It's about sex, so it must be good, you say? You're damn right! But The Vagina Monologues is not just about sex. More specifically it's about female sex and -- anatomically speaking -- the vagina. Eve Ensler's play was originally produced in an Obie Award-winning run in 1997 and has been playing to packed houses and rave reviews since then. Luckily the Broward Center for the Performing Arts brought the show to South Florida, and the Big V managed to live up to all the hype -- and then some. It consists of a series of monologues based on interviews the playwright conducted with women from a fascinating cross section of the American female population: old women, young women, married women, single women, lesbians, college professors, actors, corporate professionals, African-American women, Hispanic women, Asian-American women. Actresses Sharon Gless (remember Cagney and Lacey?), Starla Benford, and Sherri Parker Lee educated and enlightened us. (Did you know the clitoris has more nerve endings than any other human organ?) They also simultaneously moved us to tears and laughter. We need a cigarette.

If our strip of lights between ocean and swamp bore more than a passing resemblance to normalcy, clubs that stage rock music wouldn't be such an endangered species. But in South Florida (a place about as easy for touring acts to reach as Michigan's upper peninsula in the wintertime), venues worthy of live national talent are as rare as the Florida panther. Among the pathetic selection, the 14-year-old Respectable Street stands out. More than any other live music venue in the region, Respectable Street looks and feels like a real club. You won't have to deal with toilets similar to the horrific loo in Trainspotting, nor will you be required to endure ridiculous washroom-attendant bullshit. After all, this is rock 'n' roll, not charm school. The sound system is topnotch, the room the perfect size, the sightlines good, and the aesthetics just so -- dark, classy, and hip. Recent bands that have made the trek to Respectable Street include Fishbone, Dick Dale, the Meat Puppets, American Analog Set, Gitane Demone, and local favorites the Rocking Horse Winner, Pank Shovel, and Legends of Rodeo. There's really no contest in this category. It's Respectable Street by a length!
Not since the death of Admiral Nelson at Trafalgar have jack-tars wept such tears as they did July 31, 1970. That was the day the British Navy ceased issuing daily rations of rum, a tradition that was 315 years old when the government finally put a stop to it. It was one thing to be a drunk sailor in 1700; you might forget to lash down a cannon. But it was quite another problem to be inebriated at sea in the 1970s; you could accidentally send off a few nuclear torpedoes. Then in 1979 enterprising British expatriate Charles Tobias got permission to start publicly selling Pusser's Rum, the official rum of the British Navy, which had never been offered for sale to any civilian. These days Pusser's is available in only a handful of bars in the subtropics. Luckily for citizens of Fort Lauderdale, one of those establishments is right in town. Pusser's at the Beach serves up the original recipe, which has been formulated through a 300-year trial-and-error process. Best rum in Broward and Palm Beach counties? Heck, that hardly does it justice. What is offered today is arguably the best rum in the world. Ever.

Very early on in The Devil's Music, Miche Braden belted out a low blues note to let audiences know she is not just an actress; she's also a phenomenal singer. But Braden's acting was the real prize. The range of her characterization was sassy, wise, bitter, and flirtatious. She was inexhaustible, singing 13 gut-wrenching tunes in 90 minutes with no intermission or scene change. Her stamina and heartbreaking blues lent numerous dimensions to the character of Bessie Smith, giving her the stage presence of a diva and the theatricality of a broken woman. Although finding a talented actress who also happens to have a voice like Smith's is rare, Braden's exceptional performance proves it is possible.
The owners of this sprawling affair, which is convenient to both I-95 and the yuppie communities along Village Boulevard, say it is among Florida's largest sports bars, with more than a hundred TVs. Only two of them are big-screens, but that's of a piece with the intimate atmosphere. There are 5 a.m. sports bars -- slightly seedy, aprowl with lonely singles and anonymous mobs -- then there is the Ale House: a gathering of down-to-earth couples and groups who welcome strangers in a laid-back atmosphere clean-cut enough to draw a scattering of families. Most folks cheer for the local heroes -- any Florida team will do -- but the Washington Redskins fan club makes this place its home during the winter months, too. The décor's memorabilia includes a collection of vintage '60s sports-hero "nodders," little plastic dashboard dolls whose heads bob up and down. The usual Florida bar food menu features wings, burgers, ribs, and seafood crisply presented, and the grilled dolphin sandwich is a winner.
There is a little neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale called Harbor Beach, most of which is south of the 17th Street Causeway. It is a place of retired folks in nice little houses; until you reach the beach, where little houses are replaced by massive condominiums. Beyond this wall of high-rises is a small private beach, the existence of which is known by just a few select people. Even during the day, the sandy beach is only sparsely populated, and at night no one is there at all, except for the occasional condo owner walking the sand... or rolling in it with a significant other or some version thereof. This brings us to our point. Deserted beaches are primo stomping grounds for getting naked and going swimming. The gates to this beach close at dark, but not to worry: Access is still easily gained through condo parking lots. Of course if you are caught and escorted from the premises because of your nudity, New Times will deny any knowledge of ever publishing this....

This past season, every time a set caught the eye as aesthetically pleasing or clever, it was inevitably one of Rich Simone's creations. Simone's sets always seem to help bridge the gap between the audience and the actors, using the stage not only as a meeting point but also as a point of departure. Most recently his specialty seemed to be setting the mood for licentiousness, adultery, and other forms of sexual high jinks, as he did in Things We Do for Love and The Real Thing. In Things We Do for Love Simone created a three-story home perfect for the bawdy upstairs-downstairs humor that British playwright Alan Ayckbourn had in mind when he wrote this farce about a nymphomaniac, a soon-to-be spinster, a drunkard, and a vegetarian. Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing had a more sophisticated design (clean lines and streamlined contemporary furnishings) for this more erudite group of lovers (also British, come to think of it). Simone cleverly made use of upstage space to depict the playwright's play within a play. You could say he has a Thing for stage design.
So let's say Goldilocks has come to South Florida to find the strip joint that is juuuuust right. And say, for this issue of New Times, that little Goldy is a hetero guy. She looks for a club that's neither sleazy nor overly pretentious, a place where ham-fisted security goons aren't watching your every move. Our fairy-tale voyeur would feel quite comfy at Booby Trap, where the atmosphere is more discotheque than roadhouse. Variety is the name of the game at Booby Trap; dancers have been pulled from the ranks of amateurs, local pros, and porn stars. On a recent Wednesday night, a steady stream of entertainers showed up for work at the club sporting ponytails and workout suits, transformed themselves backstage, then wriggled and disrobed through several songs. After completing their sets, they mingled and chatted with patrons. A statuesque brunette was offered a lengthy neck-and-shoulder rub by one happy customer. Adult film star Harmony Grant jiggled her stuff during three sets. Frugal oglers will be happy to know that the cover charge is a mere $5 and the only pressure to keep buying drinks is the pounding of your heart.

This year Ray Lockhart proved that you can trick the devil, but you can't fool an audience. As Lem, the man who murdered musician Robert Johnson, Lockhart was not only pivotal to the play's denouement but also essential to the emotional chemistry on-stage. Portraying a long-absent and embittered husband, Lockhart filled M Ensemble's tiny set with the emotional intensity and stage presence of a man who has spent the past few years splitting rocks and returns to find his wife bedding down with a handsome, mysterious stranger. Lockhart's raw physicality and confident stage presence elevated the quality of this drama immensely without overshadowing the rest of the cast. Finding the balance between rage and passion, his quarry worker turned out to be the gem in this bitter tragedy.
To succeed in a supporting role, an actress must know her part within the context of the play as well as she knows the character she plays, and Tanya Bravo is one local actress who accomplishes this feat so consistently that her presence on the cast list always ensures an enigmatic evening of drama. She possesses the intensity and stage presence of an actress who always inhabits her character -- be it a punked-out band groupie in Caldwell Theatre's As Bees in Honey Drown, the young-girl version of Ruth in New Theatre's The Book of Ruth, or more recently as Chrysothemis in New Theatre's Electra. As the practical but ultimately vulnerable sister of Electra, Bravo showed her ability to channel conflicting emotions in relatively limited speaking parts. Her control and sharp instinct guarantee that her performance is never diminished by the size of the role she plays.

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