Also see John's review of Into the Woods In Concert
When the Sun Shone Brighter was a finalist for the National New Play Network's 2008 Smith Prize, and a a winner of the Actors' Playhouse "Page to Stage" Competition. South Florida lawyer and playwright Christopher Demos-Brown's other work includes the plays Tropical Depression and So I Was Wondering, and the screenplay Shark Valley Slough. His play Our Lady of Allapattah is scheduled to have its world premiere this coming season at GableStage in Coral Gables.
Mayor José "Joe" Sanchez-Fors Jr. (Dan Domingues) seems poised for success. Handsome and charming, he is another version of the American Dream. Born in Cuba, he witnessed his father, José Sanchez, Sr. (Bill Schwartz), shot before his eyes when he was a child. Though the murder remains unsolved, it seems clear that he was killed by supporters of Castro. When his mother died soon after, he was raised by foster parents in the farm lands of the Midwest. His academic and work achievements are crowned by his marriage to a beautiful, intelligent wife Liz (Natasha Sherritt).
In the Autumn of 2002, cracks beneath the surface of Joe's perfect life begin to appear as we learn of his adopted teenage son in rehab, his secretive gay relationship with Tony Rinaldi (Cliff Burgess), and the ambiguous reasons behind the murder of his father brought forth by longtime family friend and sponsor Manny Arostegui (John Herrera). Joe is faced with the challenge of determining what things he will stay true to, and what and who will be denied in his quest for a Senatorial seat.
The set for this production features the sleek home of the Mayor. Dan Domingues is charismatic as Joe, and has the right tension with long-suffering wife Natasha Sherritt. Cliff Burgess' Tony appeals to another side of Joe's character. There is an intellectual partnership between the two men matched with the physical. It is believable that Joe would engage in a relationship that has this appeal over one that was just based on sex. Still, the two actors seem a bit more like friends than lovers in their chemistry. John Herrera has great presence as Manny. There is an old world feel, like that of an Italian Don, about the way he behaves with Joe. It is at once both nurturing and threatening, and undeniably masculine. Herrera and Domingues work the complex connection between their characters beautifully.
The opening scene contains a moment of truly unnecessary gratuitous nudity. It serves no purpose, as we don't need to see Tony naked to get that he and Joe are sexually involved. The introduction of the adopted son in rehab (whom we never meet) seems under explored, as there is no explanation of why he is there, and no sense of the relationship he has with his parents. It is a tad disappointing that we never see Joe called upon to demonstrate his role as a father, especially considering his strong memories of the relationship with his own father.
Miami's strong Cuban community in particular will find interest in references to Omega 7, Orlando Bosch and Operación Pedro Pan. The subject matter of this play is relevant to longtime South Floridians regardless of their ethnicity, however, and is a wonderful commentary on the journey many politicians take to secure their goals. Author Christopher Demos-Brown seeks not to blame but to observe. His observations are keenly brought to life in this well-acted production.
When The Sun Shone Brighter will be appearing at the Florida Stage through June 20, 2010. The theater is located in Plaza del Mar, at 262 S. Ocean Blvd. in Manalapan. Stay tuned for their scheduled relocation to the Rinker Playhouse of the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach this July, starting with the show Low Down Dirty Blues. Florida Stage performance days/times are normally Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m.; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 7:00 p.m.. Tickets and other information may be obtained by calling the box office at (561) 585-3433 or (800) 514-3833, or visiting www.floridastage.org.
Florida Stage is a professional theater, with extensive programs for young artists, hiring Equity and non-Equity performers from across the United States. Florida Stage is a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the League of Resident Theatres, the Florida Professional Theatre Association, the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, and the National New Play Network. They are funded in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the county of Palm Beach Tourist Develop.m.ent Fund and the Florida Arts Council, with generous support from The Shubert Foundation, The Heckscher Foundation for Children, The Duane & Dalia Stiller Charitable Trust, Gulf Stream Lumber, Northern Trust Bank of Florida N.A., Fidelity Federal Bank & Trust, and hundreds of individuals and corporations. The Florida Stage remains the only professional theatre in Southeast Florida producing exclusively new and emerging works.
* Designates member of Actors' Equity Association: the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
**Designates member of United Scenic Artists
***Designates member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society