The loss of the Caldwell, she adds, is huge.
Through the years and three moves, Hall expanded the Caldwell’s artistic profile. Martin Sherman’s Bent, a Broadway hit about gay Germans sent to a concentration camp, was a controversial choice that became a smash. The director staged more than 150 plays including The Laramie Project, The Normal Heart, Falsettoland, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde and other gay-themed work. He also produced recent-vintage Off-Broadway plays on a variety of subjects and such attention-grabbing shows as John deGroot’s Papa, starring Broadway veteran Len Cariou as Ernest Hemingway.
Clive Cholerton, the Caldwell’s second and last artistic director, pushed the company even more strongly in the direction of contemporary and new work when he took over in 2009. He started with a world premiere dance-theater piece ( Vices: A Love Story) and moved on to The Whipping Man, Clybourne Park (which played the Caldwell before winning the Pulitzer Prize), The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, After the Revolution and other hot titles. He also produced two world premieres by Davie-based Michael McKeever ( Dangerous and the Carbonell-winning Stuff), whose comedy Suite Surrender premiered during Hall’s last season.
Cholerton is reluctant to pin the Caldwell’s demise on the financial burden created by its last home. He believes the theater’s traditional audience has shifted farther north in Palm Beach County, where Dramaworks now has 4,300 subscribers and the Maltz Jupiter Theatre has 7,520. He wanted, he says, to “get ahead of the demographic curve that was happening in Palm Beach County” and appeal to younger theatergoers. Though Cholerton’s choices and productions were often quite fine, that hoped-for audience growth didn’t happen.
“I spent three years soul searching and not sleeping much,” says Cholerton, adding, “There’s no talk of bringing it back.”
Playwright McKeever calls the loss of the Caldwell and Florida Stage devastating.
“The stability that they gave so many South Florida actors, designers and directors has vanished,” says McKeever, one of the founders of Zoetic Stage. “It has impacted me the most as a playwright. The Caldwell and Florida Stage were two top-of-the-line theaters that really embraced new work. Having them in my backyard was tantamount to winning the lottery.”
Gregg Weiner, a Carbonell-winning actor who appeared in three Caldwell productions under Cholerton’s, had faith in the artistic director’s vision.
“He picked brave pieces. I saw him fighting tooth and nail, every single day, to try to make that theater whole again and make it work,” he says.
Yet the actor, who has worked at many of South Florida’s best theater companies, says that if not for a recurring role on the made-in-Miami STARZ series Magic City and his voiceover work on telenovelas, he might be thinking about leaving South Florida. Promethean, Florida Stage and the Caldwell were all on his resume, and they’re gone. Other talented South Florida actors feel the same way.
Hall, though, hopes that theater entrepreneurs will look to the Caldwell’s beginnings and see opportunity: “It is my hope that the demise of the Caldwell will not discourage future theater lovers and artists, but instead [will] encourage them to take chances and create living theater whenever and wherever a space becomes available. ‘Revival’ is a treasured word in the American theater!”
Christine Dolen is The Miami Herald’s theater critic.