2009 Fall Arts Preview: Venice Theatre’s Stage II

ONSTAGE: A shot from last year’s Venice Theatre Stage II production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Courtesy Venice Theatre)

Published Sept. 21, 2009

Venice Theatre’s Stage II was founded 15 years ago in order to create a truly adaptable space for the production of more alternative and edgy stage shows. It seats an intimate 90-strong audience, and the theater has put its elasticity to full use. “It’s a true black box; you never know before you walk in the door,” says Venice Executive Artistic Director Murray Chase. “There’s a lot of great material that needs to be produced that our performers want to do and that has an audience appeal. With 90 seats we don’t have to do the lowest-common-denominator to fill the space.”

Chase says that Stage II has had its fair share of confrontational shows in the past, but this season stands to offer some seriously engaging material. “Stage II is a niche space,” he says, “it doesn’t mean it’s always going to offend people, but it should be provocative. It should be a thought-provoking, interesting presentation in a way that people wouldn’t think it would be done.”

One play that is sure to push the envelope this season is David Mamet’s November. The show takes place in the White House and portrays a fictitious U.S. president who is widely unpopular and facing a tough reelection. The play closed on Broadway just over a year ago and Venice Theatre decided to produce the Florida premiere. “November is the largest stretch of offense,” says Chase. “It skewers the White House; it deals with gender, race, political preferences, sexual preferences, nationalities from Iranians to Iraqis to Israelis to Chinese, everyone gets it… There is about 100 F-bombs being thrown back and forth, but that’s just Mamet. That’s how he is.”

But while November satirizes and lampoons the president, it portrays him lovingly at the same time. There are only four other characters in the play: the president’s chief of staff, his Jewish lesbian speechwriter, a casino Indian chief and the head of the Turkey Manufacturing Association. “What you see is that for a few moments somebody walks in and he has to ask presidential. You don’t know what party his is, and that’s what’s so great about it… Not many people want to tackle it, but it’s such fun.”

The theater tries to stretch their shows beyond the stage to give the audience a wholly realistic experience. “We’re going to do things like have people go through metal detectors before they go in and have a video of the Jackie O White House tour playing, and all the crew will be dressed like Secret Service.”

There are some other shows that might raise an eyebrow or two in this season’s Stage II lineup. Beast on the Moon deals with an arranged marriage in Milwaukee between two Armenians and their subsequent life over 30 years. “It’s a quiet piece but it’s got some good things to say,” says Chase. “It’s just something we wouldn’t do on MainStage.”

I Am My Own Wife depicts a transvestite in Europe who confronts Nazis and Communists and manages to survive both. There is only one actor in the show; the performer plays 35 different characters, some you like and some you don’t. “He/she becomes a very sympathetic character,” says Chase. “She doesn’t live her life as a woman but she dresses like a woman. It’s not offensive to people but it’s really an engrossing play, and that’s what Stage II is all about.” —Tim Sukits

November: Oct. 29-Nov. 15, Venice Theatre, 140 W. Tampa Ave., Venice, 488-1115 or venicestage.com, $24 and $12 students.


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