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Mary Damiano

Secrets are unearthed in Broken Snow, a compelling drama now making its world premiere at J-Cat Pro in Miami.

"I have a story to tell you," is the line that opens the play, and what a story it is. To give away too much of what happens next would be to ruin the experience of watching secrets revealed like peeling layers of an onion.

Two strangers, James and Steven, played by Daniel Llaca and Nicholas Richberg, meet in an abandoned house. Over the course of 90 minutes, the two men question each other and relate key stories from their pasts, finally piecing together a puzzle about the mysterious man, played by Avi Hoffman, who engineered their meeting.

That brief description is about all that can be said about the plot, and all you need to know. The lack of a more detailed description imbues Broken Snow with an enigmatic, anything-can-happen air that makes the play even more compelling.

Broken Snow is the first professional production from J-Cat, which performs at the Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center in Miami. Ben Andron wrote the play, and his father, Michael Andron directed his son's work. The elder Andron is also producing artistic director of J-Cat.

Ben Andron's writing is tight, realistic and riveting. According to his notes in the program, Broken Snow is a work of fiction based on the facts of the core story revealed in the play. To his credit, the way Andron tells his story is as impressive as the story itself.

While no scenic designer is credited, the sparse set lends itself to the desperation running through the play. Brian Goldberg's sound and lighting design is subtle and effective.

Llaca plays James with a petulant swagger and a resigned sense of humor. Richberg is more intense as Steven; the events revealed in the play hit him harder. Richberg is especially gut-wrenching in his two scenes with Hoffman, as his character struggles with his far-flung emotions.

Hoffman sinks his teeth into his role and never lets go. Seen in flashbacks framed by the other men's stories, he is at times harrowing and conniving, and in other moments, broken and pitiable. Hoffman ignites his character with the glint in his eyes, the slump of his body, and the often terrifying delivery of his lines. It's a masterful performance.

J-Cat has knocked one out of the park with their professional debut. Broken Snow is a tense, riveting thriller that should be experienced.

Broken Snow runs through May 21 at the Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center in Miami. For tickets and more information, visit www.jcctheatre.org./
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