Michael McKeever’s Unreasonable Doubt and Christopher Demos-Brown’s When the Sun Shone Brighter offer further proof that South Florida is becoming a place where playwrights can practice their craft and get work produced.
Even promising scripts can wind up in what their authors call “development hell” — readings, rewrites leading to more readings, maybe a workshop or a higher-profile reading at a festival. A full production? That’s a playwright’s golden ticket.
Unreasonable Doubt, a thriller that will premiere at Actors’ Playhouse, and When the Sun Shone Brighter, a set-in-Miami political play that will debut two counties north at Florida Stage in Manalapan, have a shared history. In 2008, Actors’ Playhouse put out a call to Florida playwrights to submit new scripts for a “Page to Stage” contest. Unreasonable Doubt and When the Sun Shone Brighter won and got staged readings and talk-backs on the same day.
McKeever’s play is an intense, straightforward thriller about a grieving father who decides to seek vengeance after his young daughter is murdered. The killer is dead, shot by police. So the father goes after the defense attorney who got the murderer off in a previous case, leaving him free to strike again.
Demos-Brown’s drama is steeped in Miami politics. His script follows the story of a charismatic Miami-Dade County mayor, a handsome Cuban-American getting ready to run for a retiring U.S. senator’s seat. Yet issues at odds with the mayor’s picture-perfect persona — a secret lover, a kid in rehab, the real circumstances surrounding the murder of his high-profile Cuban-exile father — threaten to derail his future.
Demos-Brown, who says one spark for his play was a 2006 Miami Herald story about a detective who tried to get the cold-case murder of her Cuban exile father reopened, says he’s thrilled to have When the Sun Shone Brighter produced at Florida Stage.
Both plays have crackerjack casts of predominantly South Florida actors who relish the chance to originate roles. Dan Domingues, who plays the mayor in When the Sun Shone Brighter, and Broadway veteran (and former Tony Award nominee) John Herrera, who plays a savvy Cuban-American political operative, are the only performers without South Florida ties, and each has had a different experience as he burrowed into Demos-Brown’s play.
The cast of McKeever’s play is loaded with winners of South Florida’s top acting honor, the Carbonell Award: Gordon McConnell, Barbara Bradshaw, Antonio Amadeo, Terry Hardcastle, Patti Gardner (student actor Sandi Jean is also in the cast). Most are new to McKeever’s work, but some have performed with him — in fact, McKeever has appeared in the Caldwell Theatre Company’s production of Lisa Loomer’s Distracted throughout Unreasonable Doubt rehearsals.
McKeever and his partner Stuart Meltzer, a director and teacher, are friends with Demos-Brown and his wife. The couples plan to see each other’s plays together, but, more important, they’re working on a theatrical venture they won’t yet discuss. If their plan comes to pass, South Florida playwrights will have one more route out of development hell.