Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
She plays often — but not often enough — at the National Lampoon Underground Comedy Club and at the Fort Lauderdale Improv. And she regularly gets more laughs than the touring headliners. "This is cozy," Jessica Gross recently told an audience at National Lampoon's. "I feel like we're on an awkward, uncomfortable orgy-date... where people come to talk about their problems onstage." Jessica is sweet in that unassuming-but-still-might-shank-you sort of way. And she's pretty: nearly six feet tall, with dark hair cropped at her shoulder; smart, rectangular-framed glasses; and usually some sort of brightly colored attire. But her jokes pack a brutal, hilarious punch. She moves graciously from the topic of midgets to poop to UTIs. She can make a frat boy blush and a grown woman shoot cranberry and vodka out of her nose. She also has her own web series, The Adventures of a Sexual Miscreant. If you enjoy laughing even when you think you probably shouldn't, it's definitely worth checking out.
The term Renaissance man was invented to describe guys who have so much more going on than the rest of us. Guys so engaged with the world around them that you wonder how they do it all with just 24 hours a day. Guys like Timothy Leistner. Sometimes it seems the Toledo-born Leistner has a finger in every pie. He has a wall full of degrees, including a bachelor's from Ohio University and a master's and a doctorate from Nova Southeastern University, all put to use in his current job teaching at United Cerebral Palsy. He has also taught art privately and currently teaches evenings at the university level, and he recently collaborated with another artist on a series of storytelling workshops for children. When he's not teaching, he's participating in exhibitions from Fort Lauderdale to Fort Pierce, racking up awards in the process. Even when his own work — oil and acrylic paintings, watercolors, mixed-media sculptures, and photography — isn't included in a given show (which is rare), he shows up at openings in support of his fellow artists, many of whom he mentors. Did we mention that he has his own little commercial gallery in Dania Beach, the better to showcase artists he believes in? Hey, ease up, Tim; you're making the rest of us look like slackers.
The Caldwell's Clybourne Park cast was an embarrassment of riches, chockablock with so much A-list local talent that it almost didn't know what to do with all of it. The play looked at the shifting tides of racism in two acts separated by a generation of time, a conceit that gave the seven-piece cast 14 characters to portray. The ensemble included Gregg Weiner, imposing as ever as a bespectacled, overtly racist stuffed suit turned frustrated Everyman; Cliff Burgess as a boisterous reverend turned gay realtor; Margery Lowe as a deaf-mute housewife turned politically correct liberal mouthpiece; Karen Stephens as an obedient housemaid turned homeowner in "postracial" America; and Kenneth Kay as an American Dream-embodying 1950s nuclear dad turned modern-day construction worker. In a play about hidden bigotry and racial discord, the cast was nothing less than unified, harmonious in their characters' un-P.C. squabbles.
Who is Elvire Emanuelle? The young Virginia Commonwealth University grad who studied acting with Richard Zavaglia stunned audiences at the Women's Theatre Project, more than holding her own against South Florida acting heavyweights such as Lela Elam and Karen Stephens. Set against the ruthless backdrop of Liberian civil war, Emanuelle portrayed a 15-year-old captive — the initially helpless fourth "wife" of a rebel officer — who develops the capacity to kill, over the play's grim and exhausting duration. Her character is the crux of the play's unsettling commentary on the human capacity for violence, and her transformation brings the playwright's frightening ideas to vivid fruition.
The Mosaic Theatre turned 10 this past season, and what a birthday celebration it's been. In early 2010, the theater suffered a rare misfire in the form of the musical Make Me a Song: The Music of William Finn. Since then, it has been one winner after another, like Dying City, the South African diamond-diving drama Groundswell, the energetic and absurdist hilarity of Completely Hollywood, the witty and moving award contender Collected Stories, and the uproarious ensemble piece The Irish Curse. The latter broke attendance records for the theater and prompted the playwright, Martin Casella, to book a flight down here to see it. With Dusk Rings a Bell, the latest from The Laramie Project's Stephen Belber, and Sam Shepard's newest work Ages of the Moon this summer, Broward County's most provocative theater shows no signs of resting.
When Christopher Shinn's Dying City — a difficult and sobering triangle among the widow of an Iraq War veteran, the dead soldier himself, and the soldier's identical twin brother — debuted at Mosaic Theatre last spring, audiences and critics were divided over the source material. It wasn't exactly a fun, joyous night at the theater, and some found the material heavy-handed. But there was something of a consensus when it came to the production itself, which artistic director Richard Jay Simon handled with tenderness, sensitivity, and palm-sweating intensity. Erin Joy Schmidt and Ricky Waugh both spelunked their characters to previously unseen dramatic depths, and Mosaic's technical team created authentic ambiance all around the elegant set.