Best Art Gallery 2011 | Galerie Jenner | Arts & Entertainment | South Florida

Opening a new art gallery in South Florida might be likened to throwing yourself into a shark-filled tank — the odds are against you. Which makes what Jeremiah Jenner has done even more remarkable. First the photographer survived a lengthy waiting list to snag his own space at Fort Lauderdale's Sailboat Bend Artist Lofts. But instead of using that space as both studio and residence, the way his neighbors do, Jenner did something more daring, as in opening his own little gallery. And with just a handful of shows under his belt, he has established himself as a force to be reckoned with locally. Topnotch artists contribute to his exhibitions, which he hangs with as much attention to detail as any of his competition. And perhaps best of all, Jenner has resisted what must be an enormous temptation to make the gallery a showcase for his own work, instead focusing on attracting and nurturing as many artists as he can.

Too often, the single-actor, multicharacter show is a compromised novelty, inherently restricted by the limitations of both the performer — who can't handle the enormity of the undertaking — and the playwright, who doesn't spend enough time on each character to develop him or her in three dimensions. Sarah Jones' Bridge and Tunnel shattered both of these preconceived notions in its short run at the Women's Theatre Project. Karen Stephens was a revelation, portraying 14 characters inhabiting New York City's diverse melting pot. She played men and women, blacks and whites, Jews and Muslims, elderly yentas and aspiring rappers, all brought together under the creative auspices of an open-mic poetry night. Each of Stephens' avatars spoke, dressed, and emoted with the utmost authenticity, hoisting the bar for how successful these otherwise-gimmicky shows can be.

She plays often — but not often enough — at the National Lampoon Underground Comedy Club and at the Fort Lauderdale Improv. And she regularly gets more laughs than the touring headliners. "This is cozy," Jessica Gross recently told an audience at National Lampoon's. "I feel like we're on an awkward, uncomfortable orgy-date... where people come to talk about their problems onstage." Jessica is sweet in that unassuming-but-still-might-shank-you sort of way. And she's pretty: nearly six feet tall, with dark hair cropped at her shoulder; smart, rectangular-framed glasses; and usually some sort of brightly colored attire. But her jokes pack a brutal, hilarious punch. She moves graciously from the topic of midgets to poop to UTIs. She can make a frat boy blush and a grown woman shoot cranberry and vodka out of her nose. She also has her own web series, The Adventures of a Sexual Miscreant. If you enjoy laughing even when you think you probably shouldn't, it's definitely worth checking out.

The public bathroom is rarely a place to marvel. This one, however, has been modernized to fit its museum location. The sinks are sleek steel faucets that drip water onto a slab of pearly white marble. The water then disappears into an invisible drain, much like a water fountain. The bathroom walls and floors are made out of Formica, and the toilets flush themselves. At the far end of the bathroom is a frosty glass door, but it's suspected that it is not a magical portal, though it is a little mesmerizing.

Like our Best Actress choice, Ricky Waugh took on the challenge of more than one character in Mosaic's difficult antiwar drama; like Bridge and Tunnel, it's a clear showcase role. Waugh made a seamless transition between two characters — a jocular gay actor and his estranged twin brother, an Iraq War soldier with a demeanor as serious as an IED. Each character has the complexity of multiple people, and Waugh's transformation from one to the other and back again was miraculous in its dedication to realism. As Craig, the troubled soldier, Waugh needed few lines of dialogue to transmit his emotions. The monstrous glare from his eyes pierced through us like a bayonet, and his twitchy upper lip suggested a fount of instability that no wife, even one as patient as costar Erin Joy Schmidt, could alleviate.

Mark Twain once said that when your work speaks for itself, don't interrupt. That might serve as a credo for Art and Culture Center curator Jane Hart. Like most of her counterparts at other museums and galleries, Hart keeps a low profile. You won't find her name plastered on the wall at the entrance to the shows she puts together, although you will find her slipping quietly in and out of exhibitions, receptions, and other art-related events all over South Florida, keeping her finger on the pulse of the artistic community she both serves and observes. She's easily the most adventurous curator on the scene at the moment, pulling in such challenging figures as Croatian artist Sinisa Kukec, Turkish-American Stephan Turgel, and regional artists like Michelle Weinberg, Louise Erhard, and Cristina Lei Rodriguez. She's also a pivotal player in the center's big annual fundraising raffle, "Abracadabra," which this year she staged with great flair in collaboration with Miami gallery owner Anthony Spinello.

Richard Jay Simon directs most plays at Mosaic, but this stellar work about two ambitious, jealous, female frenemies required the directorial hand of the fairer sex. So Simon called upon Margaret Ledford, resident director at Davie's Promethean Theatre, to helm this stunner, heralded by most area critics as one of the best productions of the year. Barbara Bradshaw, as the play's aging author and literature professor whose young protégé covertly mines her life for material, could probably read an entire Senate bill and make it compelling. But Ledford deserves credit for maintaining interest in every second of this play, from the way the two performers carried themselves to the silences between exchanges to the subtlest character-building gestures. That she can go from her last work, the hectic and ridiculous Cannibal! The Musical, to an intimate chamber piece such as this is a testament to one of the community's most unsung talents.

Michael McKeever earned the Caldwell Theatre's sole award nomination in the Carbonell, the local yearly awards for theater. And for good reason. In an imperfect supporting cast — some of whom phoned in their performances — McKeever was the anchor of the unsteady ensemble. Like many in the cast, he played multiple parts, all of them doctors, all of them convincing, all of them chattering through obtuse psychological and medical jargon with convincing, Kafkaesque absurdity. His pièce de résistance, and the highlight of the entire show, occurs when one of his doctor characters removes his hairpiece and breaks the fourth wall, addressing the audience about his personal history with attention-deficit disorder. "He really does have ADD," a woman in the audience whispered. McKeever doesn't, though — he's just that good an actor.

In October, the Broward County Historical Commission got a new sign on the front of its newly renovated home at the old West Side School. That same week, the County Commission finalized a budget that axed its funding, laid off its staff, and consolidated it with the county libraries. Fortunately, the commission's museum stayed open: Exhibits highlight photographs and maps from when Broward was mostly swampland, and extensive archives are guarded by a state-of-the-art waterless sprinkler system. The thought of Broward County doesn't usually evoke much of an idea of "history," unless you mean "recent history of corruption." But the real history is accessible, at least for now.

If you try to learn Buddhism on your own, even the most basic information can get complicated. Your mind and body are not one. Your mind and body are not two. They are both one and two — "nonduality." What you need is a teacher, a person guiding you to enlightenment. Tubten Kunga Center for Wisdom Culture and the Study of Tibetan Buddhism offers the following classes: "Overview of the Buddhist Path, Mind and Awareness (Lo Rik)," "Buddhism for Beginners" (yay!), "Introduction to Meditation" (here we go!), "Tara Puja," "Medicine Buddha Puja" (think the Healing Buddha), "Lama Choepa Tsog," "Purification Practice" (nice!). You sit down in a cozy room full of gold decorations, Buddhas, and a portrait of the Dalai Lama himself, learning to keep your mind in the present. It helps to have a practice support group. You get that? Practice. Support. Group. Following the Dalai Lama on Twitter just ain't going to cut it, but do that anyway.

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