Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

The Cha-Cha of a Camel Spider

Also see John's review of God of Carnage and coverage of The Bridge Project

Elizabeth Birkenmeier and
Antonio Amadeo

The Florida Stage and co-producers Kitty and Dudley Omura present the world premiere of the play The Cha-Cha of a Camel Spider by Carter W. Lewis. Carter Lewis is the winner of the Julie Harris Playwriting Award, the State Theatre's Best New American Play Prize, the 1996 and 2001 Cincinnati Playhouse Rosenthal New Play Prize, the 2001 New Dramatist Playwriting Award, the 2003 Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation Award, and he is a two time nominee for the American Theatre Critics Award. His works include Ordinary Nation, Art Control, A Geometric Digression of the Species, Soft Click of a Switch, An Asian Jockey In Our Midst, The One-Eyed Man Is King, Golf With Alan Shepard, Picasso Does My Maps, Women Who Steal, Men On The Take, While We Were Bowling, American Storm, Kid Peculiar, The Storytelling Ability of a Boy and Civil Disobedience. Lewis is currently serving as Playwright-in-Residence at Washington University.

Bethany (Elizabeth Birkenmeier) comes home from college, equipped with a BFA in Slam Poetry Performance and a desire to transform the world She struggles to find peace with the real identity of her late father and the corporation for which he and her mother Loretta (Laura Turnbull) worked. She becomes caught up in a frightening and darkly comedic journey with two rogue mercenary soldiers turned security guards (Todd Allen Durkin and Eric Mendenhall) and a vaguely magical Afghani cab driver (Antonio Amadeo). The Cha-Cha of a Camel Spider examines how words, ideas and art may be the balm that heals a world that corporatizes politics and war. In the words of Robert Frost, "Poetry is about grief. Politics is about grievance."

The action takes place in the office and break room of the company "e" and a neglected residential greenhouse. Though the set is serviceable, the production is lacking the impressive nature of other recent Florida Stage sets such as that for Cane. Todd Allen Durkin tries a bit too hard to be the luggish, macho Stack. He is convincing most of the time, but sometimes is on the verge of a "Saturday Night Live" caricature, puffing out his belly and strutting about. This might have worked better if the actor playing his sidekick Denny were following the same style, but Eric Mendenhall's portrayal is much more realistic. Laura Turnbull is interesting and impactful as Loretta, but we do not get enough time with her on stage. Elizabeth Birkenmeier captures the artsy flavor of her character Bethany, and some of her yearning, but misses some of the tenderness that would make this character more relatable. We need to like her to forgive her flakiness and follow her journey emotionally. Birkenmeier certainly manages lengthy poetic monologues without a hitch, however, and for that deserves much credit. The best performance in the play is Antonio Amadeo as Afghani cab driver Ahmad Ahmadazai. He maintains his accent throughout, and handles his scripted Muslim prayer time well. His comedic timing in his responses to his captors and his observations on life are the most entertaining things in this production. They are done with a passive playfulness that still drives home his valid points.

The Cha-Cha of a Camel Spider is not without its problems. There is a mixture of the use of magic or altered reality, flashbacks and overt symbolism. The character of Bethany spouts poetry extemporaneously—sometimes good and sometimes bad. The author's assumption that when the inspired Bethany is supposedly spouting good poetry that it actually is good. It isn't, but taste in poetry can be said to be subjective. There is also so much of this "slam poetry" that it becomes a bit indulgent, and stops moving the plot forward. The intended message at the end of the show is clear, but the author's execution through his writing is too muddled. Without giving away plot points, if the character at the end is who they appear to be, rather then who they say they are, then the whole play becomes questionable as to wether it is fantasy or abstract. While Carter Lewis has chosen a worthy subject, he loses his grasp on it by mixing together too many conflicting elements and no palpable resolution.

The Cha-Cha of a Camel Spider will be appearing at the Florida Stage through June 5, 2011. The Florida Stage is located in the Rinker Playhouse in the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts on Okeechobee Blvd. in West Palm Beach, FL. Performances are Wednesdays through Sundays at 7:30 p.m. with matinees on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. Tickets may be purchased by calling the Florida Stage Box Office at (561) 585-3433 or (800) 514-3837 (outside of Palm Beach County). You may also order tickets online at

Florida Stage is a member of the League of Resident Theatres, Theatre Communications Group, Florida Professional Theatre Association, the National Alliance for Musical Theatre and the National New Play Network, and works in association with Actors' Equity Association, the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers and United Scenic Artists. Funded in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the county of Palm Beach Tourist Development 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. Florida Stage develops and produces new plays in a passionate, intimate and caring environment, adhering to a standard of uncompromising excellence. We provide a safe harbor for theatre artists and audiences to share in stories of our humanity, a place where the sheer joy of creation and the Florida Stage experience is paramount. Through our productions and our innovative educational programs, we choose to provoke dialogue in our community and inspire people of various ages, ethnic and social backgrounds.

Bethany: Elizabeth Birkenmeier
Loretta: Laura Turnbull*
Stack: Todd Allen Durkin*
Denny: Eric Mendenhall*
Ahmad Ahmadazai: Antonio Amadeo*

Director: Louis Tyrrell**
Scenic Design: Victor A. Becker+
Lighting Design: Suzanne M. Jones
Sound Design: Matt Kelly
Costume Design: Erin Amico+
Stage Manager: James Danford*

* Indicates a member of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.

+ Indicates a member of United Scenic Artists

**Indicates a member of Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers

Photo: Ken Jacques Photography

See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere

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