The timing is just coincidental, but South Florida theater’s jam-packed early November has brought not one but two world premiere plays about creating plays.
Last weekend, Naked Stage’s Antonio Amadeo unveiled A Man Puts on a Play, a clever piece of meta theater that he wrote, directed and designed. And (lest anyone think he’s slacking), he also plays two different roles in the show at Barry University’s Pelican Theatre.
This weekend, Mark Della Ventura steps up to the plate with roomies, his first full-length, multi-character play. Della Ventura and his pal David Michael Sirois have been taking turns creating original work at Alliance Theatre Lab in Miami Lakes, to the benefit of their blossoming careers and audiences that love new work. Sirois has scored hits with Brothers Beckett (that one gets a second production at Miami’s Arsht Center in March) and Off Center of Nowhere; Della Ventura performed his funny and vulnerable solo show Small Membership and now takes a look at post-collegiate friends in roomies.
The setup in roomies is that Della Ventura’s character Andy has been commissioned to write his first full-length play, and it’s making him crazy. He shares a two-bedroom, bath-and-a-half apartment with four fellow theater conservatory grads also focused on launching their careers. Jake (Sirois) and Robby (Gabe Hammad) share one bedroom, actresses Liz (Anne Chamberlain) and Michelle (Ashley Price) the other, and amiable Andy gets to sleep on a twin bed in the living room. The five roomies are in each other’s physical space and personal business pretty much 24/7.
As the playwright, Della Ventura has created distinct, detailed characters. But both he and director Adalberto J. Acevedo benefit from the cast’s art-mimicking-life reality: All except Hammad (who met Della Ventura and Sirois at Broward College) graduated from Miami’s New World School of the Arts, so they bring deeper relationships into the show than actors working together for the first time would.
Della Ventura’s writing in roomies is breezy, raucous and unapologetically raunchy. In the play’s first line, Jake uses the vulgar term for a woman’s private parts instead of Andy’s name. The guys and gals talk in detail about sex, masturbation, bowel movements and Andy’s virginal status. F-bombs and the b-word abound. In roomies, to denigrate is to demonstrate affection.
That language aside, roomies is an insightful portrait of people in their 20s trying to sort out work and love. The 90-minute play is layered with secrets: a hookup that is turning into more, unrequited affection, Andy’s dangerous solution to his writer’s block. Ethical behavior is a real issue in roomies.
Set designer Jodi Dellaventura (the playwright’s sister, though she links the two parts of the family’s last name), sound designer Howard Ferré, lighting designer Natalie Taveras and costume coordinator Della Ventura (he’s no slacker either) create a cozy world for five aspiring artists with little money but lots of talent and ambition. And all five actors give rich, fine performances – Chamberlain as the emotionally vulnerable Liz, Sirois as the cocky Jake, Hammad as career-ascendant Gabe, Price as the conflicted Michelle and Della Ventura as the almost affectless, conniving Andy.
Would roomies be just as effective if lots of the gross-out stuff were excised? Most likely. It’s not the cheap laughs that come from bawdy dialogue and nasty words that make roomies worth checking out. Della Ventura’s intriguing characters, plot twists and resonant story are what could give roomies a longer life.