Florida Stage

Last May, just as our nation's most visible political performers were turning into caricatures of themselves and making strawmen of their enemies, Florida Stage unleashed Ordinary Nation: a political play that made a mockery of categorical political definitions. Plenty of people forgot it the moment it was done with — it was subtle almost unto quietude — but others, it haunted. The story of a lefty academic with a bookie dad, a gambling-addict daughter, and a wife who is cheating on him with a GOP senatorial candidate, Lewis' play showed us the profound ways in which our politics inform our lives. And then, in the play's final half-hour, it showed us politics' limits. The heart, as it turns out, has its own ideologies that don't respect party lines.

Schmidt Center Gallery at FAU

The thing about Oswaldo Guayasamín, an Ecuadorian artist who died in 1999 at age 79, is that he takes you off guard. First he hits you viscerally with full force — painting human flesh, for instance, with such rawness and immediacy that you want to recoil. Then, once you've had a chance to learn a little about the origins and context of his imagery, he engages you intellectually, stirring up your sense of moral outrage over such things as poverty and torture and the coolly bureaucratic machinations of war. His work is not for the fainthearted, and not surprisingly, it went largely unshown in the United States for more than half a century. That's why it was such a coup for FAU's little Schmidt Center Gallery to snag this small but significant retrospective of Guayasamín's paintings, drawings, and prints, which are just as relevant today as ever.

Mosaic Theatre

All actors in The Seafarer were excellent, but Dennis Creaghan was un-fucking-believable. A recently blinded alcoholic Irishman — with a big, affable spirit and a bounty of deep, personal pain — he captured your heart and imagination within the play's first five minutes and never relinquished them. His performance was largely a collection of tics and habits: a stutter as he groped to find the proper profanity with which to respond to a given affront to his dignity; the way he raced to think of an innocent-sounding way to ask for a fifth, sixth, or seventh refill of his whiskey glass; or the way his reedy raconteur's voice filled with gaiety as he lambasted his loser brother — just to let the assembled know it was all in good fun. He was a remarkably complete character, as affecting and full of soul as any of the season's leading men, and you should probably know that one local critic went to see his performance on three separate occasions, just to see if the thing was a fluke. It wasn't.

For good Darwinian reasons, we remember trauma with more clarity than pleasure. This, perhaps, is why tragediennes win more awards than their comedienne counterparts. Last year, Nanique Gheridian turned in a memorable performance as Sheila, the frightened, mousy wife of razor-witted Colin (played by Todd Allen Durkin). Abused, afraid to speak above a squeak, and seemingly incapable of articulating an opinion about anything, she spent the whole play trying her best to disappear. She seemed to grow smaller each time Durkin opened his mouth. Her laughter, always nervous, became ever more tremulous until it was just a tickly flutter — a shamed little spasm of the tonsils. Her character was a woman embarrassed to be alive, and she made her embarrassment our own. Many thespians could have done likewise, but Gheridian went further by making us see the woman her character could have been. When her eyes shyly appraised her feet, they were wise eyes, full of intelligence. You could read in her face the thousand cutting things she'd love to say to her husband, if only she could open her mouth.

Mosaic Theatre

The Seafarer is a big play set in a little room. Comprising nothing more than the banter of old friends (and one diabolical houseguest) in an Irish basement on Christmas Eve, it warmly and humanely paints its characters' portraits as completely as any play can: their histories, flaws, world views, and most private pains. Its playwright's eternal muses are grief, guilt, and redemption, but The Seafarer goes much further. In a sustained moment of uncharacteristic kindness, McPherson wrote his Christmas story as an ode to unconquerable fraternal love — a love that remains strong even when battered senseless by (literally) the forces of hell. It would be difficult to imagine McPherson's script brought off more beautifully than it was at Mosaic Theatre last fall. If you went, you experienced mirth, dread, joy, sorrow, and a kind of moral clarity that you might call "enlightenment" — a stuffed-stocking bounty of thoughts and feelings greater than any piece of art is obliged to supply and which Mosaic nevertheless graciously proffered.

There is no doubt about it: Palm Beach Dramaworks' patrons are old. This year, there have been a few evenings when the second-youngest person in attendance was our theater critic's mother. But really, who cares? Because unlike some theaters with aged audiences, Dramaworks refuses to get by on showbiz nostalgia. When the theater did produce something old, it was something daring: Eugene O'Neill's shattering A Moon for the Misbegotten or Eugene Ionesco's freaky The Chairs. And its newer stuff — Edward Albee's updated Zoo Story or Conor McPherson's The Weir — was hip, edgy, and bottomless. It was all performed masterfully too. Dramaworks is the real deal, and theater lovers ought to be grabbing young people off the street and dragging them there.

Tiny Sol Theatre got a major face-lift about two years ago. Its funky little lobby was overseen by a giant sun-themed mosaic of mirrored glass, and painted tile covered one wall from top to bottom, filling the place with a mystical orange glow. Above the ticket booth was a pot-smoking Mona Lisa. Nearby was a refrigerator with a glass door, from which you could buy sodas and water for a buck. Next to that was a table full of complimentary wine, which you were encouraged to take with you into Sol's multitiered auditorium. Auditorium is probably too grand a word for Sol's performance space. It was more like a slightly larger-than-average living room, what with all the couches and barstools across which patrons could casually drape themselves. Sol's doors closed forever this summer. And for many, it felt like losing a second home. RIP.

Diehard Ramones fans will readily admit that it doesn't take a lot of technical skill to faithfully reproduce the New York punk rockers' power-chord assault. What it takes, though, is a kind of scrappy joy that revels in that simplicity and harnesses it into a slap-happy party. South Florida's Rockit to Russia has plenty of that, as well as a near-obsessive devotion to the Ramones oeuvre. Not only have the members renamed themselves, individually, as Ramones (i.e., Nicky Ramone), those Ramones then, uh, play the real Ramones (i.e., Nicky Ramone as Joey Ramone). Heck, the guys of Rockit to Russia have even commented on New Times music blogs in "character" (think, typing a lot of "Gabba gabba hey!"). You've got to admire that kind of dedication and also the musicians' equal-opportunity spirit. They're quick to point out on their MySpace page that, among them, they speak Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, French, Italian, and Japanese — perfect for all your multiculti Ramones booking needs. Hey, ho, vamonos?

"Somebody Put Something in My Drink" by Rockit to Russia

It's hard to keep track of Janet Gold, which is part of what makes her one of the most compelling presences on the South Florida art scene. One day, you may catch her at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, where she has taught courses ranging from illustration to creative thinking. Another day, you might find her squeezing in a museum visit. Or hauling a friend off to discover a new gallery. Or taking in an art lecture. Or putting in an appearance at an opening, either for herself or in support of another artist friend. And yet she still finds time to spend in her studio on the fringes of downtown Fort Lauderdale, where she shares a space with fellow artist Tobey Archer and from time to time even takes on nonartist collaborators. There she has long engaged in her equally varied work, which includes pastel paintings, abstract photography, and, most recently, delicate collages. Given such scope, you never know where her work will turn up either. In the past year alone, she has taken part in a faculty exhibition at the Art Institute, the latest round of the South Florida Cultural Consortium for Visual and Media Artists (a fellowship she has won twice), an exhibition of triptychs at a gallery specializing in lowbrow art, and a show focusing on handmade books (another current interest) at the Broward County Main Library. You get the picture. She's all over, in a good way.

As the title of this crowd-pleasing exhibition indicates, the pairing is a natural. But this is the first time the work of these two 20th-century titans has been presented side by side. It includes more than 40 O'Keeffe paintings and more than 50 Adams photographs, covering the scope of their careers but emphasizing comparisons and contrasts of works completed in the desert Southwest, where both traveled extensively and where O'Keeffe eventually settled for much of her long life. Some of the show's juxtapositions are startling — slightly different views of the same subjects, for instance, or uncannily similar takes on very different subjects, captured by two virtuosos of their respective media. It's an extraordinary, not-to-be-missed exhibition.

Alain Guerra and Neraldo de la Paz are not the type to gingerly test the depths of mythology. Instead, the Miami-based pair has plunged headfirst into the unknown, seeking to fathom the common lore that binds humanity in an Ariadne's thread across the globe. At the Carol Jazzar Gallery in El Portal, the conceptual duo has conjured a realm of enchantment by creating iconic imagery of fantastic creatures lost to time yet that appeared very much alive to the bygone civilizations that venerated them.

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