The summer is long in South Florida, but at this series produced by the City Theatre group, the plays are shorts. Summer Shorts, that is. The nearly four-year-old festival that celebrates five-minute dramas may indeed present several dozen Florida and world premieres of tiny works, but the producers don't skimp on quality. Each playwright (last year there were more than 500 submissions from around the nation) gets a fully staged production, featuring Equity actors and directors. And each actor gets an original comedy or drama in which to perform. Audience members, however, reap the greatest dividends. Summer Shorts' programs of micro-minute plays, normally opening early in June, and accompanied by a picnic dinner to which you may wear, well, shorts, are a tradition that keeps us going through the summer, and anticipating the riches of the summers to come.

He may not have presented the most provocative play or even the strongest season this past year, but New Theatre's artistic director Rafael de Acha made his mark on the South Florida theater scene by continuing to invest his productions with a personal vision. In the past year he presented eight new plays and one stunningly original double bill of familiar works: Don Juan in Hell and A Christmas Carol. He assembled numerous combinations of actors in crackerjack casts. He spearheaded an ongoing campaign to expand the theater beyond its tiny 78-seat black box. But most impressive of all, de Acha (who designs and directs many New Theatre shows) brings such intricate care and subtle intelligence to the details of design and staging that a signature de Acha production, recognizable anywhere, has come to be one of the high points on the South Florida cultural landscape.
"Acting isn't nice," says theater innovator Anna Deveare Smith, acknowledging the naked edges that cut to the heart when a performance uncovers complex truths. Okay, it's not nice. But sometimes it's quite palatable nonetheless. Especially when those doing it are as talented and cohesive as the troupers comprising the New Theatre's double bill Don Juan in Hell and A Christmas Carol. Under the direction of Rafael de Acha, this foursome (Bill Yule, Bill Hindman, David Alt, and Lisa Morgan) turned themselves into the Devil, Scrooge, Don Juan, and a number of supporting characters, including a panting dog and a bevy of thieves. In these two script-in-hand productions, props, costumes, and scenery hardly existed. They weren't missed. The magnificent quartet demonstrated the power that the actor alone exerts on our imagination. Then multiplied that by a power of four.
Every theater is saddled with the same basic challenge: figuring out what audiences want. At Florida Stage founder and producing director Louis Tyrrell isn't looking over his shoulder to see what others are doing. Nor is he serving up crowd pleasers just to sell tickets. Instead he's leading the way with challenging programming you can't see anywhere else. In the past year Florida Stage presented effervescent productions of three Florida premieres (with one more on the way this spring). This past summer the theater produced Michael McKeever's provocative new play The Garden of Hannah List, as well as a Cole Porter revue that really was tops. Not everything the theater presents is an unqualified success, but its willingness to take chances is.
Take one Victorian homosexual on trial, add a twentieth-century talk show host, a courtroom full of lawyers, some Aubrey Beardsley drawings, and lots of cute boys in their underwear, and you'll have Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. The show, an Outer Critics Circle Award-winner in New York, received a superior Florida production thanks to Caldwell Theatre Company's artistic director Michael Hall, who also directed the show with understated elegance and savvy. Designed by Tim Bennett and Thomas Salzman, who outfitted actors and abstract scenery alike in a black-to-shades-of-gray color scheme, and driven by Hall's razor-sharp pacing, Gross Indecency exulted in its own artistic firmament. We think Oscar Wilde would have approved.

With so many tattoo parlors around Miami (especially in South Beach, where there's one for every pizza joint), choosing someone to ink you is more challenging than ever. Just about every shop has an acclaimed artist, but Troy Lane stands out in a field of master craftsmen. Lane, who has received accolades from many tattoo publications, is a thirteen-year veteran (the last three were spent working out of his own shop). Before that he was with Tattoos by Lou. Among his design influences: Japanese body artists.

This collection of more than 100 black-and-white pictures by University of Miami photography professor Michael Carlebach reveals a quirky sensibility wedded to polished technique. Carlebach's images are drawn from the Sixties through the Nineties, and though the settings include locations throughout the United States, the vast majority were shot in South Florida. The photographer has an eye for both the absurd and the inherent frailties of human existence: A worker sits looking bored at an ear-wax eradication booth in Coconut Grove; a couple who could have stepped out of a Jim Jarmusch movie shoot pistols in the Everglades; two elderly women dance together in a cavernous hall in Miami Beach. After viewing this book, it's clear that Carlebach's affinity for the odd and Miami's flair for the bizarre were made for each other.
Thanks to the proliferation of Broadway tours, South Florida audiences are never far from at least a glimmer of the Great White Way. What's harder to sample are the off-Broadway hits, shows whose quirkiness or bold attitudes preclude them from fitting into the mainstream. One such musical was Das Barbecü, the riotous, Hee-Haw-inspired adaptation of Wagner's Ring cycle presented by the Actors' Playhouse. How do you stage a spoof of a three-day opera marathon in two and a half hours? Apparently by throwing together Giants, Norns, Rivermaidens, star-crossed lovers, and the rest of the gang of Teutonic trillers (all possessed of Broadway voices) with sequins, lassos, and kitschy lyrics. "I could eat a/Pound of Velveeta" is one of the memorable lines we can't get out of our head. Nor do we ever want to.

It's a strange job, pretending to be someone else. But when Peter Haig takes on a role, he dons an entire new universe along with it. This past season we caught him portraying two appealingly morbid characters: Vincent Vincent, a representative of a do-it-yourself euthanasia group in Eric Chappell's comedy Natural Causes; and the Devil in Ten Short Plays about Death, an entry in City Theatre's Summer Shorts series. We liked him when he portrayed the Grim Reaper as a henpecked husband in the short sketch. But we truly wanted to die (laughing, that is) during his inspired performance in Natural Causes. Haig's acting choices are too intelligent to go unnoticed, yet never so obtrusive as to call undue attention to themselves. Call us when he strikes again.

Plenty of actresses can hold your attention while half-dressed in a bra and slip, but can you think of one who can get you to forget what she's wearing and instead try to figure out what's going on inside her head? Think of Debra Whitfield, who portrayed a self-possessed political lobbyist in Michael T. Folie's The Adjustment at the Florida Stage. Whitfield spent much of her stage time in her underwear, but there was nothing flimsy about her performance. In this Florida premiere, smartly directed by Gail Garrisan, the actress maneuvered her character around the stage with the confidence of someone who could lead a small country into war and never lose concentration. Whitfield may have displayed a lot of flesh, but her performance was all heart and brain.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®