It’s a pretty well-known fact that in the regional theatre world, most world premieres are imperfect – they need the revising and polishing that comes from
experiencing full-fledged productions in multiple venues. But every once in a while a show like “Captiva” comes along, a play so absolutely extraordinary that it’s hard to imagine it was written by a homegrown Florida writer and not the latest darling from Broadway.
Produced by Zoetic Stage as the opener in the Miami company’s first full-length season, “Captiva” has had a fairly short run. It’s only playing through Sunday at the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Carnival Studio Theatre, but this modern masterpiece is worth the drive down; you’ll be able to say you were one of the first audience members to see a show that will surely move to other markets.
Zoetic’s production, directed by Stuart Meltzer, boasts a knockout set: A soothing, tranquil beach house in Florida, complete with front and back patios and sand brushing up against the building. The atmosphere won’t look as inviting by the end of the play, some two hours later, after the Cestar family has aired its collective dirty laundry all over the abode.
They’re meeting to celebrate the impending nuptials of Val (Kati Brazda), a tortured would-be screenwriter who has finally found love. The clan includes brothers Luke (Nicholas Richberg), who is gay, and Matthew (Todd Allen Durkin), who is married to wife Nikki (Amy McKenna); divorced parents Emily (Barbara Bradshaw) and Tom (Bill Schwartz); and Tom’s twentysomething new plaything Theresa (Amy Ione Alvarado). Got all that? Don’t worry – by intermission, you’ll recognize all of these distinct personalities like your own kin. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any one of these beautifully drawn characters who doesn’t remind you of someone in your family.
“Captiva” is hilariously inspired, with dialogue so witty you’ll want to write it down and repeat it to your friends and family later on. But it also underlines the difficulty of relationship maintenance – of the struggle to communicate and relate to the spouses, children and siblings to whom we’re shackled, for better or worse. Luke hasn’t come out to his parents, thinking that his father, a Fox News-parroting right-winger, wouldn’t approve. Emily is coming to grips with the fact that she has “never really loved” Val, whose conception was an accident. Matthew and Nikki have their own romantic dysfunction, and Theresa has a bombshell been she’s keeping from Tom. These revelations tend to spill from the characters, each one triggering the next like dominoes, in a busy second act that takes place partly in the dark, after a stormy power outage creates emotional pandemonium that is managed with extraordinary aplomb by director Meltzer.
If and when “Captiva” plays beyond South Florida, it will likely earn comparisons to Tracy Letts’ Broadway hit “August, Osage County,” which also explored the collapse of an extended American family. But “Captiva” is better, because it’s funnier and less didactic. I think a stronger comparison would be to filmmaker Robert Altman will a dollop of onetime Altman collaborator Raymond Carver – not just because it borrows the bustling ensemble casting of so many Altman films, with their overlapping dialogue, but in its manner of staging. “Captiva” is a play in CinemaScope, if that makes any sense. The cabana is like a widescreen canvas, where actors emerge from the dressing room simply to relax on set, and the spectator has a degree of control as to what he or she chooses to look at at any given time. It’s a liberating feeling for a play, one of many reasons to experience this wonderful production.
“Captiva” is at Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, through Sunday. Tickets are $40. Call 305/949-6722 or visit arshtcenter.org