Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
With its rum-voiced narrator nattily attired in white à la Fantasy Island's Ricardo Montalban, the nation's longest-running Polynesian floorshow could easily be played as a joke. But while the enormous restaurant trades on fantasy, it is refreshingly free of irony. Opened in 1957, the Mai-Kai hails from a time when exotic meant chic, fondue was fun, and women dressed for dinner with gardenias in their hair. This was pre-postcolonialism, of course, but even so, the feel of Mai-Kai lies somewhere between dated and timeless. The beautiful, long-haired dancers (male and female) are in fact trained by Mai-Kai owner-choreographer Mirielle Thornton, a native Polynesian. So while they evoke South Seas signifiers, the dancers never stoop to cruise-ship camp. Instead they perform a storytelling medley that's fun -- and funny only when it's meant to be.
He was just passing through, never staying in one place more than a year. We knew that, but it's still hard to admit that's he's really gone -- with no forwarding address. That's probably why we feel a little like a jilted lover. The good news is, Chris Chandler liked us. He really, really liked us. He wrote about the area in an e-mail to his South Florida friends, "I like to think of Hollywood as pre-scene'.... The rent is cheap, there are a dozen places to hear affordable live music where the beer is cheap, and there are no A&R reps shaking the bushes to find Eminem taking a leak." High praise indeed. And of course, audiences who heard Chandler perform know this "folken-word" poet was just warming up his praise when he typed that missive. We'll miss the guy who pointed out poetically that the coldest place on earth is a South Florida movie theater, that karaoke-style, cover-tune-like guitar-strumming is crap, and that many of our residents look like George W. Bush when he's asked a simple question (which goes a long way toward explaining the election). Let's hope we do something really stupid that attracts national attention soon so Chandler comes back for a visit.
Theatergoers found a lot of reasons to dislike Paul Tei this season. He played a cold-blooded child-murderer in New Theatre's Never the Sinner and a hot-blooded serial killer in GableStage's Popcorn. But he is so good at being bad that we can't really hold it against him. Tei is the kind of actor who looks at a role not only as an opportunity to perform but also as a chance to create a persona. Consequently he can portray several different degenerates without his performances overlapping. As Wayne, the gun-toting redneck in Popcorn, Tei kept us riveted to our seats -- appalled and laughing. But as Richard Loeb, a wealthy young Chicago man who, along with his lover, kills a young boy on a Nietzsche-inspired whim, he was outstandingly appalling. Tei never let audiences simply dislike his character. With his willingness to take risks and push the boundaries of character definition, he could make Ted Bundy funny. He dared to play the insolent, arrogant murderer Loeb as childlike and capricious -- clubbing a kid in the head one moment and going out for hot dogs the next. Tei's topnotch acting transformed these two good plays into excellent ones.
An actress's success in a dramatic role can fall into one of two categories: the ability to make the unbelievable believable, and the ability to make the believable unbelievably incredible. Bridget Connors managed to do both in her role as a young Jewish woman dying of a terminal illness. That's the believable part. Rachel's plight could easily have been a case study in Harold S. Kushner's book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. She expressed all the predictable emotions and asked all the right metaphysical questions. The not-so-believable part is the conversion experience she had, which was facilitated by her sister, a devout member of the Christian Science faith. Believable or unbelievable, Connors brought something magical to the role from the moment she stepped on-stage. Her ability to be simultaneously earthy and ethereal left theatergoers feeling as if they were seeing a tragedy for the first time.
There are traditional galleries, and then there's Lumonics, "a specialized sensory environment," as its founders put it, which is easily South Florida's most unusual venue for multimedia art. Housed in a nondescript strip of businesses just north of the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, Lumonics brings together light sculptures, water sculptures (in other words, fountains), performance art, digital video, laser art, dance, and music, all in one blow-your-mind complex. Dorothy Tanner and her husband, Mel (who died in 1993), started Lumonics as a showcase for large-scale acrylic sculptures that combine bright colors with internal lighting. Those pieces, along with water sculptures, are still displayed in a few small rooms and in the large main theater, which is where things really get interesting. From an upstairs control booth, a pair of artists (originally Dorothy and Mel, now Dorothy and Marc Billard) create one-of-a-kind performances set to music that include digital video projections and lasers dancing across a 35-foot wall that serves as their palette. Tanner and her collaborators originally created their soundtracks using jazz, classical, and New-Age music, but have lately leaned more toward original material by Tanner and Billard. And their regular hour-and-a-half shows have evolved more or less into "happenings," with the main performance followed by late-night parties in the adjacent Nite-Light gallery, where visitors can dance to cutting-edge DJ music or just hang out among the light sculptures.
Who can turn the world on with a smile? Who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile? Better still, who can sponsor a punk-rock food fight, inviting fans to attend a show and pelt band members with fruits and vegetables? It's the Mary Tyler Whores, of course, Broward's messy purveyors of stripped down, below-the-belt punk. For authenticity the band includes Joey Image, original drummer for protohardcore pioneers the Misfits. For fun the band sports an irreverent, clever handle. And for the hell of it, the musicians will let you throw your rotten citrus at them for no extra charge. Fort Lauderdale's Culture Room is a prime spot to pick up these Whores.