“Good bad or otherwise, our families are the cornerstones on which our future lies.”
That’s what Leo, a Jewish gay man, tells his partner Jackson, as explanation of why he’ll never stop trying to make his intolerant father respect their relationship in Melt by Michael McKeever, now on stage at the Balcony Theatre at Actors’ Playhouse in Coral Gables.
Melt is about family—the ones we’re born with and the ones we create—and how family shapes us as individuals. It’s also about the seemingly small connections we make with other have a larger impact on the world around us.
Melt takes place in Miami, which is portrayed as another character in the play, a young melting pot of a city on the verge of change. Miami hovers over the characters, and their lives are entwined with it. Marta, (Teresa Maria Rojas) a Cuban mother with cancer, still remembers the country she left as a child but knows Miami is her home. Her son Luis (Javier Siut) is an urban renewal consultant determined to see his legacy in Miami’s rising skyline. He is challenged by Adelle, (Lela Elam) a black attorney who wants to keep Miami’s growth from further displacing Overtown residents and destroying the landmarks her grandfather helped build. Her brother Jackson, (Reiss Gaspard) was named for the hospital where he was born. Jackson’s partner, Leo (Nicholas Richberg) was born in Miami, to a free-spirited mother unafraid to fight Jewish discrimination policies on Miami Beach in the 1950s. And Leo’s father Isaac (John Felix) is eager to share his memories of his beloved city, before Alzheimer’s steals them forever.
Lela Elam, who stepped into the role of Adelle just a few days before the opening when actress Tara Vodihn was hospitalized, wasn’t off book on opening night, but her strong performance was not marred by referring to her script. Elam is amazing—in a monologue recalling her grandfather’s memories of Miami, she morphs into an old man with her voice and body language, and then just as seamlessly back into her own character.
One of the most touching scenes in Melt is between Marta and Isaac, the Cuban and the Jew, when the two bond over family and illness outside a hospital. Rojas and Felix are excellent as they size each other up, initially with annoyance, but gradually let their baggage fall away as they discover their commonality.
Melt is poetic and lyrical, although the decision to stage it with all the characters on stage weighs it down. To see the characters frozen in tableau while one scene is spotlighted adds too much solemnity to the piece. It’s too somber, and lacks the pacing that would make this production more compelling.
Still, Melt is a well-written and well-acted play, with well-written characters that audience members are sure to recognize from their own lives.
Melt runs through February 28 at the Balcony Theatre at Actors’ Playhouse, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables. Call 305-444-9293 or visit ActorsPlayhouse.org.