Tired of the ho-hum sterility of the average multiplex theater? But bummed about watching another video alone at home? That's where Thursday nights at the Loft come to the rescue. Concealed above the hubbub of the music store below, the second-story theater is a hodgepodge of sofas and easy chairs that provides a homey milieu -- with plenty of company. Each week at 8 p.m., the theater presents "the best (and worst) in cult and horror movies," its fliers brag. Judge for yourself; over the past few months, the Loft has run films such as Ichi, The Killer; The Return of the Living Dead; Silent Night, Deadly Night; Black Christmas; and New Year's Evil. Best of all, it's free. Remember to bring your own popcorn and maybe even somebody to hold hands with.

Donald Margulies' funny, sad play about one unhappy Jewish family in 1965 Brooklyn received a startling, dynamic production from the Caldwell Theatre Company, a noted departure from that troupe's usual safe fare. Visually striking staging was matched with an engaging cast and outstanding work from the Caldwell's resident design team. The result was a memorable, unusual production that played like a strange dream -- fascinating, sometimes illogical, always compelling.

Best Actor: Sometimes good guys finish first. Cowling was thoroughly delightful as a geeky gay accountant whose crush on his baseball star client turns into a passion for the game itself. Radiating charm and good humor, Cowling's fumbling characterization was the emotional heart of the Caldwell Theatre production and a model of impeccable comedic timing.

Best Actress: Lisa Morgan has had our applause before -- for her dramatic and comedic work. But Morgan managed both at once in the Mosaic Theatre production of The Memory of Water. Her performance as an embittered woman in the North of England found the role's great sadness in a memorable portrait of middle-aged frustration. The role also showcased her gift as a comedienne; in one drinking scene, her teetotaling character goes on a bender in a priceless comedic riff, Morgan-style.

The veteran Hall has long been known for his consistent professionalism, but this time out, his direction of Donald Margulies' oddball memory play really excelled. Hall's compelling visuals were easy to spot and admire, while his subtle, beautifully paced scene work and careful coaching of two subteen actors were far more subtle but just as effective. The result was a carefully orchestrated, fully realized theatrical vision that was the highlight of the season.

This expert quartet delivered a beautiful balanced display of assured, nuanced acting in the Palm Beach Dramaworks production of this Edward Albee play. As a vacationing couple dodging fears of aging and mortality, Felix found depths of honesty and simplicity, while Olsen radiated courage and joy. As a lizard couple from the sea, McKeever and Lowe made these implausible characters thoroughly believable.

Polak's startling performance as a homophobic baseball pitcher provided a welcome jolt of menace and unpredictability to the Caldwell Theatre drama. With a rough Southern drawl and a rangy, awkward physicality, Polak was thoroughly convincing as the play's gay-hating nemesis, who suffers a frightening nervous breakdown in a memorable second-act confrontation. We don't know when Polak will play our area again, but we hope it's soon and often.
As a tightly coiled Republican suburbanite in conflict with her liberal houseguests, Ostrenko's underplayed performance added dimension and empathy to a rather shallow role. Filling in the character's silences with telling subtle behavior, Ostrenko beautifully revealed a conflicted, conventional woman afraid to discover her most profound feelings.

Bennett's impressive baseball-themed design on the Caldwell Theatre stage featured locker room and shower interiors, framed by a baseball scoreboard and a massive green outfield wall. Salzman's expert, evocative lighting, using pools of light and streaks of color, was equally memorable, with several scenes resembling classic sculpture. The result was stagecraft excellence.

Sometimes great gifts come in small packages. Set during the Civil War, Robert Linfors' brief playlet packed a real punch, examining the anguish and fear of parents whose fired-up young son is ready to enlist in the Confederate army. Linfors' timeless dramatic dilemma clearly resonated in today's wartime environment, and City's fine cast, featuring Elizabeth Dimon as the grieving mother, made a lasting impression.

Let's say you have a hankering to look at hats. Or handbags. Or vintage lunchboxes. And let's say you're interested in such paraphernalia not as a consumer but as a pop-culture connoisseur in search of some context. Where do you turn? Not to the nearest mall, certainly. No, your best bet is a visit to the Museum of Lifestyle & Fashion History, which is housed, fittingly, in a 1960s storefront that was once a five-and-ten-cent store. The museum, which has its origins in a 1999-2000 sleeper exhibition of Barbie dolls at the nearby Cornell Museum, has presented shows focusing on African-American sacred music, the relocation of American Indian tribes, magazine covers with patriotic themes, and the Mohawk ironworkers who helped construct New York City's skyscrapers. It probably remains best-known, however, for 2003-04's landmark Hats, Handbags & Gloves: From Past to Present, one of the quirkiest exhibitions ever to grace a South Florida museum. Next up: Fore: The Love of the Game: Golf from the 17th Century to the Millennium. Can things get much kinkier?

Best Of Broward-Palm Beach®