Prolific South Florida playwright’s “American Rhapsody” premieres at Zoetic Stage

Since writing his first play, “That Sound You Hear” in 1996, Michael McKeever has become a writer with a particularly eclectic range and prodigious drive.

In those 27 years, the South Florida playwright wrote 35 full-length comedies and dramas that were produced across the region, the country (Off-Broadway included), and in other countries. His topics have included hate crimes, a hurricane, bullying, Hollywood secrets, entertainers, gay marriage, heartbreak, hoarding, miscellaneous Miami — well, you get the idea.

This week, McKeever is gearing up to launch his 36th feature film. “American Rhapsody” was written for the Florida Studio Theater in Sarasota as a commission during the pandemic, but it will have its world premiere Thursday, Jan. 12 through Sunday, Jan. 29 at Zoetic Stage, a company he co-founded. , and will be directed by artistic director Stuart Meltzer. The play premieres Thursday, January 12 and opens Friday, January 13 at the Carnival Studio Theater at the Arsht Center in Miami.

“American Rhapsody” – the “rhapsody” refers to an epic poem, not a piece of music – is a piece that connects the personal with impactful events and societal changes.

It begins in 1969, as the Cabot family of Lawrence, Kansas huddled around their TV to watch a grainy video of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon. It ends in the year 2032, in an ever-changing country, a profoundly changed America and extended family.

“Sixty years is a lot of game,” says McKeever, who sports a T-shirt that reads “Write On” during a Zoom interview. “Stuart keeps everything beautifully clear, so active and moving… Few people know my work better than Stuart; he knows my handwriting. He is extremely insightful.

That Meltzer connects so deeply with McKeever’s work is no surprise. Winner of multiple Carbonell Awards, Meltzer is also one of five co-founders of Zoetic (Christopher Demos-Brown, Stephanie Demos-Brown and Kerry C. Shiller are the others). Meltzer and McKeever have worked together on several Zoetic shows, including the company’s first, “South Beach Babylon,” in 2010 and written by McKeever. Together for two decades and married since 2017, the lives of the artists are connected in creative and personal ways; it was during a cross-country driving vacation with Meltzer that McKeever discovered Kansas and its absolute flatness as a filming location for “American Rhapsody.”

McKeever acknowledges the autobiographical underpinnings of his new play, although the central character Franky Cabot is a poet, not a playwright. Meltzer says the play was originally intended to be “a re-examination of the battered American dream from a family’s perspective.”

As the script evolved, says the director, “we found a way to connect the milestones of a man’s life to the art of creation. You get family, events, and the art of writing, all in one room.

McKeever includes four generations of Cabots: Patriarch Franklin “Papa Frank” Cabot (Steve Trovillion), a prominent jurist; his son “Big Frank” (Aloysius Gigl) and stepdaughter Eleanor (Laura Turnbull); the couple’s offspring Jenny (Lindsey Corey) and Franky (Alex Weisman); and Jenny’s daughter, Maddie (Stephanie Vazquez). Jenny’s husband Albert Bernal (Carlos Alayeto), family friend Nat Morris (Lela Elam) and six other characters also feature in the deep and intimate story.

Weisman, who grew up in Davie and began acting in South Florida as a child, became an in-demand actor in Chicago after graduating from Northwestern University (he received Best Actor supporting Joseph Jefferson for “The History Boys”), expanding his career. in cinema, on television (he plays the LGBTQ+ character of Frank in “Sesame Street”) and on Broadway (“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”).

He’s seen many of McKeever’s works and participated in an overnight Zoom reading of “Daniel’s Husband,” the writer’s play on gay marriage, from his New York City apartment during the pandemic. When he read “American Rhapsody,” Weisman says, “I fell in love with it. It reminded me of Michael Cunningham’s “Flesh and Blood” in its scope, storytelling and the Americana it contains.

Weisman also relished the idea of ​​originating the complex role of Franky, “this weird figure who doesn’t have to be innocent and likeable and funny all the time. He allowed me to be imperfect, even mean. So many times when we play these characters, we have the shimmer of a halo around us. I appreciate how unhappy this character is.

Meltzer argues that Franky is closer to him than to McKeever.

“Franky has the opposite qualities of Michael. His story is more like that of Peer Gynt: you work so hard that you get lost to find yourself, ”explains the director.

Weisman, now 35, says he’s admired McKeever since he was 10, which the playwright influenced in his decision to become an artist. Aside from the pandemic reading of “Daniel’s Husband” (inspired by the McKeever-Meltzer debates over same-sex marriage), he hadn’t worked with the director on a full production, and he finds the experience different and exhilarating.

“Stuart is incredibly impulsive. Every moment feels like it’s going through an electric field, and when you put it all together, it’s like fireworks,” the actor says. “I don’t work like that. I’m very much in my head and coming back to those brain impulses.

Playing Colombian-American Albert, Alayeto is also new to Zoetic, McKeever and Meltzer. The son of Cuban parents who arrived in Miami in 1961, he relishes being able to initiate the role of a husband and father with post-traumatic stress disorder and, like his character, has a wife who travels for work. , a daughter and a close relationship with her stepmother.

“It’s amazing how effectively Michael goes through the story. It really is a family theater piece that doesn’t get bogged down,” he observes. prose…Stuart is very, very specific.I am amazed at his attention to detail…He provides solid anchor points to connect with, and nothing seems arbitrary.

Corey, who plays Jenny, Albert’s lawyer-wife, and Elam, whose black lesbian bartender character Nat becomes close friends with several Cabots, are both members of Zoetic’s extended artistic family. Both have participated in several productions made by the company and both find this McKeever piece particularly resonant.

“This piece in particular is about everyone: people affected by 9/11, the feminist movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, the American experience, the female experience, the gay experience, the human experience,” explains Corey. “The first time I read the play, I fell in love with Jenny. She has a “blue fire” in her heart, like Papa Frank. I also feel this fire in me.

Elam, who originated roles in McKeever’s “Moscow” and “Clark Gable Slept Here” at Zoetic, says it’s an “honor and a privilege” to play characters written with her in mind.

“I can identify with Nat in so many ways. She’s gay, she’s black. Nothing she says is foreign to me,” Elam says. “Alex and I shared things about our personal lives. We play best friends, and we just clicked. He’s like so many of my gay buddies.

“American Rhapsody” is a piece of memory, a work of the imagination based on McKeever’s experiences and perceptions of the world. Her Cabot family deals with loss and joy, tragedy and triumph, small decisions and life-changing ones. The play is imbued with warmth and humor, as well as pain.

Alayeto believes that, even with the challenges that family and country endure, takeout is a point of view that can benefit everyone.

“It paints a hopeful picture of America, which we badly need. It’s a country of optimism and hope. We can make it the country of the possible,” he says. “I think that it’s a piece that the public needs.” is a non-profit source of information on dance, visual arts, music and the performing arts.

If you are going to

WHAT: American Rhapsody by Michael McKeever

WHERE: Zoetic Stage, Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami

WHEN: Previews 7:30 p.m. Thursday, January 12, opening at 7:30 p.m. Friday, January 13; 7:30 p.m. from Thursday to Friday, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, 3 p.m. on Sunday (no matinee on January 21), until Sunday January 29

COST: $55 to $60

INFORMATION: 305-949-6722 or

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