South Beach Babylon Takes On the Business of Art

Art and commercialism collide in the plastic, fairy tale world of South Beach in Michael McKeever’s South Beach Babylon, now making its world premiere at the Carnival Studio Theatre at the Arsht Center in downtown Miami.

 

McKeever, who is also a successful artist, has explored the art world before in his plays, most recently his 2006 drama The Impressionists. In that play, the focus was on artists, including Renoir and Monet, who challenged the established art community with their impressionistic paintings, which were considered radical at the time.

In South Beach Babylon, McKeever focuses on art as big business as opposed to art for art’s sake.

South Beach Babylon follows several artists in the weeks leading up to Art Basel Miami Beach, which has become, in just a few short years, one of the largest art events in the world. There’s Tony (Stephen G. Anthony) a level-headed photographer who wants to do more commercial, profitable work; his best friend Simon, (McKeever) a radical choreographer whose refusal to give in to the establishment keeps him living hand to mouth; and Chillie (Erik Fabragat) an egotistical a painter whose simplistic images are merchandised to the hilt. Then there’s Lennox (Amy McKenna) a vapid model who aspires to reality stardom; and Semira (Elena Maria Garcia) a promoter with the power to make or break an artist. Into this world wanders Jonas (Andrew Rosenberg) an optimistic young painter eager to experience from the South Beach mystique.

The performances in South Beach Babylon are top notch. Anthony is understated and charismatic, never resorting to stereotype. McKeever is funny and earnest. McKenna embodies the image of empty-headed elitism. Octavio Campos and Rosie Herrera dance a provocative performance piece which serves as a statement on the commercialism of art.

But Garcia steals the show. Her Semira is a shark other sharks would fear, a pretentious, tactless snob who fancies herself queen of taste and trends in South Beach. Semira is monstrous, but in Garcia’s hands, this evil whirlwind in a red dress is nothing short of delicious.

South Beach Babylon is the inaugural production from Zoetic Stage, the theatre company McKeever formed with his partner, director Stuart Meltzer. As with most world premieres, the play would benefit from some judicious editing and a brisker pace.

Nonetheless, South Beach Babylon is an entertaining play, marked by McKeever’s trademark wit and insight.

South Beach Babylon runs through Dec. 12 at the Carnival Studio Theater in the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. For tickets and more information, call 305-949-6722 or visit ArshtCenter.org or ZoeticStage.com.

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