Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Standiford made his reputation as the unofficial godfather of the South Florida crime thriller by way of an intrepid building contractor named John Deal. Deal is a world-weary average-guy protagonist with a knack for getting in and out of bad situations. While the credit for this popular character (appearing in six novels) goes to Standiford's tightly woven, literate prose, the success of the series itself rests at least in part on the setting -- ever-mysterious and unlikely South Florida. But Standiford's yen to pitch the Everyman against the nearly insurmountable forces of this absurd place was turned around on itself when he attempted an ambitious nonfiction book, published last year, about an ambitious man who proved even less tractable than the strange land he conquered. The man: railroad baron Henry Flagler. The book: Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad that Crossed an Ocean, in which Flagler extended his railway from the mainland south of Miami to Key West, more than 150 miles away, thereby turning mosquito-infested islands into margarita-sodden tourist traps begging for the next hurricane to wipe their stain from Florida Bay. Standiford pays the bills as an English professor and director of the creative writing program at Florida International University.
Much of the success for this year's smash Floyd Collins lies with its solid-gold ensemble that produced one memorable performance after another. Besides Tally Sessions's work in the leading role, the show featured Blythe Gruda as the ethereal, off-kilter sister Nellie, Brian Charles Rooney as their moviestruck brother, Jerry Gulledge as their haunted father, and Lourelene Snedeker as their warm-hearted, long-suffering stepmother. The cast also featured terrific work from Michael Turner as a guilt-ridden reporter, Brian M. Golub as a wannabe folk singer with a bell-clear voice, and Ken Clement as a blustering, officious engineer. To that add Wayne Steadman, Mark Filosa, Terry M. Cain, Oscar Cheda, and Barry Tarallo and what you've got is a dream of a cast.
Your night out is over. You step out of the club's raging din and onto the sidewalk, where the relative silence is as shocking as a slap in the face. Head spinning, you realize you might not be up for the drive home just yet. Stumble over to Puerto Sagua for a no-frills Cuban meal in an atmosphere easygoing enough to enable a soft landing when you come back to earth. The restaurant -- a South Beach institution for more than 30 years -- stays open until 2:00 a.m., perfect for clubland's early exits, and it won't break the bank, assuming you have some bank left after those double-digit cocktails.
With a powerful singing voice and boundless energy, Sessions conjured up the memorable title role in the best show of the year, staged by Actors' Playhouse. Sessions's Floyd Collins was a high-spirited Huck Finn whose entrapment in an underground cave led him from optimism to panic to horrible despair. Sessions is that rare musical-theater performer who keeps his work fully grounded in emotional truth. He adroitly handled the difficult challenges of his role -- long, musically complex solos and significant athletic demands.
Sometimes a performer finds the perfect role, or the perfect role finds her. Maybe it's karma or the planets' alignment. Maybe it's sheer luck or hard work -- or all of the above. Whatever the reason, Claire Tyler was the right actress in the right role as JC333 (Jaycee Triplethree), the android actress heroine of Alan Ayckbourn's dark fantasy Comic Potential at Actors' Playhouse. Tyler's performance clearly delineated JC's slow awakening to some hidden core of humanity. Her 'droid's awkward movements began to turn into some kind of nascent grace, and her squawk-box voice mellowed into something musical. The role also had a theatrical dash, as when Jaycee went haywire, spouting bits of long-past performances that had somehow been stored in her hard drive. Tyler has been very fortunate in her short theatrical career, working with top area directors and with excellent scripts. Besides her fine work with David Arisco in Comic Potential and the recent Sherlock's Last Case, she also scored in a trio of Joe Adler productions at GableStage: The Shape of Things, Popcorn, and The Play About the Baby. But it is the android with a heart of gold who remains the most memorable role of her young career.
Mandich may have the experience and credentials to be a jock-talk radio host (including three NFL Championship rings, one from his play as tight end on Miami's undefeated 1972 Dolphins squad), but it's his voice that really reaches out and boxes your ears. Where other jock-talk personalities embrace goofy sports-geek overenthusiasm or know-it-all laconicism (like Hank Goldberg, Mandich's colleague at WQAM-AM 560), Mad Dog's bombastic pipes carry the show. It's impossible to transcribe the stretched vowels and clipped consonants that roll around like gumballs in his mouth, but suffice it to say that the voice makes even the generic parts of his act seem fresh (the studied political incorrectness, barking at callers when the show gets a little slow). Almost everything he says seems funny, including his stock "Never better!" (delivered as if fired from a cannon) in response to callers' ubiquitous "Howyadoon' Mad Dog?" In addition to the afternoon call-in show (1:00 to 3:00 p.m.), Mandich can be seen on Channel 10's Sports Jam Live, though it's hard to get the full impact of the voice when you have to watch him too.
Readers Choice: Neil Rogers, WQAM-AM (560)