Caldwell Theatre Company

Six Years was one of the more underrated productions of the past year, especially for the colossal performance of Todd Allen Durkin. He essentially carried the entire play on his shoulders, discovering a complete spectrum of human emotion in an otherwise imperfect postwar panorama. Many months later, it's difficult to recall the goings-on in Six Years, which followed the tumultuous marriage of two people, in six-year increments, from the end of World War II to Vietnam. But Durkin's individual actions remain vivid, lodged in permanent residency in memory: his shell-shocked eyes staring with zombified vacancy at the motel interior in front of him; his jolting eruptions of anger over such inconsequential subjects as neckties and the volume of music; his shattering, tear-stained breakdown on a business trip. This was Durkin's debut performance at the Caldwell; here's hoping there are many more to come.

The three-character opus A Bearded Lover.

Alvarez is onstage only for a few minutes in each of the two scenes in The Unseen, but he dominates — nay, towers over — both of them like a mad, yet-to-be-deposed dictator. As a secret prison's brutal guard with a heart of... something, he hulks back and forth between two crude cells, and you can't take your eyes off him: a blocky refrigerator of intimidation, shaking the rafters with brutal curses that sound as if it's the first time we've ever heard these words. In Alvarez's grungy toolbox, they have a gripping power that puts most of David Mamet's artful profaners to shame. When he speaks, we all listen, even if we don't want to, as with his squeamish description of the murder of an inmate by removing his eyes and tongue, single-handedly. He still manages to make us laugh, uttering some of the funniest exclamations in this dark comedy; but if you saw this, chances are you slept with one eye open that night.

Mosaic Theatre

Laura Turnbull's Marie Lombardi was a grounding force, the ego that kept a raging id in check. She was wife to Ray Abruzzo's larger-than-life title character in Mosaic's winning drama. And while Abruzzo's performance was all jazz, flash, and volume, Turnbull had an arguably greater challenge: to remain compelling while keeping everything low key. In a convincing wig and period clothes, Turnbull completed her transformation into the self-sacrificing Marie Lombardi with the utmost authenticity, transcending a role that could have been swallowed up if performed by a lesser talent. She expressed pain, anger, melancholy acceptance, wry humor, and even control over her relationship with Vince. She operated mostly under the surface, conveying her truest emotions through her movements and expressions as much as her words. And it's worth mentioning that she maintained her character's particular accent from beginning to end, which can't be said for a handful of our great actors.

Palm Beach Dramaworks' first production in the Don and Ann Brown Theatre proved to be an embarrassment of riches — an opening salvo that turned a corner in the company's history. No more was Dramaworks limited to cramped sets with small casts. To wit, this ambitious 1947 drama by Arthur Miller featured an ensemble of 11 actors from South Florida and beyond. Kenneth Tigar and Elizabeth Dimon did the heaviest lifting as the leaders of an emotionally shattered family, with Jim Ballard pouring out his soul as its only living son. The remaining members of the cast — neighbors and relatives of the central three characters — did their best to ensure that each of their personalities shone through, no matter how small their roles. With today's justifiable concerns over budgets and funding, no modern playwright would even script parts for half of the cast of All My Sons, which lives out of abundance.

Caldwell Theatre Company

The set design in the first act of this elaborate comedic drama about the proto-pack-rats Homer and Langley Collyer is impressive enough, a stately Brooklyn mansion oozing wealth and containing the subtlest, earliest signs of hoarderdom. By the time you return to your seat after an unusually lengthy intermission, you witness an epic transformation that looks like it was an art project months in the making. The act takes place nearly two decades later, and instead of anachronistic opulence, the Collyer abode is a nightmare of domestic debris: Filthy newspapers stacked to the heavens, broken lamps scattered about, furniture completely inaccessible. The clutter is convincing, the detritus staggering, the result almost magical. Michael McKeever, Nicholas Richberg, and Marckenson Charles do a fine job of performing in a claustrophobic space in front of this display, but the set was the show.

At one point during Cleansed, I felt like throwing up, and I almost had to look away. If this feeling swelled up in my throat while watching, say, a Neil Simon comedy, then the direction that inspired it would be considered rather poor. But in a play by Sarah Kane, the late British chronicler of life's most sordid and deviant alleyways, nausea is a compliment. For the record, the sickening scene in question was the one in which Jim Gibbons tosses down an entire box of chocolates, piece by piece, for Robert Alter to eat like a tortured, subservient pet, only to upchuck them onto the dirty floor in a mass of half-digested chocolate. It's one of the tamer scenes in a play full of all sorts of boundary-pushing degradation. But by wallowing in the X-rated material, it's easy to overlook the beautiful subtleties of Stodard's direction. The resources at Empire Stage, her company's host venue, are more limited than any other theater space, prompting Stodard to generate a lot from very little: Rubber dismembered body parts, strips of red ribbons to indicate blood, creepy sound design, a minimal set that exudes existential despair, pitch-perfect song transitions from Metallica and Joy Division. She helmed a difficult play, making it impossible to forget.

Mosaic Theatre

This past year saw Herculean achievements in set design, sound design, costume design, prop-heavy novelties, and large-cast spectacles. But none of them topped the simply staged Side Effects and the emotional, comedic, and dramatic magic it created with two people, a single set, and a narrative that explores mental illness in a modern marriage with profound insight. Universally, it was a play about the difficulty and fragility of relationships; specifically, it was about bipolar disorder and politics and the effect both have on human connection and disconnection. Playwright Michael Weller is one of the most talented writers in the country, and he couldn't have asked for a better director than Richard Jay Simon, who guided Deborah L. Sherman to the best performance of her career and Jim Ballard to one of three solid performances in his banner 2011 year. When everything comes together this well, a show like Side Effects raises the standards for every production around it.

The three-character opus A Bearded Lover.

For the third year in a row, the Promethean Theatre made the summertime fun, funny, and pleasantly disgusting by mounting a musical grounded in cult cinema. Song of the Living Dead was arguably the most accomplished of them all, a pop-savvy, self-deprecating, and surprisingly sophisticated satire. Margaret Ledford directed the action with loopy abandon and excess energy, and the choreography and musical direction expressed the kind of talent and polish usually reserved for Broadway-level works. Indeed, Song of the Living Dead worked as flawlessly as it did only because of the commitment of everyone involved, from the artistic director to the live band, the first and only in the Promethean's history. The cast approached this ridiculous, South Parkian satire like it was Les Miserables, with Clay Cartland and Noah Levine turning the most heads. The question is, with the Promethean closing this year, what other company will take on shows with "splash zones"?

Caldwell Theatre Company

The Caldwell Theatre may be South Florida's oldest theater company still in operation, but there was a time when it didn't have the esteem of the county's dramatic powerhouses, Mosaic and Dramaworks. In the mid- to late '00s, the theater's forte seemed to be conventional, familiar audience pleasers rather than provocative think pieces — a pair of Steel Magnolias for every Doubt. This is no longer the case, particularly since Clive Cholerton took over the reins as artistic director. After a bumpy first season beset with actor injuries and less-than-stellar selections, Cholerton turned the Caldwell into a regular hit factory in 2011 and 2012. It offered hip and thoughtful shows like the fact-based hoarding dramedy Stuff, the American postwar panorama Six Years, the political domestic drama After the Revolution, the satiric pro-wrestling comedy The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, and the of-the-moment and pro-labor musical Working. The fact that the Caldwell is heading toward bankruptcy protection from unpaid loans at the height of its artistic success is a tragic irony.

Where else can you find the Air Force Thunderbirds, the Navy Hornets, the Coast Guard search-and-rescue team, and the Navy SEALs parachute team all gathered in one place? While liberals might dismiss this as a showy recruiting tool, a fossil-fuel-powered display of machismo, or an I-don't-wanna-know-how-costly waste of taxpayer dollars, the Fort Lauderdale Air & Sea Show is quite a mind-blowing spectacle. After a five-year hiatus, it returned in April. Throw in a lot of CGI effects and a little bit of plot and you've got yourself a blockbuster.

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