Arts + Culture

Editorial: Getting fresh and edgy with Laboratory Theater of Florida

Founder/Producing Artistic Director Annette Trossbach discusses the Fort Myers theater.

BY November 7, 2016

How can we look at the New Season and not want to know more about a theater promising us “fresh and edgy”? That would be the semiprofessional Laboratory Theater of Florida in Fort Myers, and just listening to its Founder/Producing Artistic Director Annette Trossbach plunges you right into the raw energy there.

German-born, with degrees in both acting and directing from the University of Essex in England, Annette lives for making people think more and feel more through theater. When I asked her for memorable, provocative moments, here’s what she recalls:

“We did a show called Bug by Tracy Letts about five years ago. The lead character is convinced that the room he’s in is bugged, that he’s being watched and even his dentist is in on the conspiracy. He believes the dentist put a device into a dental filling. He is certain he is picking up radio frequency through this ‘bug’ in his tooth. So, using some pliers, he yanks the offending tooth out, onstage, with blood and grunting and so forth. I was sitting in on rehearsals and opening night, too, and, after all this viewing, developed a terrible toothache. I was convinced I had suddenly developed an abscess or something and even made an appointment to see my dentist. But then I realized this pain was coinciding with thinking about this play and watching that scene and, of course, all the pain went away. The power of theater!”

Read our annual New Season Hot List here.

There’s lots more pushing the limits at the Lab, Annette says.  “A few years ago, we presented a play called In the Next Room, or the “vibrator play,” by Sarah Ruhl. It’s wry and fun and takes place in the late 1800s to early 1900s. The main theme is treating women’s ‘hysteria’ by massaging them with this vibrating machine. Vibrators were used in those days on the back of the neck or on one’s cheeks. But, of course, this particular vibrator was used exactly where people today think it would be applied. We had a delightful protest letter from a woman who refused to come and see the play because of the smutty word ‘vibrator’ in the title. She thought we were promoting lewdness and filth.”

And then there was the Lab’s presentation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  It was basically done in modern dress and pretty much kept the bard’s language intact. Annette says there was much praise for the production, but also complaints about the “dirtiness” of it. “Did everyone really think Shakespeare’s plays were lily white?” she says. “They are richly full of sex and drama, joy and confusion about our lot in life and where we are going, murder and avarice, jealousy and fear and love. Romeo and Juliet has arguably the sexiest and raunchiest language of any play in the canon. Anyway, people who think Shakespeare is boring just flabbergast me.”

So how will the Lab’s sensibility play out in the season ahead? Right now, they’re bursting out of the quarters they rent from the Kiwanis Club of Downtown Fort Myers (99-seat theater and meeting rooms included). It’s surely Congestion Central because Lab Theater also conducts classes for actors and playwrights and stages readings, in addition to putting on plays.

In November, the company will present Wings, the story of a retired stunt pilot recovering from a stroke. “Imagine what it might be like to have a stroke,” Annette says. “What senses do you lose? What remains? What consciousness of your own self do you retain? What consciousness of yourself relative to an outside world might you have? Stroke victims and health care workers will be working with actors and crew as this play is rehearsed.”

December brings a 24-hour playwriting project. Four playwrights are given a theme, a general description of the actors they been assigned, a set and three lines that each of them must use in their new work. They’ve then got 24 hours to write, rehearse and hone a one-act play. “This is such fun and challenging,” Annette says, “and then the plays are judged by a professional panel and the audience.”

Annette’s eyes truly light up over another December production, I and You, which had a nice run off-Broadway and is a growing favorite with regional theaters. It’s about two 17-year-olds sparring as they work on a school project together. He’s African-American and she’s white and afflicted with a fatal disease. “The ending,” says Annette, which reviewers described as an “explosive twist” and “shocking,” “will … well, I’m not going to say any more. It’s beautiful.”

So Annette invites you to downtown Fort Myers for edgy and fresh and plenty of emotion and thought. I’m sure she’d understand, though, if you don’t make any dentist appointments afterward.


Related Images: