Sometimes a performer finds the perfect role, or the perfect role finds her. Maybe it's karma or the planets' alignment. Maybe it's sheer luck or hard work -- or all of the above. Whatever the reason, Claire Tyler was the right actress in the right role as JC333 (Jaycee Triplethree), the android actress heroine of Alan Ayckbourn's dark fantasy Comic Potential at Actors' Playhouse. Tyler's performance clearly delineated JC's slow awakening to some hidden core of humanity. Her 'droid's awkward movements began to turn into some kind of nascent grace, and her squawk-box voice mellowed into something musical. The role also had a theatrical dash, as when Jaycee went haywire, spouting bits of long-past performances that had somehow been stored in her hard drive. Tyler has been very fortunate in her short theatrical career, working with top area directors and with excellent scripts. Besides her fine work with David Arisco in Comic Potential and the recent Sherlock's Last Case, she also scored in a trio of Joe Adler productions at GableStage: The Shape of Things, Popcorn, and The Play About the Baby. But it is the android with a heart of gold who remains the most memorable role of her young career.

Now, any Presidente supermarket is inherently interesting. Something about those crowded shelves and even more crowded aisles brings all the excitement and hot tempers of an urban Latin American street market indoors. But plop a Presidente down in the midst of a huge Haitian community and you have the beginnings of a whole new language. What does the skinny teenage new arrival from Havana say to the prodigious matron from Port-au-Prince blocking the rice aisle? How does the Haitian husband picking up a sensitive item for his wife communicate this to the Argentine stock boy? The linguistic invention is nothing short of poetic. But when it comes to the cash register, there is one thing all the customers seem to agree on. It's best to speak dollars and cents in English.

Forget Howard Stern, the Jerky Boys, or Comedy Central's Crank Yankers. For sheer creativity the year's best prank telephone call came courtesy of WXDJ-FM (95.7) and Enrique Santos and Joe Ferrero, co-hosts of El Zol's El Vacilón de la Mañana (roughly: The Morning Blast). Piqued at being snubbed by Mexican President Vicente Fox, Fidel Castro had released a private phone conversation between himself and Fox -- and that was all the ammunition Santos and Ferrero needed. This past January they managed to ring up Hugo Chavez on his personal line, and, after hitting the play button on their judiciously spliced tape of that Castro conversation, lampooned the Venezuelan prez's notoriously chummy relationship with el jefe en maximo in a glorious fashion. "Did you receive my letter?" asks the disembodied Castro. "Of course I received it," Chavez replies, growing ever more confused -- yet still eager to please -- as the Castro non sequiturs start flying: "I'll do what you're asking me to.... I'm going to be harmed, I confess to you.... Everything's set for Tuesday." Finally Ferrero and Santos broke in with a few choice epithets, letting Chavez know he'd been pranked. Would that all our city's political satire were this inspired. Anyone have the number for Jeb Bush's private cell phone?

This year the nod goes to the New Theatre, Coral Gables's Little Theater That Could. It may be tiny in size but its creative vision is large indeed. Recently recognized as one of the top 50 theaters in the nation by the venerable Drama Guild of New York, the New Theatre promotes inclusion as well as excellence. It is one of the few theaters in South Florida that actively casts minorities in main-stage productions, and its policy of subsidizing student ticket prices can't be beat. Where else can a student with an ID grab a ticket to truly professional theater for just five dollars? Founding artistic director Rafael de Acha can always be counted on to deliver nuanced, elegant productions. Another asset is de Acha's eclectic programming strategy, which serves up a provocative menu of contemporary off-Broadway hits, classics (two Shakespeares are on the plate this summer), and especially new plays from a trio of talented playwrights: Nilo Cruz, Mario Diament, and Michael McKeever, works the company often commissions. It's this patient development of and ongoing relationship with writing talent that really sets New Theatre apart from the pack.

Dan normally strolls Lincoln Road, but he can also be seen on Collins up around 21st Street. He claims this award because of his attitude and his sad story. He has no problem discussing his life. Mainly the subject is what happened to his left hand. All that's left is a nub resembling a potato. He says he lost it in a meat-grinder accident working at his father's old factory. But the hand tragedy isn't all there is to Dan. He's undoubtedly the most polite bum on South Beach. Though he is smallish, and weathered in that distinctly homeless way, his stature is a sight to see when he's panhandling. He stands ramrod straight, looking positively confident. When he asks for spare change, his tone is quiet, almost meek. And if the answer is No, it's "Thank you, have a nice day," and that's the end of it. He never asks twice.

Some of América TeVe's shows are the boobiest in boob-tube history. Thanks to Tania, Rocio, Isis, Taymi, and Kathy's. Wrapped in shimmering, colorful, skin-tight outfits, they make even the dumbest variety shows exciting. Well, how else are you supposed to get people's attention? Fights about politics is another way. Let's get to the punch: Maria Elvira Confronta, the show with two impacting boxing gloves as a logo. The debate show, hosted by Maria Elvira Salazar, is the contact point between many real issues of the day and the viewing audience. The discussion (always in Spanish) often devolves into the talk-show equivalent of white noise because all four guests and Salazar herself are shouting at once. But at least it's relevant white noise. Is El Nuevo Herald a serious newspaper? Is the U.S. embargo against Cuba a failure? Is plastic surgery a necessity or vanity? Are beauty pageants exploitation or promotion? These are the kinds of questions that can provoke heavyweight bouts of rhetoric any given weeknight from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. Salazar has also drawn crowds with her solo interrogations of Varela Project organizer Oswaldo Payá and chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation Jorge Mas Santos. The station's programmers give viewers a one-two punch at night. After Salazar, Gilberto Reyes and Miguel Gonzalez (a.k.a. Los Fonomemecos) enter the ring to lower the blood pressure with El Mikimbin de Miami. This live studio show mixes serious talk with comedy, reality with make-believe. To wit: A guest like FIU president Mitch Maidique can suddenly end up face to face with Alejo Campuzano, a silly, tacky, and impertinent character performed by Gonzalez (when he isn't doing one of the best Fidel impressions in la yuma).

Readers Choice: WPLG-TV (Channel 10)

Standiford made his reputation as the unofficial godfather of the South Florida crime thriller by way of an intrepid building contractor named John Deal. Deal is a world-weary average-guy protagonist with a knack for getting in and out of bad situations. While the credit for this popular character (appearing in six novels) goes to Standiford's tightly woven, literate prose, the success of the series itself rests at least in part on the setting -- ever-mysterious and unlikely South Florida. But Standiford's yen to pitch the Everyman against the nearly insurmountable forces of this absurd place was turned around on itself when he attempted an ambitious nonfiction book, published last year, about an ambitious man who proved even less tractable than the strange land he conquered. The man: railroad baron Henry Flagler. The book: Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad that Crossed an Ocean, in which Flagler extended his railway from the mainland south of Miami to Key West, more than 150 miles away, thereby turning mosquito-infested islands into margarita-sodden tourist traps begging for the next hurricane to wipe their stain from Florida Bay. Standiford pays the bills as an English professor and director of the creative writing program at Florida International University.

Every day from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. everybody eats. No sermons. No complicated rules like the Salvation Army and some church soup kitchens hit you with. Donny Esmond is a man you can talk to: "If a guy makes a real effort, we see he's trying, we can help him get back on his feet. But if you're just hungry? Come on over anyway." We can unequivocally recommend the chicken noodle and organic vegetable soup. And the fried-chicken dinner? Delicious.

Ahh, the impersonal nature of banking. Sure, that ATM perennially spouting cash is convenient, and that check card can be pretty handy too (even though your account's been drained three times by retail-sector thieves). And yes, online banking means you can monitor funds and pay bills right at your desk -- just like your boss does when he isn't watching his stocks! But admit it, you yearn for the days when banks would dole out toasters and clock radios as a reward for opening a new account, when lots of smiling tellers would utter their names and mean it when they said: "May I help you," and when the darned places were open on Saturday. Because who has the time to sneak away from the job and deal with money matters during the week? Well, a number of banks have begun throwing their doors open on Saturdays. But only Beach Bank can boast Sunday hours. The official day of rest for many is a day of work for them. Located in mid-Miami Beach, home to a heavily Orthodox Jewish population, the financial institution caters to those who don't do squat on Saturdays -- by religious mandate or not. But come Sunday, from 9:00 a.m. to noon, anybody can take care of his financial business.

Deep in the heart of Little Havana, on many a Saturday night, you'll see a strange scene for Miami: people paying to see performance art in this black-box space. Call it a small sign of our growing maturity -- paying for experimental theater, and not just on one Saturday. The surrealness can include lots of things, and in fact it will. Each event is multimedia. A DJ perhaps, with a photography exhibit on the walls, and two short dance works? Maybe a "band" of electronic musicians and a one-woman performance? The thing is, it's not predictable. It can't be. It's surreal, and it makes Miami proud.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®