Monday, April 15, 2024

Zoetic Stage’s Inaugural Play Skewers Art Basel Culture

Art Basel Week may be officially over, but you can relive everything you love and hate about the six-day art-snob festival for another five performances of “South Beach Babylon,” the contemporary Basel-set play from South Florida’s newest theater company, Zoetic Stage. Running through Sunday, Zoetic’s inaugural production is the latest from prolific local playwright Michael McKeever, and its terrific ensemble perfectly represents the multifaceted Art Basel atmosphere.

Much of McKeever’s acerbic comedy centers on the eternal tug-of-war between art and commerce, with both poles

defined by extremes: avant-garde dance choreographer Simon Gardner (played by McKeever himself), a profit-shunning social commentator who refuses to compromise his controversial visions leading up to a crucial Basel performance, and Chillie Zangora (Erik Fabregat), a vacuous craftsman of peppy pop art (a Romero Britto by any other name) more concerned with hawking his new cologne line than Making a Statement with his paintings. Tony Everette, a fashion photographer played by Stephen G. Anthony, represents the middle ground: A friend of Simon’s, he used to share his pal’s purism until he managed to break through the starving-artist ghetto for a lucrative position shooting supermodels. His latest subject is Lennox Montel (Amy McKenna), a beautiful bimbo currently representing Miami in a series of billboards and bus ads declaring her “the face of the South Beach.”

The cast is rounded out by brilliant, rubber-faced comedienne Elena Maria Garcia as the cutthroat Basel kingmaker Semira Mann and Andrew Rosenberg as Jonas Blodgen, an aspiring artist and recent Pratt graduate full of romantic ideals about making art – in other words, a character perfectly fit to be corrupted.

The technical aspects of the piece are more bare-bones minimalism than splashy ostentation: Befitting the intimate black box theater milieu, a multifaceted, two-story white pedestal transforms into everything from a bed to a beach to a dance performance space. The play’s setting is described as “South Beach, like so twenty minutes ago,” and McKeever’s writing situates his story very much in the Now. References to Twitter, Wikipedia, Lady Gaga, Glenn Beck and Snookie capture the pop-culture zeitgeist, and it’s obvious McKeever is equally well-versed in the archetypes of the modern South Beach art community. “South Beach Babylon” is a good enough show to tour elsewhere in the country, but it’s doubtful audiences outside South Florida will enjoy appreciate all of its nuances.

The characters in “South Beach Babylon” and the satire they embody are not exactly new or groundbreaking, but they are distinctive and engaging from the first moment to the last. If for no other reason, see this play for McKeever’s deranged, sexually anarchic performance-within-a-performance, an unforgettable triumph that, if it were a real dance piece and not part of play, would likely be one of this year’s Basel standouts.

“South Beach Babylon” is at the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, through Sunday. Tickets are $40. Call 305/949-6722.

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