Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
To families, block parties are a way to commune with neighbors, to fight suburban isolation with lawn chairs and potluck picnics, basketballs and bicycles. To college students, parties are a way to commune with the opposite sex, to fight social ineptitude with couches and kegs, bongs and bongos. And to the City of West Palm Beach, Clematis by Night is a way to commune with citizens, to fight downtown deterioration with restaurant tastings and refreshments, live bands and local artisans. The crowd comes in waves, first children bopping around their parents' ankles as a musical group warms up on Centennial Square, then teenagers trying on twisted silver rings and embroidered backpacks, and finally seniors waltzing in the street outside the Clematis Street Theater. The fashionable set arrives still later, swarming around Sforza's sidewalk tables and air-kissing acquaintances, ears abuzz, at My Martini. They stay later, too, sealing Clematis by Night's status as the weekly social event and showcase for the city. Not only has the program spurred redevelopment of downtown since it began in 1995, but proceeds from alcohol sales help support local museums, civic organizations, homeless shelters, and perhaps most appropriately, neighborhood associations.
At night this dank strip-mall billiard hall is transformed into a teenage nightclub for the colored-hair, my-mom-signed-my-piercing-consent-form young'uns. Featuring various local and touring punk and ska bands (many in their teenage years as well) on the small corner stage of Q's musty, concrete-floored space, here the kids have carte blanche to pogo, slam or mosh till the cows come home. The p-rock kids sport the uniforms of their generation (and a few before them) -- liberty spikes and mohawks, shin-length shorts, chain wallets, and T-shirts with slogans from the classic "Punks Not Dead" to the updated "Got Punk?" The well-worn wooden bleachers facing the stage only add to the sophomoric atmosphere; this is their playground -- if you're old enough to drink beer, you probably won't fit into this microcosm of rushing energy and hormones. As Bryan Adams put it, "The kids wanna rock." At Club Q they do just that.
Warm up the accordion and the kielbasa, because when Jimmy Sturr comes into town, polka music becomes all the rage. OK, it's not all the rage. But at least part of it -- especially at the American Polish Club of Lake Worth (561-967-1116), where Sturr performs each year. In fact, with 100 albums, nine Grammy awards and an "I'm-a-handsome-guy" smile, Sturr, a sometime Singer Island resident, just might be king of all things polka. He recorded his latest album, Dance With Me, with the help of the Oak Ridge Boys. But even with its oom-pah-pah polka beat and the good-timey lyrics of such songs as "Make Mine Polka" and "My Polka Dot," this latest recording is downright bland compared to Sturr's live performances at both national and international polka festivals. Says one wizened old-timer from the American Polish Club: "He'll knock your socks off."
Uncle Funny's is pretty much it in this category for professional standup in Broward County. In Palm Beach County, there's the Comedy Corner, which is owned by the same guy who owns Funny's, Andrew Dorfman. In the past few months or so, Uncle Funny's has featured national talents like Dom Irrera and Bobby Collins and the Corner has presented the really hot Chris Rock. The Saturday night we went to Funny's, Sheryl Underwood performed an amusing set. Underwood is a short black woman who is a little overweight, carries a purse, and dresses in professional attire. It's an illusion -- she's a self-described "ho-ish bitch addicted to dick," and her first bit is about the wonders a certain showerhead does for her private areas. We loved her (especially when she performed a snippet of fellatio on her microphone). While drinking an overly expensive beer, we got to listen to some of her nastier observations and her amusing riffs on Bill Clinton, Oprah, and Montel Williams. We would have liked to have seen a little more Underwood. She was only on for an hour, about the time it takes her to get a man from the barstool to the back seat.
During the day the pubescent DJs manning the mics at Broward's hippest radio station spin an eclectic mix of cutting-edge tracks that range from the raw and grungy to the infectiously upbeat. Between adolescent banter sprinkled with giggles and gossip, high-school students taking what must be the coolest class in the Broward school system play everything from thrash metal to techno, from hip-hop to indie rock. At night the college set mans the DJ booth as it becomes Broward's only college radio station, a slightly more polished version of its daytime cousin. For pure entertainment value, we favor the high-school DJs -- listening to their on-air chitchat is like overhearing a conversation in some clandestine corner of a high-school cafeteria.
Twenty-four movies at the multiplex and nothing to see. That's the sad reality of moviegoing in most of Broward and Palm Beach counties. The multiplexes continue to amaze us with the sheer quantity of utterly banal schlock they screen each week. (On exactly how many screens can you show Enemy of the State, to take one example, and still make money?) Shadowood 16 in Boca Raton, the Carefree Theatre in West Palm Beach, and Sunrise 8 in Fort Lauderdale occasionally break through the tedium, screening rarely seen independent films such as Central Station in recent months. But the most consistent venue for catching provocative, intelligent movies is the Gateway Cinema. The almost-50-year-old Fort Lauderdale landmark has over time transformed itself into a redoubtable art-house theater. One could see the restored version of Orson Welles' B-movie thriller Touch of Evil, as well as the luminous Giulietta Masina in Fellini's Nights of Cabiria, not to mention stellar contemporary films, such as Little Voice and Happiness, that did not really interest the multiplexes.
Every theater is saddled with the same basic challenge -- figuring out what audiences want. At Florida Stage, founder and producing director Louis Tyrrell isn't looking over his shoulder to see what others are doing. Nor is he serving up crowd pleasers just to sell tickets. Instead he's leading the way with challenging programming that you can't see anywhere else. In the past year, Florida Stage presented effervescent productions of three Florida premieres (with one more on the way this spring). Last summer the theater produced Michael McKeever's provocative new play, The Garden of Hannah List, as well as a Cole Porter revue that really was the tops. Not everything the theater presents is an unqualified success, but its willingness to take chances is.