Florida Stage
This Palm Beach County company serves up challenging productions with a nice blend of local and New York actors and a welcome infusion of very talented directors and designers from across the nation. Artistic director Louis Tyrrell has an excellent instinct for play selection and maintains close relationships with several important playwrights. The result is a sophisticated level of theater artistry that sets the standard in South Florida. Some highlights this season: the sly and sophisticated comedy Red Herring, set during the McCarthy era (hey, red baiting can be a hoot!), and Lee Blessing's Black Sheep, also a dark comedy that takes aim at racial relations, the idle rich, and insipid pop culture (hey, maybe it's American culture in general that's a hoot!).
More kudos for the little Florida Stage that could. But here's why: Stephen G. Anthony, Patricia Dalen, Suzanne Grodner, Kendra Kassebaum, Johnathan F. McClain, and Gordon McConnell. This outstanding cast served up an endless stream of hilarious yet sometimes touching characters in this black comedy, from Anthony's tortured G-man to Grodner's wacky Mrs. McCarthy, the wife of Senator Joe, to Kassebaum's smoldering, sex-hungry good girl. This romp of a production included romance and intrigue, spies and bagmen, nuclear secrets and red scares, hard liquor and clever parody. The cast took the basket of outrageous thematic goodies and ran with spirit, hilarity, wit, and panache. Can't wait for more.
Grimm displays a willingness to actually leave his desk, unlike some columnists we know. And as far as we've seen, he has never wasted column space writing about the comments generated by his last column. No, Grimm goes down to city hall and rummages through files. He visits the boulevard where protesters marched, and he witnesses the sentencing hearing from the courtroom. Such shoe-leather reporting informs Grimm's intelligent opinions on the news of the moment. Generally warm and funny, Grimm can definitely be prickly on occasion, and appropriately so. His subjects are as far-ranging as cockfighting, black-market plastic surgery, failed shopping malls, swingers clubs, and the tasteless campaign of "Pete the Fireman" Iriardi, an obscure political candidate who attempted to exploit a 9/11 heroism he completely fabricated. Grimm makes all these issues (and many others) relevant to his readers. In his eyes, South Florida is the most interesting, crazy place in the country. He is, of course, right about that.
What's the difference between a black box and a full theater? Size, yes. The first is much more intimate. But in the right hands a black-box experience becomes something entirely new. Like when a director decides to ignore the confines of a stage and work with the space as a whole. Like when homegrown writer/director Michael John Garces decides to use Juggerknot's Biscayne Boulevard box for his one-act audiovideo, which blew away just about everything else produced in this town. The other half of the show, land, as well as most stuff performed at Juggerknot, was top-notch, but audiovideo stands alone. We didn't watch actors on a stage. We watched two teenage boys move around our literal and metaphorical basement as they discussed what to do with a lost sex videotape they had made. The directing was so tight, the acting so skilled (bravo to Oscar Isaac and David Perez), the dialogue so clever (the speech is often fragmentary, the boys finish each others' sentences, or let physical acts do the talking) that the audience was left wondering just exactly what they had seen -- that was not simply theater, was it? No, it was simply great.
Somehow we missed that particular issue of Caretas, the respected Peruvian newsweekly, the one in which it reported that Peruvian congresswoman Cecilia Tait was pregnant with a child conceived with the cooperation of Miami Herald reporter Tyler Bridges. But there it was in Joan Fleischman's "Talk of Our Town" column, in the very paper that employs Bridges. "He looks like Richard Gere but with green eyes," Tait told Caretas. Seriously? Tyler Bridges? The same Tyler Bridges who, in a Herald opinion piece, pondered the eerie similarities between his life and that of the late John F. Kennedy, Jr.? (Sample: "John John went to Brown. I went to Stanford.") More recently Bridges shared with readers his experiences preparing for and running a marathon. Surely he won't keep us waiting too long for the details of his long-distance political liaison. We'll be patient -- and maybe nervous.

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.
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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®