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Winners & Disappointments of 2011 South Florida Theatre

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Best and Worst lists are so arbitrary and subjective. But we do them anyway, because it's a fine way to recap the year while celebrating the good and pissing on the bad. As a theatre critic, though, it's tough to write about productions that suck. I prefer to criticize shitty plays by not using the word shitty. Instead, I like to offer constructive criticism whenever possible.

I realize theatre houses are entirely funded through donations, and one bad review (even by a lowly cat such as myself) can do damage to some hard working and otherwise talented people. So, instead of calling it The Worst, I'll call it The Disappointments. As for The Winners, well, they're winners so they'll be addressed as such.

Let's do this.

The Winners

1. Everything GableStage Did This Year
When you put on a production that's a dark comedy about a guy who is searching for his missing hand, you know you're the baddest theatre house on the block. Joe Adler's GableStage at the Biltmore is hands down the best place to get your theatre groove on. Every single year, they manage to put together a line up of daring, engrossing, and balls-out fantastic productions. From the risqué A Round-Heeled Woman, to the culturally charged Masked, GableStage simply kicked everyone else's ass this year. And it's not just the choice of plays. Adler always manages to get the best actors South Florida -- and sometimes beyond -- has to offer. A night at a GableStage production can be better than going out and watching the ten millionth sequel, prequel or reboot flick at the movies.

2. Tarell Alvin McCraney's The Brothers Size
Much to no one's surprise, performing arts wunderkind Tarrel Alvin McCraney proved that not only could he write a deep, nuanced play, but he could also direct the crap out of it as well. The local boy gone awesome was able to pull some moving performances from the three men that made up his cast. A stripped down stage and some charged and enlightened performances, especially from Teo Castellanos, proved that the sky's the limit for McCraney.

3. Jim Brochu's performance as Zero Mostel in Zero Hour
Brochu's transformation into the verbose and hilarious Zero Mostel was an outstanding achievement for the middling Aventura Arts & Cultural Center this year. The one-man play about the legendary entertainer would be a daunting challenge for any actor. But Brochu's transformation into Mostel was frighteningly uncanny. Brochu commanded the stage with a bombastic voice, darting eyes, and tireless kinetic energy, completely losing himself in Zero's skin.

4. The awesome mindfuck that was So My Grandmother Died, Blah Blah Blah...
Filled with pop cultural references, Wikipedia entries, textually dense psychodrama and existential meanderings, Mad Cat artistic director Paul Tei's So My Grandmother Died, Blah Blah Blah.... was a theatre experience that can only be described as tripping balls while journeying through the mind of a girl suffering severe writer's block. Tei's script was an amalgam of fascinating characters, daring story lines, and well-timed Oprah jokes.

5. Sean McClelland's set design in August: Osage County
The Actors' Playhouse featured one of the most bad-ass set-pieces ever put on a South Florida stage in its production of August: Osage County. Set designer Sean McClelland's massive and beautifully intricate set was basically an entire house cut in half. The entire play takes place in the Weston family's rustic three-story home, and that's exactly what the audience got. With amazing complex detail, the structure was a metaphor for the Westons' weary plight. But the home also became a character unto itself thanks to McClelland and his crew's masterwork. It was essentially a three-story house built on a stage, a monolith of theatre set-piece excellence.

Read on for our losers-- er, we mean disappointments.

The Disappointments

1. The South Florida Theatre Scene
I'm not sure how to put this. So I'll just put it: The South Florida Theatre scene needs to grow a pair and start putting out interesting shit. Another tired production of Guys And Dolls or Henry V is not going to get people coming out in droves. Sure, you have some exceptions like GableStage and The PlayGround Theatre. But, overall, theatre houses need to not be afraid of grasping the different and aim for productions that will bring a younger audience to the theatre. It's as simple as deciding to be different.

2. The Miami Stage Door's Uneventful Arrival
When Broward Stage Door announced that they had bought the old Byron Carlyle Theatre, we expected to see them come out with guns blazing. Instead, we got Suds and a few other forgettable productions. That isn't to say Miami Stage Door can't put out stuff we get in their Broward home. But if you're going to plant your flag in Miami, it's a good idea to make an immediate splash. The good news is Miami Stage Door has some interesting things lined up for 2012. So I fully expect them to be off this list this time next year.

3. The nothingness of New Theatre's High Dive 
New Theatre's one-person play, High Dive, featured a neat audience participation gimmick and a solid, engaging performance from five-time Carbonell nominated actress Barbara Sloan. Its concept and plot are certainly original and creative. It's a play where audience participation is key and the performance is solid. But the concept and performance fell victim to a tepid script that delivered few genuine laughs, or anything else of real interest. It was, thanks to Leslie Ayvazian's weak and stale script, a show about nothing. And not in a good way. It must be emphasized that the lack of jokey goodness didn't take away from Ms. Sloan's performance. And New Theatre, which we do love, shouldn't be judged by High Dive alone.

4. Main Street Players' messy Extremities
Extremities was a daring and ballsy choice for the Main Street Players. So I applaud them for that -- but the execution left a lot to be desired. Maybe it was the outdated script, or the small staging. Or maybe it was the awkward pauses and clunky performances from the cast. But Extremities seemed like a good idea gone messy. Of course, we don't expect world-shattering performances from this modest theatre house. They do well enough with what they have, and they have been able to pull off on some good stuff on occasion. But this wasn't one of them.

5. Aventura Arts & Cultural Center Needs To Do More Plays
I admit, it's unfair to place Aventura Arts & Cultural Center on the disappointments list ... but I will anyway. It's mainly due to AAC's own artistic success that was its production of Zero Hour, which was a fantastic play with an amazing performance (see #3 of the winner's list). But after that, the center churned out jazz nights and a few one-night performances that failed to meet the standard Brochu set. Of course, it's called a cultural center, so we don't expect straight up plays all of the time. Really the whole point of placing them on this list is to get them to put more stuff out like Zero Hour in 2012.

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