24-Hour Theatre marathon a night to remember

The South Florida theater community refers to the Carbonell Awards ceremony as “theater prom” because everyone dons formal wear and parties late into the night. They should start referring to The Naked Stage’s 24-Hour Theatre Project as “theater kegger.”

Now in its fourth edition, the annual project is a one-performance-only marathon of theatrical madness. Eight playwrights create playlets from scratch, cast, rehearsed and performed ‘ all in just over a single day at the donated stage of the Caldwell Theatre.

The result in Monday’s kegger was delightfully undisciplined, uneven, loose fun with actors forgetting lines, ad libbing, breaking up on stage, falling over furniture, spewing spittle, but having a hell of a good time. Like an inebriated freshman, the plays were occasionally brilliant in their insights, sometimes they wandered off into the darkness.

The event is a benefit for Naked Stage, the tiny struggling theater that performs challenging edgy work in a small space at Barry University. One of its co-founders, Katherine Amadeo, produced the logistical nightmare of coordinating more than 50 volunteers.

The process began at 7 p.m. Sunday when the local playwrights chose wacky titles from a list, then pulled random names of a director and cast members from a beer box. They wrote all night inside the Caldwell to produce a draft of a 10- to 15-minute play. At 6 a.m. Monday—that’s a.m—the directors read the piece and rehearsals began an hour later, although writers overhauled the lines all day. Finally, at 8 p.m., the shows were unveiled, ready or not.

Some were. Some weren’t. The quality of the work done on the fly with little or no sleep varied wildly, relying heavily on sheer talent and momentary inspiration more than craft.

As usual, the highlight of the evening was the symbolic curtain call: Much of the fractious South Florida theater community filled the Caldwell stage, friends and rivals, colleagues and competitors bonding together amid waves, hugs, cheers and applause for each other.

One of the funniest works was written by the prolific Michael McKeever. His OMG…ROTFLMAO, directed by Adalberto Acevedo of the Alliance Theatre, starred Karen Stephens as a Facebook-obsessed woman addicted to speaking in the shorthand of text messages. But even better was Nancy Barnett (managing director of Florida Stage) as her best friend who cannot understand a word or initial she is hearing. Co-starring were Adam Simpson and Carrie Santanna as Barnett’s children.

Almost as good, but far more touching, was the bittersweet A Storybook Funeral, written by Chris Demos-Brown (author of Florida Stage’s When the Sun Shone Brighter) and directed by Michael Leeds. It depicted two couples in cars en route to crucial meetings: Tracey Barrow-Schoenblatt and Lorenzo Gutierrez as lovers preparing to meet his parents; and Terry Hardcastle and Matthew William Chizever as a gay couple travelling to pick up a child from an adoption agency.

Andie Arthur, the South Florida Theatre League’s administrator, wrote A Rebel’s Guide to (Utter) Compliance, directed by Hugh Murphy. It starred Patti Gardner as the doyenne of a Southern family proud of her blood line to Stonewall Jackson. She is readying her children, Lisa Manuli and David Dearstyne, for the visit of a man they think is a Civil War re-enactor, Andy Quiroga.

David Sirois wrote the outrageously incorrect Amputease, directed by Des Gallant. Sally Bondi played a doctor and Mark Della Ventura played her assistant counseling a husband who lost his legs in an accident and his wife who lost her hands. The torrent of groaner puns and silly jokes (‘Give her a hand’) was too funny to be offensive.

Juan C. Sanchez, the author of Red Tide, produced Armed & Hammered, directed by Amy London. The bizarre and rambling fantasy centered on a family whose patriarch just died, leaving behind a squabble about the fate of their hammer-manufacturing company. Pervading the play was the slapstick depiction of the family’s genetic weakness ‘ a useless left arm. It starred Dave Corey, Jeffrey Bruce, Jackie Rivera and Caldwell artistic director Clive Cholerton.

Andrew Rosendorf , whose Cane opens Florida Stage’s season next month, wrote Dinner with Dracula, directed by Barbara Bradshaw. It starred Christopher A. Kent as the famed fanged fiend, Laura Hodos as his assistant, Andrea Conte as his next victim and Lela Elam as an actress who seems to be on the menu.

Tony Finstrom wrote the hilarious Henry VIII’s Mail Order Bride, directed with a score of comic flourishes by Avi Hoffman. Finstrom depicted an Irish director/playwright played by Amy McKenna who is auditioning inept actresses Julie Kleiner and Lindsey Forgey to star in her play with leading man Stephen G. Anthony. His character, a TV action hero injured in an accident, lisped when off stage but suddenly found a plummy English accent when auditioning with the women.

Lucas Leyv wrote Fardle’s Bear, directed by Shari Upbin, a severely strange parable that crossed Noh theater with a Godzilla movie, starring Ken Clement, Elizabeth Dimon, Irene Adjan and Ryan Didato.

The evening raised money to help fund The Naked Stage ‘s next production: Sartre ‘s ‘Hell is other people’ classic No Exit slated for Oct. 29-Nov. 21. It will be co-directed by company co-founders Antonio Amadeo and John Manzelli, and will star Deborah Sherman, Mark Della Ventura, Andy Quiroga and Katherine Amadeo.

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