Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Theater review: 'Sun Shone Brighter' a smart, sharp SoFla story for our times
By Hap Erstein
Florida Stage ends its residency in Manalapan on a high note, with the world premiere of a smart, verbally adroit political play by a new writer with a natural affinity for the theater.
Unclear is what lies ahead for the company when it moves into the uncomfortable quarters of the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse beginning this summer, but if it can keep serving up scripts of the quality of Christopher Demos-Brown’s When the Sun Shone Brighter, they can succeed in any venue.
Well-timed to match the increasingly combative mid-term elections, Demos-Brown offers the morality tale of a youthful, well-meaning Miami-Dade mayor, Jose “Call me Joe” Sanchez, who is seduced by the potential power and prestige to run for the United States Senate. Within minutes of the beginning of this well-oiled production, as clean-cut family man Sanchez embraces his secret gay lover, we know that this will be a campaign of compromise, duplicity and treachery. In short, a very American story for our times.
Right-wing, Republican and Cuban-American seems a likely winning combination for Joe Sanchez, who is visited by “kingmaker” Manny Arostegui. The bellowing but avuncular party boss is ready to engineer Sanchez into the newly vacant Senate post, but he’s heard some rumors and demands that Joe come clean about any skeletons in his closet that could short-circuit his rise. And that is when Joe has to start lying to Manny.
It is not just the politically poisonous boyfriend, or even the drug-addicted teenage son or the loose-lipped alcoholic wife that threatens Joe’s future. What makes When the Sun Shone Brighter a uniquely South Florida drama are the vagaries of local politics and Joe’s personal history of watching his anti-Castro father gunned down on the streets of Miami 30 years earlier. He has worn that tragic incident as a badge of political honor, but it suddenly appears that perhaps his father was killed for being too soft on Castro, a perceived sin of the father that could ruin the son.
While those decades-old wounds are still fresh to the Cuban-American community, Demos-Brown widens the theme by drawing thought-provoking parallels with today’s hard-liners against post-9/11 terrorists. Still, this could all be mere airport pulp fiction if the playwright did not keep the focus on the human drama, on Sanchez’s moral drift in the heady world of backroom politics.
Louis Tyrrell directs a strong cast, headed by former Tony Award nominee John Herrera (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) as wily, hot-tempered Manny, as full of bluster as he is of carefully calibrated charm. He may not be the central character, but he owns the production.
That is not to take anything away from Dan Domingues’s Joe, who exudes affable confidence, at least in public, while his private demeanor is more easily shaken. Cliff Burgess oozes a nothing-to-lose smugness as Joe’s boy toy, Natasha Sherritt is martini-cool as Joe’s fed-up wife, and even Brandon Morris comes off well in an underwritten role of the Miami detective assigned to the cold case of Joe’s father’s murder.
Performed with a brisk pace that adds to the play’s urgency, When the Sun Shone Brighter is likely to gain subsequent productions, because it is not just about the race for a political post, but a tug-of-war over a man’s soul.
WHEN THE SUN SHONE BRIGHTER, Florida Stage, 262 S. Ocean Blvd., Manalapan. Continuing through Sunday, June 20. Tickets: $45-48. Call: (561) 585-3433 or (800) 514-3837.