Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
The 37-year-old Garcia was known in Havana as the host of the television program De la Gran Escena (From the Big Scene). "I talked about literature, film, and theater," he says. Anything but politics. His eschewing of that, he says, cost him his job in 1999, after fourteen years on the Cuban national boob tube. "I want to live in a society where debating and thinking is possible, not in a trench in which ideas are used to exclude someone from professional life or from the civil society of a country." Here, on his WQBA-AM (1140) nighttime talk show La Noche Se Mueve (The Night Moves), he is constantly declaiming the importance of pluralism, freedom of expression, the U.S. Constitution, and respect for ideas. "Those things don't fly in a totalitarian society," he notes wryly. Sometimes they don't fly in Miami. For example, when other locutors of the AM waves recently took up the subject of Havana-based pro-democracy dissident Oswaldo Payá, they and callers ragged on Payá for being a dupe of the Castro regime. Garcia, in contrast, had a show featuring Payá himself via telephone so callers could rag on him directly. (Others praised Payá, while some actually attempted to inform themselves by asking him questions.) Because Miami is Miami, Garcia's pluralistic tendencies draw accusations that he is a Red. One night the seemingly harmless topic was "integration" -- as in Cubans in the "diaspora" reuniting with their estranged compatriots on the island. An angry caller boasted that he had left Cuba in 1968 and would never go back until the Communists are gone. He was also sure that most people who travel to and from Cuba and talk about democracy are secretly Communists. The caller even suspected there was a "Fidelito" (little Fidel) hiding inside Edmundo. The host wholeheartedly disagreed, but instead of yelling, he threw the First Amendment at the caller. "You think there's a Fidelito in me," Garcia summarized, "and that's your opinion."
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)