Monday, February 22, 2010

American Buffalo Roams at Palm Beach Dramaworks

The first time I saw “American Buffalo” I scratched my head in confusion and wondered what it was all about.

With the Palm Beach Dramaworks revival of David Mamet’s ground-breaking serio-comic 1976 play, I finally get it.

“American Buffalo” satirizes the work ethic and America’s free enterprise system. Mamet would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for an even more damning piece, “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

With the economic meltdown of the past couple years I have often felt I am stuck in a David Mamet play, surrounded by desperate, treacherous characters.

The three characters of “American Buffalo’ are the dregs of society.

Donny Dubrow (Dennis Creaghan) runs a ramshackle junk shop in Chicago’s inner city.

Bobby (Matthew Mueller) is a flunky and errand boy to Donny, who he sees as a mentor and almost father figure.

Teach, aka Walter Cole (John Leonard Thomson) is a hot-headed petty criminal with a chip on his shoulder.

“American Buffalo” begins and ends with an apology from Bobby. He has failed in his mission to case the house of a coin collector who Donny suspects has a cache of treasures ripe for the picking. In his convoluted logic, Donny feels justified in stealing from a man who paid $90 for a buffalo nickel he discovered in Donny’s shop. Donny feels the nickel was worth far more, and so he was “robbed.”

As a coin collector I was initially confused as to the premise of “American Buffalo.” If Mamet had wanted a really valuable nickel he would have chosen a 1913 Liberty Head nickel, of which there are only five examples, worth millions.

Mamet is not talking about monetary value, I now see. These blundering crooks never even check the date or determine the coin’s condition. They just think it is valuable in the same misguided way they think they are doing a job, guided by the highest principles.

We the audience see these characters as the self-deluded fools they are, and therefore we can laugh at them- and laugh out loud.

Under William Hayes’ direction “American Buffalo” is a funny play with masterful timing by the actors. The characters speak in what has become known as “Mamet-speak.” They interrupt each other. Sentences trail off to be finished by someone else. The real subject matter is cryptic. It’s “the thing,” you know what we are talking about.

When I complimented Dennis Creaghan on his performance as Donny, he acknowledged the role is “a bear.” Creaghan affects a rough New York accent and the blustery manner of an insecure man who has doubts as to his true worth.

Matthew Mueller’s Bobby is at the other end of the scale: dim, meek, submissive, desperately seeking approval.

The showboat role is John Leonard Thompson’s Teach, a man who twitches and seethes with barely-contained rage. Thompson makes his entrance already in a fury about some woman named Ruthie and a guy he despises named Fletcher.

Thomson is fascinating to watch. We know he will blow up. We just aren’t sure when.

The Palm Beach Dramaworks audience is sophisticated and knowledgeable enough to know this play is peppered with rough, profane, offensive language. Sadly, this is how real people often speak; especially those who are down and out.

So if Mamet is your cup of poison, you will find this a potent brew, onstage through April 4 at 322 Banyan Blvd., West Palm Beach.

Tickets are $42 matinees and $44 evenings. Call 561-514-4042 or visit

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Dark, Stormy, Bumpy "Shutter Island"

Atmosphere As Thick As Cape Cod Fog

By Skip Sheffield

It was a dark and stormy night...

The foreboding is palpable from the first few frames of Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Usland." To quote another movie cliche: we know we are in for a bumpy ride, and Robbie Robertson's jolting musical soundtrack of contemporary classical works doesn't let us forget it for a minute.

The good news is that Leonardo DiCaprio continues to grow as an actor in his fourth collaboration with Scorsese, based on Dennis Lehane's complex, twisted mystery novel.

The year is 1954. All the men wear fedoras and smoke like fiends. Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) is a seasoned U.S. Federal Marshall. Chuck Aules is his new partner.

A woman has vanished from the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. She escaped from Ward C, which houses the most violent prisoners- er patients.

We immediately suspect something fishy is up with chief administrator Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley). He's just too calm, too glib. We know he is not revealing all he knows.

Fishier still is his associate, Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow), and it's not just his heavy German accent. The guy looks like he's just itching to perform experiments on live human beings.

This is particularly unsettling for Teddy Daniels, because he was involved in the liberation of Dachau, one of the most notorious Nazi concentration camps. He also lives with the trauma of losing his three children to murder and his wife Dolores (Michelle Williams) to an arsonist's fire.

The more Daniels investigates, the more confusing things become. It doesn't help that two different women (Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson) play the same escapee, Rachel Solando.

Scorsese seems to delight in creeping us out every step of the way, with flashbacks to dead bodies, drowned children, burning buildings and mutilated characters, such as Jackie Earle Haley's freaky George Noyce. Is anyone to be trusted on this island? The short answer is no.

Scorsese piles on the dark atmosphere for a tad too long. Some judicious editing could have made this a tauter thriller than the shrieking, lumbering horror show it is.

If you guessed the central plot twist, go to the head of the class. I did not read the novel, but I am told Laeta Kalogridis' adptation is faithful, down to the shocking conclusion.

If you liked the Scorsese of "Cape Fear" will will love this Grand Guignol potboiler. I know I did.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Working Triage in Port-au-Prince

Police Department a Makeshift Hospital

Merari R. Miller with infant patient

Monetary Relief for Haiti is Great, But Supplies are Needed Right Now

By Skip Sheffield

“What we need most is tents and tarps,” pleads Merari Rodriguez Miller. “Everything is getting wet and falling apart. We have given the people medical attention, food and hope, but if we don’t get supplies to them, we’ll be back where we started- and Haiti’s rainy season starts in March.”
Miller is a volunteer for Whole Earth Ministries, located at Victory Christian Center in Boca Raton, Florida. Miller was invited by mission organizer Wendy Bryant to fly to Haiti shortly after the devastating earthquake stuck on Jan. 12, 2010. She and a group of eight doctors and nurses stayed five days, then they returned for a week in early February.
“TV has done as best they can with their cameras, but you have to be there in person to understand the endless destruction and suffering,” she says. “Because buildings are still in danger of collapse, people sleep outside. When we arrived they had already been making tents out of sheets, wood and sticks. When it rains they are completely exposed. We heard grown men wailing and crying when it began raining one morning around 3:30. If these people can’t stay dry, they will get sick all over again.”
The destruction of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, is so extensive virtually the entire superstructure will have to be rebuilt. The sewer system, which was never completely adequate, was destroyed.
“The people have to use the streets as their bathroom,” Miller explains. “Many people are sick with diarrhea and vomiting. It all mixes in the streets and people with wounds are infected.”
Getting supplies to Haiti is no easy task. Miller’s group was able to fly into the capital in a small chartered plane. The airport is too damaged for larger planes to safely land.
“I first went there by myself three days after the earthquake,” recounts Wendy Bryant. “I flew into the Dominican Republic and got a ride into Port-au-Prince with some Dominicans. They had been on the job since the day after the earthquake. I met the police chief, and he gave us permission to set up our clinic at police headquarters. The police have been a great help to us.”
Not only is there danger of disease, there is the ever-present threat of violence from desperate, hungry people.
“The police have become part of our family, part of our team” says Miller. “They are like our bodyguards. They sleep alongside us.”
Although the police station, CIMO, is damaged, the structure is stable enough that the medical team has been able to set up an operating room, pediatric ward and OBY clinic inside. Triage, which is like a makeshift emergency room, is performed outside, in front of the station.
While Miller has worked in the medical field for 20 years, it has been as an administrator. In Port-au-Prince she got a crash course in triage from the doctors and registered nurses.
“Merari learned so fast and did such a wonderful job, she is looked at as a nurse by everyone,” says Bryant. “When you are trying to save lives you have to be fearless.”
Babies have been born, wounded operated upon and sick have been healed, all under the most primitive of conditions. It is the hope of Bryant, Miller and volunteers like them that the millions of dollars that have been pledged to Haitian relief can be applied to tangible things on the island nation.
We are not asking for money,” says Bryant. “Around a half-billion dollars has already been given. What Haiti needs most right now is supplies: food, medicine, shelter. The rebuilding will take years.”
For more information, call Wendy Bryant at 601-672-0340 or e-mail or call Merari Miller at 561-574-4879 or e-mail

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Bloody, Noisy "Wolfman"

Lon Chaney, Jr. Still Rules

“The Wolfman” does not suck. It bites. Oh how it bites.
To me Lon Chaney, Jr. is still the definitive Lawrence Talbot, the poor bloke who is destined to turn into a snarling wolf at the full moon. Chaney brought such a melancholy air to the role. You just know he hated himself for being such a beast.
Benecio Del Toro’s Talbot is also filled with self-loathing, but he has a lot of anger too, and when he transforms he is more like The Hulk than a lycanthrope, impervious to lead bullets.
I blame director Joe Johnston for the over-the-top qualities of this ridiculously gory, wacko violent R-rated movie. Johnston worked as a special effects guy with George Lucas on the first “Star Wars,” and he went on to make a bundle for Universal Pictures with ‘Honey I Shrunk the Kids” and its gimmicky sequels.
“The Wolfman’ has a long and tortured genesis. Mark Romanek, the original director, left over “creative differences,” and the original screenplay, written by Andrew Kevin Walker, was tossed out in favor of a new one by David Self.
You know a movie is in trouble when it is repeatedly delayed. The original release date was Nov. 12, 2008. I suspect it was delayed to add thrills, chills and gunplay rather than dramatic content.
The good news is that Benecio del Toro and Emily Blunt work very well together as Talbot and Gwen Conliffe, the good girl who has the potential to release the Wolfman from his curse.
On the other hand we have Anthony Hopkins chewing scenery by the yard as Lawrence’s dad, Sir John Talbot.
It is London, 1891. As in the 1941 Chaney movie, Lawrence comes home to his family estate to investigate the disappearance of his brother. Again as in the original Lawrence gets bitten.
There is a strategic plot change in this new version that an alert viewer can spot from a mile away, but I will say no more.
Hugo Weaving does yeoman duty as dogged Scotland Yard Inspector Aberline, and Cristina Contes is haunting in her wordless role as Solana Talbot, Lawrence’s sainted mom.
There is nothing else subtle in this noisy, messy bloodbath. If you want to be hit over the head with the obvious, this is your movie.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hilarious, Precise "39 Steps" at Parker Playhouse

Hitchcock’s’ “39 Steps” Becomes a Frothy Brew of ensemble Entertainment

By Skip Sheffield

Alfred Hitchcock was never like this, but somehow I think he would have approved of the stage spoof “39 Steps,” running through Feb. 28 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.
“39 steps” is not only hilarious; it is a fast-paced tour de force for four actors, playing all the roles in the 1935 Hitchcock movie.
There are nine principal roles in the movie, and the adaptation by Patrick Barlow adheres faithfully to the plot while making references to other Hitchcock movies.
What makes the multiple roles even more amazing is that the main character, a Canadian man named Richard Hannay (Ted Deasy) stays in his character throughout while one woman and two men play all eight additional roles.
Hannay is the classic Hitchcock “innocent man.” Bored in London, he decides to take in a night of theater.
The main act is a mentalist named Mr. Memory (Eric Hissom), who is assisted by a man (Scott Parkinson) who prompts the audience to ask obscure and complicated questions.
In his box seat Hannay spies an exotic dark-haired woman with a German accent.
A shot rings out; there is pandemonium in the audience and the woman, whose name is Annabella Schmidt (Claire Brownell) begs Hannay to take her home, saying she is “being pursued.”
As a gallant gentleman Hannay cannot refuse nor take advantage of the exotic woman. At some point at night Annabelle staggers into the living room where he has been sleeping in a chair, and Hannay discovers a large dagger in the woman’s back and a map of Scotland in her hand.
As she expires, Annabella mentions a certain house in Scotland and a man’s name and adds the cryptic words “39 Steps.”
In the morning Hannay learns he is a wanted man and flees, disguised as a milkman, on a train to Scotland.
Under Maria Aitken’s lickety-split direction, the set up is quicker than the time it takes to write about it.
On the train Hannay encounters another woman, Pamela, and in Scotland a farmer’s young wife, both played by Claire Brownell, as well as the farmer, secret agents, police, agents impersonating police, a Professor Jordon and a political rally organizer, all played by Hissom and Parkinson, in and out of drag, in lightning costume changes, using minimal props, maximum body language and a variety of exaggerated accents.
In short “39 Steps” is a marvel ensemble effort that combines pantomime, dance, juggling and pratfalls in a frothy brew that makes you want to toast the British film genius who inspired it all.
Tickets are $15-$50 and may be reserved by calling 954-462-0222, 800-982-2787 or by visiting

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Everclear Headlines 11th Delray Beach Garlic Festival

By Skip Sheffield

There is something in air in Delray Beach and it smells just like garlic.
The odor is the signature spice of the 11th annual Delray Beach Garlic Festival, running Friday, Feb. 12 through Sunday, Feb. 14 at Old School Square, 51 N. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach.
While garlic has a 6,000-year history as a food, the pungent seasoning did not become part of mainstream of American life until the 1940s. Now garlic is everywhere and it is touted for its curative powers as well as a powerful seasoning. In the USA alone, more than 250,000 pounds of garlic is consumed annually.
Even if you don’t like garlic you’ll like the entertainment that comes with the $10 price of admission. Friday’s main stage lineup starts with Jumpin’ Johnny and the Blues Heathens at 5:30 p.m., local heroes the Fabulous Fleetwoods at 6 p.m. and platinum-selling recording rock group Everclear at 8:30 p.m.
Saturday’s entertainment continues at 1 p.m. with Son of Man, followed by Andy Childs at 3 p.m., Taylor Road at 4 p.m., The Resolvers at 6 p.m. and legendary Jamaican reggae group The Wailers at 8:30 p.m.
Andy Childs returns to kick off the entertainment at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, followed by Amber Leigh at 2 p.m., a Sound Chaser Yes tribute at 3:30 p.m. and Don’t Stop Believing, a Journey tribute at 5:30 p.m.
The Garlic festival gig is one of two South Florida appearances by Everclear front man and principal songwriter, Art Alexakis. Alexakis will perform with his full band in Delray Beach, and then he will return as an unplugged duo with Eddie Kowalczyk of Live March 12 at Miami’s Arsht Center.
The first five years of the 21st century were tough for Alexakis. He underwent a third divorce and filed for bankruptcy in 2005. He found his peace by writing music and entering in two a new relationship. A second daughter, Arizona Star was born to his wife Vanessa in 2007. He has a 16-year-old daughter, Annabella, from an earlier marriage.
Alexakis has gone back to basics playing some of his greatest hits, such as “Father of Mine,” “Santa Monica,” “I Will Buy You a New Life” and “Everything to Everyone.” Everclear will also play some of his latest singles, “Here Comes the Darkness” and “At The End of the Day.”
“It’s going to be a big rock show,” Alexakis promises in a telephone interview. “There is a lot of old school hip-hop in my music too. I believe in mixing it up with the fans and coming out after the show to meet them.”
Hours are 5-10 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 12:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. Go to for more information.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Always Alice in Delray Beach

"A... My Name Will Alway Be Alice" Revived at Delray Beach Playhouse

When you are in the moment it is difficult if not impossible to stand back and recognize the significance of what is going on around you.
When I first saw “A… My Name is Alice” I thought that’s a nice little show; a little daring too, with a distinct feminist air.
That was 25 years or so ago. Now comes “A… My Name Will Always Be Alice,” running through Feb. 14 at Delray Beach Playhouse. It is a landmark show, still fresh after all these years, based on the original and two sequels.
We attended the show at the behest of technical director Chip Latimer, a man not given to hyperbole. He told me it was an extraordinary show and had one of the strongest casts he had ever seen at DBPH.
Latimer was right. Most of the six-women cast are regulars at Lake Worth Playhouse and all boast impressive resumes and beautiful voices.
Since “Alice” is a musical revue written by a number of writers female and male, it has a variety of voices and perspectives.
The performers represent various types, starting with ingénue Lauren Paley, who is a junior at GSTAR School of the Arts.
Paley has the richest, loveliest voice in the cast, and it is not surprising she intends to pursue a career in musical theater.
Helen Buttery has been in a couple shows at DBPH and is an accomplished comedian, which nicely fits her droll role as angry poetess Marta Kauffman. Director Randolph DelLago informs me Kauffman went on to greater fame and fortune as creator of the hit series “Friends.”
A vocal coach with a Master’s Degree, Debbie Goldberg is also a very funny woman with a sultry vocal style befitting her blues spoof, “Honeypot.” Her sister Cindy Goldberg is a hoot in the nonsensical “French Song.”
It is amazing how many soon-to-be famous people are represented in the pastiche created by Joan Micklin Silver and Julianne Boyd.
David Zippel, who wrote the anthemic opener “All Girl Band,” went on to write lyrics for Cy Coleman in “City of Angels.”
“Wheels,” wistful, beautiful ballad sung by Kaitrin Lynch, and bittersweet “The Portrait,” sung by Marla Gideos, were written by Amanda McBroom, who later penned Bette Midler’s massive hit, “The Rose.”
The list goes on. This is a ground-breaking show wonderfully realized by the oldest community theater in South Florida. Even the stagehands have fun, with pirouettes and pseudo-balletic moves.
Best of all, you don’t have to be a woman or a feminist to enjoy this funny, melancholy, ironic, absurd and yes, sexy entertainment.
In its 63rd year, Delray Beach Playhouse is not just for grandparents anymore.
Tickets are $25 ($12 students). Call 561-272-1281, ext. 4.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Rare Treat at Florida Stage

Israel Horovitz Re-writes and Directs Southeastern Premiere of "Sins of the Mother"

It is rare enough to see a playwright the stature of Israel Horovitz live and in person.
It is rarer still to see his handiwork onstage, directed by the writer himself.
A Southeastern premiere, “Sins of the Mother” is a work in progress with six previous productions in other parts of the country.
The production running through March 7 at Florida Stage, 262 S. Ocean Blvd., Manalapan, is unique because the playwright rewrote scenes even as he directed them.
Horovitz, 70, was there to take a bow opening night. At the end of the evening the audience responded with a standing ovation in response to the fine ensemble work onstage.
“Sins of the Mother” is one of 14 plays set in the playwright’s adopted home of Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Gloucester once had a thriving fishing industry. Now it is a crumbling relic, populated by equally crumbling characters.
Act one is set in the union hall of a shuttered fishing plant. One of the requirements of unemployment compensation is that jobless workers have to prove or at least swear they have been looking for work.
There is no work to be had in Gloucester, and only the faintest hope the situation will change- Japanese investors, perhaps.
So the men have a lot of time on their hands and nothing to do but talk, of past glories, past wrongs and festering resentments.
Bobby Maloney (Gordon McConnell) is a Vietnam veteran who nurses an ailing wife.
Frankie Verga (Brian Claudio Smith) is a gabby guy with a chip on his shoulder. Dubbah Morrison (David Nail) is a decent, dim bloke.
Into this company of old friends comes Douggie Shimmatarro (Francisco Solozano), a young man who fled Gloucester for college and a better life, but now feels drawn back.
Horowitz has a keen ear for regional dialogue, and all his characters have humorously heavy Mass. accents. Horovitz has amusing wordplay with the similarity of family names. In a place as long-settled as Gloucester, everyone seems to be related to everyone else.
Though Douggie is an outsider, he provokes some lively dialogue from the older characters.
In act two a new character is introduced: Frankie’s twin brother Phillie, also played by Brian Claudio Smith. Phillie is a much more volatile character than Frankie. The brothers have never gotten along, and the fact Phillie escaped the poverty of Gloucester and enjoyed success as a Toyota dealer does not help the sibling rivalry.
Brian Claudio Smith is the star player in this ensemble in his Florida Stage debut, playing two separate and distinct characters and provoking much of the action.
Gordon McConnell is the body and soul of the piece, and long-suffering husband of the mother we never get to see, but whose presence reverberates through all the men.
By equal measure funny and melancholy, “Sins of the Mother” is an extraordinary little play on an extraordinarily atmospheric set by Richard Crowell from an exceptionally good little theater company.
Tickets are $45-$48. Call 800-514-3837 or visit

Jeff Bridges a Masterful "Crazy Heart"

A Bittersweet Country Music Lament

Jeff Bridges has painted his masterpiece. He has done it with a little help from his friends Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall.
“It” is a rough, rugged slice of Americana called “Crazy Heart,” written and directed by first-timer Scott Cooper and based on the novel by Thomas Cobb.
Bridges is Bad Blake, a broken down, flabby, alcoholic former country music star living out the dregs of his life in beer-soaked bowling alley bars, crummy clubs and crappy county fairs, perpetually drunk or hung over.
Bad’s diehard fans are aging and impatient for some new material.
The creative well has run dry for Bad, so he drowns his misery in alcohol, knowing full well it is wrecking his health and remaining brain cells.
Into this bleak life ventures Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a Santa Fe journalist who wants to do a “what ever happened to?” story.
The winsome, guileless single mom has brought her 4-year-old son with her, and it shakes Bad out of his alcoholic haze.
Jean must have a thing for losers, because she finds herself attracted to a man old enough to be her father.
Love can be a magical elixir, and crazy as it may be, Jean’s affection for Bad makes him take stock of his situation, with a little help from his longtime friend Wayne, played by Robert Duvall, who also co-produced.
Among the resentments that dog Bad is the fact that Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), a one-time protégé and member of his band, has become a big star in his own right.
In a most magnanimous move, Sweet publicly acknowledges his debt to Bad and even offers him an opening spot on his tour. A duet between Bridges and Farrell, singing harmony in their own less than polished but persuasive voices, is a high point of the film.
Like a country weeper, there must be some bumps in the road. As wary as she is of Bad (he’s been married four times and abandoned his only son when he was only 4), Jean entrusts her boy to him, leading to dramatic complications.
This bittersweet saga is accompanied by a whiskey-soaked soundtrack by T-Bone Burnett and the late Stephen Bruton. The song “The Weary Heart” has already won a Golden Globe and it promises to be a contender at the Oscars.
Ditto Jeff Bridges as Best Actor. Let’s hope this fifth time with be the charm for The Dude.
Oh, and “Crazy Heart” is now back in print after 22 years. That is a good thing.