Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
The set for Two Jews Walk Into a War was a painterly representation of a crumbling synagogue in Kabul, which happened to be inhabited by the last two Jews in the country of Afghanistan. You could sense that a lot of love went into the place before it became an object of anti-Jewish target practice. It was full of warm light and, despite the carnage outside, peaceful vibes. The stone floors looked like they'd been worn down by generations of worshipers. When gunshots struck the temple — as they did frequently, serving as a kind of grim rim-shot to punctuate the jokes of the show's titular Jews — they sent up little plumes of dust and smoke, and we could watch the place's deterioration continue with force.
In the past decade or so, we've been inundated with bubbles: the dot-com bubble, the housing bubble, the stock market bubble, Michael Jackson's chimp Bubbles. After all these messes, the term stopped conjuring up images of that beloved bathing staple Mr. Bubble and became synonymous with the plundering of your 401-K. Luckily, longtime promoters/power couple Garo Gallo and Yvonne Colón are reappropriating the term in a way that will thrill those concerned about the health of South Florida's arts community. For the past year, their space the Bubble has served as a hub for Broward County creative types such as local artists, filmmakers, fashion designers, musicians, and even a puppeteer. Imagine concert-hall-quality acoustics, 3,000 square feet to boogie your ass off or wallflower around in (this doesn't include the giant space outside), two stages, and loads of local art littering the walls by artists such as Lisa Parrott, Erick Arenas, Rachel DeJohn, and Francesco LoCastro. (Fun fact: LoCastro also painted the rad mural that covers the front of the warehouse.) Gallo and Colón conceptualized the Flagler spot years ago as a venue where oft-underrepresented artists can display their work, indie musicians can rehearse and record, and networking and promotion will help solidify the local community. Their vision officially began to materialize in April 2009, when the couple started renting the space. Since then, they've been booking acts, showcasing countless artists, and renovating tirelessly. "This way, we don't have to answer to club owners with bad taste," Gallo quipped when the Bubble first opened. Now, because of the Bubble, we don't have to hang out at such places either.
It's definite: The Caldwell is fusty no more. Its last season, helmed by new Executive Artistic Director Clive Cholerton, was powerful, varied, and risky. He took some knocks for that, of course — nobody much liked The Old Man and the Sea, which in retrospect probably didn't need to be turned into a play — but mostly, the word among theater people is that Cholerton is the most exciting thing to happen to the performing arts in SoFla in years. The first show he mounted while running the theater, an experimental musical called Vices, a Love Story, was nothing short of thrilling; his second effort, the new The Whipping Man, was a trenchant meditation on power and guilt that was lovely, deep, and enlightening; and the masterful The Voysey Inheritance asked Caldwell's moneyed Boca Raton audience to have compassion for, of all people, a Ponzi schemer. That's balls. It was also great theater.
God bless Alexander. Not just because the Fort Lauderdale indie-rock group's charismatic frontman, Ryan Alexander, inserts his passionate religious beliefs and stances regarding poverty, politics, and the human condition into the lyrics. There's a dedication to songcraft here that can thread together neatly like Death Cab for Cutie on record but will turn around and chomp up the stage when they perform live. "Peter, James & John (Backward Math)" from new album The Other Side of Symmetry is a catchy statement, pure and simple, and while the usual trend for alt-leaning rock is navel-gazing, at least this band is trying to strike a positive balance between preaching and preening. Not yet a convert? Look to Alexander's many well-kempt disciples, who always arrive early and provide vigorous support for every electrifying chord — as well as when the guys seductively flop their shaggy hair. Getting a message across is sometimes just as simple as turning up the volume.
Stonefox vocalist Jordan Asher Cruz and bassist Ross Fuentes headed to New York in February, and with them, the blues-infused racket that was their trademark left town too. A whole lot of sweat-soaked and beer-coated warehouse floors went dry, and even more lusty South Florida hearts became famished. In late May, Cruz, guitarist Dave Barnard, and drummer Jeff Rose officially announced they had re-formed sans Fuentes — albeit as Blond Fuzz for legal reasons. With a cover of the Velvet Underground classic "White Light/White Heat" as the new outfit's first official output, none of the intensity was lost. While hacks like Jet keep crashing this Led Zep-inspired garage-rock style into the ocean, Blond Fuzz always gets the balance between retro and modern just right. It could have been a lifetime before another sound so cool and calculated echoed and buzzed from the belly of South Florida.
"Van Go" by Stonefox:
When is barely controlled chaos a good thing? When it's in the service of a happening as inspired and inventive as "Abracadabra." The good folks at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood put the "fun" in fundraising with this event. It all starts with the largess of a hundred or so local artists who donate works that are then put on display for roughly a month. Follow that with a big party, complete with an open bar, catered edibles, and, as emcee, a magician who works the crowd. Then there's the raffle itself. That's when the fun really kicks in, as names are called and people scramble to claim the artwork of their choice. That's right — every ticket holder walks away with a piece of original art from the exhibition. Granted, the tickets are $375 a pop, but show us another raffle where literally everyone is a winner.
Adolescents aren't what they show you in the movies. They aren't trendy girls full of self-confidence or dour baby-faced sages, scuffing their feet and dispensing unspoilt Rousseauist wisdom. Actually, they are painfully dishonest, profoundly uncomfortable little weasels completely preoccupied with proving to the rest of us that they're more worldly than they are. Wiener's performance captured this completely. Playing a 16-year-old girl who was in the process of being seduced by a much older man who, as it happened, had been molested by her father as a child, she play-acted at being coy — and the deeper she went over her head, the more her very innocence seemed pornographic. By the end of her one long scene, watching her share the stage with her seducer was almost too much to bear.
Vices could easily have suffered from too-many-cooks syndrome. It was written by four songwriters, who, judging by the sound of things, had never so much as been in a room with one another. Their contributions, which ranged from cabaret-style joke songs to torchy laments to creepy balladeering, were hammered together into a seamless (but weird) whole by director Jon Rose, who linked the songs with strange washes of electronic noise that, taken in isolation, were the most modern and least classifiable bits of music to appear on any South Florida stage last year.
After you hear a true punk frontwoman with this much intensity, it's impossible to go back to Paramore-quality frontwoman punk. Flees' lead singer/screecher Elyse Perez has all of the weapons of a Chrissie Hynde, a Kathleen Hanna, and even an Iggy Pop packed into her holster of a larynx. From the versatility of this South Floridian's pipes, she could probably sing opera, but she apparently preferred to get a bunch of tattoos and smoke more cigarettes. When someone so fierce tells you "Drink Me," it's not optional — it's something you should have done for her already. Aside from giving off a 'tude you won't trifle with or try to replicate, Perez can do it while looking quite scrumptious, dare we say. Perhaps we dare not, for fear of getting our timid asses handed to us.
MillionYoung's (AKA Mike Diaz) practically put the chill in chillwave with his billowy, midtempo electronica infused with distant vocals. This musical laptop wünderkind from Coral Springs has garnered many favorable reviews, and there's little doubt why after hearing his dreamy, tropical reworking of Mary Tyler Moore's theme "Love Is All Around." And considering Diaz's bookings this year — opening for British upstarts Two Door Cinema Club here in the States and traveling to points near and far in Europe during the summer — it looks like South Florida will have to share its soundtrack master with the rest of the world.
In some parallel universe, Jon Hunt and Jim Radford might be brothers — so alike and yet so different. In the real world, however, the family they share is the Art Institute, where Hunt currently teaches and where Radford taught not so long ago. Both traffic in a sort of cracked realism, although each puts such a different spin on it that the requisite comparisons and contrasts are often exhilarating. Hunt is a trippy postmodernist with a strong surrealist streak. Radford opts for neo-classicism. Together they make for a strange but satisfying symbiosis that this little exhibition cheerfully exploited.
There's an anger shared among old Communists — over their own blindness, over the hideous betrayals of Stalin or Mao or Pol Pot — that Gordon McConnell, as an aging and embittered English Marxist, captured perfectly. McConnell's rage seemed queerly particular: More in the way he glanced around the room than in anything he said. He seemed most of all angered that history has reached a moment when nothing much needs overthrowing. His was the anger of a brilliant and vibrant old man, itching for revolution just for the hell of it, and doomed to misery because it will never happen.