Miami theater is as alive and thriving en español as it is in English. From the reputable Teatro Avante to the burgeoning number of small theaters on SW Eighth Street, there's much to be said for local Spanish-language theater. But this season director Rolando Moreno's Spanish adaptation of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire took the prize. La Ultima Parada gave theatergoers a taste of what challenging theater can do when teamed with excellent acting. Transplanting Williams's streetcar of Southern decadence to Guantánamo, Cuba, circa 1970, La Ultima Parada turned decadence into misogyny and the tradition of Latin-American machismo into an intriguing pendulum of sexuality. Actors Carlos Caballero and Alexa Kuve stood out for their raw emotionalism as Guantánamo Bay's Stanley and Stella. The play was at times colloquially hilarious and at other times heartbreaking, but above all it provided Spanish-speaking audiences with an unflinching closeup of Castro's postrevolutionary wasteland. La Ultima Parada also featured Vivian Ruiz, Evelio Taillacq, Maria Hernandez, Hugo Garcia, Gerardo Riveron, and Ricardo Ponte.

Miami's Spanish-language talk radio all too often suffers from a conformity that ill serves listeners, and from analysis that could more accurately be described as propaganda. For these reasons Col. Matias Farias's shows on weekday mornings and Thursday evenings are so refreshing. Where else on Spanish-language radio could one hear Commissioner Jimmy Morales dissect the Marlins stadium deal or listen in to frank talk about who will really benefit from the Latin Grammys coming to Miami? Farias's life is the stuff of novels. He escaped Cuba in a stolen crop-duster. After the failure of the Bay of Pigs, he joined the U.S. Air Force. He served in Vietnam and Laos, teaching military intelligence. While with the Southern Command in Panama he struck up a friendship with Gen. Manuel Noriega. Farias retired from the air force a full colonel in 1990. In addition to his radio duties, he consults on political campaigns both here and abroad. When this background comes to bear on political events in Miami, the result is an insight on which listeners have to come to rely.
Broadcasting sports news to Cuba exclusively, which is Edemio Nava's job description, has to be a uniquely challenging task. Radio Martí's mission as a U.S. government station is to provide the people of Cuba with unbiased information not available to them in the state-controlled media. Often that information is about Cuban sports heroes who once were celebrated in the media but now are ignored because they defected. Yet they remain heroes on the island. Thus Nava works in a peculiarly two-faced world, bringing news to the island about figures who officially no longer exist in their own nation. He is well qualified for this unique job, having a broad familiarity with sports and sports heroes both inside and outside the island.
This past season, every time a set caught the eye as aesthetically pleasing or clever, it was inevitably one of Rich Simone's creations. Simone's sets always seem to help bridge the gap between the audience and the actors, using the stage not only as a meeting point but also as a point of departure. Most recently his specialty seemed to be setting the mood for licentiousness, adultery, and other forms of sexual high jinks, as he did in Miracle Theatre's Things We Do for Love, and GableStage's The Real Thing. In Things We Do for Love Simone created a three-story home perfect for the bawdy upstairs/downstairs humor that British playwright Alan Ayckbourn had in mind when he wrote this farce about a nympho, a soon-to-be spinster, a drunkard, and a vegetarian. Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing had a more sophisticated design (clean lines and streamlined contemporary furnishings) for this more erudite group of lovers (also British, come to think of it). Simone cleverly made use of upstage space to depict the playwright's play within a play.
This year Ray Lockhart proved that maybe you can trick the Devil, but you can't fool an audience. As Lem, the man who murdered Robert Johnson, Lockhart was not only pivotal to the play's denouement but also essential to the emotional chemistry onstage. Portraying a long-absent and embittered husband, Lockhart filled M Ensemble's tiny set with the emotional intensity and stage presence of a man who has spent the past few years splitting rocks and returns to find his wife bedding down with a handsome, mysterious stranger. Lockhart's raw physicality and confident stage presence elevated the quality of this drama immensely, without overshadowing the rest of the cast. Finding the balance between rage and passion, this quarry worker turned out to be the gem in this bitter tragedy.

To succeed in a supporting role, an actress must know her part within the context of the play as well as the character itself, and Tanya Bravo is one local actress who accomplishes this so consistently that her presence on the cast list always ensures an enigmatic evening of drama. She possesses the intensity and stage presence of an actress who always inhabits her character -- be it a punked-out band groupie in Caldwell Theatre's As Bees in Honey Drown, the young-girl version of Ruth in New Theatre's The Book of Ruth, or more recently as Chrysothemis in New Theatre's Electra. As the practical but ultimately vulnerable sister of Electra, Bravo showed her ability to channel conflicting emotions in relatively limited speaking parts. Her control and sharp instinct guarantee that her performance is never diminished by the size of the role she plays.

"Are you for real?" asks a caller to The Phil Hendrie Show. "You must be making this up." For Miamians who enjoyed Hendrie's satirical shtick during the two-and-a-half years he broadcast on WIOD-AM (610), the impressionist master's syndicated return this year on WINZ-AM (940) is the best thing to happen to Miami radio since he left, two years ago. Sure there are some changes. Stock characters such as steak house owner Ted Bell made the move west with him. Show-business columnist Margaret Gray no longer hails from Bal Harbour but from Pacific Palisades. (Recently she encouraged abortion as a way to generate fetal tissue that could be used to research a cure for the paralysis that cripples actor Christopher Reeve.) But like fans of a minor-league baseball team, those of us who heard Hendrie hone his act in Miami feel proud of his success and glad that he can now exploit an entire nation of gullible listeners, a never-ending supply of dupes questioning the credibility of, say, the recent guest who claimed to have invented solar power.

What made Coconut Grove Playhouse stand out this season is the same phenomenon that made the birth of the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup a hit -- the pairing of two things that normally don't go together. In this case two kinds of theater: the big-name, high-profile stars and full-scale productions the mainstage puts on, and the more intimate and diverse productions found in the Encore Room. This season each produced an outstanding show: Art and A Bicycle Country. Yasmina Reza's award-winning Art took satire beyond the limits of comedy into the hilarious drama of the human heart and its feckless sidekick, ego. The excellent acting and superb script transformed the Playhouse's mainstage into a blank canvas redolent with the gradations of comedy and drama essential to interesting theater. Cuban-American playwright Nilo Cruz made his Miami debut of A Bicycle Country, and the Encore turned out to be the perfect space for three balseros adrift at sea. The Encore's theater-in-the-round staging for the set heightened the sense of confinement, especially in the second half of the play, when the stage becomes a makeshift raft. (Set designer Steve Lambert used a hydraulic system to rock the stage as if it were on water in a subtle yet effective visual device.) While the playhouse has been teaming up its mainstage and Encore Room for at least a decade now, this season hit an especially winning combination.
If you're gonna build a city in a swamp, expect slimy creatures. In Miami we actually import them. Mobsters, murderers, mayors -- it's just part of the attraction for tourists. Two or three times each year historian Paul George takes a lucky group on a bus tour to visit some of Miami's most infamous ghosts. He packs a lot in three hours around the city and Miami Beach, but still doesn't come close to fitting it all in. There was the time in 1895 when Sam Lewis went on a murder spree in Lemon City. A hundred years later developer Stanley Cohen was murdered in Coconut Grove by his wife's hit man. Famous mobster Meyer Lansky used to walk his dog along Collins Avenue. In 1968 developer Robert Mackle dropped a $500,000 ransom from the bridge leading to Grove Isle in Coconut Grove, this in hopes of freeing his kidnapped daughter, who had been buried alive. Andrew Cunanan committed suicide in a Miami Beach houseboat after murdering Gianni Versace. The assassination attempt on FDR in Bayfront Park. The notorious River Cops stealing drugs and leaving bodies in their wake. The list goes on. Call the museum for more information. Reservations are required, and seats go fast.
When Edward Leedskalnin died in Miami in 1951, he left behind a genuine Florida wonder. Leedskalnin said he built the Coral Castle for his sixteen-year-old fiancée who ended up rejecting him. To furnish the couple's fantasy manse, the five-foot-tall, 100-pound former lumberjack labored obsessively for twenty years. Under cover of darkness he quarried, carved, and positioned more than 1100 tons of oolitic limestone using handmade pulleys and levers. Among his creations: a twenty-foot-long table shaped like the State of Florida with Lake Okeechobee as a finger bowl; 1000-pound rocking chairs that really rock; a sundial, a throne room, and a nine-ton revolving gate that opens with a gentle push and closes with only a quarter-inch clearance on either side. To this day Leedskalnin and the Coral Castle remain mysteries. (Two teenagers once claimed they saw him levitating coral blocks like helium balloons.) Billy Idol penned "Sweet Sixteen" after an inspired visit, and the edifice appears in the 1958 bomb The Wild Women of Wongo, available for $19.99 in the gift shop. The Coral Castle opens daily at 9:00 a.m. Call for closing times. Admission is $7.75 and free for children under age six.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®