You don't have to live in South Beach to be painfully aware of the fact that finding a place to park your car qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment. Keep this garage in mind next time you're about to lose your mind in the quest for parking. Owned by the City of Miami Beach, the Seventeenth Street garage could not be more conveniently located. It's an easy walk to the Jackie Gleason Theater, the convention center, Lincoln Road, and only five short blocks from the beach. It's open 24 hours a day and has space for a whopping 1460 vehicles. The dollar-per-hour rate (maximum eight hours) is quite reasonable. On special-event days it's a flat rate of five dollars. According to city officials, the garage opened 25 years ago, but a thorough renovation in 1996 expanded the facility and spruced it up considerably. You can almost always count on finding a space there, shielded from the blazing sun and close to where you want to go.
"Buenos dias" in the morning. "Buenos tardes" in the afternoon. "Buenas noches" after the sun goes down, just before they lock up the store for the night. "¿Como andas?" "¿Como andamaos?" "¿Que pasó?" The list runs through your head every time you go for a newspaper. The fates have placed you in Little Havana and you're okay with it. In fact you like it, how real the neighborhood feels, how different it seems from everywhere else in America you've lived. Unfortunately you don't speak Spanish -- at all. Or at least not more than a few words. You're painfully monolingual, though you keep trying. Every day you buy your paper at the neighborhood bodega, the one with the shrine to San Lazaro burning near the cash register. Every day you wave and say hello to the butcher. He's 92 years old, you're told. He sits there every day, liver spots sprinkled over his face, all his hair gone. Plastic-wrapped hams and strange-looking cheeses mummify in a cooler. "¡Hola!" he says to you one morning. You do know that one and respond in kind. The next day, when you see him, you smile and prepare for a similar exchange. "¿Como andas?" he asks. What?!? What are you supposed to say to that? You head home and flip through a Spanish dictionary. You call a friend and ask for an appropriate reply. By the next morning you're smarter. But so is he, sitting behind his meat cooler, eating cheese off a cracker. "¿Que tal, mi amigo?" he calls out, reaching over the cooler to warmly grasp your hand. You stare at him blankly, frozen in fear. ¿Que tal? Where the hell did that come from? You mumble something, "Bien" probably, grab your paper and scurry back to your dictionary. Tomorrow you'll be ready.

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.
The Miami Light Project, a nonprofit cultural arts organization founded by Janine Gross and Caren Rabbino, gained a solid reputation soon after its debut in 1989. Today it is best known for bringing to Miami performances by renowned contemporary music, dance, and theater artists. Miami Light also commissions new works and provides an outlet for Miami's own avant-garde performing artists. In this town, however, unfettered artistic expression has been a complicated affair, particularly when Cuban nationals are involved. By the time Beth Boone became executive director of Miami Light, in May 1998, the complications had gained national notoriety, facilitated by a county law severely restricting the circumstances under which Cuban artists could appear here. Despite very real risks to her organization's financial health, in May 2000 Boone and Miami Light joined with the ACLU and several others in successfully challenging the so-called Cuba ordinance in federal court. With the law on her side, Boone proceeded to introduce Miami to a glittering array of Cuban artists. In just the past twelve months she's sponsored performances by Grupo Vocal Desandann, Los Fakires, and the legendary Los Muñequitos de Matanzas. But Miami Light has a much broader mission. Under Boone's guidance, in the past year alone we've had the opportunity to see Philip Glass and Foday Musa Suso, Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson, and Miami's own Teo Castellanos as he created his one-man hit NE 2nd Avenue. That's the kind of cultural kaleidoscope that makes living in Miami worthwhile.
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.

On the University of Miami campus it is possible to take a short walk in the woods and end up on what seems like a tour of the globe. Founded in 1947, the Gifford arboretum was named for the first graduate forester in the U.S., a UM professor and expert on tropical woods. At one time there were more than 500 species here, but in the Seventies and Eighties the collection suffered from neglect and a few were lost. Then, as bulldozers prepared to carve more parking lots out of the campus's north end, local activist Kathy Gaubatz stepped in and saved the place from ruin. The collection, which now includes about 450 species, has been renovated and inked in on the university's master plan. The plants are being retagged and a new checklist of the holdings compiled. It is a little-known sanctuary, and according to director Carol Horvitz, a UM biology professor, one of the few places in South Florida to find a fully labeled grouping of more than 90 percent of the 130 species of shrubs and trees native to the area. From a box by the parking lot, pick up a brochure and begin a self-guided tour through thirteen families of tropical and subtropical plants, including palms, figs, hardwoods, and ornamentals. The trail is well marked, the plants all wear tags bearing their common and Latin names, and benches here and there invite repose and reflection. Note the handsome lignum vitae tree, planted more than 50 years ago.

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.
In Miami, the poorest large city in the nation, women and girls make up the majority of those living below the poverty line. It's a disgrace for Miami and a disgrace for mainstream charities that historically have shortchanged programs specifically for women and girls. And it should embarrass the Florida legislature, which continues its relentless drive to eliminate desperately needed social services. The Women's Fund makes up for some of the neglect by funding innovative and often ignored organizations and projects, programs that cultivate creativity and self-reliance, that help girls and women break abusive or addictive bonds and develop their strengths and talents. Women's Fund grantees don't get a lot of money. Last year the three-year-old nonprofit (affiliated with the worldwide Women's Funding Network) awarded a total of $51,500 to sixteen specific projects, some operated by local social-services and immigrant-relief organizations, but most of them unknowns such as MZ Goose, Pridelines Youth Services, and URGENT Inc. The funding totals a mere fraction of what most lobbyists make in a year, but it's a start.
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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®