Michael McKeever is a prolific, award-winning South Florida playwright, a creative craftsman whose full-length comedies and dramas are produced around the country, in Germany (they love him there) and, as of this summer, in Russia. He’s also a deft writer of short plays, his work showcased at City Theatre’s Summer Shorts festival, Naked Stage’s 24-Hour Theatre Project, Mad Cat Theatre and elsewhere.
Now Boca Raton’s Parade Productions has gathered seven of McKeever’s greatest short hits into a program dubbed The Whole Caboodle.
Director Kim St. Leon’s unifying concept is to deconstruct and celebrate the theatrical process, with a “dressing room” located upstage center, illuminated between the plays so that we watch the actors change costumes, pull off wigs, chow down on cookies and banter. Dylan St. Leon Anthony plays a stage manager, Sheri Wieseman a techie. The two move furniture and props, Anthony calling cues to get the next play started, and they perform a little scene -- backstage types gossiping and swilling booze -- as the audience drifts back from intermission.
That conceptual glue sticks the plays together but soon grows wearisome. And those audience-tested plays, work that is (or can be) poignant, touching and hilarious, are too often strangely inert. So a show that was meant to celebrate McKeever’s talent doesn’t really do it justice.
McKeever is one of the six actors performing the plays, with Elena Maria Garcia, Clay Cartland, Jacqueline Laggy, Casey Dressler and Parade producer Candace Caplin forming the rest of the little Caboodle troupe.
For the audience, part of the fun of a program like this one is watching versatile actors morph from character to character; Garcia, for example, gets to play the farmer’s wife in American Gothic, a free-spirited actress in Craven Tutweiler (The Real Life Story Of), a dominatrix wannabe in Love Machine, Rusted, a self-glorifying 19th century actress in Laura Keene Goes On, a funny ancient usher in Move On, or Sondheim at Studio 54 and the peeved voice of the Wicked Witch of the East in Splat!. Garcia is one of the region’s finest comic performers (she’s particularly wonderful in American Gothic and Move On), yet in Love Machine and Laura Keene, she pushes into the realm of sketch comedy as she tries to make those plays work.
McKeever is sweet as her mate in American Gothic, miscast as the mysterious and magnetic title character in Craven Tutweiler, similarly crazed as Garcia’s swinging mate in Love Machine, funny as a slightly snarky record store clerk in Move On, amusingly agitated as a Munchkin named Larry in Splat!. Laggy, underutilized in Caboodle, gives fully realized performances as the justifiably wary wife in Love Machine, a lesbian who has horrified her mom by falling for a guy in Knowing Best , and a savvy Manhattan wife coping with her theater-hating hubby’s basket-case reaction to a Stephen Sondheim song in Move On.
Cartland doesn’t really get to shine (he comes closest as the weeping husband in Move On), which is a shame, because this young actor can be masterful in the right production. Dressler’s funny performance in Craven Tutweiler is diminished by less-than-sharp diction. And Caplin, though a good foil for Laggy in Knowing Best, is flatter than the scenery in Craven Tutweiler and Splat!.
Theatergoers who are new to the plays in Caboodle will have a more enjoyable time than those who have seen them before. We know how good they can be.