Miami legend Gloria Estefan doesn’t often depart from her Latin pop roots, but when an Oscar-winning Barry alumnus asked her to get funny, dark and dramatic on stage, she savored the challenge.
On Jan. 30, students, alumni and supporters of Barry University enjoyed the rare treat of a salty-tongued Estefan mixing it up with veteran actors Danny Aiello, Matthew Rauch, Jennifer Grace, Betsy Graver, Ted Koch and Paul Tei for a dramatic reading of the play “Still Life” at the Shepard and Ruth K. Broad Center for the Performing Arts.
The play was written by Barry alumnus Alex Dinelaris, who has publicly credited his stint at Barry in the late 1980s for “saving” him during a tough moment in his life. Dinelaris has done quite well in three decades of writing, acting, directing and producing. Last year, he won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay for “Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance,)” a film he co-wrote with Alejandro Iñarritu, Armando Bo, and Nico Giacobone.
He is a co-producer of "The Revenant,” wrote the book for the Broadway hit “On Your Feet!” - the Gloria Estefan Musical, and “The Bodyguard” musical and original plays Red Dog Howls, The Chaos Theories and In This, Our Time. He also serves as co-creator and executive producer of the upcoming Starz series, “The One Percent” starring Ed Helms, Hilary Swank and Ed Harris. His film, “The Year of the Monarchs” is currently in development with Mandalay Entertainment and he is currently co-writing a film with director Guillermo Del Toro.
Dinelaris was eager to repay a debt of gratitude to Barry University and the memory of Patricia Minnaugh, the late chair of the fine arts department and head of the theater program who offered the penniless teen a full scholarship to attend.
Although he only stayed two years, Dinelaris recalls his time at Barry as the impetus for his slow, determined march toward the creative success on stage and screen.
“I was drowning, and Barry University basically saved me,” he recently told The New Tropic.
Dinelaris brought to Barry not only performances by Estefan, Aiello and others, he and “Still Life” co-director and Barry theater associate professor John Manzelli hosted a workshop and forum for aspiring actors, writers and directors on Jan. 29.
“Still Life” is based on Dinelaris’ coming to terms with his father’s death from cancer and his inability to write for months after. The main character, a famous photographer, finds herself caught in the torpor of depression after losing her father. Lost in a waking nightmare, she can’t pick up her camera again, until she meets a marketing analyst drawn to her dark photographs by his own morbid fascination with death -- including possibly his own.
Dinelaris read the part of the analyst opposite a brilliant Jennifer Grace, a New York actress who lost her own husband to cancer less than six months ago. The sparkling banter between the two wounded souls as they haltingly courted each other underlined the difficulties and rewards of living fully despite an uncertain future.