It was just the second production from Fort Lauderdale company Island City Stage, but The Timekeepers became the year's underdog success story when it won all six of its nominated categories, including Best Production of a Play, at the Carbonell Awards. Why? First, it's a brilliantly written play, by Dan Clancy, that touches important subject matter — homophobia, anti-Semitism, the Holocaust — without being depressing or messagey. It's set in a Nazi labor camp, where a flamboyant gay man and a retiring Jewish man are forced to spend their days repairing timepieces. But they need to get over their own prejudices against each other before they can turn their abysmal situation into a shared life that's worthwhile, even if that life has a limit at the bottom of a box of watches. The play's tone is not an easy one to strike, but Michael Leeds' direction for Island City Stage was deliberate yet transfixing, and the interactions of his cast felt heart-stoppingly authentic. Michael McKeever, an accomplished playwright and comic actor, showed us an entirely new persona onstage, tapping dramatic reservoirs of which I didn't know he was capable. The Carbonell-winning sound design, with its crackle of vinyl records, blankets of gunfire, and metronomic tick of pocket watches, helped bring the stunning scenic design to bracing life.

When South Florida's theater critics attended Slow Burn Theatre's Next to Normal in October, most of them had seen the same show a year and a half earlier at Actors' Playhouse in Coral Gables, in a production that was nominated for some of the highest honors in the community. But they hadn't seen anything quite like Fitzwater's take on this masterful musical. Bold flashes of color and potent, uncomplicated choreography told the story of a wife and mother's struggle with bipolar disorder with great efficiency. But what really made this production resonate was that, like Slow Burn's best work, it uncovered new territory within a familiar text, finding unforeseen avenues to explore. A more straightforward reading of Next to Normal would laser the attention largely on Diana, the direct sufferer of the debilitating condition, but Fitzwater's genius lay in shifting the central focus to the family members, like daughter Natalie (Anne Chamberlain) and husband Dan (Matthew Korinko), both of whom were justifiably nominated for Carbonell Awards. They became the emotional shrapnel of Diana's erratic, delusional behavior; the tragedy of her reality hit home the hardest through Korinko's tear-stained Dan, which probably ranks as his finest performance.

When it comes to writing concept albums, John Darnielle of indie-rock cult heroes the Mountain Goats once said, "I write songs, and they begin to sort of hang together, sort of like a crowd gathering in a public space." That's basically what happened with The Longing and the Short of It, a collection of older and newer songs from emerging composer-lyricist Daniel Mate. He realized that beyond their specifics — a man waits, frustrated, in an endless Starbucks queue; a boy feels he can never live up to his more talented brother; a woman runs into her ex in a public venue — the songs all dealt with longing, with an emotional or physical lack that needed to be filled. The world-premiere, cabaret-style production of these songs at Theatre at Arts Garage was simplicity personified, with the refreshingly Spartan musical direction (just an onstage piano) and set design putting our focus fully on the six actor/singers, who felt born to translate Mate's funny, knotty, and touching lyrics. If there was one showstopper among them, it was Elizabeth Dimon's uproarious "Starting Shit With You," which contained such brilliant lines as "Like a melted GI Joe, I'm sticking to my guns."

Earlier this year, Fort Lauderdale got aesthetically lucky when artist and Florida Atlantic University assistant professor of architecture Henning Haupt took his class outside to get to work. There, he and his crew used paint rollers to beautify "the tunnel" inside the city parking garage located between First and Second avenues just north of Las Olas in Fort Lauderdale. With paint rollers in hand, they transformed the space from ceiling to floor into a psychedelic gem boasting six layers of red, yellow, and blue tones. The result adds a little culture to your morning commute.

LoCastro's work is badass. In recent years, the lowbrow artist grew up, from curating hip shows in Wynwood to staying in and focusing on his work full-time. Good thing he did. Last year, the Italian-German artist impressed the art world when he launched his "Geometry" series. The vivid abstract works are a result of a painstaking painting technique. He begins by pouring resin on a wooden box or flat surface, sets it to dry overnight, and then uses criss-crosses of tape to create geometric patterns on the dry surface. He then spray-paints over the tape, lets the paint dry, and removes the tape. He pours another layer of resin, creates another paint layer, and so on. The layering takes countless hours and creates a graphic design appeal, but viewing it up-close is when pure magic unfolds. Colors shine and glow through layers upon layers. The designs translate well on fabric, so he created a line featuring scarfs, skirts, and leggings that can be purchased at his eponymous website.

Trying to catch up with Ubiera is nearly impossible. He's usually out burning up hours spray-painting walls. The Dominican-born street artist has painted murals inside the International Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport, inside the Evernia Parking Garage in West Palm Beach, at Delray's El Camino Cocina and Tequila Bar, and at Miami's Wynwood Brewery, just to name a few. Ubiera describes his style as "postgraffism," a genre that grew out of graffiti and includes nods to graphic design, comic books, and typography. Many of his designs incorporate a gorilla with a wild and fierce face. For Ubiera, the gorilla signifies urban art: a movement that's bold, strong, and raw.

Nowadays, anyone with an Instagram account can claim to be a photographer. But Samantha Salzinger goes beyond using slick editing filters when snapping photographs. She actually constructs the environments she shoots. The Yale MFA graduate and associate professor of art at Palm Beach State College makes large-scale dioramas with her hands. She'll spend hours sculpting materials into landscapes, plush with trees and hills and eerie Mars-like grounds void of life. With a meticulous attention to lighting and detail, she'll take her camera and shoot. The resulting photographs appear to capture realistic landscapes; it often takes viewers a while to grasp that they're interacting with a fabricated world.

Jill Slaughter, a San Francisco Art Institute-schooled and Whitney Museum-awarded scholar, brings a creative vision to suburban Pembroke Pines. As the city's curator of special projects, she puts on shows year-round at Studio 18. Many of these have serious themes — in "Which Way Out," she explored LGBT coming out of the proverbial closet; in "The Sincerity Project," she showed works by autistic children — but she made us crack a smile last year when she enlisted artist Todd Brittingham to "face-bomb" her city by gluing cartoonish smiley faces onto buildings and trees.

There's plenty of money around these parts, and damned little of it makes its way into the hands of local artists. That's the bottom line on patronage. But no one around here makes more scrilla trickle down to our peeps than Elayne and Marvin Mordes, collectors of avant-garde work. Passionately contemporary, Elayne is the couple's more public face, the effervescent hands on the operation; Marvin, a highly regarded neurologist, is the quiet presence in the background. Their home base is an 11,000-square-foot former dental laboratory on the shores of Lake Mangonia, in West Palm Beach, half of it now the private museum Whitespace; the other, their home. In the four years since it opened, Whitespace has employed scores of local young and emerging artists as curators, handlers, photographers, and assistants of all sorts and introduced their work to the public through an annual cycle of shows — especially the Outside the Box biennials, where the art encircles the building and spills over onto the lawns along the lake shore. More than a few locals have their work on sale in the Whitespace gift shop; a more select number have seen their pieces end up in the couple's loft-like living area — a nice place to be when the Mordes' sophisticated friends stop by.

If you have your eyes open on a semiregular basis, you probably know that Lake Worth has become a mecca for local shows and music festivals. One man behind one venue is doing his due diligence to maintain the esoteric identity of Lake Worth while creating his own scene within it. That man is Jacques de Beaufort, and his gift to the world is Unit 1. The mission of the space is "to showcase artists in all media working in challenging forms that exist somewhere near the edge or beyond." De Beaufort's immensely interesting and themed events feature local art on the walls and local musicians in your face. One included a clothing-optional room and naked karaoke. ("All art, no pants," the invite teased.) The place is small, the people who go are weird, and the live music is fierce. Go with an open mind, because Jacques likes it strange.

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