In the unofficial race to return to a semblance of normalcy in the local theatrical community, Wilton Manors’ Island City Stage appears to be just the second professional company since the pandemic began to stage a multi-character indoor production. Some seven months after neighboring producer Ronnie Larsen made the maverick transition to live entertainment last summer, Island City Stage today opens “Compensation,” a world-premiere dramedy from Los Angeles playwright Hannah Manikowski, for in-theater performances through Feb. 14, and video performances, for home viewing, Feb. 19-28.
Andy Rogow, artistic director of the LGBTQ-centric theater, and the director of “Compensation,” says he came upon the play, in part, because it met certain criteria—namely its small cast and ease of availability. “I started looking for different plays, because most of the plays we had [scheduled last season] were quite a bit larger. I had to start looking for work that required fewer actors, and that I felt can be fairly easily videotaped. It meant probably not doing a published play, because that was going to be much harder to get permission to do, so there were a lot of things that went into deciding what I was looking for. So … I went onto the National New Play Network Exchange, and started reading plays. And I came upon ‘Compensation,’ and loved it.”
The three-character play centers on a long-established thirty-something couple, Gabriel (Stephen Kaiser) and Elliott (Israel Vinas), who have decided to have a child through a surrogate mother. Elliott, a dreamer and a chatterbox who puts too much faith in horoscopes, finds himself smitten with the first prospect who reaches out: Tara (Gaby Tortoledo), whose relative youth, at 24, fails to raise the red flags it probably should. While Elliott and Tara form a friendly bond, only Gabriel, the realist in this equation, keeps an arm’s length from their eager surrogate, for reasons that bear out as the story evolves, and Tara’s relationship with the truth comes under scrutiny.
“I always look for plays in which the gay characters are not martyrs or perfect, and that reflect all aspects of gay life,” Rogow says. “So certainly having children is becoming more prominent in the LGBTQ community. What I liked [about “Compensation”] is that no one was a villain, and no one was a hero.”
“This was definitely a stretch role [for me],” says Gaby Tortodelo, “because Tara and I are very different. I’m very outgoing. I’m very proactive. And Tara is very sensitive, and is someone who overthinks everything to the point of having option paralysis. She wants to do things the right way, but she’s not independent enough to do that. And Gaby is extremely independent, to a fault. I thank Andy for being an amazing director, and leading me in the right direction, because he’s helped me find the humanity in Tara—that vulnerability that makes her so beautiful and relatable, which was not easy for me to find by myself.”
The mere fact that “Compensation” is being produced while the vast majority of theaters remain dark feels like a gift for theatre professionals and audiences—art for art’s sake, not necessarily for, if you will, the compensation. “This was definitely not a money-making decision,” Rogow says, noting that grant funding, partially from Broward County, helped subsidize the production. Even so, “I think if ‘Compensation’ sold every ticket we could, plus the online option, we could break even on this production.”
That’s because seating will be limited in adherence to CDC social-distancing guidelines, and audiences are required to wear masks while in the building. Island City has gone out of its way to make the experience a safe and sanitized one for audiences and cast alike, which Rogow says had an effect on the unusually strong turnout for auditions.
Tortoledo, for her part, is thrilled to finally be back doing what she loves. “You have no idea how good it feels to be in a rehearsal room right now for a show, after a full year of not being onstage,” she says. “It’s overwhelmingly positive right now.”
“Compensation” runs Feb. 5-14 at Island City Stage, then Feb. 19-28 for online viewing. In-person tickets cost $38; online tickets are “name your price.” Call the box office at 954/928-9800 or visit islandcitystage.org.