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.

Besides delivering first-rate performances, Florida Stage artistic director Louis Tyrrell this season struck the right chord with music lovers and theatergoers alike. His productions of Syncopation, The Music Lesson, and The Devil's Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith proved theater can sing, dance, wail, and waltz. Syncopation, the story of two immigrants in 1911, underscored the basic human need to dance and hear music. As the characters awkwardly stumbled through the waltz and fox trot, they became more human. The Music Lesson transformed classical music classes into moving instruction on life and loss. The Devil's Music was a closely woven tapestry of the blues great Smith's music and harrowing life. Actress Miche Braden gave the role the electrifying singing voice and powerful stage presence it warrants. All three shows enlivened good theater with impressive, live, musical accompaniment. In each piece melody became an integral part of the cast as well as a vibrant and multifaceted vehicle for the excellent drama Florida Stage continues to produce.
The bare-wood, dimly lit, rustic interior of the Poor House is a stark contrast to the majority of nightlife locales around downtown Fort Lauderdale's Himmarshee Village. Likewise, denizens of the Poor House are likely to be locals hoping to groove to live, original music (from the likes of Hashbrown, Plutonium Pie, Mr. Entertainment, or the Hep Cat Boo Daddies) rather than the canned dance fare booming from its neighbors. Here you'll rub up against a velvet Elvis, not velvet ropes. The suds selection is also top-drawer. During the steamy summer months, quaff a tall Tucher studded with a lemon slice. When it's cool outside grab an Amber Bock or a nutty Newcastle. The barkeeps are amateur comedians, which adds to the fun. The music's loud enough that you can hear every note, indoors or out. And you can get close enough to the performers to see the whites (or at least reds) of their eyes. If you're put off by the chi-chi crowds prowling the downtown streets on weekends, dip into the Poor House -- it feels normal in here. And is that so wrong?

If you live in or around the "Venice of America" that is Fort Lauderdale and don't have a boat -- or even that much more economical option, a friend with a boat -- try attending an event at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Architect Benjamin Thompson designed the Au-Rene Theater to replicate the experience of being on an ocean liner. He perched it on a hill overlooking the New River and pointing toward the Atlantic, curved the structure and filled in the front with a stories-high wall of glass to resemble the prow of a ship, and finished the theater's ceilings and balustrades in lapstrake cypress. The blue-and-green waves in the carpeting underfoot add to the sensation of being on the bounding main. Oh, did we mention that the acoustics are perfect? Or that there's not a compromised sightline in the auditorium? Or that the venue offers the crème de la crème of national acts from the symphony to the Broadway musical to the Grammy Award winner? No? Silly us.
Mai-Kai
CandaceWest.com
With its rum-voiced narrator nattily attired in white à la Fantasy Island's Ricardo Montalban, the nation's longest-running Polynesian floorshow could easily be played as a joke. But while the enormous restaurant trades on fantasy, it is refreshingly free of irony. Opened in 1957, the Mai-Kai hails from a time when exotic meant chic, fondue was fun, and women dressed for dinner with gardenias in their hair. This was pre-postcolonialism, of course, but even so, the feel of Mai-Kai lies somewhere between dated and timeless. The beautiful, long-haired dancers (male and female) are in fact trained by Mai-Kai owner-choreographer Mirielle Thornton, a native Polynesian. So while they evoke South Seas signifiers, the dancers never stoop to cruise-ship camp. Instead they perform a storytelling medley that's fun -- and funny only when it's meant to be.

Maguire's Hill 16
If you're driven to drink as soon as you punch out, chances are it's not because you're dying for loud Top 40 drivel and preternaturally perky service. You want to get down to business after a day of conducting business. That's why New Times staff members have long been fixtures at Maguires -- where dark wood paneling and photographs depicting the old country lend a genuine, drinking-as-art atmosphere that could not exist at a yuppie watering hole or tourist trap. Bartenders and waitresses attentively fill your cup of cheer with fine liquor or earthy draft beer. Thirsty patrons who are thrifty like the prices: From 4 to 7 p.m., imports cost $3.25, domestics $2.75, and well drinks $2.50. Plentiful free food (sometimes mediocre) is available, and a full menu of pub-style comestibles is offered if you're willing to pay. Every Thursday through Sunday, a live combo plays traditional Irish melodies -- much better accompaniment for drowning your workday woes than cheesy renditions of the latest pop tunes.
Mango's Restaurant and Lounge
Where is it written that a jazz club must be a bar? Something about the form lends itself more to lingering over dinner than the tenth beer. The jazz kicks in around 9:30 p.m., and the local jazz bands booked there play to a packed house. In the smoking section, which is closest to the stage, an open table is as rare as desert rain. One recent night a woman belted out jazzy covers of Stevie Wonder with a backing group consisting of a bassist, a drummer, a keyboardist, and a saxophonist/flutist. The notes mingled with the tastes and smells of hearty, homey fare such as the herb-roasted turkey breast in cranberry chutney sauce, cementing Mangos' stature as a culinary and musical force with which to be reckoned.

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