Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Very early on in The Devil's Music, Miche Braden belted out a low blues note to let everyone know this woman is not just an actress; she's also a phenomenal singer. But Braden's acting was the real prize. The range of her characterization was sassy, wise, bitter, and flirtatious. She was inexhaustible, singing thirteen gut-wrenching tunes in 90 minutes with no intermissions or scene changes. Her stamina and heartbreaking blues lent so many dimensions to the character of Bessie Smith, giving her the stage presence of a diva and the theatricality of a broken woman. As rare as it is to find a talented actress who also happens to have a voice like Bessie Smith's, Braden's exceptional performance proves it is possible.
Theatergoers found a lot of reasons to dislike Paul Tei this season. He played a cold-blooded child killer in New Theatre's Never the Sinner and a hot-blooded serial killer in GableStage's Popcorn. But he is so good at being bad that you can't really hold it against him. Tei is the kind of actor who looks at a role not only as an opportunity to perform but also as an opportunity to create a role. Consequently he can portray several different degenerates, and his performances never overlap. As Wayne, the gun-toting redneck in Popcorn, Tei kept us riveted to our seats -- appalled and laughing. As Richard Loeb, a wealthy young Chicago man who, along with his lover, kills a young boy on a Nietzsche-inspired whim, he was equally appalling. But Tei never let audiences simply dislike his characters. With his willingness to take risks and push the boundaries of character definition, he could make Ted Bundy funny. For example, in Never the Sinner, he dared to play this insolent, arrogant murderer as childlike and capricious -- clubbing a kid in the head one moment and going out for hot dogs the next. Tei's topnotch acting transformed these two good plays into excellent ones.
An actor's success in a dramatic role can fall into one of two categories: the ability to make the unbelievable believable, and the ability to make the believable unbelievably incredible. Bridget Connors managed to do both in her role as a young Jewish woman dying of a terminal illness. That's the believable part. Rachel's plight easily could have been a case study in Harold S. Kushner's book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. She expressed all the predictable emotions and asked all the right metaphysical questions. The not-so-believable part is the conversion experience she had, which was facilitated by her sister, a devout member of the Christian Science faith. Believable or unbelievable, Connors brought something magical to the role from the moment she stepped onstage. Her ability to be simultaneously earthy and ethereal left theatergoers feeling as though they were seeing a tragedy for the first time.
Let's give it up, finally, for the Big Dog, Joe Rose. The former Miami Dolphin wide receiver is as close to a Miami sports institution as we have at this time, at least since Dan Marino and Don Shula have retired. Hard to believe in a way. Rose hardly distinguished himself as an athlete. (His greatest claim to fame, which he'll gladly tell you about, is catching Marino's first touchdown pass.) But as a broadcaster Rose has developed into a welcome, humorous personality, the ex-jock with a soft spot for the underdog. In his appearances on WQAM, on WTVJ-TV (Channel 6), and hosting numerous charity roasts, Rose plays the doofus, willingly attracting abuse from his co-workers, especially his linemates on the First Team, WQAM's very listenable morning sports-talk show. Clearly, though, Rose is no idiot. Compared with other sports clowns, such as former Steeler QB Terry Bradshaw, we'll take the underdog every time.
With the closing of the Alliance Cinema on Lincoln Road, it looked as though this category would be consigned to the cultural graveyard. Conventional wisdom had it that nobody could withstand the gravitational pull of the multiplex. Besides that, it seemed as if an audience for art movies simply didn't exist in Miami -- or didn't exist in large-enough numbers to make financial ends meet. But that didn't deter Cesar Hernandez-Canton, Johnny Calderin, and Ray Garcia (also operators of the Absinthe House Cinematheque in Coral Gables). In January of this year they opened the 103-seat, nonprofit Mercury Theatre to high hopes if not huge crowds. Although the opening was a year later than planned, the delay actually may have worked in their favor. Their hopes of riding the entrepreneurial wave in Miami's Upper Eastside created by restaurateur Mark Soyka were enhanced by giving Soyka (the restaurant) a chance to develop a following, which it has. With Soyka (the man) as landlord, Hernandez-Canton, Calderin, and Garcia remade an old warehouse adjacent to the restaurant, featuring amenities such as tables and chairs in the lobby, twenty-foot ceilings, unusual concession delicacies, and gallery space. Soyka installed a fountain outside and added more tables and chairs. Voila! An oasis was born. Films are screened twice nightly during the week. Matinees are added on the weekends. Yes, the movies don't change all that frequently, but it sure beats the only attractions formerly available in the neighborhood: streetwalkers and strip clubs.
In 1988 Ramon Cernuda presided over an auction of paintings held at the Cuban Museum of Art and Culture. The works were created by Cuban artists who had not broken with the Castro regime. The new owner of Manuel Mendive's Pavo Real promptly stepped outside and set it ablaze in the presence of cheering protesters. (Twice the museum was severely damaged by bombs.) A year later the feds accused Cernuda of purchasing Cuban art in violation of the embargo; they raided his Brickell Avenue condo and confiscated 240 paintings. A federal judge angrily denounced the seizure and ordered the works returned. Today the backsides of those paintings display U.S. Treasury/Customs Service seals, the same ones used to label intercepted drugs. Who would have thought that eleven years later, Cernuda would be opening an art gallery specializing in Cuban art from the island, smack in the middle of Coral Gables. This past fall Cernuda Arte made its debut with an exhibition of Cuban originals by masters such as Amelia Pelaez, Wifredo Lam, and Carlos Enriquez. Currently the gallery represents six working artists. Two of them, Demi and Sinuhé Vega, are based in Miami. The others create in Cuba. They are Flora Fong, Juan Roberto Diago, Alfredo Sosabravo, and Rigoberto Pelaez. "We are very open about what we do," Cernuda says. Boy, have times changed.
Hidden among the storefronts of downtown's shopping district is a horde of local talent: musicians and artists, poets and dancers. On any given night, many of them can be found at the Wallflower Gallery. Never heard of it? Well, listen up. You're the one missing out. Gallery hours are 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Performance events take place later, usually Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights beginning around 9:00. Unless otherwise advertised, admission is a modest six dollars. Performers have included Omine, Susan Laurenzi, Dr. Madd Vibe featuring Angelo Moore from Fishbone, Ladybud, and Boxelder. That's a lot of music for an art gallery, but it is indeed a gallery. The work of up to twenty artists and craftspeople can be on display at any given time. This is an unpretentious place that attracts unpretentious people; no snooty champagne-and-cheese receptions here. Try muffins and granola, or maybe some green tea. Before joining the chorus that whines, "Miami has no culture," check out Wallflower.
Since 1965 Red Berry has been teaching youngsters to pitch, catch, bat, and spit like a major leaguer. At various times he also has served as a coach for the University of Miami Hurricanes and a professional baseball scout. He likes to claim at least some of the credit for the careers of players who went on to play for teams such as the Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds, Montreal Expos, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins, and Toronto Blue Jays. The secret to the decades-old formula? Teaching the kids proper player development, to be part of a team, and to have a good time. Summer camp begins in June. Sounds like fun, and if there's any truth to the Baseball World slogan, it is just that: "Home to America's happiest ballplayers."
In 1991 Arocha became the first member of the Cuban national baseball team to defect to the United States, opening the floodgates for other Cuban peloteros such as El Duque, Osvaldo Fernandez, and Livan Hernandez. For that he will go down in history. Arocha didn't bag a multimillion-dollar contract like other Cuban players who followed. He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals for a meager $15,000 and made less then $150,000 his first year. But for Arocha it's not about the money. It's about being first -- but definitely not last.
How to prove your mettle: After coming off another stellar year, injure your right ankle in an early season victory over New England. Miss five full starts. During your absence watch other teams run over your replacements as if they were Bermuda grass. Come back even though you're still in so much pain you feel, you say, "like an old man" at age 27. Still serve as the anchor of an excellent defense that carries your team to a division title. Still earn selection to the Pro Bowl. That's how.
Drag queens are like birthday cakes: layered and coated with thick frosting painstakingly applied to evoke strong reactions. The cake most full of surprises in this town full of queens is Ivana, the shiny-lipped, bawdy broad from Buenos Aires. When she struts atop the bar at Cactus in white hot pants and go-go boots, be prepared for an onslaught of camel-toe jokes from a girl who is just about ready to bust out of her own outfit. Try as she might to be classy, whiskey-voiced Ivana can't help it. If her lip-synching to saccharine pop is a little off, her sense of timing when she emcees her shows in Spanish is fierce. Watch her sparks fly Friday nights at Ozone and Saturday nights with Adora at Cactus.
Artistic director Michael Hall did South Florida theatergoers two favors this season. First he brought the socially relevant and riveting docudrama The Laramie Project to his stage. It was the first production after the play's off-Broadway debut. Second he assembled a troupe with the range and experience to make the production not only important theater but good theater as well. Dressed in drab brown tones, the ensemble of eight portrayed more than sixty characters, from townspeople to ranchers, doctors, reporters, and friends of Matthew Shepard, the young gay man who was beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die by two local boys in Laramie, Wyoming. With fluid and subtle transitions, these characters switched roles seamlessly, revealing an unforgettable cross section of small-town America and a staggering array of attitudes. The Laramie Project featured Kim Cozort, Jason Field, Laurie Gamache, Jacqueline Knapp, Pat Nesbit, Mark Rizzo, Robert Stoeckle, and Michael Warga.