When presenting new work, all the right elements have to be in place: the right actors, the right director, and the designs have to express what the playwright is saying. All of these fundamentals are mandatory if the new piece is to progress.
New Theatre knows this. This is the same company that brought us Nilo Cruz's Anna in the Tropics. The same play that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003. The same play that had a Broadway run and is now being presented regionally (this same play is being produced in Southern Florida once again by two other companies).
Michael McKeever [see Kevin's interview] knows of these elements as well. He is our region's most celebrated playwright. Having all of his plays produced locally and regionally, McKeever is also known for his diversity of topics, ranging from divorce (That Sound You Hear) to the constant struggle between love and death (Running with Scissors). His latest opus, Wait and See, is getting its world premiere by the aforementioned Coral Gables company.
Andy Starr is a musician who just wants to play his violin. Unfortunately, a horrible turn of events finds him in a maelstrom of controversy. Andy becomes the sole survivor of a plane crash. His fiancee was even on the flight. To cope with his trauma, he deals with a psychiatrist. All of a sudden, little miracles happen whenever Andy is around. The governor's wife even claims that Andy cured her of cancer. This prompts a enthusiastic nun, who believes Andy to be the Messiah to find him and become Andy's acolyte. Andy becomes an overnight celebrity much to the dismay of his therapist, who believes that the nun is taking advantage of Andy's situation. This is all being explained to a council chairman that has started an inquiry into Andy's case.
Michael McKeever's sudden territory into the unexpected and supernatural is nothing new. The premise seems to be taken from films like Unbreakable where Bruce Willis played a man who was another sole survivor of a tragedy and Samuel L. Jackson plays the stranger who believes that Willis was made for greater things. What it boils down to is that McKeever has become a raconteur, hashing out multi-dimensional characters with more than just saying dialogue. There's no message in Wait and See. Just a story about one man trying to get back to the place where his life didn't become so complicated.
Tragedies have a way of putting people is places where they shouldn't be. Andy gets caught up in the hoopla of his own message, not by his own doing, but by the enabling of another who is also searching for a truth. What ends up happening is a situation where the audience is left wanting to know: this is the mark of a master storyteller.
The aforementioned elements have to be put in place in order to get the points across. By placing this in the hands of a proficient director (Barbara Lowery), New Theatre gives us a good quad of actors to bring McKeever's words to life. And just like the playwright, Nicholas Richberg knows a thing or two about diversity. From a supporting role in Mosaic Theatre's rendition of Proof, he takes the lead here as Andy with ease. Richberg flows on McKeever's words just like water, showing Andy's innocence and apathy. It's not that he doesn't care about what happens around him, Andy is focused on getting back to the one place that keeps him sane and honest: his music! Richberg stays committed to the character, controlling every move and every emotion, knowing when to yell and when to be still: the mark of a brilliant actor.
Barry Tarallo has the daunting task to be Andy's psychiatrist, Dr. Elliott. Tarallo instills in Elliott as Andy's rock and devil's advocate. Dr. Elliott even has a soft spot for his patient even when Andy is cracking bad jokes. Tarallo stands tall in his performance as a man who wants to help his patient, but doesn't know how.
The character Sister Felicity is a perfect match for Bridget Connors. Connors' schoolmarm chic fits into Felicity like a hand in glove. Beyond being just a lady in black and white garb, the holy woman becomes Andy's acolyte and enabler. But what is interesting is that McKeever never makes Sister Felicity out to be a villain. Felicity has no ulterior motives. She may be guided by the grief of her sister's passing, but what she sees in Andy is hope for something eternal. Connors personalizes this in Felicity by making her human nature come out making us believe the sister's optimism.
Bill Schwartz rounds out the cast as the council inquisitor, the only weak link in McKeever's piece. Not that Schwartz is feeble, just that the chairman is the least dimensional of the quad of characters. Schwartz's large stature is just what is needed to bring out the minor role.
Not only is McKeever, an accomplished playwright, he is also a competent set designer. His design is just standard paneling with two side benches where the hearing is being held while a screen in the back shows Andy during one of his speeches. Pedro Remirez's lighting is not only excellent, but he uses colors to go along with the time changes of the piece.
Eight years ago, Michael McKeever made his playwriting debut at New Theatre. With Wait and See, it's evident that the relationship between the artist and the company has evolved. It's also evident that both continue to strive to excellence in their dedicated fields, because of the aforementioned elements that they instill in their projects. McKeever is our region's most prolific scribe for one reason: his dedication to his work shows in the stories he tell and the characters that brings his stories to life. Will McKeever's work be realized like Nilo Cruz before him and finally gets him the recognition he deserves, only time will tell. We'll just have to ... well, you know!
Wait and See plays until October 3rd at 4120 Laguna Street in Coral Gables. For more information, please call (305) 443-5909 or www.new-theatre.org.
NEW THEATRE - Wait and See
Cast: Nicholas Richberg, Barry Tarallo, Bridget Connors, and
Set Design: Michael McKeever
Directed by Barbara Lowery
-- Kevin Johnson