In a few months New Times will roll out its annual "Best Of" issue. Nestled among Best Tattoo Artist, Best Streetside Falafel Stand, and Best Club in Which to Meet a Midget Mutant Amputee Leather Nun, you'll find theatrical best-ofs: best show, actor, actress, director, and so forth. But there will be no award for Best Moment on Stage. Moments are too nebulous to rank so easily; you might as well name the best puff of cigarette or bite of pie. Even so, in the theater, it's moments that matter — those queer intersections of line, look, and body that make a handful of seconds from a performance burrow into the back of your head. In a given city in a given year, the stage can deliver many such moments.
There are a lot of awful moments, too, and they're almost always more instructive than the sublime ones (it's always easier to avoid a familiar fuckup than to re-create a moment of inspiration). With one exception, what follows sticks to the good stuff: the three best moments from Miami theater 2007. The bad shit has already been decried enough in these pages, save the last thing below — maybe the worst thing to happen on a Florida stage this year, which we somehow let slip until now.
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Great Moment: Scott Genn's sudden appearance in Animals & Plants: Mercury-quick character actor Scott Genn had only a walk-on part in Animals & Plants, but it's impossible to forget. Small-time drug runners Dan Burris and Walt Dantley are snowed in at a fleabag motel in a desolate town in North Carolina. There they've befriended Kassandra, a local girl who works at a head shop, and who is deathly afraid of her estranged husband. Genn is that husband, but his materialization is so thoroughly creepy that he may well be the Devil. While Dantley is alone in the room, tripping on psilocybin, smoke creeps from under the bathroom door. Tall, thin, thoroughly dashing, and utterly deranged, Genn steps out, stares Dantley down with a beaming, grinning face full of terrible good humor, and offers the quivering man a leg of lamb. Then he's gone. Later on, Kassandra gives a prosaic explanation of why Genn might be hanging out in Dantley's bathroom, but the moment was so weird she must be lying.
Great Moment: Sheaun McKinney's instantly evident bad-assness in Jesus Hopped the A-Train: After watching his turn as a puling slave in the excruciating House with No Walls, we thought we had Sheaun McKinney figured. He was a cute, skinny kid, good for grabbing the heartstrings and little else. Our mistake. As a prison guard named Vasquez in Ground Up & Rising's Jesus Hopped the A-Train, he wasn't onstage a minute before the mean temperature in the auditorium dropped 10 degrees. He didn't want to rough up his charges, as the script might have suggested; he wanted to kill them. That desire, unspoken and undeniable, was almost certainly the actor's own innovation. At least when he was onstage, McKinney really was full of hate, inspiring in viewers a creeping uneasiness and a sense they were sitting too close to an explosion waiting to happen.
Best of Miami local theater 2007
Great Moment: When Lisa Morgan saved Israel in Golda's Balcony: The Yom Kippur War came and went in 1973, and we know how it turned out. Israel is still here, and probably will be for a while. But for a few seconds at GableStage last April, its fate seemed up in the air. Lisa Morgan was a monster as Golda Meir in the one-woman show Golda's Balcony, and throughout her buildup to the war, one's hackles rose helplessly as Morgan's voice gained decibels. Whatever it feels like to lead a country that may soon be pushed into the sea by the combined might of three nations, Morgan communicated it, and she kept the audience's feet pressed against the floor like a driver depressing the brake pedal too late to avoid a collision. When a late-night phone call with Henry Kissinger finally secured U.S. aid to Israel, it was like a fever breaking. Throughout the theater, people found they could breathe again, never having noticed they'd stopped.
Wretched Moment: The chilly instant that arrives roughly eight months after seeing Justin Koren's Defining Code Red, when you realize you've been duped: Magnetic Theatricals seemed like an exciting new company when it produced Defining Code Red, by executive artistic director Justin Koren. The play, which dramatized the 2004 murder of Jaime Gough at Palmetto Bay's Southwood Middle School, seemed incredibly brave. That was March. By November, the huge media event that was Defining Code Red — the endless accolades from endless public officials on opening night, the plaques, the certificates, the glowing and meticulously arranged press notices — had far outstripped the tragedy at the heart of Koren's script, and if Google search results are indicative, the play is now more famous than its putative subject matter. One gets the slimy feeling this was intended — that there was always something basically narcissistic at the heart of Magnetic Theatricals, and that the author viewed Gough's death more as an opportunity to unveil his own genius than as a human event worth probing. For evidence, consider how few questions were asked by the play, how little was learned from it, and how many works the company has produced since (zero). It must be difficult to find a script that will prompt a visit from the mayor. Keep hunting, folks. Better yet — don't.