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Best Reason To Stay In Miami During The Summer

Midnight swims

The Atlantic Ocean in August: bathtub-warm, no crowds, lots of stars overhead.
To watch a lot of local television news is to appreciate just how good a reporter is Mark Londner. Viewed side-by-side against his competition, the Channel 7 senior correspondent's story is likely to be the most thorough and the most balanced. Londner simply digs deeper to add the context that television news stories so often lack. Also excelling, in different ways, are WPLG-TV (Channel 10) political dean Michael Putney and WAMI-TV (Channel 69) upstart John Mattes, who displays welcome investigative acumen.
He's in great shape, he's handsome, and as far as we know he's still single. This stud from a long, well-bred line (a little hip dysplasia a few generations back, but that's all straightened out now) is Gunther IV, the sly dog that bid on Sly's bayfront mansion. Unlike Miami's other resident German magnate (the one who took the honors for "Best Ego" back in 1994), Gunther made more friends than enemies during his Miami visit. But when crack investigative reporters revealed it was really the Gunther Corporation, not Gunther the shepherd, with all the bucks, Gunther's fifteen minutes of fame came to an abrupt end. No more whining and dining, being feted by celebrities, and escorted to the most exclusive VIP (Very Important Pooch) rooms. These days Gunther is back in the doghouse, his fame tarnished and fading, much like someone else we know.
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.
In 1992 Hurricane Andrew churned with all its fury over the old estate of industrialist Charles Deering that had been a public park since 1985. The stone mansion Deering built in 1922 stood up remarkably well, suffering mainly bashed doors and windows, waist-deep water on the first floor, and the loss of a few outside columns. But the wooden Richmond Cottage, first erected in 1896, was reduced to kindling, not even its stone chimney surviving intact. The rest of the 420-acre park fared little better; mammoth royal palm trees were destroyed and mangroves trashed. Fast-forward seven years and $11 million later. An army of builders, painters, carvers, and restorers have done the impossible: returned both houses to (nearly) their original state and adhered to Miami-Dade County's rigorous building code. Restorers have concentrated on authenticity right down to the cottage's mismatched wood siding. In the stone house, handmade glass and Cuban lap tiles were installed. Copper and bronze doors turned black by saltwater were returned to a luminescent sheen. On the outside close to two million dollars were spent to eradicate exotic plants and restore native species. The site is open to the public again. Old man Deering would be proud.
"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.
Living in South Florida allows us to experience certain things people residing elsewhere simply cannot, such as passport checks at the county line, close encounters with automatic weapons, and cruising to Nassau at 50 miles per hour aboard a humongous catamaran. The Cat, 300-feet long and 85-feet wide, is a massive vessel that can carry up to 750 people. If its actual size and sleek profile aren't impressive enough, consider this: Every second its four 9500-horsepower engines displace enough water to fill two Olympic-size swimming pools, and at cruising speed it shoots out a rooster tail almost as long as the craft itself. The Cat departs Port of Miami daily (except Wednesday) at 9:00 a.m., and leaves Nassau at 4:30 p.m. To keep you busy during the five-hour trip, there's a bar, gambling, live entertainment, and movies. The day trip costs $119 plus tax and port charges; overnight packages range from $169 to $339 plus tax and port charges. Prices could change, so be sure to call ahead.
Admission to the grandstand is free. Parking is 50 cents. The rest -- how much to bet on the dogs -- is up to you. But along with the free entrance, you get much more. First, there's that ineffable thing called ambiance. The Flagler track and its habitués are about as far from the synthetic world of the shopping-mall entertainment complex as you can possibly get. This place is loaded with appealingly authentic grit. Then there are the more recent innovations. To battle lagging attendance, the track has augmented the racing canines with live boxing matches, carnivals, and low-stakes poker rooms. And it doesn't take much more to feel like a really big spender: Three dollars gets you inside the clubhouse. The greyhound racing season runs from June to November. The rest of the year you can watch races on TV -- for free, of course.
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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®