Cane Makes World Premiere at Florida Stage
The desire for land, to dream of building a better life now and leave a legacy for future generations, and the nurturing and destructive power of water are the themes of Cane, the new play by Andrew Rosendorf, now making its world premiere at Florida Stage in West Palm Beach.
Rosendorf, who relocated to South Florida several years ago to work at Florida Stage, was approached by artistic director Louis Tyrell to write a play about Florida. The catalyst was a statement that Palm Beach County had only 21 days of water left. Rosendorf was fascinated by the idea that a peninsula could have a water shortage and began researching water and its special place in Florida’s history. Cane was born.
The title has a double meaning, referring to both hurricanes and sugar cane, which was planted in the Belle Glade area of Palm Beach County in the 1960s. Rosendorf exploes both meanings of his title to some extent.
The first act of Cane is set in Belle Glade in 1928, on the eve of a great hurricane. Farmer and store owner Eddie Wilson (Gregg Weiner) is a diligent and smart businessman, who works hard to support his wife, Ruthie (Julie Rowe) and their four children. He is a good man, as he himself says several times, kind-hearted and fatherly to pregnant Harriet (Trenell Mooring) a member of the black family who works his land. During a drought, he makes a deal to buy the land of destitute neighbor Noah Brooks (David Nail) but when the rain comes the next day, Noah reneges on the deal, leaving Eddie with new debt and new resolve to get back what’s his. The second act picks up in present day Belle Glade with the descendants of the characters already presented, with old feuds and family history cropping up and wreaking havoc.
Each of Cane’s five actors plays dual roles. Weiner commands the stage in the first act as pioneer Eddie Wilson, and is especially terrific in his adversarial scenes with Nail, who also turns in a top-notch performance. Rowe is best as Ruthie, Eddie’s hard as nails pioneer wife who longs to move back to Virginia. Dan Leonard adds comic relief in the second act as an off-the-grid photographer. Mooring succeeds in both roles, although her Zora is a more fully realized character.
The sprawling, dry-as-sand set by Richard Crowell fits Cane’s first act, and shows the potential of Florida Stage’s new home in the Rinker Playhouse of the Kravis Center. The sound by Matt Kelly and lighting design by Suzanne M. Jones is excellent, bringing the feel of a South Florida storm inside the building.
Rosendorf seems to nail the desolation and pioneer spirit of Florida in the early 20th century. His characters have an authenticity to them. His dialogue here is excellent, full of the everyday poetry and lyrical rhythms from people of that era.
Unfortunately the interesting situations he sets up in the first act remain unfulfilled in the second act. Perhaps the second act takes place too many generations after the first, perhaps it would have been better to keep the entire play a period piece. The second act feels as unrealistic as the first act feels authentic, and that shift is too jarring. Worst of all, the most interesting thing that happens in the second act is a story told to us in a lengthy monologue by Zora (Mooring) Harriett’s great-granddaughter. When the most memorable part of the second act is something the audience has been told, not shown, there’s a problem.
As is true with many world premiere plays, Cane remains a work in progress, requiring rewriting and refining to become a fully realized play.
Cane runs through November 28 at Florida Stage, at the Rinker Playhouse at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. For tickets and more information, call 561-585-3433 inside Palm Beach County and 800-514-3837 outside Palm Beach County, or visit FloridaStage.org.