Beauty factors into a pair of wildly different plays, each staged to foster intimacy with its audiences, that will open this week during South Florida’s bustling winter arts season.
At Miami Theater Center in Miami Shores, a restless married man left alone during the sweltering city summer finds himself lusting after his beautiful new upstairs neighbor. That one is a fresh interpretation of George Axelrod’s fantasy-infused 1952 comedy The Seven Year Itch, a piece far more frank in its consideration of infidelity than the toned-down 1955 Billy Wilder movie starring Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell.
At Miami’s Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, the Rude Mechs theater company of Austin, Texas, will share a piece of interactive theater that ponders puzzles, LARP (aka live-action role playing), the impact of choice and chance, and a scientific look at the role beauty plays in evolution. That one is titled Now Now Oh Now, presented by MDC Live Arts and the Miami Light Project, and it’s a piece that its hard-working cast will perform three times a night for 30 intrepid, playful souls at each show.
First up, with previews at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, is The Seven Year Itch, directed by Stephanie Ansin, who adapted Axelrod’s script with collaborator and designer Fernando Calzadilla.
Ansin decided to focus on two unsettled souls this season, first the unhappy newlywed in Hedda Gabler, and now publishing house exec Richard Sherman, who will be played by real-life SocialMiami.com publisher Aaron Glickman.
Glickman plays a married guy with an active fantasy life. Though he has been tempted by different beauties he meets, he hasn’t cheated. But when his wife and daughter are off at the beach for the summer and a lovely young woman moves into the apartment upstairs, he crosses the line, with help from the neighbor known as The Girl.
“I did an adaptation of the play 14 years ago for my graduate thesis at Columbia,” says Ansin, who got the rights to adapt and trim the script for her new production. “I hope the audience will walk out talking about infidelity and temptations in a committed relationship. This isn’t a black-and-white situation. I don’t want a clean ending. I don’t want either character to be demonized.”
Glickman, a Miamian who was acting in movies and theater in Los Angeles before he moved back to South Florida a dozen years ago, is a board member at Miami Theater Center. He says he wouldn’t have jumped back into the deep end of performing if not for the play and the company, with its six-week rehearsal period and topnotch cast: Diana Garle as The Girl, Betsy Graver as Richard’s wife Helen, Jessica Farr as his secretary, Shira Abergel as his daughter, plus Chaz Mena, Linda Bernhard and James Howell.
Staged with both the actors and audience placed on Miami Theater Center’s main stage, The Seven Year Itch has so far been a thrill and a challenge for Glickman. As Ansin puts it, “This is mammoth. This is not dusting yourself off for a cameo.”
“It’s been a tremendous, tremendous challenge. It’s an enormous role,” says Glickman, who sees several similarities in himself and his character. “Richard and I are both in midlife. We all need to come to terms with that. He’s in publishing, and I’ve done that for the past nine years. … We all yearn for the days when life was simpler.”
As for the Rude Mechs, the company is an artists’ collective with five artistic directors. Its performance style or focus, as described on its web site, certainly applies to Now Now Oh Now: “Since 1995, Rude Mechs has created a mercurial slate of original theatrical productions that represent a genre-defying cocktail of big ideas, cheap laughs and dizzying spectacle. What these works hold in common are the use of play to make performance, the use of theaters as meeting places for audiences and artists, and the use of humor as a tool for intellectual investigation.”
Shawn Sides, one of the troupe’s artistic directors, is the director of and a performer in Now Now Oh Now. She explains how the play, which takes place in three rooms in under 90 minutes, works.
“In the first section, you watch the characters in a live-action role playing a game they’ve invented. At the end, one character gets mad about the way the game is turning out and storms out,” she says. “The game master speaks to the audience and tells them they have to solve a puzzle to get out of the room, so in the second section, the audience is divided into clans, each with its own puzzle to solve. In the last section, they make their way to a room with a 32-foot table with dioramas on either side. The woman who welcomes them is an ornithologist who gives a speech on beauty and evolution.”
As the Rude Mechs were developing and workshopping the play, they were inspired by Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 and the work of a graduate student at Yale whose hypothesis was that, through history, not all kinds of attraction had to do with survival; sometimes, beauty simply plays a role as beauty in evolution.
During the performance, Sides says, the play changes in style.
“The first two parts look very do-it-yourself. It’s intentional that you can see behind the set pieces. It has a super homemade feeling,” she says. “The third one is formal, and that change is delightful for the audience.”
So are the surprises built into the interactive evening, though Sides won’t spill the beans about exactly what those things are.
“There are so many surprises that the audience encounters, and they’re so physically close to them that sometimes, people end up squealing,” she says.
If you go
What: ‘The Seven Year Itch’ by George Axelrod, adapted by Stephanie Ansin and Fernando Calzadilla.
Where: Miami Theater Center, 9806 NE Second Ave., Miami Shores.
When: Previews Feb. 19-20, opens Feb. 21; 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through March 22.
Cost: $35 ($150 opening night).
Information: 305-751-9550 or www.mtcmiami.org.
What: ‘Now Now Oh Now’ by the Rude Mechs.
Where: MDC Live Arts-Miami Light Project presentation at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, 404 NW 26th St., Miami.
When: 6, 8 and 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2, 4 and 6 p.m. Sunday, from Friday through March 1.
Cost: $25 ($10 Miami Dade College students).