‘Co­caine Cow­boys’ might be a 1-man play

Mi­ami di­rec­tor aims to bring it to stage

Orlando Sentinel - - LOCAL & STATE - By Howard Co­hen

MI­AMI — The idea seemed out­landish, maybe even im­pos­si­ble at the time: a one-man play about Mi­ami’s in­fa­mous drug lords of the 1980s.

Some 15 years ago, the Mi­ami-raised Billy Cor­ben was deep into re­search for what would be­come “Co­caine Cow­boys,” a sem­i­nal doc­u­men­tary on Mi­ami’s co­caine trade.

Back then, he was a re­cent New World School of the Arts grad.

He was read­ing the de­po­si­tion of Co­caine Cow­boys hit­man Jorge “Rivi” Ayala in the State of Florida v. Griselda Blanco case to pre­pare for an in­ter­view with Rivi.

Ayala worked for Blanco, the blood­thirsty Mi­ami drug lord of the 1970s and ’80s, who was known as “the God­mother.”

Blanco was even­tu­ally de­ported to Colom­bia and was gunned down in Medel­lín in 2012. In 1993, Ayala was sen­tenced to life in prison with the pos­si­bil­ity of pa­role after 25 years for his role in three mur­ders. His next hear­ing be­fore a Florida pa­role board is in 2019.

The de­po­si­tion read so much like a play, that it lin­gered as a “maybe one day” propo­si­tion in an am­bi­tious young Mi­ami film di­rec­tor’s mind for years.

Now it is be­com­ing a re­al­ity.

The doc­u­men­tary was ul­ti­mately re­leased in 2006 by rakon­tur, a film pro­duc­tion com­pany Cor­ben runs with pro­duc­ing part­ner Al­fred Spell­man.

Ayala and Blanco were promi­nently fea­tured in “Co­caine Cow­boys” and its 2008 se­quel, “Co­caine Cow­boys 2: Hustlin’ With the God­mother.”

“Co­caine Cow­boys: Reloaded” in 2014 ex­panded the orig­i­nal doc­u­men­tary with new footage and in­ter­views.

That’s lots of con­tent spun off of the read­ing of a de­po­si­tion. But a stage play?

“I’m read­ing this de­po­si­tion and it’s un­like any de­po­si­tion I’ve seen,” Cor­ben said of his orig­i­nal idea. “These were not short ‘yes’ or ‘no’ an­swers. Rivi was a co­op­er­at­ing wit­ness and they were look­ing to him to ex­pound and elab­o­rate in ev­ery minute de­tail on these mur­ders he was in­volved in.

“I said to Al­fred, my pro­duc­ing part­ner, ‘This reads like a one-man play. I can see it on stage.’ Al­fred says, ‘Let’s make the doc­u­men­tary first, then we can re­visit the stage play’ — ob­vi­ously jok­ing at the time,” he re­called.

“I, how­ever, was not. I thought it would be an ex­tra­or­di­nary piece of theater and kind of filed that away for a while,” Cor­ben said.

Four­teen years later, Cor­ben, now 39, is part­ner­ing with Mi­ami New Drama’s artis­tic di­rec­tor Michel Haus­mann to cre­ate the stage adap­ta­tion.

Mi­ami New Drama was awarded a $150,000 Knight Arts Chal­lenge grant in De­cem­ber to ex­plore a piece of the city’s his­tory on stage.

Haus­mann and Cor­ben had long bonded over shared con­ver­sa­tions as The Colony and rakon­tur are nearby. Haus­mann, a Venezue­lan na­tive known for his cre­ative ap­proach to theater in re­cent pro­duc­tions like Colony’s mul­ti­lin­gual English-Span­ish-Cre­ole pro­duc­tion of Thor­ton Wilder’s “Our Town,” saw the pos­si­bil­i­ties in Cor­ben’s brain­storm.

“A col­lab­o­ra­tion with Billy is an amaz­ing op­por­tu­nity. He’s a unique artist, some­one who al­ways speaks the truth re­gard­less of con­se­quences. Some­one who has a pro­found con­nec­tion with Mi­ami. We com­ple­ment each other a bit,” he said. “Billy is very pes­simistic about the city, in gen­eral. I am kind of an op­ti­mist, a cham­pion of the new Mi­ami.”

For the orig­i­nal “Co­caine Cow­boys” doc­u­men­tary, “Billy went to the gut­ter of the city to tell its sto­ries,” Haus­mann added. “Me, a re­cent Mi­ami na­tive, I have a dif­fer­ent out­look and I like the fact we can com­ple­ment that.”

The the­atri­cal ver­sion, both say, will not be the plac­ing of the 2006 doc­u­men­tary on the stage, with its myr­iad char­ac­ters. “That would be stupid,” Hauss­man said.

The idea, now, is to tell the dra­matic story through the words of the charis­matic so­ciopath Ayala that Cor­ben first gleaned off that in­trigu­ing de­po­si­tion.

“We want to know what we have learned as a city since then and how we will move for­ward,” Haus­mann said. “We are en­ter­ing the ma­te­rial with a fresh new take, a decade-and-a-half later.”

Cor­ben and Haus­mann ex­pect the “Co­caine Cow­boys” stage play to makes its the­atri­cal de­but in the spring of 2019 at Mi­ami Beach’s Colony The­atre.

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