Contemporary, award-winning playwright Michael McKeever’s play is about the age-old conflict between art and commerce. On that topic, “South Beach Babylon” offers nothing new. So, what else is new? The story focuses on now-trendy South Beach, in Miami, and events surrounding Art Basel, the annual Florida festival, which is known to all who make their living via art for its star-making, publicity-soaked, fortune-feeding potential. As far as its premise goes, a satire of the callous greed of commercialism versus relevant social statement, one can’t help but compare the goings-on in the play to the self-aggrandizing antics of so many artists themselves — most notably Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol — who are, nonetheless, great artists.
“You need to think of yourself as a product,” newcomer Jonas Blodgen, fresh out of art school, is told when he arrives on the South Beach scene and gets a job filling in canvases for flavor of the week art star, Chillie Zangora. Thus begins Blodgen’s introduction to the splashy art world and its archetypal denizens.
Although weak in revelation and somewhat derivative in humor, the play is colorfully exuberant and contains enough witty dialogue and, in the case of this Florida Studio Theatre’s production, great acting, to keep it moving along at a strongly engrossing clip. It is also strong in opportunity for highly entertaining stagecraft, which Director Kate Alexander and her creative team have successfully rocked.
Costume designer Sarah Bertolozzi has created some fabulous, character-driven costumery to adorn the talented actors. Matthew DeCapua, charming as naive, earnest Blodgen, is dressed as a student in de rigueur paint-covered jeans. Described as having “the emotional depth of a coloring book,” Chillie, played with convincingly egotistical self-absorption by Graciany Miranda, wears ’90s hipster black with boots. Event coordinator Semira Man, “a gorgon in a red dress,” is provided expensive-looking red-and-black outfits. Priscilla Fernandez plays her with a fierce spit and polish that drives every scene she’s in. Larissa Klinger perfectly inhabits sexy model Lennox Montel, who is probably best characterized with the line, “I don’t know what a Kafka is.”
Simon Gardner represents the true artist-dressed-in-hippy-environmental cottons, and is nicely performed by Roger Clark. Jeffrey Plunkett plays voice of reason Tony Everette with a pleasantly realistic approach.
Dancers Hector Flores Jr. and Cindy De La Cruz add grace notes to the proceedings, as do scenic designer Michael Lasswell and lighting designer Richard T. Chamblin II.