By Bill Hirschman
The first rule of evaluating acts of creation: Recognize that artists are putting their guts, their fears, their viscera on public display, and that courage must be respected. Secondly, recognize that, as screenwriter William Goldman once wrote, nobody sets out to make a crappy movie.
So in that spirit, acknowledge that the world premiere of The Wish Maker, written and directed by local playwright Cynthia Joyce Clay and produced by her own Storycrafters Studio, is well-intentioned and earnest in every aspect.
But that’s it.
Ham-handed, amateurish, ponderous, sluggish, the list of adjectives could go on and on both about the script and the production. It is mildly funny in some spots intentionally, but unintentionally humorous in the eye-rolling department in others.
Storycrafters is a young company that performed in Miami Beach a couple of years and moved this spring to this tiny storefront smack in the middle of a decrepit strip of shops in North Miami.
The premise, not that it matters, is drawn quite accurately from Greek mythology: The Graeae were three immortal ugly eyeless witches whom Perseus asked for help seeking out objects that would help him slay Medusa.
In this version, the blind trio (Rachel Chin, India C. Davidson and Isobel Betancourt) whine and squabble in their cave using strangled voices that sound like they are auditioning for Macbeth. They fight over who gets to use the one good eye – an oversized orb that they put on top of their heads. Unfortunately, the risible costumes look like something your mother made for Halloween when you asked to be dressed up like a Dalek from Dr. Who — the earliest low budget episodes. Fortunately, there are no production photographs to document this.
Enter a handsome spelunker who says they can be set free restored to looking like young beauties, minus their magical powers, but only for a trial period while they complete several humanitarian tasks – especially stop fighting among themselves.
So now they reappear as lovely young women living in South Beach or some such place where they make a hobby of collecting sports cars as bait for young men, some of whom they meet working out at the gym. One, who used to be able to grant wishes, is a very profitable artist who throws paint at a canvas; the potions maker is an aspiring cook who still whips up the same grey glop she did in the cave, and a the third painfully shy sister who could sense the approach of visitors still pines incessantly for a true love.
It takes them a long, long time to achieve those goals the mysterious man set out for them. Their setbacks are underscored by a stage manager at the back of the house rattling a metal sheet to stand in for ominous thunder.
One scene, I’m not making this up, portrays one woman magically kept in mid-air all night (actually standing on a platform) forcing her to squirm, wince and writhe for about two full minutes of stage time as the character tries to delay urinating on herself. Really.
Everybody gets what they wants by the finale, sort of, after 20 minutes of Byzantine philosophical arguing about real and imagined powers. Something in there was likely the point that Clay has been driving at, but by that time it’s difficult to care.
This idea of mythological creatures being transplanted to modern times in a meld of witty satire, droll fantasy and thought-provoking drama is not original. The great French dramatist of the 1940s through 1950s Jean Giradoux succeeded with it (read the fanciful one-act The Apollo of Bellac), although he was a genius. And, of course, there was the brilliant cinematic triumph, Xanadu with Olivia Newton John. Clay works hard to mesh the two, such as having one character refer to something she heard in a Ted Talk.
The acting, again, is quite earnest, but it starts off at a level you’d find in a rural church’s Christmas pageant as the actresses try and fail to negotiate that constipated heightened speech pattern that Americans think the Greek gods and goddesses affected back in the day. Give these actresses the benefit of the doubt – not even Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith could pull off this script. It would help if the actresses knew their lines a tad better, but rehearsal periods in South Florida are notoriously limited. Dominic Smith, who plays all the men whom the women meet, fares a bit better because he gets to play some present day parts.
But even with a better script – start by cutting it by a third – The Wish Maker is a brave attempt by dedicated theater practitioners that simply does not work.
The Wish Maker runs through July 3 at Storycrafter Studio, 12987 West Dixie Highway, North Miami. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Running time is 95 minutes with one intermission. Tickets $25-35. Visit storycrafterstudio.com