Water is always a problem for southeastern Florida. Although the State is a peninsula bounded on three sides by salt water, it has no mountains that yield fast, free-flowing rivers of potable water. Most of Palm Beach County's drinkable water derives from underground aquifers or from Lake Okeechobee to the west of the major coastal population centers. As the population increases, there is always a danger that the water supply will quite literally dry up and disappear. Compounding the problem is that most years rainfall is relatively modest during the winter and early spring. A season of really light rainfall can dry out the soil and result in a drought. From late spring through late autumn, severe hurricanes -- torrential rains and terribly high winds -- can whip across the land to cause substantial loss of human (and animal) life and property. In 1926, drought was so bad water managers estimated that West Palm Beach had only a 21-day supply of water remaining. People prayed for rain. When it fell, it fell hard, in the form of a hurricane. A mud dike, built to retain Lake Okeechobee, gave way, killing 400 people. Political squabbles followed, resulting in patchwork repairs. In 1928, "The Big One" struck. The dike broke again. Now 2,500 people died.
Andrew Rosendorf's drama, CANE, considers this subject. Being given its World Premiere performances by FLORIDA STAGE in the Company's new home at THE KRAVIS CENTER in West Palm Beach, the play is set in Belle Glade. The time is 1928. The storm has not yet come. Perhaps it won't. Neighbors Eddie Wilson (Gregg Weiner) and Noah Brooks (David Nail) discuss it. Noah is depressed. There's been little rain. His property isn't worth much. Maybe he should sell it and get out. Eddie thinks all this land has value. He offers to buy Noah's property. They shake hands on the deal. Other people are involved. Eddie's wife, Ruthie, would like to move away, but in common with most women of her day, she leaves hard decision-making to her husband and more or less lives in his shadow. A hermit (Dan Leonard) comes in and out, occasionally expressing his opinions. Then there's the black girl Harriet (Trenell Mooring,) a field hand who works for Eddie. She is pregnant. Eddie suspects his son is the father, which the girl does not deny. At a time when segregation is still the law of the land in the Deep South, in his fashion Eddie treats Harriet kindly, if not entirely respectfully. But the storm is definitely coming; there's no longer any doubt. Noah changes his mind: with rain incoming, his property might be worth something. He reneges on his deal with Noah, who offers him more money. Both men have rifles. Thunder and lightning and rain crash down. A rifle fires. A scuffle breaks out. In a truly stunning ending to the first act, one of the men is left dead.
Act Two takes place at the present time. The same actors portray descendants of the '28 people, and some 80-odd years later, they're still talking about what occurred back then. Zora, Harriet's heir, a college grad, speculates on what may have happened to Harriet, who simply disappeared in the flood. Her suspicions gain sympathy from police officer Isaac Brooks. But they lack sufficient evidence to press the case that Zora wants to bring to court. "Junior" Wilson has meanwhile become a wealthy real estate developer. His wife, unlike her predecessor, at a critical juncture takes a stand in opposition to her husband. For me, shortly after this point the play begins to fall apart. Zora delivers a lengthy soft-spoken monologue which, although I sat quite close to the stage, I confess I did not fully hear. From what I could tell, her talk summarizes what she believes befell Harriet on that fateful day the storm struck and then concludes on a spiritual note, whereupon the play essentially ends.
I don't like to give away play endings (especially when I have not clearly heard the closing words!), but I have to say that while Act One is full of high drama (even melodrama), memorable characters and lively action, Act Two lacks that vital drive, the contemporary characters border on stereotypes, and everything ends in a near-whisper. This is a strong play which has potential to be truly powerful, yet the ending is weak.
So -- my overall feeling? I liked the play, Mr. Rosendorf's first full-length work to be professionally produced, and I liked it quite a lot. I liked Louis Tyrrell's directing, the special effects, the acting. My guess is that the playwright's forthcoming works will be much produced. But I think that sometime in the future, he'll return to this one and revise its second act. You may well disagree with my words: I urge you to see and to judge for yourself!
The play runs through November 28. Remember there's been a change: Evening performances begin at 7:30 p.m. and matinees at 1:30 p.m. For tickets and additional information on this and incoming shows, telephone 585-3433 or online www.floridastage.org.
AT THE MUSEUM
I hadn't been to THE NORTON MUSEUM OF ART in downtown West Palm Beach for awhile. This past Saturday seemed as good a time as any to go. Even when I first arrived here, many years ago, the Museum wa recognized as being one of the best in the American southeast. In recent years, it has been modernized, greatly enlarged, and its collections have grown. Also, as usual, it has interesting things to see and to do. Yes, "do." All good museums nowadays have interactive programs, entertaining, informative lectures and family events. (For these, contact the Norton to receive additional information: 832-5196 or www.norton.org.) Meanwhile, here's a peek at some of the current art exhbitions.
Through November 21 view "On the Silk Road and the High Seas: Chinese Ceramics, Culture and Commerce." The Norton has a large permanent collection of Chinese art. This touring exhibition lends a little something extra.
Through January 2 visit "John Storrs: Machine-Age Modernist." John Storrs (1885-1956) is credited with developing a geometric non-objective form of the Art Deco style. Highlighted are some of his sculptures, drawings and paintings from various national museums. His stylized, elongated forms won't be to everyone's tastes, but they will give you pause when you examine them.
Through January 9 see "Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth". Here's a colorful, joyful art exhibition if ever there was one! Nick Cave creates costumes, and he makes them of all sorts of things one would never associate with clothing, including ordinary household objects that many of us would discard. They are very tall, some probaby as tall as two average-size males standing one on top of the other; they have multitudes of colors, some sparkling in such a way as to turn a rainbow green with envy, and they make sounds as the wearer whirls, shakes or just moves about. Inspired by costumes worn in Africa (Mr. Cave is African-American), his "Soundsuits," as the artist terms them, "evoke celebratory and religious ceremonial costumes as well as the extremes found in haute couture." The Museum says that. But whereas authentic African costumes can seem quite sinister to non-Africans, these are designed for fun and high spirits. (You can watch a film at the Norton, which shows them in use. It's festival-time!) If you have kids or grandkids about, take them to see this. They'll love it. I did, too! By the way, "Meet Me at the Center of the Earth" is Mr. Cave's way of saying that at their core, all human beings are the same.
Through February 9 study a self-portrait by Vincent van Gogh. Only one such painting is on view, but in it one can see something of the origins of modern art and the influence van Gogh would have upon generations of artists who came after him.
The Norton has a restaurant, not cheap, but the food is high-quality and artistically presented. The service is excellent.
COMING THIS WEEK
November 2 - 14 at THE MALTZ JUPITER THEATRE in Jupiter visit "12 Angry Men." You may have seen the movie starring Henry Fonda and an all-star cast, but seeing it onstage is almost like watching an honest-to-goodness jury trial, quite different from watching a film. The premise here: In our country, unlike many others, a defendent is innocent until proved guilty. -- Or is he? Phone 561-575-2223 or 800-445-1666 for tickets and additional information.
November 7 - December 12 THE CALDWELL THEATRE in Boca Raton welcomes the return engagement of VICES: A LOVE STORY. A musical, it was heralded by audiences and critics when it first appeared in 2009. It's here now, by request. The box office number is 877-245-7432 or online: www.caldwelltheatre.com.
Sunday, November 7, Daylight Saving Time ends. Set your clock back one hour.