The trick of a successful comedy is to walk the fine line between life and art, which the local acting troupe Mad Cat did so humorously in their third production, Here in My Car. It cleverly combined a bit of Melrose Place with a healthy dose of The Real World and plunked it down in Miami. This original piece, penned by Ivonne Azurdia and Paul Tei, was a series of vignettes that connected the loves and lives of eleven Miamians. All the action took place in an early-Eighties model Honda, an artifice that gave the piece cohesiveness and a dramatic starting and finishing point. The two writers, approximately ten years apart in age, brought an interesting blend of decades to the writing: references to Paul McCartney and Wings and Less Than Zero spliced with talk of Green Day and Blink-182. What kept Here in My Car from being a narcissistic, "Hey! A Play About Me and My Friends!" production was Tei's excellent direction and the Mad Cats themselves, one of the most spontaneous and adventurous group of actors Miami has to offer.
As Max, a spoiled rich kid turned film critic, Tei turned in an over-the-top performance that stole the show, no small feat in a very strong cast and very strong play. But Tei's done it before, in the fabulous Popcorn last year at GableStage and other productions around town. It was time, however, for Tei to break mold and this year he did, pushing into new emotional territory in his own Mad Cat company's dark tale, Portrait, and as the tortured, sarcastic, vodka-swilling Sergio in New Theatre's Smithereens. Yet Tei's ability to wring humor out of twisted situations is one of his best assets, and as the terminally juvenile Max he did just that, giving South Florida a genuine treat.
Thomas was outstanding as Libby Price, a world-weary black woman adrift in the Southern racial struggles of the Sixties in this interesting production. ("Bee-luther-hatchee" is early twentieth-century African-American slang for a faraway, damnable place, the next station after the stop for Hell.) This was the New York-based actress's first stop in South Florida, and her emotionally compelling work was a model of simplicity and clarity, and left an indelible mark on the memory. With more such roles, maybe we'll be fortunate enough to see more of Thomas on our stages.

Serving up a rogues' gallery of local Miami characters, Castellanos showed off his considerable performing and writing gifts in one of the theater season's highlights. Donning different hats, literally, Castellanos took on the accent, the movements, indeed the appearance of a Haitian jitney driver, a small-time Wynwood ("Wynwooood") Puerto Rican drug dealer, a Cuban vendor, a Hialeah teenager, a black woman, Jamaican man, Jewban grandfather. With humor and an authentic feel for the streets, Castellanos brought home the wonderful diversity that is Miami in the cozy Encore Room at the Coconut Grove Playhouse, a bravura theatrical experience sponsored by the Miami Light Project.

Roza was memorable as a tightly wound professional woman in Manhattan being stalked by a would-be suitor. Her emotional range and willingness to explore the character's ugly sides helped turn Rebecca Gilman's issue-driven potboiler into a dark, troubling character study. We've seen Roza before in other psychological dramas, such as Extremities, where she played a rape victim who turns the tables on the perpetrator, literally and emotionally trapping her tormentor; and in her disturbing performance in Medea Redux (the title tells you something), one of three plays in Bash by Neil LaBute, where she revealed a simultaneous vulnerability and hardness that made us remember why watching live performances by talented actors is a riveting experience.
Haig's performance in this show (at the Mosaic Theatre in Plantation) was little seen but indelible. An insular literature professor imprisoned in war-torn Beirut, chained in place for the entire play, Haig could barely move, not even stand, but nevertheless managed to conjure up a moving, nuanced portrait of a limited, conflicted man who discovers a well of strength he never knew existed. As a medieval scholar, Haig's character initially seems the frail one, a man living through his ancient texts in an ivory tower into which harsh reality never makes its way. But Haig reveals a man capable of something more, and shows us a strength derived from words, not force. Haig has always chosen intelligent roles, so it's worth your while to choose his performances whenever they pop up.

And the winner is.... Once again the award goes to Adler for his range of work and the professionalism with which it is produced. From gritty naturalism in the creepy and mind-bending Boy Gets Girl to lyrical musical drama in The Dead to the brilliant absurdism of Edward Albee's The Play About the Baby, Adler moves all over the stylistic map and handles each stop with assurance. His direction is marked by clarity, energy, and a palpable love for the actor's craft. It's no coincidence that many actors shine in his productions. Until someone else manages all this in one season, the crown remains firmly planted.

On a metaphorical sea four rafters (a soldier, an explorer, a priest, and an archetypal female) became more than refugees -- they grew into symbols of rebirth and redemption in Teatro Avante's rendition of Colombian playwright José Assad's Cenizas Sobre el Mar (Ashes on the Sea). An enigmatic elixir of magical realism and theater of the absurd, the play, written by Assad in 1989 to commemorate the 500-year anniversary of the so-called discovery of America, concerned four rafters who have been adrift at sea for 100 years. They are symbols of Latin America as a continent of people uprooted, at war, searching, creating and re-creating identities. The key to the play's success? The trinity of theater's most fundamental elements: script, set, and performance. Assad's wonderfully poetic text worked like waves, using the ebb and flow of fixed refrains to give it cohesiveness. Ingeniously, set designer Leandro Soto, an accomplished Cuban visual artist himself, wove together shells, rags, and rope in a circle on the floor, making the raft a blank canvas rather than the site for a real voyage. The actors managed to shape-shift yet remain recognizable. They were at once thumb-sucking and ornery children, raving madmen, soldiers, travelers, and lovers. Cenizas Sobre el Mar revived and reinvigorated the age-old symbol of the sea as the universal metaphor for life, travel, birth, passage, and death. We were lucky to have it wash up on our shores.

Who's afraid of putting on Edward Albee? Not GableStage. And this production of the playwright's mind-bending verbal labyrinth was a dizzying, enigmatic tour de force. Strong all around, from Joseph Adler's crisp staging through the tight and engrossing performances (including some nifty work from John Felix and Cynthia Caquelin). Add to the mix the excellent work of Jeff Quinn, Daniela Schwimmer, and Nat Rauch -- for sets/lighting, costumes, and sound respectively -- and what you get is hard to beat, even if it were competing in a theatrical capital.
Olympic gold medalist and five-time world champion Leonard has done what retired fighters just don't do. He's crossed over from the exploited to the exploiter. He has become a boxing promoter. But Leonard isn't much like the parasitic thugs who control professional pugilism. He says he wants to make boxing shows more competitive instead of producing snoozers staged to build up the records of contenders. In two programs so far this year at the American Airlines Arena, both televised on ESPN2, Sugar Ray Leonard Boxing delivered two IBA world-title fights, including Roy Jones, Jr.'s first-ever bout in Miami, and some quality undercard bouts. You can't give Leonard all the credit for raising the boxing profile in Miami. The first fight program at the AAA -- Don King's Felix Trinidad-Mamadou Thiam matchup in July 2000 -- sold out, and the regular televised shows at Miccosukee Indian Gaming aren't all bad. Some sportswriters are saying Miami is making a comeback as a major fight venue. And the presence of Leonard, who recently signed Miami-based Cuban star Diobelys Hurtado, is definitely a catalyst.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®