Friday, November 5, 2010

The High and Low Road of Entertainment

“Cane” Brews a Storm at Florida Stage

By Skip Sheffield

For reviews this week we have sort of a ying and yang of entertainment: the lofty and noble new play “Cane” at Florida Stage’s new space at Kravis Center and “Due Date,” a low, vulgar road trip comedy starring the unlikely duo of Robert Downey, Jr. and Zack Galifianakis.
“Cane” is a play by resident playwright Andrew Rosendorf commissioned expressly for Florida and its Florida Cycle of plays about the Sunshine State.
The title has a double meaning. It refers to the murderous hurricane of 1928 that devastated much of Palm Beach County- especially in the region near Lake Okeechobee, which overflowed its flimsy dike and flooded the communities of Belle Glade, Pahokee and Canal Point.
The second reference is to the cash crop of sugar cane, the harvesting and refinement of which is the leading business in the area.
The play is equal parts history lesson and morality tale. Unfortunately for theater goers, there is not much in the way of fun.
Act One is set in 1928. Eddie Wilson (Gregg Weiner) is a successful, ambitious bean-farmer turned-merchant. His neighbor Noah Brooks is in financial peril, and Eddie is bullying him to sell off his land at a dirt cheap price.
Meanwhile an unnamed hurricane is traveling their way.
Newspaper editor Jacob Gold (Dan Leonard) warns there will be Hell to pay in the likely event the earthen dike fails, but nobody cares to listen.
The women folk are Eddie’s loyal wife Ruthie (Julie Rowe), and Harriet (Trenell Mooring), a pregnant tenant farmer’s wife.
Act One has the most action, sound and fury as Eddie and Noah grapple while thunderclaps and lightning flashes signal the advance of another storm.
Act Two forwards to the present day. Eddie’s great-grandson Junior (Weiner) is more successful than ever and greedy for yet more. Junior thinks there is gold in the sugar cane fields if he can just wrest the land away from Harriet’s descendant, Zora (Mooring).
Noah’s descendent Isaac (Nail) is a local cop strongly protective of Zora. Dan Leonard’s character has devolved into a crazy old coot spouting dire warnings of certain destruction coming from both the fury of Mother Nature and the greed of venal men like Junior Wilson.
Those of us who know a thing or two about Florida history will find no surprises in the script. Mankind has been foolishly trying to conquer, rather than work in concert with nature for over a century. What is highly unlikely is the prospect of suburbia spreading to a place as impoverished and desperate as Belle Glade.
Then again I never thought I would see giant urban malls at the very edge of the Everglades, so what do I know?

Is Zach Galifianakis The New “Great One?”

Could Zach Galifianakis be a Jackie Gleason for a new generation?
That thought occurred to me after seeing the raucous, raunchy, hilarious “Due Date;” a road trip comedy that reunites Galifianakis with “Hangover” director Todd Phillips.
Like Gleason, Galifianakis is a large, rotund man. He uses his bulk to comic effect in surprisingly delicate ways, and he is utterly fearless to do anything for a laugh.
Robert Downey, Jr. is the straight man of this piece: Peter Highman, an uptight Los Angeles entrepreneur with a young wife Sarah (Michelle Monaghan) expecting their first child.
Sarah’s due date is in just a few days. All Peter has to do is board a flight in Atlanta non-stop to L.A. and everything will be peachy.
Then Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis) careens into the picture.
Ethan is, improbably, an aspiring actor who is convinced fame awaits him in Hollywood.
Even more improbably, Ethan is traveling with the ashes of his recently-deceased father, stored in a coffee can.
In situation comedies, all the situations are a setup for a gag later on. The first setup is crazy circumstances that not only get Peter and Ethan thrown off their plane but get them branded “no fly.”
So the guys are forced to rent a car, and the fun really begins.
Ethan is the kind of guy who has no clue how irritating or obnoxious he is. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say Peter is appalled and disgusted with Ethan and his little dog. However, circumstances continue to conspire to keep the men together through car crashes, chases, drug busts and even the threat of a jail cell in Mexico.
Jamie Foxx has a small role as Peter’s best buddy whom Peter fears may be a little too friendly with his wife.
Yes, there are gags that are in very bad taste and situations that would never happen in million years in real life, but darn it, it’s funny. That’s all that really matters in “Due Date.”

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