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Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment

Read and Rejoice

What's most compelling about this year's landmark 25th incarnation of the Miami Book Fair International?

Maybe the reading by renowned theoretical physicist Dr. Bryan Greene from his book Icarus, which describes the winged punk's dicey approach to a Black Hole. "It's going to be a sleeper," suggests Mitchell Kaplan, the tall and wiry owner of literary mecca Books & Books and the event's co-creator. "But it will be amazing."

He's also looking forward to Tavis Smiley and Cornel West's evening — as well as a gathering of poet laureates Billy Collins, Robert Hass, and Mark Strand.

Oh yeah. How about Salman Rushdie? Or former Miami Herald reporter and Iraq war correspondent Dexter Filkins? Or the legendary Derek Walcott? When Kaplan declares that the nation's largest, most prestigious, most consistently amazing literary festival, which starts next week, will have "an incredible year," he isn't blowing smoke.

One theme this year is an oft-overlooked art form — comic books with both literal and figurative spines. "The graphic novel is something that got so much growth in the marketplace," says Kaplan. "So many different things are happening in that genre. It was time for us to celebrate it."

So he and his co-conspirators created Comix Galaxy, the fair's extensive graphic novel program. It will make up a big part of the street fair on November 15 and 16, and will include programs and appearances by genre superstars like Travis Nichols, Chip Kidd, Jessica Abel, Frank Beddor, and David Hadju, whose new work Ten Cent Plague chronicles the controversial early rise of comic books in the '50s.

David Heatley, the 33-year-old artist whose debut book, My Brain is Hanging Upside Down, takes a, shall we say, creative approach to the concept of memoir. This book's first section is "Sex History," in which Heatley draws in painstaking detail his every carnal encounter before marriage. In the next section, "Black History," the white author describes every significant encounter he's had with a black person, not shying away from his stubborn subconscious racism. It doesn't get much more original, or honest.

Art Spiegelman, one of the founding fathers of the literary comic, will tout two new releases. The author of the Maus series, Pulitzer winner, and former New Yorker top gun has re-released Breakdowns, a comic collection he first published in 1978, adding a comic introduction and a new subtitle: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@?*!".

"Whenever I have a new book out, I feel like Willy Loman, packing all my wares into a leather suitcase and going out on the road," Spiegelman said last week by phone. "But I should be grateful: When Breakdowns first came out, I couldn't get a wino to read it if I bribed him with a bottle of brandy."

That volume's cover is branded with the disclaimer "Adults Only," and the often-surreal collection includes carefully sketched re-creations of two-guys-on-one-girl porno. Spiegelman's other new comic book, Jack and the Box, is directed toward another demographic: 3-year-olds. Its main character is initially terrified (but irresistibly intrigued), by a new, strangely creepy toy his parents give him. "It's trying to resurrect a literary category that's been totally neglected: the early-reader books," says Spiegelman. "It's meant to rescue kids from 'See Dick run. Run, Dick, run,' and bad retellings of Cinderella."

Like Spiegelman, Pulitzer winner and Miami Herald cartoonist Jim Morin tackles timely issues. When he first began drawing George W. Bush as a cowboy more than eight years ago, he had no idea how accurate his depiction would become. Now, as Dubya's presidency comes to a close, Morin has documented his legacy in Ambushed! A Cartoon History of the Bush Administration. In a departure from his past collections, Morin enlisted Harvard political scientist Walter C. Clemens to write fact-based accounts to run alongside the cartoons.

Playing against Clemens' prose, Morin simplifies the cartoons, returning the focus to the images. The result tracks Bush's transformation from a moderate to "dividing this country way worse than I've ever seen it since the '60s," Morin says. His work poignantly makes that point: "What makes [political cartooning] special is the marriage between art and communication," he says. "You see that image and it sticks with you."

Another Herald alumna to read is the signature queen of the thriller, Edna Buchanan. "To me the Miami Book Fair is like Christmas, my birthday, and New Year's Eve all in one," says Buchanan after pulling off a bathing cap and postponing a morning swim with her dog. "It's a very lonely business, writing novels. I write at home alone with my dog every day, so it's incredibly exciting to be plunged in with so many fantastic authors at once," Buchanan says. "It's the biggest event of my year."

Virtually all of Florida International University's writing faculty will be at the biggest event. Les Standiford, director of the creative writing program, presents his newest non-fiction work, The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits. Professors Jim Hall (Hell's Bay), John Dufresne (Requiem, Mass.), Denise Duhamel (Afortunada de mí/Lucky Me), and Campbell McGrath (Seven Notebooks) will also be speaking.

Their star pupil, Mystic River author Dennis Lehane, will rekindle his own South Florida connection. "I've known Mitchell [Kaplan] from Books & Books forever," Lehane recalls. "He got me on a panel at the Book Fair when my first book came out. I think like four people showed up, but it meant a lot to me."

It's a safe bet the crowd will be larger this time around. Critics have lauded Lehane's newest novel, The Given Day, a departure from his grimy Patrick Kenze thrillers in its re-creation of a riotous 1919 Boston police strike. And Lehane's audience has exploded since movies made from his novels Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River, directed by Ben Affleck and Clint Eastwood, respectively, garnered several Oscar nods and a win for Best Picture. "I keep saying this, but there's no connection whatsoever between the films and my writing. I never give it a thought, not even a fleeting thought," Lehane says. "When I'm writing, it's between me and one reader. My job is to connect with this imaginary reader, seduce them almost into listening to what I'm trying to tell them."

The writer can't quite believe how well Hollywood has treated his work. Martin Scorsese is now directing another of Lehane's books, Shutter Island, and is said to have Leonardo DiCaprio lined up for the starring role. "I didn't tell anyone about Scorsese," he says. "When the announcement came out, one of the first emails I got was from a good buddy of mine, another writer who's going through the whole Hollywood thing. I opened it and all it said was: FUCK YOU. I mean, what else do you say when the reality is this amazing?"

Gus Garcia-Roberts, P. Scott Cunningham, and Tim Elfrink contributed to this report.

Best Actor
Todd Allen Durkin <i>Thom Paine</i>The Mosaic Theatre Project at the American Heritage Center For the Arts

Todd Allen Durkin is one crazy motherfucker, or at least he plays one on stage. He'll play anything but sane, a quirk that has rarely served him as well as it did in Will Eno's Thom Paine. Thom Paine is a one-man show in which the protagonist makes no sense whatsoever: he begins stories without finishing them, tells jokes without punchlines, and seems at all times ready to explode from ghastly internal pressure. The man wants to explain himself, to somehow rationalize his existence and explain away his foibles and let us know that he's really an OK guy. But in Durkin's hands, Thom didn't seem quite certain that the audience was willing to hear what he had to say; even his most lighthearted moments were shot through with intimations of impending doom, collapse, and failure. Thom could make us laugh, but he never laughed himself — his whole incoherent spiel was a tortured scream against alienation, and alienation isn't that funny. It's also seldom so painfully articulated in theater, and seldom so keenly felt by audiences at the moment of performance (so much so that several shows drew hecklers and sparked walkouts — some planted, many not). It was all so intense that you wondered, however briefly, if the event you were witnessing might transcend the stage and somehow magically cure the very malaise the playwright meant to address. It didn't, of course — the people departing Mosaic Theatre on those nights last summer were probably just as alienated and forlorn as the ones who'd arrived two hours earlier — but that wasn't Thom's failure, or Todd's. It was our own. We should just be glad they helped us realize it.

12200 W. Broward Blvd., Plantation, 33325
Best Actress
Pilar Uribe <i>9 Parts of Desire</i> The Mosaic Theatre Project at The American Heritage Center For the Arts

If New Times has talked too much about Pilar Uribe's year-old performance in Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire, that's only because we haven't yet found anything better to talk about. The past year has seen the woman take on a more diverse and challenging array of roles than anybody in the state: she's been a neurotic talent agent, a stately professor who has both wronged her husband and been wronged by her paramour, a mother whose children were burned alive, an old beggar woman, a young girl who misses her dead father, a painter-cum-prostitute, a doctor horrified by a sudden glut of deformed babies showing up in her maternity ward, a Johnny Walker-swilling revolutionary forecasting doom for everybody, an American 20-something fearful for her relatives in a war-torn country overseas, a fat Bedouin, and a crazy street vendor. All but two of these roles came in 9 Parts, a one-woman show in which Uribe incarnated an array of diverse Iraqi women. Uribe's uncanny shapeshifting combined with the horrors in the women's stories made for a play that didn't seem quite real. One can't really believe that a woman working with few props besides a shawl could conjure a whole country in Mosaic's small auditorium, or that she could scare you as badly as she did. For all we know, the Latin American Uribe has no stake in our country's current war. But she made us feel ours.

12200 W. Broward Blvd., Plantation, 33325
Best Album

There could have easily been a drop-off after his amazing 2005 solo debut, Needle Bed, but Lake Worth native John Ralston never succumbed to a sophomore slump. Instead, Ralston got to work immediately on what would become Sorry, Vampire, pairing up with ex-Wilco keyboardist/engineer Jay Bennett and even enlisting the vocal talents of fellow South Floridian Tim Yehezkely of the 2007 Best Album-winning the Postmarks. The result is a beautiful, endearing album that only gets better with each listen. Vampire is Ralston's dollhouse — a winding, orchestral journey through the talented songwriter's psyche, powered by a staggering array of instrumentation and layering. From the angst-ey drive of "Fragile" to the potent imagery of "When I Was a Bandage" (Little bits of cloud, go on and bite your lip/I was just a bandage when you lost your tourniquet), each track feels dense and full of detailed mystery, the aural equivalent of a Wes Anderson film. Ralston might be Florida's best songwriter. And if Vampire is any indication, he's only getting better.

Best Art Gallery
Habatat Galleries

Location may not be everything, but if you're an art gallery, you could do a lot worse than to be located at Gallery Center, Boca Raton's high-end mini-mall of seven individual galleries housed under one roof. On the down side, your competition is right next door. On the up side, anyone who wanders through the spacious Gallery Center complex is already likely to have art on the brain and thus be willing (and able) to shell out the equivalent of a year's salary for a prime work by a major artist. And if you're Habatat Galleries, there's the additional bonus of being the premier glass gallery in the entire region. The Boca outpost is part of a four-gallery chain that opened in Michigan in 1971 and has been focusing exclusively on glass since 1980. Along with hosting its own shows by such glass-world luminaries as Dale Chihuly, William Morris, and Dan Dailey, Habatat also curates exhibitions for museums and other institutions and offers a full line of consulting services for both experienced and novice collectors. Throw in the fact that Habatat recently presented the blown-glass orchids of Debora Moore — one of the best small shows of the season — and you've got a gallery that's first class in every regard.

608 Banyan Trail, Boca Raton, 33431
Best Artist to Leave South Florida in the Past 12 Months

At first it seemed too good to be true — an artist the caliber of Enrique Martínez Celaya setting up shop in South Florida. Then settle he did, and not in Miami or South Beach or even Palm Beach, either, but in Delray Beach, of all places. The Cuban-born exile bought a residence and built a studio there, then got busy producing the kind of work that has made him a top-tier name in art centers all over the world. His spectacular studio complex quickly became a magnet for collectors, curators, writers, other artists, and especially the Art Basel Miami Beach crowd, which trekked up by the busload. It seemed that Martínez Celaya was on his way to achieving his dream of establishing an artists colony in Delray. But the city turned on him, putting paperwork and zoning obstacles in his way, and the romance soured, sending the artist and his family to Southern California. Martínez Celaya still maintains South Florida connections — at the Museum of Art/Fort Lauderdale and the Miami Museum of Art, in particular — but gone are the days when he called the place home.

Best Band To Break Up In The Last 12 Months

Way of The Groove was an amazing, mind-melting jazz-fusion combo. Sometimes their guitars sounded like hordes of evil alien insects; sometimes their drums sounded like a tribe of angry Africans. Always, their horns and keys were tasteful and smart, and their bass came at you with too many melodies and counter-melodies to think about at once. But the bass sound was no surprise: Way of The Groove was the band of Felix and Julius Pastorius — twin sons of the late, great Jaco — and they used to play every Wednesday at their dad's old pal's bar, Alligator Alley. Walking into a teeny bar on Commercial Boulevard and being suddenly accosted with what was almost certainly some of the best, most inventive jazz in the world was a quintessentially weird experience — one that no one who saw it will ever forget.

Best Country Band
Shadow Creek at Texas Rose Saloon

It might seem like all the cowboys have gotten the hell out of Dodge, but there are still a few country music holdouts in South Florida, like country cover band Shadow Creek, which gigs from Okeechobee down to Homestead. They have a loyal following of line dancers, too. A surefire way to catch Shadow Creek and get your two-step on is to drop by Texas Rose Saloon in Davie on Thursday nights, where the fellas usually take the stage at 8 p.m. You can count on at least one sing-along, as Shadow Creek does a raucous rendition of Hank Williams Jr.'s ode to drinkin' and smokin', "Family Tradition."

13010 W. State Road 84, Plantation, 33325
Best Director

This paper wasn't very nice to The Fourth Wall. Essentially, we called it a beautiful, exciting failure. We were right, too. But The Fourth Wall was only a failure because its ambitions were so large, and raised our hopes to delirious, irrational heights. Now that we have some perspective, while we still wish writer A.R. Gurney had taken his own ideas a little more seriously, we can understand how stunningly those same ideas were realized by the folks at Palm Beach Dramaworks. The Fourth Wall was a show about citizenship and about holding oneself accountable to one's country and its yet-to-be generations. The metaphor was simple and perfect: in the play, to be a citizen was to be an actor. The Fourth Wall's protagonist was a woman who had torn the decorations from one of the walls of her living room — the fourth wall — and imagined that behind it lived an unseen audience who would judge her deeds. This is a heavy concept, but the humor, class, and pizzazz with which J. Barry Lewis brought it off made every deep idea come alive with showbiz sparkle. And so, although The Fourth Wall could be read as one of the most textually profound scripts produced in SoFla last year, it was actually funnier, and more fun, than just about any straight-up comedy the region had to offer. Good work, Mr. Lewis. More, please.

201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach, 33401
Best Electronic Artist

South Florida is a notoriously tough electronic market to break into because some of the world's greatest electronic artists call the area home. Standing out takes an assload of talent. How do you circumvent this? By being unique, not just as a DJ but as a producer, and learning to make a name for yourself in more areas than one. Hollywood's Ean Sugarman seems to be taking this approach: Not only is he in that core group of DJs who keep dance floors from West Palm to South Beach on fire, he's also a champion remixer/producer with Grammys and other plaques to prove it. He's the kind of producer whose remixes are more popular than the originals. That's why everyone from Enrique Iglesias to Nelly Furtado credits him with giving their songs new life on the electronic circuit. His productions are always soulful in the right places and build up enough surging energy that when the break hits, you can't help but dance or at least nod your head. Unlike a lot of DJs in the area, Sugarman is the type of electronic artist who knows how to deliver style and substance in person or on wax.

Best Ensemble Cast

The Fourth Wall was a show with a special shine. Though dealing in very heavy material, actors Peter Thomasson, Angie Radosh, Patti Gardener, and Gregg Weiner honed in on the wittiest, craziest, and funniest lines and moods in A.R. Gurney's script and made them dance. The show could easily have been done at half the speed, or half the intensity, of PBD's production, and come off like an especially bizarre series of events in anybody's living room. But the weird glint in Angie Radosh's eye when she began singing along to a player-piano, the verve of Gregg Weiner's many windy proclamations, the nutso fear and determination in Patti Gardener's every posture, and the helpless hand-wringing of Peter Thomasson bespoke a strange, shared energy — everything they did was gonzo in just the right way, as though they'd each imported their personas from the same semi-sane alternate universe. Let's hope some smart director reunites these guys soon.

201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach, 33401
Best Exhibition Title

Butterflies, cookies, tree stumps, and other diverse things cryptically appear amid tropical foliage in Craig Kucia's oil paintings, exhibited in a solo show at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood last year. The Miami-based artist gave up none of his secrets in his all-lowercase titles for the paintings, ranging from "books talked to us as if seasons stayed the age of 12" to "when i begin to forget, tell me things i never knew" and "the best things are made on napkins." Normally we might expect the exhibition's title to put it all in perspective. Not a chance here. Who knows what "many sundays were spent talking of rockets" has to do with anything – and with art this enigmatic, who cares?

1650 Harrison St., Hollywood, 33020

Read and Rejoice: Miami Book Fair International gets graphic

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