Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
This year the nod goes to the New Theatre, Coral Gables's Little Theater That Could. It may be tiny in size but its creative vision is large indeed. Recently recognized as one of the top 50 theaters in the nation by the venerable Drama Guild of New York, the New Theatre promotes inclusion as well as excellence. It is one of the few theaters in South Florida that actively casts minorities in main-stage productions, and its policy of subsidizing student ticket prices can't be beat. Where else can a student with an ID grab a ticket to truly professional theater for just five dollars? Founding artistic director Rafael de Acha can always be counted on to deliver nuanced, elegant productions. Another asset is de Acha's eclectic programming strategy, which serves up a provocative menu of contemporary off-Broadway hits, classics (two Shakespeares are on the plate this summer), and especially new plays from a trio of talented playwrights: Nilo Cruz, Mario Diament, and Michael McKeever, works the company often commissions. It's this patient development of and ongoing relationship with writing talent that really sets New Theatre apart from the pack.
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)
For whatever reason, Miami is not a huge art-house film town. (Too many other distractions perhaps?) The Sunrise Intracoastal is one of the very few venues in the county to regularly program foreign and independent fare -- and keep it on the screen for longer than the opening week. Easy, plentiful, and free parking more than compensates for the less-than-new interior. Plus the North Miami Beach location is a great compromise when making movie dates with friends who live in Broward. Best of all, the theater is locally owned and programmed by the husband-wife team of Mitch and Nancy Dreir. (The Intracoastal, which they acquired from the bankrupt General Cinema Corporation in late 2000, is one of nine theaters and more than 70 screens the couple now owns in Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade.) Earlier this year Mitch and Nancy explained their approach to Sun-Sentinel movie critic Todd Anthony (formerly of this newspaper): "Most of our theaters offer the qualities people associate with smaller, less frenetic movie theaters. It may not be the largest portion of the movie-going public, but clearly there's a significant audience for it. We strive to make you feel at home, from the time you get out of your car in the parking lot to the person who greets you at the ticket box." Mitch is admittedly obsessive. "I'm in movie theaters 60, 70 hours a week," he told Anthony. "I go into the washrooms, I go into the auditoriums, I get behind the snack bar. If somebody decides to spend a good chunk of their evening with me, I want to make sure they have a great time." And that, we would argue, is an award-winning attitude.
It's that unmarked warehouse in the warehouse district, down the street from the cluster of services for the poor and homeless. The one that had a show with a giant flamingo made of bubblegum prostrate on the floor, the sole artwork in the otherwise barren space. The one with exhibits titled "Pigs and Lint" and "The Night Crazy Legs Went GQ: New Projects by Miami Artists." The one that is a nonprofit founded by three intriguing young artists: Weston Charles, Elizabeth Withstandley, and Cooper (one name only). Now it's also the one with an assistant director who is another fascinating artist, Gean Moreno. The one that shows alternative works from alternative artists consistently and interestingly. The one that greatly helped form our electric emerging art scene. The one that deserves to be called Miami's best gallery this year.
The mass of openings around Art Basel were incredible, but don't forget that there were 51 other weeks this year. On a Saturday night in March one show stood out above the rest. Holograms hung from the ceiling, sat on the floor, were mounted on walls. The images changed as you moved through the darkened warehouse space that is the Dorsch Gallery. Oops! As you twisted around to inspect one hologram (artist Koven taught himself how to make them) you ran smack into another viewer. Or wait, did she run into you? Indeed human "bumpers" were part of the show. As were two huge SUVs parked inside, with taped audio conversations emanating from their stereo speakers. You climbed inside and felt the expensive leather seats caressing your legs. Or wait -- maybe that was a "bumper" again. The single hologram hanging in the area with the massive "cars" looked like a hat. But as you moved closer to check it out, words appeared on the bottom: "This is not a hat."
Working Stiffs is an insightful and fascinating account of the popularity of tintype photography at the turn of the century. Carlebach, a University of Miami professor, does a magnificent job of not only explaining but honoring the values of America's working class. "For these sons and daughters of toil, born into a society that still valued making things more than buying and consuming them, manual labor was a legitimate source of respect, if not admiration," he writes in the preface. The book's true value, of course, lies in the photographs Carlebach selected; from the teenage girls laboring as tobacco workers to the plumbers and house painters stoically holding their tools of their trade, the photographs in Working Stiffs convey the true American spirit.
Readers Choice: Self Portrait by Alonso
South Florida is blessed with an abundance of theater for kids, but none tops the Actors' Playhouse, which takes children's theater very, very seriously. For starters the Playhouse, one of the area's major professional companies, has created an entirely separate children's division, led by peripatetic artistic director Earl Maulding. He produces a full season of plays for children, as well as providing classes and workshops. Maulding and executive director Barbara Stein aim for excellence, hiring experienced professional actors and designers to staff their children's shows. Then there's the company's National Children's Theatre Festival, which holds a national competition for new children's plays and stages a spectacular weekend event for the winner's world premiere. Finally there's the context of all of this: Children who come watch the plays often discover they want to attend the main-stage adult fare the Playhouse offers. Some kids from the training program end up onstage themselves in the big Playhouse musicals like this past season's The Sound of Music. Actors' Playhouse not only offers the best in children's entertainment, it's providing South Florida with an important cultural service by nurturing the audiences of tomorrow.
In 1977 Elvis Costello burst onto the musical scene, earning a well-deserved reputation as an angry, guitar-wielding young man. Penning punk-rock songs that were both literary and lacerating, he was pretty surly himself. Twenty-five years later it seemed only appropriate that the rocker's latest album would be dubbed When I Was Cruel. Cruel and Costello went together like punch and pie -- a punch in the nose and a pie in the face. So imagine our surprise at the kinder, gentler Costello who took the Gleason Theater stage this past November. Smiling, charming, and in better voice than he's ever been, the 47-year-old rocker -- backed by his band The Imposters (featuring former Attractions keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas, plus veteran bassist Davey Faragher) -- tirelessly pounded out a two-hour, twenty-song set that included new tunes and old stalwarts such as "Watching the Detectives," "Deep, Dark, Truthful Mirror," "Pump It Up," and "Alison." The young and mostly older crowd began excitedly dancing in the aisles and even rushed the stage, where they remained throughout the show.