New Theatre’s My First, My Fist Is Sincere, Stylized Misfire

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Susie Taylor, Nicole Quintana and Vanessa Thompson as three of Bernarda Alba’s sexually repressed daughters in New Theatre’s world premiere of Megan Breen’s My First My Fist My Bleeding Seeded Spirit. / Photo by Eileen Suarez

By Bill Hirschman

Before we go another phrase, let’s give props to New Theatre for persevering to mount the world premiere of My First, My Fist, My Bleeding Seeded Spirit even though its sets, costumes, sound and lights are locked up in their normal home at the Roxy Performing Arts Center due to a burst water main. They had to relocate to the Artistic Vibes space miles away in about day or so to bravely carry on.

Then, let’s give them credit for courageously undertaking a kind of highly stylized, impressionistic experiment rarely attempted by South Florida theaters.

And then let’s acknowledge that for a lot of audience members, this one included, that My First comes across as an overheated, self-indulgent, ham-handed, pretentious misfire that has nothing to do with the physical challenges of the emergency transfer.

It’s the artistic choices of Artistic Director Ricky J. Martinez and playwright Megan Breen, both of whom have invested their life’s blood in developing this decidedly uninhibited piece about the belated sexual liberation of three sisters whose late mother enforced upon them a soul-stifling repression.

Hardly the only problem, but emblematic, is that during the first hour of the 105-minute play, there are three artistically stylistic modes: loud, really loud and deafening with a lot of floor-pounding on a hollow floor and ear-splitting screeching. I mean for a solid hour. From the opening moments.

My First is an entry in New Theatre’s adventurous Boomfrog series designed to throw off the chains of naturalism and to explore theatrical boundaries, thereby attracting younger audiences and anyone seeking a more challenging experience. You cannot come with the same expectations as you have seeing your grandparent’s warhorses. But you cannot meet this play halfway; you have to go all the way to its doorstep and let it force itself down your throat.

There are even a few qualified virtues here including Martinez’s skill at staging the entire show as a kind of Martha Graham dance piece with vibrant movement, including a barely clothed but expressive representation of a young woman’s initiation into sex that looks like an X-rated edition of Cirque du Soleil acrobatics. That’s meant as a compliment.

It’s very difficult to evaluate Breen’s script because Martinez has directed the actors to deliver the lines with all the declamatory subtlety of a Greek chorus or a Hialeah construction crew swinging sledgehammers at each other. But she goes on way too long, having made her points over and over. Yet she has some incisively observed lines such as one daughter missing her mother’s presence, “Oh, I loved how she hated us,” or when a studious young girl says, “I want to become my favorite book to read.”

Breen piles poetically-inclined sexual metaphors upon sexual metaphors, jarringly interrupted by some comparatively banal vernacular. Unfortunately, when you can understand the words through the actresses’ inconsistent enunciation, many of them seem ludicrous. A sister aching for sex says, “My mouth is not thirsty,” then points to her vagina. “How do you drink down there?” Others make little sense such as, “My books will burn brightly in the mountains.” And there are such winners as “Cover your crotch with police tape.” I don’t feel comfortable repeating my favorite line even on this website that quotes obscenities in dialogue, but it involves a cactus and a woman’s private parts.

Point is: There is more to great art (well, most great art) than venting a cry of the heart. There is skill and craft to forge that cry into some kind of disciplined communication that can be comprehended even on some visceral level. Witness the work of the House Theatre of Chicago imported to the Arsht Center or Mad Cat Theatre’s best offerings. For instance, if not for the program notes and Martinez’s introduction, few in the audience would even have a clue that this play serves almost as an epilogue to Federico Garcia Lorca’s 1936 epic tragedy The House of Bernarda Alba, now inexplicably transported to the present and into the desert of New Mexico.

The premise is that three of the four adult Alba sisters (wasn’t there a fifth) are stuck in the desert after the recent death of their mother. But her spirit sticks around both in the repressive damage she did to their psyches and physically as a ghost (Evelyn Perez).

From the opening seconds, Magdalena (Nicole Quintana) is a nanosecond away from exploding with sexual energy. She spends a great deal of the play talking about her vagina and her needs in the most, shall we say, explicit terms. Strictly She (Susie Taylor) is the martinet so tightly wrapped that it will be about 75 minutes before she realizes her lesbian urges. The inexhaustibly petulant Martirio (Vanessa Thompson) just shrieks a lot. A fourth, Amelia (Francesca Toledo), has escaped to L.A. or Vegas where Toledo performs her like a stereotypical caricature.

Each of the virginal sisters eventually succumbs to their sexual urges. Magdalena has lusted from the first minute of the show for the coyote howling Carlos (the virile and dynamic Gabriel Bonilla who will have women and men alike feeling something). Strictly She is attracted to a high school senior (we hope she’s over 16) Stacy (Amber Lynn Benson in one of the few remotely on-target performances). Martirio is seduced in a more low-key way by a county road worker who fills pot holes (Kevin Coleman doing a sort of Chris Rock riff).

But other than Benson and Coleman’s work, the acting style is so far over the top that it is never engaging, compelling or moving.

For all the drama, Martinez and Breen admirably infuse the proceedings with a leavening humor. When the three sisters follow their mother’s coffin to the cemetery, they walk solemnly behind a tiny remote-controlled hearse.

Other bits were incomprehensible: Scene changes are marked with someone walking the perimeter of the stage in the round, spraying the audience with what I hope was scented water.

I’ll admit that after an hour, either I was beginning to get in sync with the Martinez/Breen groove or they had worn me down. But I began to get a glimpse of what they were trying to do.  I just don’t think they were doing it that well.

Hopefully, New Theatre and My First will be back home at the Roxy soon where the play will be enhanced by lighting (Artistic Vibes could only provide a few weak lighting elements), a system that can handle the doubtless sophisticated soundscape, the costumes, the sets etc.  But the problems that need to be addressed run far deeper.

Note: The actresses playing Magdalena and Amelia switch parts in different performances, which New Theatre hopes will make you come back a second time.

Another note: We’ll post on this site and on Facebook when the production returns to the Roxy.

My First, My Fist, My Bleeding Seeded Spirit through Dec. 8 from New Theatre. Due to a water-main break, it is currently playing at the home of Artistic Vibes, a warehouse at 12986 SW 89 Ave. in Miami east of the Falls Shopping Mall (use a GPS or Mapquest). It will likely move back to its regular home at  the Roxy Theatre Group, 1645 SW 107 Avenue,  Miami,  across from FIU. Performances are 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Sunday. Runs 105 minutes without intermission. Tickets are $25-$30.  Call (305) 443-5909 or visit www.new-theatre.org.

New Theatre commissioned a promotional video that is not an excerpt from  the show, but it is well worth a look. To see it, click here.

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3 Responses to New Theatre’s My First, My Fist Is Sincere, Stylized Misfire

  1. Jennifer says:

    I could not disagree more with this review. To preface it with major “props” and then still bash every inch of the material, acting, and creative choices is beyond me. Not to mention the fact that you felt it necessary to comment on the lack of equipment for a space that opened its doors at the last minute to make sure the show still went on. I enjoyed the show so much I actually did go and see it a 2nd time. It is obvious that this type of theatre is not for the older generation, as proven with your review. And Ricky J. Martinez vision is exactly what Miami needs in the Theatre world especially since what Theatre needs in Miami is a younger audience.
    Art is subjective. Not every show is for every person. This show was obviously not for you. I was however happy to see that I was not the only one who enjoyed it. Nor was I the only one to truly understand what it must’ve been like for the cast and crew to move venues, re-block, re-create, re-structure all that was rehearsed and planned for previously in only 24 hours. Including the work it must’ve taken to try and change how your voice and movements look in a smaller tighter space.
    I only hope that New Theatre continue to push the envelope and show us a variety of angles of live theatre. Not every show has to be classic, stuffy and up to the expectations of the older generation.
    I personally feel that the men in the audience have a harder time swallowing an erotic, woman empowered show than the actual females in the audience.
    With the amount of theatres closing or struggling in South Florida, I am glad that reviews are no longer what people base their opinions about shows on. They’d rather word of mouth and luckily for New Theatres, mouths were not only jaw-dropped but also chattering on how great the cast was and how the direction of this play was welcomed and received well.

    • Wolson says:

      Jennifer, I can’t agree with you more! It’s been several years since I’ve responded to a poorly, typo laden, over-written, and misguided review, but I couldn’t let your response be the only woman’s perspective shared off Mr. Hirschman’s short-sighted review. Also, that my husband and I plus the couple who attended with us, stem from that ‘older generation’ you mention in your own response; and we absolutely loved it! So without repeating you’ve already mentioned I will add my two cents worth.
      Before I go any further, (in your words Mr. Hirshman) I’ve got to say this review is brimming with backhanded compliments and contradictions. From one pre-mature paragraph to the next, Hirshman compliments the efforts of the organization to quickly belittle the exact effort complimented. Nowhere in France, Germany, Chicago or New York, possibly any where my husband and I have lived and supported the most respected theatres, would a company be as brave, and as committed to start from scratch at a new location in less than twenty-four hrs to ensure their patrons and their performers opened under debilitating circumstances. Most would simply close, throw in the towel, and easily refund tickets. The new venue was quite charming and was very spirited. From this review and several I’ve now read you’ve written of this company, you chastise their every creative step because you don’t understand the basis of their work. The most unique artists play to their own tune and Mr. Martinez has been such a mensch to playwrights and actors alike.
      Sadly, Mr. Hirschman, I’m not sure if you are qualified to recognize or make a statement such as: “There is more to great art (Well, most great art) than venting a cry of the heart.” Where does art stem from? Nevertheless, your own reviews have so many inconsistences and poorly researched flaws, this statement doesn’t even land. After witnessing the play I was inspired to google the origins, to find where Ms. Breen’s curiosity with the original laid only to go back and re-check what I had read and your own shortcomings. I’m not a drama critic, but If we were to compare the original play with this one, anyone then would not question what happened with that 5th sister, since it was her tragic death that ended the first. One of many flaws you could have simply found on Wikipedia. Then also by checking the theatre’s website and the postcard I received in their marketing they mention it’s based off Lorca’s characters. How much spoon-feeding do you think an audience needs? I maybe of an older generation but I still make sure I check out what event I will attend before I go.
      Now from attending, here is what I witnessed: a courageous, sentimental young artistic creator (I only wish we could replicate this creative, daring artist!) fueled with vitality welcoming us; a committed, young troupe that had my every atom at alert from the get-go. Yes, we had to leave our baggage at the door, but hadn’t we already done that when buying our tickets! Yes, we had to follow down the proverbial rabbits’ hole, but isn’t that the adventure in experiencing new works! Yes, the acting bombarded us immediately with emotional angst, but isn’t that what we go to theatre for? They didn’t allow us to escape; there was comedy, tragedy, dance-theatre (maybe you should get more familiar with this Euro-style theatre that isn’t Martha Graham, another one of your un-researched comments). And as far as the kids walking by and spraying scents in the air, do you have to question what its for, maybe it was a little treat the director wanted us to have while watching.
      I will be back to see the switch of roles of the two actresses; this is the only flaw from the group, that they could have mentioned in a better manner. But I think they had their plates full, wouldn’t you say so? Other than that, I know which theatre I’ll be following and which reviewer’s words I won’t be reading. Not that I had read your words before I googled the title of the play, of that you have to thank New Theatre for! But it is highly likely you could.
      A proud theatre support of 61 years.
      J.Wolfson

  2. Frank says:

    Dear Sir: I must completely agree with your assessment of this dreadful and rather laughable production. I am relatively new to the area. My wife and I moved to Miami this past summer from the Chicago area. We have been very blessed with a rich and diverse theatre community in Chicago. Since our move to Miami, we have been to several theater organizations. Some good and some not-so-good. Needless to say we are very eager theater-goers and theater supporters. My wife and I live close to the location of the impromptu New Theatre. We were very excited to check out the work of a Chicago writer. What we witnessed was an embarrassing and indulgent display of theatrical nonsense. My wife and I, and full disclosure- my wife teaches theater at a local college- left the theater space upset, annoyed & dismayed.

    We both will not write this New Theater off of our radar for the future as that would be pointless. We recently bought a subscription to The Gablestage and are looking forward to a full season of work.

    Both of us can fully agree that we had an enormous and incredible experience with the Zodiac Theater production of Fear Up Harsh. This was theater at its finest and something the director of New Theater (and many other directors) can learn from.

    But this is one person’s opinion.

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