material; there's a lot of innuendo. It's a young man who comes to terms with the fact that he has to be careful, but he has to live. We all are like that to some point."

The season's next few thought-provoking dramas include Gardner McKay's psycho-thriller Toyer, in which a Los Angeles lunatic "toys" with victims' minds; the classic courtroom suspense drama Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose; and Sam Shepard's True West, about a screenwriter whose crazy brother shows up and distracts him while he's trying to finish an important project.

Shows for the rest of the season haven't been chosen, but Thomas and Grandfield have some ideas. "Towards the end of the season, we're going to try out some gothic improv," offers Thomas.

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John Ferri