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February 25
Truth is indeed often stranger than fiction -- and sells just as well. John Berendt proved that point with Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, his megaselling novel based on a murder case in Savannah, Georgia. In that same vein, The New Yorker magazine writer Susan Orlean has found an audience with The Orchid Thief. Genteel plant enthusiasts might not come off as underworld crime types, but demand for rare orchids has created a black market for them. And when one South Florida ring of plant plunderers -- consisting of leader John Laroche and three Seminole Indians -- got busted taking orchids from the Everglades, Orlean saw the makings of an article and possibly a book. So during Laroche's trial, she hooked up with him for interviews and forays into the swamp. The Orchid Thief is an account of South Florida plant smugglers, swamp explorers, and eccentric collectors. Orlean will talk about and sign copies of her book at 7:30 p.m. at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Hollywood (4170 Oakwood Blvd.). Alberta Armienti of the Miramar Orchid Society will also discuss and display some of her 1500 plants. No stealing, please. Admission is free. Call 954-923-1738.

February 26
The problem with being a smart-ass is that whatever you say has the potential to boomerang in your face. Take this line from Cracker's song "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)," for instance: "What the world needs now is another pop singer -- like I need a hole in my head." The front end of the lyric was "borrowed" from one of Burt Bacharach's timeless tunes, and as much as Cracker's frontman, David Lowery, was attempting to make fun of consummate popsters like Bacharach, we can't help but think the guy's a bit jealous. After all, who's gonna remember "Teen Angst" 20 years from now? The Burtmeister, of course, doesn't have to worry; decades-old songs like "What the World Needs Now Is Love," "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," and "On My Own" are well remembered, and Bacharach has managed to stay relevant by working with the likes of Elvis Costello (last year's Painted From Memory). And you can bet he'll sell out 8 p.m. shows tonight at the Coral Springs City Centre (255 Coral Springs Dr., Coral Springs, 954-344-5990) and Saturday at Florida Atlantic University Center Auditorium (777 Glades Rd., Boca Raton, 561-297-3737). We'll see how you're doing in 20 years, Mr. Lowery. Tickets for the Bacharach show cost $25 to $55.

February 27
Every year the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens celebrates the arrival of spring with its Hatsume Fair, a weekend festival of Japanese culture. Tea ceremonies, ikebana (flower arranging), martial arts, and thundering taiko drumming are annual favorites. But this year Japanese storytelling performances have been added. Today and Sunday at noon, master storyteller Kuniko Yamamato will educate and entertain young and old with tales that challenge cultural prejudices. Born in Osaka, Yamamoto studied music, dance, and botany while growing up, then came to the United States in 1985 to study with mime-storyteller Tony Montanara. After doing hundreds of shows with the Faulkner Light Theater, she moved to Florida and began to perform solo. She'll do so this weekend, combining masks, music, and mime to convey her tales. The fair is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days, and admission prices range from $4 to $8. The Morikami is located at 4000 Morikami Park Rd., Delray Beach. Call 561-495-0233.

February 28
Please don't call it "Russian" dancing. That'll just upset Donna Maksymowich-Waskiewicz, the leader of the Ukrainian Dancers of Miami, a group her father, Taras Maksymowich, helped form in the late '40s. At the time the Ukrainian Club of Miami was meeting in the Maksymowich home, where members kept alive traditions from their homeland, which is bordered by Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Belarus, and Russia. Most Americans lump Eastern European folk traditions together, thinking, for instance, that a group of dancers with furry hats and billowy pants tucked into leather boots pretty much sums up Russian culture. You know, the ones who fold their arms across their chests, squat, and do a lot of kicking? "[Audiences] look at what we do and say, 'That's Russian,'" claims Maksymowich. "It's not. Russians have their own flavor and their own art. We spend our life fighting to make people realize that." In other words the guys with the furry hats are Ukrainians. She and other members of the group, all of Ukrainian descent or married to someone who is, will try to get that message across during A Ukrainian Montage. The afternoon of dance and music begins today at 2 p.m. at the Broward Center For the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $15. Call 954-468-1541.

March 1
What we see, read, and hear about Africa these days is usually some tragedy unfolding on the continent: civil war, famine, natural disaster, disease. The exceptions are documentaries featuring the region's natural beauty and wildlife. Somewhere in between lies reality: people living everyday lives and trying to improve their situations. The goal of the Broward Community College African Film Festival is to provide a forum for films that tell such stories. The five films in this year's festival cover a range of subjects, including love (La Vie Est Belle [Life Is Rosy]), political and social commentary (Udju Azul di Yonta [The Blue Eyes of Yonta]), and the environment (Ta Dona [Fire]). The festival runs today through March 5 at the BCC North Campus (1000 Coconut Creek Blvd., Coconut Creek), March 8 to 12 at the BCC Central Campus (3501 SW Davie Rd., Davie), and March 15 to 19 at the BCC South Campus (7200 Pines Blvd., Pembroke Pines). One film per day is screened at 11 a.m. Admission is free. Call 954-396-9991.

March 2
In D.L. Coburn's Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Gin Game, a man and a woman living in a drab retirement home meet over a game of gin rummy. They ruminate about their pasts, only to realize that they've led lives of emotional inhibition. And the playwright calls this a comedy? In fact it was Coburn's ability to make such subject matter both poignant and funny that garnered him the prestigious award. Coburn based the play on the experiences of an elderly aunt and his own love of the card game. In the play Fonsia Dorsey beats Weller Martin hand after hand. Although they crack wise with each other, the duo digs deep with their comments, reviewing their lives and realizing how much people depend upon each other. Tony Award winners Julie Harris and Charles Durning starred in the critically acclaimed Broadway revival of the play, and they're now touring with the show, which opens tonight at 8 p.m. at the Royal Poinciana Playhouse (70 Royal Poinciana Plaza, Palm Beach) before moving to the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale. Ticket prices range from $39 to $42.50. Call 561-659-3309. See "Stage" capsules for a complete schedule.

March 3
Considering that Miles Davis was a huge influence on many jazz musicians, it's quite a compliment when the master himself tries to emulate another musician's sound. That's exactly what happened to piano player Ahmad Jamal sometime in the '50s, when Davis heard Jamal and was impressed especially by the pianist's ability to control the volume of his trio's performance by leading with his piano. Davis soon told his piano player to do the same, and he borrowed from Jamal's repertoire. But he wasn't the only well-known musician to flatter Jamal with imitation. Five years after Jamal's 1955 recording of "Pavanne," the song's melody served as the basis of John Coltrane's "Impressions." Davis and Coltrane have left their legacies behind, but Jamal is still at it; he released his latest album, Nature: The Essence, Pt. 3, last year. He plays tonight at 7:45 p.m. at the Broward Center For the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $27.50. Call 954-468-1541.

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John Ferri

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