In New Theatre’s surprising Roof!, five Miamians gather to do what Miamians like to do: sit outside in the glorious South Florida weather, crack open a beer, fire up the grill — and, if they’re lucky enough to have a view, gaze out contentedly at the busy city below. In this case, the roof in question sits atop the apartment of old friends Adam (Gabriel Bonilla) and Vic (Mikey Fernandez), both of whom have reasons to believe this day could be the last such gathering. Film student Adam is about to head off to Los Angeles for a project. Photographer Vic, on the other hand, has a secret with the potential to change everything.
Also there: Seth (David Vega), Vic’s British boyfriend; Gracy (Francesca N. Toledo), a boozy Colombian neighbor with an invisible dog and her eye on Adam (who keeps reminding himself he has a girlfriend but not very convincingly) ; and Keith (Joseph Long), a drag queen from Liberty City with a penchant for footwear straight out of Kinky Boots (even at a casual barbecue in presumably sweltering Miami). What happens as the gathering wears on sets up questions of friendship and forgiveness.
Written by artistic director Ricky J. Martinez — the first Hispanic recipient of the prestigious Margo Jones Award and now in the company of such luminaries as Edward Albee and Joseph Papp — Roof! is New Theatre’s fourth and final production in its 30th anniversary series highlighting local playwrights (works by Susan J. Westfall, Sandra Riley and Mario Diament were produced earlier this season). It’s a Miami play through and through, incorporating colorful Spanish phrases and characters who sound like home (don’t worry, English-only speakers: you’ll get most of the gist in context, and you’ll definitely know the curse words). If you live here, you have probably met or at least overheard guys like Cuban-born Vic and Hialeah-bred Adam, bros who love to sling insults but consider each other family. They probably would have taken their 305-til-I-die friendship for granted until circumstances force them to consider the limits of responsibility.
Martinez’s script calls for repeated breaking of the fourth wall, the characters knowing full well they’re in a play and taking advantage of the opportunity. “So obviously that was exposition, for those who dig and need exposition to surrender to the characters,” Adam explains after his initial exchange with his roommate. Martinez also uses the conceit to set up some of the play’s themes. “Language is not our friend,” Adam warns. “Language can be used as a red herring; a defense mechanism; a way to survive the streets.” Thus Martinez puts the audience on notice that in this play, like life, a lot goes unsaid.
Scenic designer Clint Hooper sets the stage on an elevated platform, allowing room for a series of videos and projections to run across the bottom of the set and effectively setting up the play’s most shocking moment. Eric Nelson’s lighting design deftly moves from bright to dark as the mood shifts on stage, suggesting the wide emotional gulf between the first act and the second, which occurs five years later.
Bonilla and Fernandez have an easy camaraderie that’s fun to watch, and Vega displays a nice comic timing in the first act. Where Roof! falters, though, is in the development of Gracy and Keith. Both characters veer into stereotype, and though the script offers Keith a bit more depth in the second half, it reduces Gracy to an opportunistic caricature, her latebreaking shot at redemption too shallow to make an impression. Martinez is best with his brash but sensitive boys, so confident until — boom! — fate forces them to grow up.
If You Go
What: World premiere of “Roof!” by Ricky J. Martinez.
Where: New Theatre production at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 SW 211th St., Cutler Bay.
When: 8:30 p.m. Friday, 3:30 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday, through May 1
Tickets and info: http://smdcac.org/