Dangerous Days Is an Ambitious Adaptation of a Modern Classic

Dangerous Days, the final installment of Miami New Drama’s stellar 2023-2024 season boldly attempts to tackle a period of American history like no other, 1980, Miami. From that insane year, the play focuses on Arthur McDuffie, his brutal murder by white police officers, The Miami Herald reporter who broke the story, the cops who were acquitted and the ensuing race riots.

Dangerous Days is another world class production completely original to our beloved Miami. It is a perfect storm blending history, drama and entertainment.

At the same time, sadly, does the production bite off more than it can chew?

Dangerous Days, the book

1980, Miami

What a year! Talk about a maelstrom.

A murder rate rising due to an emerging Narcos industry. A mass exodus of Cuban refugees in the Mariel Boatlift, over 125,000 exiles. Add in one of the worst race riots in history. Compound this with a police department fractured by corruption and racism.

And oh, yeah – make it an election year too.

Meanwhile, in Miami, led by Mayor Maurice Ferré, a young city is growing into itself, becoming an international hub for business, growth and development. In this crazy era, there are too many characters, too many subplots, too much news to filter into a cohesive narrative. One could create ten seasons of episodic television chronicling the madness of 1980, Miami.

The book The Year of Dangerous Days by Nicholas Griffin meticulously, painstakingly, details all of it. It’s an informative, relevant read, a modern classic better than any work of nonfiction we’ve read about our beloved Magic City.

If you read the book, you would understand the challenges of adapting it into a play.

Dangerous Days, the play

The play chooses to pull on the McDuffie / Buchanan thread from the book, sacrificing the politics of the time, and a large chunk of Mariel and Narcos drama. As a result, the remaining characters, Edna Buchannan, Capt. Marshall Frank, Vivek the cop, Larry the editor, Dr. Ron the coroner, and Bobby the cop come off as caricatures pandering through the events of the time.

In the play, Buchanan’s exaggeration produces an imaginary ghost, Anna, a younger version of herself, another and quite literal caricature. The play’s direction enables the indulgence of baser needs, whether through sashaying movement, unnecessary sexualization or gross language.

The acting is bold and captivating but also misdirected.

The costumes don’t help, the ladies look like they came out of a Knots Landing episode, and the cops fresh off the set of the Beastie Boys “Sabotage” video.

The set, a bunch of desks alternating between a news room and the police headquarters, needed more visuals. Images or videos of the times, photos or archived news broadcasts, something to help encapsulate the insanity of 1980, Miami.

Maybe a scene or two illustrating the humanity of Mariel and the Narcos brutality, instead we experience it through exposition.

One character barely in the book, but very present in the play, is Arthur McDuffie, unfortunately another ghost. The McDuffie character does not pander, fortunately, and ultimately, lifting the play from a soapy drama into the realm of true emotional resonance.

Arthur McDuffie

It must be noted. What happened to Arthur McDuffie was beyond egregious. He was beaten to death by fifteen police officers, crushed into a literal pulp, his skull smashed open. He was an ex-marine, a successful insurance salesman, a father and a son.

And he never had a voice.

The Detroit riots of 1967 were caused by police breaking up a party. In 1984, during the LA riots, Rodney King, whom thankfully survived his police brutality, was able to speak the words “can we all get along?” In 2020, George Floyd died and the entire country heard him say, 27 times, “I can’t breathe” and the country united in protest to chant “I can’t breathe.”

Arthur McDuffie did not have that chance. Most people in the country, shit, most people in this very city, never even heard of him. It was only six weeks ago, the city of Miami, 44 years later, finally memorialized Mr. McDuffie with a plaque.

It is on 38th street and North Miami. Here is a map if you want to go see it.


Dangerous Days

There is indeed feeling in Dangerous Days and Miami New Drama, forever bold and daring, deserves immense praise for attempting to adapt the book and using Griffin as its playwright.

Mr. McDuffie is the soul of this play,  the book and probably the soul of our city that year.

It is just that Miami New Drama and Mr. Griffin finally gave him a voice. 

Dangerous Days is playing now until April 28th.

For more info and tickets click here.


Liked it? Take a second to support The Jitney on Patreon! The Jitney needs gas. Please donate or become a Patron here
Become a patron at Patreon!

J.J. Colagrande

Has written about Miami culture for almost twenty years, first with The Miami Herald, then Miami New Times and Huffington Post. He's the publisher of The Jitney and a full-time professor.