While you’re at this season’s iteration of Miami Motel Stories, the action surrounds you. You’re watching a short play set in a motel room, at some point in the history of the Gold Dust Motel on Miami’s iconic Biscayne Boulevard. The play takes up the entire room. But you can also hear thumping and pounding and shouting and muffled drama happening in the rooms all around you. The thin walls of the motel expose passion and life that are imbued in this place.
Juggerknot Theatre Company’s Miami Motel Stories (yes, it’s spelled Juggerknot, not Juggernaut, apparently) presents immersive theater in motel or hotel spaces in up and coming Miami neighborhoods. Last year they took over an historic hotel in Little Havana, and next year Miami Motel Stories is moving to North Beach. This year’s iteration of Miami Motel Stories, however, is set on the opening night of the Gold Dust Motel at 7700 Biscayne Boulevard, and other points in the motel’s history and the history of Biscayne Boulevard. It was written by Juan C. Sanchez, resident playwright at Juggerknot, and is being performed for one more week.
The motel is being loaned by developer Avra Jain, who restored the iconic Vagabond Motel down the street, and plans to give the same treatment to the Gold Dust. The collection of various short plays are memories of various phases in Miami’s history since the motel’s construction in the 1950s.
The night starts with a tiki party in the motel’s courtyard parking lot. There are tiki umbrellas, flowery leis, and period cars. Guests are transported to opening night, where they meet the purveyor and his wife. Divided up into groups they then set off to explore various points in the motel’s history by going into various motel rooms, as you’re directed to your destinations by impressively well organized bellhops.
In one room, a party girl from the 1980s gets in trouble with a man. In another man in the 1960s is tracking all the drama down in Cuba, in a time of international intrigue in which Miami was in the center of the action. He’s on the cusp of discovering a conspiracy, and he may be in over his head.
After you see three of the small plays in selected motel rooms, you’re escorted out back, to explore various spaces within the motel, facing a canal. This is when the already very immersive theater becomes really interactive and you get to wander around on your own. There you meet various characters from different times in motel’s and Biscayne Boulevard’s evocative and mysterious history. There’s a fisherman who teaches you how to night fish in the canal, and a waitress in a diner. And there’s a developer from the ’80s who wants to demolish the whole joint.
There’s a black jack room and ‘speakeasy’ where if you win you get a shot of Chivas, one of the sponsors of the play. In a lower level room, you meet the motel owner’s wife, a bit of a lush with wistfully suppressed lesbian desires that she exposes and then makes sure to tell you not to tell her husband about.
You can’t always tell right away who’s an actor and who’s not though, and that’s part of the magic. But if you’re really curious, here’s a hint. Ask them what year it is.
All the strings start getting tied together, and then it’s over and you leave knowing and having experienced a little bit more of Miami’s history than you did when you arrived.