Marco Ramirez and Paul Tei are theater artists whose careers lately have taken a more lucrative detour into television.
Ramirez, who grew up in Hialeah and has won a number of awards for his plays, withdrew from the play-writing program at Manhattan's prestigious Juilliard School four months ago to become the youngest staff writer on the FX series Sons of Anarchy. Tei, the Carbonell Award-winning actor and director who founded Miami's Mad Cat Theatre Company, recently moved to Los Angeles to try to build on his success in the recurring role of Barry the money launderer on USA's made-in-Miami Burn Notice.
But for the next two weeks, thanks to some artistic nurturing from the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, theater again takes center stage for the men as an in-transition Mad Cat takes Ramirez's play BroadSword to another level.
A mysterious, often-funny play whose influences run from horror films to heavy metal music, BroadSword was first staged a year ago in Mad Cat's longtime home at Miami Light Project's 49-seat Light Box. Not long after he came to Miami to become executive vice president of the Arsht Center in the fall of 2007, Scott Shiller and his wife Kerry began checking out the work at local theaters, something they'd always done when Shiller was a partner in the Chicago-based commercial company Theatre Dreams. After a few months, they discovered Mad Cat and, Shiller says, ``I became a fan.''
Shiller particularly enjoyed BroadSword, so much that he told his Arsht colleagues they had to see it. So when Shiller and Tei began talking about doing a Mad Cat show in the center's Carnival Studio Theater, BroadSword bubbled to the top.
Even in that first incarnation, BroadSword proved a perfect fit for the Mad Cat aesthetic: fresh plays with an edgy, young vibe and juicy parts for terrific actors.
Ramirez's script is about the former members of a New Jersey metal band who come together -- with hard feelings still at the boil -- after one of their own mysteriously vanishes. With its real, loud metal music, the play requires several actors who can also play instruments, which Mad Cat has in Tei (as drummer Nicky), Erik Fabregat (as guitarist/lead vocalist Tony) and Eli Peck (as bass player Victor). It also demands the sort of virtuosic acting chops that Gregg Weiner brings to the part of the manipulative Man in White and Ken Clement will unleash as an odd musicologist.
Ramirez, who is still in Los Angeles working on Sons of Anarchy scripts, says he always imagined BroadSword as ``. . . an Agatha Christie play, as written by Bill and Ted [the metal-head slackers from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure].'' Since its Mad Cat production last year, it has had developmental readings at the Kennedy Center and Juilliard, with Ramirez doing rewrites along the way.
For Tei and Mad Cat, the higher-profile gig at the Arsht comes at a critical moment in the 11-year-old company's evolution. With Miami Light Project still preparing its new 99-seat space at the Goldman Warehouse in Wynwood, Mad Cat is temporarily homeless. The company has always put up shows when it felt they were ready, not on a set schedule, so Tei envisions doing BroadSword now, something else in a to-be-determined location in the fall. Everyone involved hopes its showcase at the performing arts center will bring Mad Cat new audiences and donors.
``This year we're vagabonds,'' says Ann Scully, Mad Cat's board chair and the person Tei credits for bringing the group greater financial stability. ``If this is a success, will Scott [Shiller] ask us back? [The Arsht] or the Light Box could be our new home. . . . So much rides on the success of this.''
The Arsht's Shiller says he was determined to do everything possible to make sure Mad Cat's first major run outside the Light Box would work.
Shiller underscores that the Arsht's investment in BroadSword speaks to its belief that ``world-class and community-based are not mutually exclusive. We believe that the quality of this production matches the level of work being put on stage by some of the best touring companies around the country.''
Having BroadSword at the Arsht, Ramirez says, represents more to him than having one of his full-length plays done at Miami's major arts destination.
``I'm happy that the Arsht is fulfilling its promise and not just serving as a venue to house Wicked when it comes through town. I'm happy that it's following through in its commitment to local work.''