Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Last May, just as our nation's most visible political performers were turning into caricatures of themselves and making strawmen of their enemies, Florida Stage unleashed Ordinary Nation: a political play that made a mockery of categorical political definitions. Plenty of people forgot it the moment it was done with — it was subtle almost unto quietude — but others, it haunted. The story of a lefty academic with a bookie dad, a gambling-addict daughter, and a wife who is cheating on him with a GOP senatorial candidate, Lewis' play showed us the profound ways in which our politics inform our lives. And then, in the play's final half-hour, it showed us politics' limits. The heart, as it turns out, has its own ideologies that don't respect party lines.
Wrecks was last season's hardest-to-watch play, dealing with weakness, loneliness, desperation, and dysfunction in such a personal way that audiences actually left embarrassed — like they'd unwittingly paid to be peeping Toms for a night. With Wrecks gone from our stages and unlikely to reappear any time soon, it's probably safe to explain that its central conceit is the interior monologue of a widower at his wife's funeral. As the widower and play's sole actor, Gordon McConnell reveals that the deceased was much older, that his thing for older women stems from having been given up by his birth mother as a baby, and that his dead wife and long-lost mother are in fact the same person. McConnell's a brilliant actor and a grizzled vet of stage shows of every kind. Here, he ambled back and forth across the stage, spoke softly, allowed his sentences to wander aimlessly and trail off into silence, and generally behaved as though no one was watching. He was as distraught, scatterbrained, and introverted as any real-life mourner. He had clearly found some way to sympathize with his character's complex complexes and, in doing so in such an unshowbizzy way, forced the rest of us — folks who are usually turned off by the thought of marrying our mums — to do likewise.
Eugene Ionesco's plays are fantastical imaginative flights with no stable anchors in the real world. His characters often speak nonsense words, swing from states of extreme agitation to euphoria with no obvious catalyst, and find themselves in unlikely or impossible situations. It takes a good actor to connect this stuff to an audience in any way beyond the abstractly cerebral, and Barbara Bradshaw is very, very good. In The Chairs, she played one-half of an elderly couple (the other half was played by the excellent Dan Leonard) scurrying to set up chairs for a party taking place, either literally or figuratively, at the end of the world. At the party's climax, her husband intended to reveal the meaning of life. Of course, he didn't know the meaning of life (or anything else), as Bradshaw surely understood. No matter: This is a play about, among other things, the pitiable nature of the male ego and the way a woman coddles, boosts, and ultimately devours it in a cannibalistic orgy of mother love. Bradshaw got it just right. Her wide eyes and beatifically smiling face appraised her spouse like he was some combination of kitten, baby, and dinner, but she never showed her cards. From the beginning of the play to its crazy, apocalyptic end, she exuded a kindness so warm, thick, and impenetrable that only later, after leaving the play, might one realize how close it came to suffocating all present.
It has been a good year for South Florida's quirky local indie darling Rachel Goodrich, what with a glowing shoutout from the New York Times this past December and her official debut appearance at SXSW this past spring. It was all well-deserved and timed with the October 2008 release of her debut full-length, Tinker Toys. Like the playthings from which it cribs its name, the album is sophisticated in its simplicity and a whole lot of fun. A real lover of whimsy, Goodrich usually eschews the typical singer/songwriter guitar in favor of a wider swath of instruments, applying liberal doses of harmonica, banjo, mandolin, ukulele, xylophone, and even kazoo. She toys with her voice as well, shifting from a breathy whisper to an almost bluesy sigh, sort of like Billie Holiday gone twee-pop (just try to imagine it). Rather than being insufferably charming, though, the result is mentally indelible. For all her faux-naif trappings, Goodrich is an astonishingly mature crafter of melody, able to cinch clever wordplay and slightly hippied-out narrative into a recognizable pop structure. Occupying a rare creative space between the experimental stylings of acts like CocoRosie and the polish of VH1 faves like Sara Bareilles, Goodrich should soon rightfully take her place as South Florida's Next Big Thing.
Rachel Goodrich at WLRN:
Like Santa Claus, the Third Avenue Art District Artwalk comes but once a year. And although there are no chimneys involved, there are gifts — if you consider it a gift to visit the studios of local artists and get wined and dined along the way. This year, the evening threw in a free visit to the Museum of Art/Fort Lauderdale to see two knockout exhibitions ("Pablo Picasso Ceramics/Carlos Luna Paintings" and "Coming of Age: American Art 1850s-1950s"), a cool after-party at the Girls' Club Gallery, and trolley transportation to and from all of the above. The event has been going on since 1996 and has grown to include nine studios: those of Tobey Archer (mixed media), Madeline Denaro (painting), Janet Gold (collage), Francie Bishop Good (photography), Tin Ly (metal sculpture), Margi Glavovic Nothard (architecture), Rosanna Saccoccio (printmaking and collage), Mary Lou Siefker (painting), and Wilma Bulkin Siegel (painting). There's not a stinker in the bunch, and this year, several of the artists presented some of their most exciting work in ages.
Unfettered by the demands of the commercial marketplace, the privately supported Art and Culture Center has taken that freedom and run with it, charting a course that sometimes appears to be fearless. Where else, for instance, would you find something as esoteric as "Exploding the Lotus"? That multimedia show displayed the work of nearly two dozen artists from the Indian subcontinent with a strong emphasis on the conceptual. Or how about "Nathan Sawaya: The Art of the Brick," an exhibition of art made exclusively with Lego parts? And we're still scratching our heads over the quirkiness of the recent "TM Sisters: Idealtonight." Under such adventurous previous curators as Laurence Pamer and Samantha Salzinger, the center has long challenged established norms, preferring edge over ease. Current curator Jane Hart has pushed things even further, especially with the Project Room, which presents small shows of the sort you'd be unlikely to find anywhere else in the area.
If variety is indeed the spice of life, then this year's schedule at the Boca Museum was a buffet as satisfying as it was highly seasoned. There were crowd pleasers such as "Degas in Bronze: The Complete Sculptures" and "Shock of the Real: Photorealism Revisited." There was a massive and far-reaching group show, the "57th Annual All Florida Juried Competition and Exhibition," and a look at some historically significant photography, "I Shot Warhol Wesselmann Lichtenstein Rosenquist and Indiana." There was also a trio of exhibitions — "Visiones: 20th Century Latin Art," "Guillermo Trujillo: Panamanian Master," and "José Clemente Orozco: The Graphic Work" — that put the museum at the forefront of the year's trend in Latin-flavored art. But where the museum excelled this year was in its smaller shows: the aforementioned Trujillo and Orozco, a selection of Tiffany works from a private collection, a tiny but precise Duane Hanson retrospective, and a quick survey of South Florida's own latter-day pointillist, David Maxwell. And if that diverse menu proved inadequate, there was always the museum's second floor, most of which is devoted to the vast permanent collections and the pleasures they serve up on a daily basis.
This time last year, we were lamenting the still-fresh loss of Enrique Martínez Celaya, who had abruptly closed his studio in Delray Beach and moved his family back to Los Angeles. Alas, one fewer world-class artist in residence in South Florida. He didn't even hang around long enough to see the opening of his small but well-received exhibition at the Miami Art Museum. But the artist, who was born in Cuba and grew up in Spain and Puerto Rico, soon had second thoughts about being back in the thick of the art-world B.S. that had originally driven him from L.A. Now he's back in Delray, where he recently put the finishing touches on a show of stunning new work to ship off to the Sara Meltzer Gallery in New York. He wasn't able to get his spacious old digs back, but he settled into a smaller studio next door and hopes to find a bigger place eventually. Meanwhile, he continues to oversee the operation of his Whale & Star publishing house, work on new paintings, and prepare for a small retrospective of his work drawn from a private collection, which will be displayed at the Boca Raton Museum of Art at the end of 2009. Southern California's loss is our gain, again.
Since its inception around 2004, the foursome known as the Remnants were live favorites across the South Florida rock-dive circuit. A grimy, swinging, rock 'n' roll outfit fronted by firecracker frontwoman Cynthia DuVall, the group described itself — quite appropriately — as "the Who fronted by Tina Turner." In fact, in 2005, New Times awarded DuVall Best Female Rock Vocalist, describing her as "the ass-kicking, sass-spewing, rock-star love child Janis and Iggy never had." Alas, day jobs and other real-life concerns led the Remnants to finally call it quits last year, giving South Florida a little less "maximum rock and soul" to go around.
Precious few of the best indie-rock bands see fit to drive their vans south of Gainesville, which is why we're grateful for Marvelous Kendall, one of the resident DJs for href="http://respectablestreet.com/">Respectable Street's Thursday-night party, Flaunt. A whole range of sensational DJs pay visits, but with Marvelous Kendall in the house weekly, you're guaranteed to get rocked just right. With his exquisite taste, he plucks out the newest and finest in the genre as if he had access to your current and future iPod. You thought you were the only one who knew about Alamo Race Track? Or the White Rabbits? Wash those tunes down with a $1 Pabst or, in no-nonsense indie-rock fashion, with a $3 shot. Since it's 18-and-up, you can even bring your kid brother or your under-21 girlfriend. There's plenty of room, and look at it this way: The more people who get hip to Flaunt, the more likely those indie bands are to venture a bit farther south on the next tour. It'll be thanks to guys like Marvelous Kendall.
The Bikes play country music that Gram Parsons would be proud to listen to. The Deerfield fourpiece started out as an indie-rock band, but after the 2006 album Get Stolen, the Bikes took a twangy turn. The group's music has an Americana vibe reminiscent of great alt-rock bands like R.E.M., Drive-By Truckers, and Built to Spill. It's full of sullen vocals, rusty guitar licks, and assertive backbeats that you'd never confuse with contemporary pop country. But there's definitely a classic country bent to the group's lyrics: Lead singer Rick Ambrose delivers with the sort of resigned drawl that sounds as if he's sipping on a whiskey bottle midsong. And even when the Bikes do get to fiddlin', like on the track "Fumes," you never get the feeling things are headed for a hoedown — just a country-infused, slightly trippy jam session. Bands like the Bikes are the reason the alt-country genre has grown over the past few years. Let's just hope this group finishes its long-awaited follow-up album soon.
"Chainsaw Blues" from The Bikes:
No doubt about it: The Seafarer was a great production. It was a fantastic script paired with an almost perfect set and interpreted by maybe the best cast Mosaic Theatre has assembled since Glengarry Glen Ross in 2007. But it was a delicate job. Really, The Seafarer is nothing but the Christmas Eve banter of a bunch of severely impaired drunkards, and it worked only because the rhythms of the drunkards' banter were so natural and fun. Now, "nature" and "fun" are not automatic bedfellows — plenty of nature is boring as shit. And though it is impossible to know what innovations came from The Seafarer's actors versus its director, one must assume that Richard Jay Simon was responsible for the extreme coordination of his assembled thespians. Their conversation flowed as smoothly and easily as the whiskey they imbibed, and McPherson's panoply of emotions whizzed across their faces and through their voices in balletic synchrony. There was true collaboration happening, at dazzling speeds. It was as good as South Florida theater has ever been.