Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Theater review: 'Sun Shone Brighter' a smart, sharp SoFla story for our times

Dan Domingues and John Herrera
in When the Sun Shone Brighter.

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.

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