Entertainment

A federal blockade, a new nation

Director J.B. McLendon is surrounded by cast members Mathias Maloff, Bernadette Restivo, Arthur Crocker and Rhett Kalman.
Director J.B. McLendon is surrounded by cast members Mathias Maloff, Bernadette Restivo, Arthur Crocker and Rhett Kalman.

Thirty-five years ago, a nation was born, sort of.

In spring 1982, the U.S. Border Patrol set up an automobile checkpoint at the top of the Keys, ostensibly trying to weed out illegal immigrants. What resulted was a northbound traffic block five, six, seven miles long as Florida City meets the 18-Mile Stretch of U.S. 1 connecting the mainland to the Keys.

Tourism was taking a major hit so Key West officials sued in U.S. District Court in Miami seeking to get the checkpoint dismantled. A judge ruled against them so the next day, at noon on April 23, 1982, then-Key West Mayor Dennis Wardlow issued a proclamation declaring that Key West was seceding from the U.S. and becoming its own nation, the Conch Republic.

Later in the day, the Conch Republic surrendered to the U.S. and demanded $1 billion in foreign aid. The money never came but thus started the industry known as the Conch Republic (which also includes the rest of Monroe County).

The Fringe Theater of Key West looks back in “Conch Republic .... Revisited,” which tells through song the story of that secession and surrender. It runs April 20 through 23 (curtain at 7 p.m.) at the Studios of Key West, 533 Eaton St. Tickets are $35 and available at www.fringetheater.org.

J.B. McLendon directs. Bernadette Restivo, Arthur Crocker, Mathias Maloff and Rhett Kalman tackle the 21 roles required to tell the story. “We’ve got a lawyer, a pirate, a bartender and a pie peddler telling this year’s Conch Republic tale,” the director says. “It’s the perfect storm.”

“We’ve still got the songs that our audiences love,” says the show’s composer, Gayla Morgan. “And the script is funnier than ever,” says author Monnie King.

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