Another Opening, Another Lunch
Michael McKeever meets me for lunch at Rosie’s in Wilton Manors. It’s a scorching May afternoon, but we still sit outside on the patio, amidst the restaurant’s lush landscaping and oscillating misting fans.
We meet for lunch or dinner or dessert every time McKeever opens a new play, which means we’ve done this about seven times in the last seven years, ever since his play A Town Like Irving premiered at New Theatre, and we had a late night interview over apple pie at Denny’s. McKeever is South Florida’s most prolific and well-produced playwright—his new play, Unreasonable Doubt, which made its world premiere last Friday at Actors’ Playhouse in Coral Gables, is his 19th play. But in addition to his career as a playwright, McKeever is also a successful graphic artist, set designer and actor. In fact, when Unreasonable Doubt opened at Actors’ Playhouse, McKeever wasn’t in the audience, because he was on stage at the Caldwell Theatre in Boca Raton, delivering his laugh-out-loud performance playing four characters in Distracted.
We order our lunch before getting down to talking about the show, a Miss West Texas Wrap and a Coke for me, a Young Ranch Hand and a coffee for him. The meal is a McKeever regular, but the coffee is not—McKeever is the kind of guy who looks naked without a cocktail. But it is a Wednesday and after lunch he’s got a matinee and an evening performance at the Caldwell. Cocktails are off-limits for today.
Unreasonable Doubt is about an enraged and grief-stricken father whose young daughter has been raped, tortured and murdered. He kidnaps the defense attorney who helped set the man responsible free, and holds the attorney in a remote, rundown cottage, determined to extract his own brand of justice.
“I keep saying it’s a play about the law and about the role defense lawyers play in the American judicial system,” says McKeever. “Now that I’m sitting through the rehearsals, I’m finding that it’s more about redemption, and about coming to terms with forgiving people who’ve done things to us, and forgiving ourselves for things that we’ve done to others, all wrapped up in a story about the law.”
McKeever calls Unreasonable Doubt his award play, which is how it came to the attention of David Arisco, artistic director at Actors’ Playhouse. McKeever entered the play in the theatre’s Pen to Stage competition last year and won one of two top spots. (Coincidentally, South Florida playwright Chris Demos-Brown won the other top spot with his play When the Sun Shone Brighter. That play made its world premiere at Florida Stage last week, the same night as McKeever’s Unreasonable Doubt.)
This is only the second world premiere of a dramatic play at Actors’ Playhouse, and it means McKeever can add another notch to his professional belt. The Miami native is thrilled that each of his plays have premiered at South Florida theatres, including Palm Beach Dramaworks, Florida Stage, Caldwell Theatre and New Theatre. His short plays have been produced at City Theatre, Mad Cat Theatre, and Naked Stage.
McKeever is proud of his accomplishments here in South Florida, and loves being an integral part of the region’s evolving theatre scene.
“What I like, being at this stage in my career, is that there’s this new crop of playwrights—including Marco Ramirez, Terry Lawrence, Chris Demos-Brown—all these wonderful, talented playwrights, and they ask me advice,” McKeever says. “I love working with them, I love seeing the direction the art is going, I love hearing the new voices. In the past five years, plays are being developed and produced and premiered here, and then going out to other parts of the country. South Florida has become an incubator, and I’m really proud to be a part of that.”
After more chatting, eating and indulging in some off-the-record gossip, it’s time for McKeever to hit I-95 and get to the Caldwell for the matinee of Distracted. I wonder if we might lose him one day, if he’ll move on and become someone from South Florida, but not someone who lives here and plies his art here.
“I’ve always wanted to live in New York, and there’s a very good chance I’ll do it, but not any time in the very near future,” says McKeever. He then relates a conversation he had with someone regarding the success of playwright Terrell McCraney, a South Florida playwright who now has had a hot career in New York. The person wanted to know if McKeever regretted never leaving South Florida and tasting that kind of success. McKeever’s reply?
“You have to define success. I’m supporting myself comfortably in a job I love, working with people I love, living in a place I love,” McKeever says. “To me that’s pretty successful.”
Unreasonable Doubt runs through June 6 at Actors’ Playhouse, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables. For more information, call 305-444-9293 or visit http://ActorsPlayhouse.org.