Fab, Fun and Frothy, Hairspray is a Musical with a Message

By Mary Damiano

2 - Hairspray - photo by Jason NuttleEnding segregation through dance—that’s the basic premise of Hairspray, the rollicking, beloved musical now on the stage at Maltz Jupiter Theatre.

Based on the John Waters movie starring Ricki Lake and Divine, Hairspray concerns Tracy Turnblad, a Baltimore teen who, through her simple desire to dance on a local American Bandstand-style TV show, leads a crusade to end segregation.

It’s a pretty big deal when Tracy, who is not as skinny as the more popular girls, gets cast on The Corny Collins Show.  In addition to getting to dance on TV, Tracy gets to be close to her crush, teen idol wannabe Link Larkin.  But Tracy learned the dance moves that got her the gig from the black kids she meets in detention, and she doesn’t think it’s fair that they only get to dance on “Negro Day”, so she sets out to open hearts and change minds.

1 - Hairspray - photo by Jason NuttleThe overall production is just as colorful and over the top as you want Hairspray to be, although somewhat scaled down.  The big opening number, for example, “Good Morning Baltimore”, is devoid of the street scene of everything Tracy encounters on her way to school.   Other set pieces look awkward, such as the circular platform with steps that serves as the home of both Tracy and her best friend Penny.  For some reason, the Maltz stage looks cramped and truncated.  Hairspray lacks the lavish touch exhibited in most Maltz productions.

Perhaps more resources were funneled into the costumes and wigs, which are spectacular.  Costume designer Kathleen Geldard keeps the wardrobe colorful and wonderfully on point for each character.  Velma Von Tussle’s angular outfits enhance her wicked edge, while Maybelle Motormouth’s clothes have a sexy softness.  Edna Turnblad’s post-transformation costumes are vibrant and refreshingly tasteful, better-suited for a woman with a new attitude.

5 - Hairspray - photo by Alicia DonelanWig designer Gerard Kelly went all out with his intricate, sky-high, delightfully cartoonish hairstyles.  His bouffants and beehives are divine, and he modernizes his designs in fun ways, like adding a shock of pink to Mr. Pinky’s ‘do.

This production features a slimmer Tracy Turnblad than Hairspray fans are accustomed to, but Mary Digangi is a triumph in the role.  She expertly conveys Tracy’s feisty spirit, her teenage vulnerability, and her strong sense of right and wrong.  She is also a terrific singer and dancer.  And if anyone thinks she doesn’t physically fit the role, perhaps the message here is that one doesn’t have to be too far outside the mold of conformity to be ostracized.

Michael Kostroff is terrific as Tracy’s mom Edna Turnblad, the laundress who rediscovers her own confidence and regains her life through Tracy’s fight to follow her dreams.  Kostroff makes Edna’s transformation from drab to fab realistic, and gives her journey nuance.

11 - Hairspray - photo by Alicia DonelanAltamiece Carolyn Cooper, as Motormouth Maybelle, makes every scene she’s in her own.  Cooper has charisma to spare, and when she belts the gospel-tinged  “I Know Where I’ve Been” you can’t help but feel a few tears welling up as well as hope for the future.

Mia Matthews, won won the 2017 Best Actress Carbonell Award for her dramatic performance in After, shows both her versatility and her vocal prowess.  She is delicious as the villainous, Velma Von Tussle, the racist producer and stage mother who will do anything to get what she wants for herself and her mean-girl daughter Amber.  Matthews’ flair for hurling an insult, her satisfied panache when carrying out Velma’s schemes, her comic timing—these things should all make directors consider her for more musicals.

7 - Hairspray - photo by Jason NuttleThere are many musical standouts, including “You’re Timeless To Me” the sweet duet between Edna and her ever-loving hubby Wilbur (Philip Hoffman), “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” the classic teen plea sung by Tracy, Amber (Chelsea Turbin) and Penny (Taylor Quick) to their worried moms, and the hopeful anthem for the future, “You Can’t Stop the Beat”.

On the surface, Hairspray is a fun and frothy show, but it’s a musical with a message: Segregation is wrong.  Discrimination is wrong.  And while Hairspray is set in 1962, among the signs in the protest scene is one proclaiming the more modern slogan Black Lives Matter.  It’s a sad reminder that the fight against discrimination is still being fought.

Hairspray runs through January 28.  For tickets and more information, visit JupiterTheatre.org 





Get Wrecked on TBS with Lela Elam

By Mary Damiano

So, I was having lunch at New York Grilled Cheese in Wilton Manors two weeks ago with The

Lela Elam

The Fabulous Lela Elam

Fabulous Lela Elam—yes, that’s her official title, at least as far as I’m concerned—when she caught me up on her current project, the TBS TV series Wrecked.  I had been seeing Lela’s Facebook posts about Wrecked for some time, but I thought it was a movie she’d done.  Lela being in a series makes me happy at the opportunity to see her on a weekly basis, because she’s so talented—she could sit on a stage and read the phone book and it would be entertaining.

I found all the episodes available through TBS and Sling through my Roku box and embarked on a binge.

Wrecked is a sitcom send-up of Lost, one of my favorite TV shows of all time.  In Wrecked, just like Lost, the plot centers on passengers who have survived a plane crash and must find a way to survive on a mysterious island.  Some of the characters on Wrecked pay homage to characters on Lost, some are composites, some are original.  The first shot of the show mimics the first shot of Lost, and the plots sometimes mirror Lost, and other times portray the what ifs that Lost fans probably asked while they watched the show.  But you don’t need to have ever seen an episode of Lost to understand or be entertained by WreckedLost may have been a jumping off point, but the show is forging its own identity.

Todd Wrecked

Todd Allen Durkin

Lela plays Diane from Toledo. Just the idea of getting stranded on a desert island with The Fabulous Lela Elam is appealing.  She gets some good lines and scenes.  So far Lela’s most pivotal scenes have been in the episode Always Meant to See That, which asks this question:  If you had to choose what could possibly be the last movie you will ever see, would you choose something wacky or something big and important?  Does it come down to entertainment or a moral imperative? Stupid fun or political correctness?

That’s the kind of stuff Wrecked explores. Other episodes have dealt with hoarding food, meting out justice and the question of attempting to escape or forming a society on the island.

Wrecked 109- 25333_010

Wrecked Cast

Wrecked features other talented actors based in South Florida, including Mike Benitez and Todd Allen Durkin, who plays the unfortunately monikered Kurt Turdhole—pronounced, according to Kurt, Tur-doh-lay—who ends up as the constant butt of jokes, pun intended.

Wrecked is a fun show and definitely worth a look, especially if you’re a fan of Lost or a fan of The Fabulous Lela Elam.

New episodes of Wrecked air on Tuesday nights at 10:30 p.m. on TBS.  Catch up on older episodes on On Demand.

Theatre at Arts Garage Gets New Artistic Director

Keith Garsson and Genie Croft Form the New Creative Team at Delray Beach Venue

By Mary Damiano

Alyone Ushe, Keith Garsson and Genie Croft

Alyone Ushe, Keith Garsson and Genie Croft

When news that Louis Tyrrell was leaving his position as artistic director of Theatre at Arts Garage in Delray Beach, many wondered if that was the end of theatre at the popular downtown venue.

Wonder no more. Keith Garsson, artistic director of Primal Forces in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton Theatre Guild, has been named artistic director of Theatre at Arts Garage. Genie Croft, artistic director of the now-defunct Women’s Theatre Project, has been named resident director.

“I am so excited to begin this new partnership with Keith,” said Alyona Ushe, President and CEO of Arts Garage. “Our music programs consistently break new barriers exposing our audiences to diverse forms of artistry, and now I am proud to say our theatre program will explore new realms of emotions and relationships.”

While Primal Forces will be effectively absorbed into Arts Garage, the company may also perform in other venues. Garsson plans to produce shows that explore darker themes, beginning with the new season in October.

“The dark-themed material of Primal Forces is a natural fit for the off-Broadway feel of Arts Garage,” said Garsson. “Boca Raton Theatre Guild and the Willow Theater served us well for many years, but it’s time to move on from our standard fare at the park into a venue more attuned to the material we’ve presented at Primal Forces.”

“The move to the Arts Garage will allow us to unleash new artistic visions as we create imaginative, and thought-provoking plays and musicals” says Croft. “We look forward to new energies and rhythms on the stages of Arts Garage.”

Theatre at Arts Garage 2015-2016 Season

Sex with Strangers by Laura Eston
October 24 through November 15
From one of the writers of House of Cards, Laura Eason, the comedy Sex with Strangers opened in New York in 2014 to great acclaim. When twenty-something star sex blogger and memoir writer Ethan tracks down his idol, the gifted but obscure 40s novelist Olivia, he finds they each crave what the other possesses. As the attraction turns to sex, and they inch closer to getting what they want, both must confront the dark side of ambition and the near impossibility of reinventing oneself when the past is only a click away.

Reborning by Zayd Dohrn
January 23 through February 14
This 2010 psychological thriller tells the tale of a sculptor with an unusual specialty. She meets a woman desperate to recreate her past leading to some frightening revelations. Art and life become disturbingly interchangeable in this dark comedy that takes an unsettling look at work, latex and the power of creation.

The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith by Angelo Parra and Joe Brancato
February 27 through March 20
A dramatization of the turbulent story of the legendary “Empress of the Blues,” whose life was as large and as outrageous as her talent. The play re-imagines Bessie’s final electrifying evening after she and her band are turned away by a whites-only theatre. It all takes place in 1937 in a Memphis “buffet flat,” where the partying, laughter, and bawdiness all come together to deliver an entertaining, unforgettable, and surprisingly touching evening.

Smoke by Kim Davies
March 26 through April 17
A thriller, set in New York City, where Julie an entitled college student and John, a jaded wannabe artist – with more in common than they thought – engage in a series of mind games, both erotic and humorous. But who gets the last laugh on whom?

For tickets and more information, visit ArtsGarage.org

Rent is Due

By Mary Damiano

Mike Westrich and Bruno Faria in Rent

Mike Westrich and Bruno Faria in Rent

It should come as no shock to anyone familiar with Slow Burn Theatre Company that their production of Rent is electrifying.

Director and choreographer Patrick Fitzwater’s imagination had a field day with this one, daring to change up some of the iconic elements of Rent and making it fresh and uniquely Slow Burn. Everything works: Fitzwater’s stripped down staging and joyous choreography; Sean McClelland’s steely, industrial platform set with its ominous clock—time literally hangs over the characters’ heads like the sword of Damocles; Caryl Fantel’s musical direction amps up and clarifies the rock opera score, Lance Blank’s lighting is almost a character, giving the feel of a laser light show; and Rick Pena’s costumes stray from the original and usually duplicated production, modernizing the design yet keeping true to each character.

Amy Miller Brennan and Christina Alexander in Rent

Amy Miller Brennan and Christina Alexander in Rent

From the leads to the ensemble, there is not a weak link in the cast. Mike Westrich gets to really work his rock chops as put-upon filmmaker Mark. Bruno Faria plays moody Roger with the same intensity that made his Clyde Barrow so successful in Slow Burn’s January production of Bonnie and Clyde. There’s real heat between Amy Miller Brennan as narcissistic Maureen and Christina Alexander as her girlfriend Joanne—their fiery duet Take Me or Leave Me is hot, hot, hot. Rayner G. Garranchan plays Benny as your friendly neighborhood villain. Darrick Penney plays Tom Collins with a genuine soulfulness that’s hard to come by. His solo on I’ll Cover You in the second act is heartbreaking. Bruno Vida transforms himself into Angel, the ray of light and goodness in Rent. Slow Burn devotees have seen Vida in  many shows, but here he embodies Angel’s tough vulnerability and brings his own witty optimism to the role.

Abby Perkins in Rent

Abby Perkins in Rent

And thanks to Patrick Fitzwater for casting Abby Perkins in a lead role. Perkins’ charisma was evident when she was in the ensemble of White Christmas at The Wick and her talent has shone through in even the smallest parts in a variety of shows. As Mimi in Rent, she’s front and center where a performer of her vocal range and acting ability should be. Her Mimi is dynamic, vulnerable, fierce and sexy.

Slow Burn’s Rent is incredibly energetic, emotional and explosive, a reimagined rock epic for a new generation of Rent fans.

Rent runs through April 26 at West Boca Performing Arts Theatre in West Boca High School in Boca Raton, then moves to the Aventura Art and Cultural Center April 30 through May 3. For more information and tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit slowburntheatre.org.

FLCT Show Is the Cats Meow

By Mary Damiano

I spend my days surrounded by cats, but even more so today when I went from a house filled with cats to a theatre filled with Cats.


The Fort Lauderdale Children’s Theatre is doing Cats, and I attended the morning performance. Although I’ve seen this popular show on Broadway and on several national tours, I’ve never enjoyed Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic more than I did today. This is not only a terrific-looking production, but the large cast of middle and high school students is a delight. Beautifully sung and energetically performed, the cast does an excellent job bringing Webber’s and T.S. Eliot’s Jellicle Cats to life.

Having cats, it’s obvious that these kids have done their homework. Their cat-like movements, their head-butting, the way that scratch their heads with their paws—they embody furry felines from their ears to their tails.


I know that many people hear “children’s theatre” and think it’s kids singing off-key wearing rinky-dink dollar store costumes on flimsy cardboard sets. Let’s dispel that misconception right now. The production values in Cats—and in every other show I’ve seen at FLCT, for that matter—are just as professional as other regional theatres. Tyler Smith’s multi-level junkyard set is marvelous and Karen Kang Hancock’s costumes are polished and clever. FLCT presents high quality productions that are performed by youth but are for everyone.

Cats runs through April 19 at the FLCT’s Studio Theatre in the Galleria in Fort Lauderdale. Some performances are already sold out.  For more information and to purchase tickets, call 954-763-6882 or visit flct.org.

Full Disclosure
I’ve been working at FLCT since February and have had added treat of watching Cats come together. For two months I’ve seen the seemingly disparate elements—the wigs, the fur scraps, the brown paper bags, the tridents and thrift store finds—parade through the office. Today I got to see all these pieces come together in a glorious production by talented designers and enthusiastic cast. That’s the magic of theatre in action.

Winners of the 39th Annual Carbonell Awards Announced

The suspense that has gripped the South Florida theatrical community for more than two months finally ended Monday, March 30th when the winners of the 39th annual Carbonell Awards were announced in a lavish ceremony at Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale.

Best Supporting Actor in a Play winner Mark Della Ventura

Best Supporting Actor in a Play winner Mark Della Ventura

Unlike past years, there were no sweeps by an individual theater or production. GableStage in Coral Gables narrowly pulled ahead of the pack with four awards going to three of their productions. Natalia Coego won Best Actress, play, and Mark Della Ventura won Best Supporting Actor, play, for Bad Jews. Matt Corey won Best Sound Design for The Mountaintop. And Arielle Hoffman, daughter of Carbonell Award winners Avi Hoffman and Laura Turnbull, carried on the family tradition by winning Best Supporting Actress, play, for her performance in The Whale.

Zoetic Stage, the company with 16 nominations, the most of any theater, won three awards. Best New Work went to playwright Michael McKeever for his comedy Clark Gable Slept Here; Stuart Meltzer won Best Director, play, also for Clark Gable Slept Here; and the company won the award for Best Production of a Musical for Assassins.

Maltz Jupiter Theatre took Best Production of a Play honors for The Foreigner, while Marcia Milgrom Dodge won Best Director, musical, for The King and I. Leon Weibers won Best Costume Design, also for The King and I.

MariandLast fall, Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre stepped away from their usual fare and took a risk with the edgy, rock and roll love story Murder Ballad, and Monday night their bet on that production paid off with three Carbonell Awards: Chris Crawford won Best Supporting Actor, musical; Mariand Torres won Best Supporting Actress, musical; and the cast won the Best Ensemble award.

The partnership between the The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Arts and the University of Miami also proved fruitful. Their co-production of Peter and the Starcatcher won three awards: Nicholas Richberg won Best Actor, play; Yoshinori Tanokura won Best Scenic Design and Eric Haugen won Best Lighting Design.

Slow Burn Theatre Company, in its sophomore year of eligibility, won two awards: Ann Marie Olson won Best Actress, musical, for Parade; and Emmanuel Schvartzman won Best Musical Direction, also for Parade.

RonHutchinsThe Theatre at Arts Garage and The Wick won one Carbonell Award each: Clay Cartland won Best Actor, musical, for The Trouble with Doug at The Theatre at Arts Garage while Ron Hutchins won Best Choreography for 42nd Street at The Wick.

The awards were divided between Miami-Dade County with 13 wins and Palm Beach County with 7 wins. And while several of the performers in the acting categories had previously been nominated for Carbonell Awards, each is a first-time winner of South Florida’s most prestigious theatrical honor.

Along with honoring excellence in theater, a highlight of the annual Carbonell Awards ceremony is recognizing those who have made significant contributions to the arts.

The prestigious George Abbott Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts, awarded to an individual (or team) who has contributed significantly to the artistic and cultural development of the region, was presented to Scott Shiller, executive vice-president of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and President of the Board of Directors of the Carbonell Awards, in recognition of his arts and civic involvement as well as his term as President of the Board of Directors of the Carbonell Awards, for which he led the organization through its first strategic plan, established new financial goals and instituted fresh governance procedures aimed at securing the organization’s future.

Katherine and Antonio Amadeo, co-founders of The Naked Stage

Katherine and Antonio Amadeo, co-founders of The Naked Stage

The Ruth Foreman Award, which recognizes significant contributions to South Florida theater development by an individual or group, was awarded to The Naked Stage for the company’s annual event, The 24 Hour Theatre Project, which fosters new one-act play development and promotes unity among the region’s theaters.

The Howard Kleinberg Award, bestowed as special recognition for contributions to the health and development of the arts in South Florida, was awarded to Iris Acker, an actress, director, author, talk show host and Carbonell judge, for her tireless work in promoting the arts in the region.

The Carbonell Awards also awarded $1,000 scholarships to three South Florida students pursuing careers in theater or journalism: Gena Yvonne Sims (Miami-Dade County) who attends of New World School of the Arts; Danielle Angela Jensen (Broward County) who attends Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School; and Jacob Poser (Palm Beach County) who attends Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts

Donald R. Walters, incoming President of the Carbonell Awards Board of Trustees.

Donald R. Walters, incoming President of the Carbonell Awards Board of Trustees.

The other big news of the evening was the announcement that Carbonell Board of Directors Treasurer and Secretary Donald R. Walters is the new incoming board president. Walters takes the reins in May, when current Carbonell Board of Directors President Scott Shiller moves to Denver to become the president and CEO of Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

For more information on the Carbonell awards, visit CarbonellAwards.org.

A complete list of winners follows, as well as stats on number of awards by county, theatre and production.

Carbonell Award Winners, 2014

Best New Work (play or musical)
Clark Gable Slept Here, Michael McKeever, Zoetic Stage

Best Ensemble Production (play or musical)
Murder Ballad, Actors’ Playhouse

Best Production of a Play
The Foreigner, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Best Director/Play
Stuart Meltzer, Clark Gable Slept Here, Zoetic Stage

Best Actor/Play
Nicholas Richberg, Peter and the Starcatcher, The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the University of Miami

Best Actress/Play
Natalia Coego, Bad Jews, GableStage

Best Supporting Actor/Play
Mark Della Ventura, Bad Jews, GableStage

Best Supporting Actress/Play
Arielle Hoffman, The Whale, GableStage

Best Production of a Musical
Assassins, Zoetic Stage

Best Director/Musical
Marcia Milgrom Dodge, The King and I, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Best Actor/Musical
Clay Cartland, The Trouble with Doug, Theatre at Arts Garage

Best Actress/Musical
Ann Marie Olson, Parade, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Best Supporting Actor/Musical
Chris Crawford, Murder Ballad, Actors’ Playhouse

Best Supporting Actress/Musical
Mariand Torres, Murder Ballad, Actors’ Playhouse

Best Musical Direction
Emmanuel Schvartzman, Parade, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Best Choreography/Musical
Ron Hutchins, 42nd Street, The Wick

Best Scenic Design/play or musical
Yoshinori Tanokura, Peter and the Starcatcher, The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the University of Miami

Best Lighting Design/play or musical
Eric Haugen, Peter and the Starcatcher, The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the University of Miami

Best Costume Design/play or musical
Leon Weibers, The King and I, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Best Sound Design/play or musical
Matt Corey, The Mountaintop, GableStage

Awards by County
13 Miami-Dade
7 Palm Beach

Awards by Theater
4 GableStage
3 Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre
3 Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the University of Miami
3 Maltz Jupiter Theatre
3 Zoetic Stage
2 Slow Burn Theatre Company
1 The Theatre at Arts Garage
1 The Wick

Awards by Production
3 Murder Ballad, Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre
3 Peter and the Starcatcher, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the University of Miami
2 Bad Jews, GableStage
2 Clark Gable Slept Here, Zoetic Stage
2 The King and I, Maltz Jupiter Theatre
2 Parade, Slow Burn Theatre Company
1 42nd Street, The Wick
1 Assassins, Zoetic Stage
1 The Foreigner, Maltz Jupiter Theatre
1 The Mountaintop, GableStage
1 The Trouble with Doug, The Theatre at Arts Garage
1 The Whale, GableStage

Carbonell Awards Nominee Reception and Ice Cream Social

Clay Cartland and Mary Damiano

Clay Cartland and Mary Damiano

The festivities began early this year for the 2014 Carbonell Award nominees as they were celebrated at the Carbonell Nominee Reception and Ice Cream Social Monday March 23, 2015, at ArtServe in Fort Lauderdale.

“It was like a kids’ party for adults, a counterpoint to the formality of the Carbonell Awards ceremony,” said Mary Damiano, Carbonell Awards Managing Director.

Show tunes from Broadway musicals, candlelit tables and balloons provided the perfect ambiance for the festivities as more than 80 guests enjoyed a variety of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches from Ms. Cheezious, scoops of ice cream with a variety of toppings, and donut Munchkins. The party was generously underwritten by board member Jerry Cohen.

Lisa Richberg and Mary Damiano smooching Carbonell Nominee Matthew Korinko

Lisa Richberg and Mary Damiano smooching Carbonell Nominee Matthew Korinko

In her acknowledgements, Damiano praised the nominees for their work in a years’ worth of shows.

“It was important that we celebrate the talent and general awesomeness of the performers, directors, and designers who give their all in shows from Cutler Bay to Jupiter,” she told the crowd. “You entertain us, you inspire us, you make us laugh, you make us cry, you give of yourselves in a way that enriches us all, and you have helped make South Florida a thriving, vibrant, region for theatre. Bravo to you all!”

Photos courtesy of Chuck Field

Remembrance of Things Past

Theatre Review

The Interview Encourages Its Audience to Bear Witness to History

By Mary Damiano

Harriet Oser in The Interview at The Women's Theatre Project in Boca Raton

Harriet Oser in The Interview

Never forget.  It’s a powerful statement and a willful vow when referring to tragedy of an historic capacity.  Memories of the unimaginable must be passed down like precious heirlooms, to ensure that such horror cannot be allowed to occur again.

This idea is at the center of The Interview by Faye Sholiton, now enjoying an engrossing production by The Women’s Theatre Project.

The Interview focuses on Bracha Weissman (Harriett Oser) a Holocaust survivor living in Ohio.  Bracha has agreed to be interviewed for a project to document and record the memories of Holocaust survivors.  Her interviewer is Ann, (Patti Gardner) a woman whose late mother grew up not far from Bracha, and who also survived the camps but who never shared her experiences with Ann.

Bracha has agreed to the interview for the twin grandsons she’s never met, the children of her estranged daughter, Rifka, (Irene Adjan) who appears in the play through Bracha’s memory.  Bracha needs to tell her story, and Ann needs to hear it to come to terms with her mother’s memory.

The Women’s Theatre Project produced The Interview a few years ago, with Oser, Gardner and Adjan.  Then, the company only produced plays by women playwrights with all female casts, so Sholiton rewrote the last scene and changed the gender of a character.  This production includes the original scene, which adds more resonance to the play.

Oser is excellent as Bracha, conveying her steely will, her anger and her vulnerability with just the right mix of power and poignancy.  Gardner and Adjan do well in their supporting roles, but this is Bracha’s story and Oser’s show all the way. Sean McClelland evokes the memory aspect of the story with his inventive set design.

“There are no happy endings after Auschwitz,” Bracha tells Ann during a powerful moment in The Interview.   No happy endings perhaps, but, as The Interview shows, there are new beginnings.

The Interview runs through January 20 at The Willow Theatre at Sugar Sand Park,300 S. Military Trail, Boca Raton.  For tickets and more information, call 561-347-3948 or visit WomensTheatreProject.com.

Cat Fancy

Mad Cat’s New Production Goes On the Prowl with Pick-up Artists and Pussycats

By Mary Damiano

Kristina Wong Cat Lady

Kristina Wong in a sea of pussycats in Cat Lady

Paul Tei can’t imagine his life without cats.  The actor, director and founder of Mad Cat Theatre Company currently lives with Derby and Julep, feline siblings he calls “precious gifts.”   But his first cat, Belly, holds a special place in his heart.

“I would say that it’s because of Belly that Mad Cat was born,” Tei says.  “He saw me through some difficult times and brought my folks and I closer through the kind of love he created.”

While Tei’s cat Belly inspired his theatre company, Kristina Wong’s cat Oliver inspired  her play, Cat Lady, which is Mad Cat’s current production.

In Cat Lady, Wong plays a herself and Ken Clement plays her cat, Oliver.  Cat Lady involves two seemingly unrelated subjects: Wong’s efforts to get Oliver to stop spraying and the sub-culture of pick-up artists, men who turn picking up women into a sport.

“I had no idea how these two ideas were going to manifest in one show, but the way I see it, if they are two points of obsession in the same brain, there would be a way to connect them theatrically,” Wong says.

At the time, Wong was experiencing a great deal of professional success with her solo show, Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a show about suicide and depression among Asian American women, in which she played a character named after herself.

“Believe me,” Wong says, “nothing will screw up your love life and your own head more than playing a semi-fictional version of yourself repeatedly in front of a live audience for many years.”

Kristina Wong in Cat Lady

Kristina Wong in Cat Lady at Mad Cat Theatre

But as successful as she and the show became, Wong started to feel trapped in the fulfillment of her dream, worried that the show was preventing her from moving forward in her personal life, depressed that no future show could top her success.

Enter the pick-up artists.  Wong became fascinated by the subculture after watching the VH1 show “The Pick-up Artist” and befriending some of the eliminated contestants.

“The techniques they learn are basically theater techniques,” Wong says.  “Like me, they perform versions of themselves in clubs in structured/scripted routines.”

Wong experienced a taste of that world when a Korean American pick-up artist picked her up at South Beach club in 2008.

“I actually figured out halfway through that he was a pick-up artist and he confirmed,” Wong says. “And I continued to let the evening play out, mostly because there was nowhere else I had to go that night, but it was like being the only audience member at a really great show.  When it was all over, I was left with some intense thoughts about whether or not it was all a performance, and at what point do I move onto ‘real life’— and what is ‘real life’ anyway when all you know is performance?”

After 23 drafts, several bad relationships and a weekend interviewing pick-up artists, Wong had an epiphany.

Jessica Farr, Noah Levine and Kristina Wong in Cat Lady

Jessica Farr, Noah Levine and Kristina Wong

“I realized that this wasn’t just a quirky, arty show, it was a show that was about the intense psychology of my own loneliness,” says Wong.  “I was drawn to these pick-up artists because I too had issues with connecting with people, fear of getting to know the ugly side of humans, and wasn’t sure how to make a genuine connection outside of theatrics. Like these pick-up artists, performance gave me a character that connected me to people.  And my cat Oliver’s spraying problems also were his way of ‘creatively’ expressing his frustrations at being abandoned by me when I went on the road.”

This is the second Wong show produced by Mad Cat; her eco-conscious solo show Going Green the Wong Way was seen in Miami in 2011.  For Tei, Cat Lady was a natural follow-up.

“I had a strong feeling that it would resonate with the local audiences because of its universal approach on dating today—the club scene, pick up artists, transient life style,” Tei says.  “For Mad Cat, it was as if it was written for us, which of course it wasn’t, but it’s like finding that perfect song that you wanted to do a cover of and everyone thinks you wrote it yourself.”

Sadly, Wong’s cat Oliver died earlier this year.

“It was so sudden and very sad,” Wong says.  “I love cats. I am not ready yet to get a new cat.  So much commitment, and I think that each cat has such a particular personality.  It’s like picking out a new boyfriend or girlfriend.   But whenever I see a cat in the room I try to pick it up.”

Cat Lady runs through January 20 at The Light Box at the Goldman Warehouse, 404 NW 26 St., Wynwood Arts District, Miami.  For tickets and more information, call 866-811-4111 or visit MadCatTheatre.org.