Polak's startling performance as a homophobic baseball pitcher provided a welcome jolt of menace and unpredictability to the Caldwell Theatre drama. With a rough Southern drawl and a rangy, awkward physicality, Polak was thoroughly convincing as the play's gay-hating nemesis, who suffers a frightening nervous breakdown in a memorable second-act confrontation. We don't know when Polak will play our area again, but we hope it's soon and often.
As a tightly coiled Republican suburbanite in conflict with her liberal houseguests, Ostrenko's underplayed performance added dimension and empathy to a rather shallow role. Filling in the character's silences with telling subtle behavior, Ostrenko beautifully revealed a conflicted, conventional woman afraid to discover her most profound feelings.

Bennett's impressive baseball-themed design on the Caldwell Theatre stage featured locker room and shower interiors, framed by a baseball scoreboard and a massive green outfield wall. Salzman's expert, evocative lighting, using pools of light and streaks of color, was equally memorable, with several scenes resembling classic sculpture. The result was stagecraft excellence.

Sometimes great gifts come in small packages. Set during the Civil War, Robert Linfors' brief playlet packed a real punch, examining the anguish and fear of parents whose fired-up young son is ready to enlist in the Confederate army. Linfors' timeless dramatic dilemma clearly resonated in today's wartime environment, and City's fine cast, featuring Elizabeth Dimon as the grieving mother, made a lasting impression.

Let's say you have a hankering to look at hats. Or handbags. Or vintage lunchboxes. And let's say you're interested in such paraphernalia not as a consumer but as a pop-culture connoisseur in search of some context. Where do you turn? Not to the nearest mall, certainly. No, your best bet is a visit to the Museum of Lifestyle & Fashion History, which is housed, fittingly, in a 1960s storefront that was once a five-and-ten-cent store. The museum, which has its origins in a 1999-2000 sleeper exhibition of Barbie dolls at the nearby Cornell Museum, has presented shows focusing on African-American sacred music, the relocation of American Indian tribes, magazine covers with patriotic themes, and the Mohawk ironworkers who helped construct New York City's skyscrapers. It probably remains best-known, however, for 2003-04's landmark Hats, Handbags & Gloves: From Past to Present, one of the quirkiest exhibitions ever to grace a South Florida museum. Next up: Fore: The Love of the Game: Golf from the 17th Century to the Millennium. Can things get much kinkier?

Even in its infancy, crammed into a tiny space on Clematis Street in West Palm, Dramaworks has always demonstrated a fidelity to quality and integrity. Now in its fourth season, the company is enjoying a new theater space and a string of superior productions. What makes the 'works work? For starters, this company doesn't talk down to its audiences; it challenges them with rarely produced classics by Sartre, Albee, and other giants. And then there's the fine array of talent, featuring some of our area's top actors and designers.

For more than two years, 20-somethings Yvonne Colón and her curly-haired partner, Garo Gallo, have been developing the local arts community, one rock show at a time. It was back in '02 that Colón first solicited her folks for the seed money to start BTW; since that time, she and Gallo have become the advance team -- a sort of hipster infantry -- that brings art, music, and culture to places previously renowned for lingerie shows and dollar beers. They began promoting local bands at the Fort Lauderdale Saloon, giving the ailing bar and music scene a much-needed shot in the arm, and continued with forays into Broward's less-than-glamorous underbelly. The Las Olas Art Center, the Salt Box, and venerable titty bar Gum Wrappers have all benefited from their insight and effort. As of this writing, the promotion duo continue trailblazing with their latest venture at Karma on Riverwalk, hoping to revive a once-thriving dance club as a live music mecca. You gotta wish them luck -- the harder they work, the better the scene for all of us.

Before April of last year, the Fort Lauderdale Saloon was just another cinder-block and plywood rat trap on Federal Highway. Sure, the place had charm (and a laundry machine), but it was of the "let's go slumming" variety, hardly a draw to anyone other than aging drinkers and long-time regulars. Then during spring and summer of last year, a tiny but significant renaissance occurred. Affable owner Walter Ciuffini partnered with local promoters By the Way to bring favorite local acts into the joint -- bands like AC Cobra, Humbert, and Southern Flaw. Soon, it became clear to all that good shows bring hip folks, and hip folks drink a lot of beer. Eureka -- there's money in that there music! BTW has moved on, but Rock Bottom Hip-Hop Nights have taken its place on a nearly weekly basis. Now Friday nights mean breaking b-boys, graffiti in the parking lot, and rappers from all over South Florida strutting their stuff. All this killer music, and the Saloon still offers cheap beer and chicken nuggets. Now that's true South Florida culture.
Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art
When the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art closed its doors for the last time in late March, it was the end of a noble experiment that lasted five years. PBICA, as it was known in the alphabet-soup art world, had been a work of love, not to mention considerable cash, for South Florida arts patrons Robert and Mary Montgomery. The lovely old Art Deco movie theater in downtown Lake Worth that was PBICA's home had been a museum before, when it held the collection of J. Patrick Lannan in the 1980s, then again in the 1990s after the Lannan Foundation turned it over to Palm Beach Community College. The Montgomerys, who bought the building from the school, hoped that other support for the museum would materialize once they got it up and running. They were wrong, unfortunately. During its brief, shining moment, however, PBICA presented exhibitions that attracted national attention, including its inaugural venture, "Making Time: Considering Time as a Material in Contemporary Film and Video." Other highlights included the exuberant group show "Brooklyn!" and "The Smiths: Tony, Kiki, Seton," which brought together for the first time the works of three prominent artists from the same family. At least the museum went out with a bang: Its final exhibition, "I Feel Mysterious Today," was a multimedia extravaganza every bit as exciting as its first.

The next time someone you know whines about how lackluster the South Florida art world is, give 'em a good smack and recite the list of artists who have had solo shows here in the past year alone. It includes established giants (Andrew Wyeth at the Boca Museum, Robert Rauschenberg at the Miami Art Museum, Louise Nevelson and Joan Miró at Hollywood's Art and Culture Center) and lesser names of exceptional promise (Michael Joo at the Palm Beach Institute, Zhang Huan at the Norton, Ignacio Iturria at the Boca Museum). They're all outshone, however, by "Louise Bourgeois: Stitches in Time," which enjoyed an all-too-brief run at the Museum of Contemporary Art. While not exactly a career retrospective for Bourgeois, who at 94 is still active, the exhibition was an outstanding look at an artist whose vast output has come to be seen as more and more important over the past quarter of a century. "Stitches in Time" was a landmark show for a landmark artist.

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