Miracle on South Division Street: A Fine Cast Translates Middling Holiday Humor

Actors' Playhouse has an identity crisis. How else do you explain the emotional whiplash induced by its programming every year? This is a theater torn between cutting-edge drama and milquetoast comedy, between shows that push its audience in new directions and ones that reward passive complacency.

Two seasons ago, it followed the powerful one-two punch of Other Desert Cities and In the Heights with the limp slapstick and pandering populism, respectively, of The Fox on the Fairway and Rated P... for Parenthood; last season, the cerebral and literary Scott & Hem in the Garden of Allah paved the way toward another doggedly unchallenging comedy potpourri, Mid-Life 2 (The Crisis Continues).

See also: The Nutcracker Makes Its Way Around Miami's Ballets

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Knight Arts Challenge Winners Announced: Exile Books, Weird Miami, and More

Courtesy of KWAHS
The Custom House Museum in Key West. The Key West Art and Historical Society received the Knight Arts Challenge People's Choice Award this year.
The Knight Foundation announced its Arts Challenge winners this week, awarding 47 projects that will share in $2.29 million. To qualify, the projects must be about art, must take place in or benefit Miami, and the winners must find funds to match the Knight grant within a year.

Out of nearly 1,200 applications, the 2014 winners include Bookleggers' community mobile library, the national expansion of Weird Miami Bus Tours by Bas Fisher, Amanda Keeley's roaming artist books pop-up, Exile Books, HistoryMiami's proposed photography center, and more.

Receiving even more bucks is the Key West Art and Historical Society, who won the People's Choice Award and $20,000 cash by getting the most text votes from the public.

Read on for the full list of winners.

See also: Knight Arts Challenge People's Choice: Key West Art & Historical Society Preserves Memories of the Island

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Bad Jews at GableStage: Identify, If You Dare, With This Acrid Dramedy

Photo by George Schiavone
Playwright Joshua Harmon may or may not have been thinking of No Exit when he wrote his acrid dramedy Bad Jews. But after seeing the riveting new production of Harmon's play at GableStage, Sartre's metaphysical masterpiece seems like a touchstone in at least one sense: It depicts a handful of tortured souls, trapped and bickering in a prison of their making, with no resolution on the horizon. Hell is other Jews.

The infernal setting, in this case, is a studio apartment on the Upper West Side, a property so privileged that, as two characters point out, "You can see the Hudson River from the bathroom!" A pullout sofa and two air mattresses of varying quality are spread along the carpet of the space, a single person's sprawl converted into a cramped barracks for four.

This is where the religiously observant Daphna Feygenbaum (Natalia Coego) and two of her cousins -- the loose-canon atheist Liam (David Rosenberg) and the quiet doormat Jonah (Mark Della Ventura) -- will spend a fraught night on the day of their grandfather's funeral, arguing chiefly over the possession of a Jewish family heirloom. Daphna wants it because she's the most fervent believer of them all, a kosher-keeping, Hebrew-speaking carrier of the torch, with a boyfriend waiting for her in Israel. Liam has his own designs on the sacred amulet, which becomes all the more infuriating to Daphna because they involve his shiksa girlfriend Melody (Lexi Langs), whom he has brought along uninvited.

See also: Mothers and Sons at GableStage: Theater as Gestalt Therapy

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Florida Grand Opera's Stellar Madama Butterfly Gives Glimpse of Exciting Season

Courtesy of Brittany Mazzurco, Florida Grand Opera
Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly with a libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, was not well-received on its premiere in Milan's legendary La Scala in 1904 -- the reasons being far too numerous and open to debate to strangle our flow here -- but Puccini, a man director Marc Astafan (making his Florida Grand Opera debut) calls "the Great Manipulator," revised the troublesome areas and when the production returned three months later it became a huge success. Puccini's resume is untouchable, from Turandot, La bohème and Tosca, which was performed last season by the FGO with a command performance by Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste, being his most well-known.

The opera has endured as one of the world's most beloved for a number of reasons that go beyond the obvious cultural clash of its main protagonists, 15-year-old Cio-Cio-San and her arranged American husband Lt. B.F. Pinkerton. Madama Butterfly is at heart a simple tale with many tendrils. The FGO has opened their 74th season in grand fashion, with solid stage work and symbiotic performances from the singers that further strengthen an already solid work.

See also: Florida Grand Opera Gets Sexy and Sweaty at The Stage

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Mike Birbiglia Gets Personal at the Arsht: "I've Been On This Path of DIY"

Photo by Evan Sung
Mike Birbiglia is a joke. No, really.

He's better known as a comedian, actor, screenwriter, author, and performer, of course. But when he steps onstage next Thursday at the Arsht Center's Knight Concert Hall, he says, he wants the audience to laugh not only with him but also at him.

"Early in my career, [my comedy] was just doing ruminations," Birbiglia tells New Times. "I was really just doing what I saw other people doing, tonally." He started out modeling himself after his deadpan comedy heroes, Mitch Hedberg and Steven Wright.
But bit by bit, he began to insert more of himself into his act. "I was like, what if I make myself the joke?"

See also: TruTV's Impractical Jokers Hit Miami: "We Basically Take Turns To Embarrass Each Other"

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Backyard Barbecues Make a Combustible Setting in Zoetic Stage's Neighborly Dramedy

Justin Namon
Americans are right that the bonds of our communities have withered, and we are right to fear that this transformation has very real costs." -- Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone

In 21st-century America, we don't know who our neighbors are. Property lines loom large, tenants and homeowners are more reclusive than ever, and technology has created bubbles of self-absorption and self-sufficiency around every one of us. The thought of ringing the adjacent doorbell to borrow a cup of sugar is an alien concept; why talk to a stranger when you can use an app to deliver what you need?

Yet we're closer to these people, geographically, than anyone outside our immediate family. Playwright Lisa D'Amour penned her 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist Detroit with this theme in mind, envisioning two pairs of next-door neighbors who, for varied motivations, opt to communicate rather than isolate -- a decision that proves both revelatory and perilous.

See also: Hedda Gabler at Miami Theater Center: A Bold, Bloodless Reimagining

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Liz Ferrer's Anti-Anti Opera: a Cult-Inspired Multidisciplinary Performance at Inkub8

Courtesy of Liz Ferrer
Who's been drinking from the Jim Jones "party mix?" Proving the indelible mark upon the realities and imaginations of the American public, the mass-suicide/murder of 909 folks from the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project in Jonestown, Guyana refuses to fade away into the annals of the "dark past" of American history, now 36 years later.

While that relies purely on the svengali grip of Jones, the Jonestown massacre was the single largest loss of life instance for Americans until the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The social and political climate of the '70s is certainly nowhere near that of today's but a cult operating with quasi-Soviet intentions in that era; it is easy to draw some parallels between the ideology surrounding the threat of communism in those dying days of the Cold War and post-Mariel South Florida, where Cuban communism continues to affect residents.

See also: Sex, Drugs, and Surveillance Collide in Emerson Dorsch Installation

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Kit Kat Lounge: "J.Lo," "Katy Perry," and More Hit Miami with Martinis and Moves (Photos)

Photos by Shelly Davidov
Sara Andrews, aka "J.Lo"
Hallelujah -- Miami Beach is about to get more fabulous.

The Kit Kat Lounge and Supper Club gave lucky local invitees a taste of their Chicago offerings, which include a cast of storied female impersonators owning the stage and dozens of martinis to sip while they werk.

The funny, fierce performances last night only touch on what's to come over the next six months, when Kit Kat will outfit the Jackie Gleason Theater at the Fillmore with a different design and line-up every show, including a Christmas spectacular in December sure to put the gay in your holiday.

See also: Kit Kat Divas: Chicago's Favorite Female Impersonators Bring Their Sass to South Beach

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Kit Kat Divas: Chicago's Favorite Female Impersonators Bring Their Sass to South Beach

Courtesy of Kit Kat Lounge
Dolce Aaliyah Andrews
Once upon a time, on a very different South Beach, boys could be girls and girls could be boys and the only time anybody blinked an eye was when it had gone wide from all the fabulousness. Better yet, everybody got in on all that fabulousness, no matter what their preference or how they preferred to dress.

And boy was it fabulous. Not just because on any given night hip hop thugs rubbed shoulders with top shelf supermodels, Hollywood starlets parried with bona fide rockstars, or snap happy paparazzi stalked slap happy mafiosi (though there was that); but because a local contingent of some of the most colorful creatures on the planet reigned absolutely supreme. That the most kaleidoscopic of those creatures happened to be glamor-prone men whose gifts included channeling the voices of some of the most glamorous women in song only made it more so.

This Wednesday night, those heady days are about to be reborn. The place: that storied back of stage of the Fillmore reverently christened the Gleason Room. The culprits: a wowsome pride of Windy City diviners known as Kit Kat Divas. Sure, the glam gals hail from Chicago, but they and their same-named Lounge and Supper Club continue to carry the same kinda torch that enflamed South Beach at its very hottest.

See also: The Ten Best Drag Queens at Miami Beach Gay Pride 2014

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Hedda Gabler at Miami Theater Center: A Bold, Bloodless Reimagining

Photo by Mitchell Zachs
Paul Tei, Jessica Farr, and Gregg Weiner of Hedda Gabler
Miami Theater Center's Hedda Gabler opens in a way no other versions of Henrik Ibsen's 19th-century classic ever have. In a wordless prologue, with semitranslucent curtains shrouding the audience's view, the title character (Jessica Farr) slinks down the elegant staircase of her new home, a strikingly modern, antiseptically white villa that looks both alien and Design District-chic. Bored -- because Hedda Gabler is nothing if not bored -- she briefly rests her head on an electric keyboard (standing in for the piano in Ibsen's 1890 rendering).

Next, she wheels around the room on a Lucite chair, her arms and head flung backward in a gesture of undomesticated restlessness that the play's male landowners would see as an affront to decorum. Then, with a visitor about to enter the room, Hedda's respite is over; she spirits herself upstairs, and Ibsen's words begin.

See also: Everybody Drinks the Same Water: Miami Theater Center's Beautiful, Listless Parable

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