News Column

The Miami Herald Christine Dolen column

November 17, 2013


Nov. 17--Theater is a high-wire act, live performance that isn't like the unchanging work you see on your television or a movie screen. In theater, things go right, things go wrong, and no two shows are completely identical.

Miami's New Theatre has rediscovered that truth, big time, with its world premiere production of Megan Breen's My First, My Fist, My Bleeding Seeded Spirit. On Friday, a water-and-sewer leak at the Roxy Performing Arts Center where the company performs got New Theatre and the Roxy Theatre Group folks (who were winding up a run of Sweeney Todd) locked out of the building for the entire weekend. What to do?

Artistic director Ricky J. Martinez and managing director Eileen Suarez scrambled, and on Saturday, a bare-bones version of My First opened at Miami's intimate Artistic Vibes space near The Falls shopping center. With a show-must-go-on spirit, adrenaline and maybe some cafe cubano, the cast got through opening night with the playwright and several dozen others looking on.

What the audience saw was a stripped down version of director Martinez's vision, performed on a raised platform in the middle of the Artistic Vibes black-box space. Amanda Sparhawk's set, Samuel Deshauteurs' lighting and most of K. Blair Brown's costumes were locked away at the Roxy. Matt Corey's original music and sound design were available via a laptop, but a glitch partway through the performance led to pre-recorded dialogue being read aloud, and other effects vanished. So the show, while extensively rehearsed in its original iteration, was rough-edged on opening night.

Breen's play takes some of the characters from Federico Garcia Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba and re-imagines a different fate, in a different place and time, for Bernarda and her cruelly repressed daughters. Absurdist and highly physicalized, the action follows Bernarda's murder in a New Mexico desert. Freed of the force that kept them from living fully and acting on their passions, each of the daughters grieves differently and follows her own path to greater emotional and physical freedom.

Magdalena (Nicole Quintana, who alternates in the role with Francesca Toledo) is a lusty virgin who can't wait to consummate her animal passion for neighbor Carlos (Gabriel Bonilla). Eldest sister Strictly She (Susie Taylor) is a seamstress and repressed lesbian who has tried to take over Bernarda's tyrannical role in the household. Martirio (Vanessa Thompson) is an immature mess, a young woman who wails that she misses her "mommy" and seemingly wants to castrate every man she meets. Amelia (Toledo, who swaps roles with Quintana) is the gossipy, funny, self-involved daughter who escaped.

Also in the sisters' orbit are Stacy (Amber Lynn Benson), an intellectually curious school friend of Martirio; Herman (Kevin Coleman), a hunky highway worker who may know something about Bernarda's death; and the omnipresent spirit of Bernarda (Evelyn Perez), whose surprisingly lusty presence continues to influence her daughters.

The physical theater aspects of the production are played out most powerfully by Quintana and Bonilla as Magdalena and Carlos metaphorically get it on. The dialogue seldom shows similar restraint, as Breen goes for the crude and lewd, letting her characters revel in their psychological unshackling from the force who kept them in line.

The humor supplied by Toledo and Benson brings welcome, albeit brief, respites from 100 intermission-free minutes of verbalized and physicalized lust, threats of violence, stomping, body-smacking and intermittent hysterical screeching. As restaged on the fly by Martinez, My First, My Fist, My Bleeding Seeded Spirit (an unwieldy title, to be sure) has sporadic moments of wit, clarity and dramatic power. But even with the bells and whistles of its intended production values, My First doesn't begin to supply the thematic depth of the source material that inspired it.


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