Sunday, February 28, 2010

Music review: From Firebird, a peerless night of Bach

Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg (1677-1734),
dedicatee of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos.

By Greg Stepanich

On the one hand, it's no mystery why the Brandenburg Concertos of J.S. Bach should be so rarely played in local concerts.

Engaging as they are, canonical and popular as they unquestionably are, they are also very difficult. And in some ways, that only deepens the mystery: If you're an ambitious instrumental musician or conductor, why not spend some time learning or programming this music?

Whatever the reason, area audiences are indeed fortunate in the fact of the Firebird Chamber Orchestra, the instrumental ensemble wing of the Seraphic Fire choral organization. This weekend, the Miami-based group launched a three-year project that will see it traverse the entire six-concerto Brandenburg cycle, and the results so far are nothing short of magnificent.

On Saturday night at All Saints Episcopal in Fort Lauderdale, Patrick Dupré Quigley led the Firebird in all-Bach evening of the Brandenburg Nos. 3 and 5, as well as the Orchestral Suite No. 2 and the Cantata No. 84, Ich bin vergnügnt mit meinem Glücke. It was a wonderful 75 minutes of peerless music, peerlessly played and sung, and a real tonic for the average concertgoer, who can hear plenty of smaller Bach works most seasons but so rarely gets to hear these larger pieces.

For Brandenburg No. 3, Quigley had a 10-person ensemble, with his violins and violas standing up, and that might as well have been an announcement to everyone that this was going to be about energy and engagement. This familiar music was beautifully and expertly performed, with a marvelous lightness and vigor that imbued every bar and that surely spoke of the fun the musicians were having performing it.

The first movement of the concerto was taken at a good, brisk tempo, there were strong, dancelike accents as the music chugged forward, and in addition to the near-faultless accuracy, there were deft dynamic touches such as a diminuendo on the main theme of the first movement as it headed for the last part of its downward scale. Harpsichordist Kola Owolabi ad-libbed an appropriate eight bars or so for the missing slow movement, and the closing movement then raced along at a terrific clip, with an absolutely palpable sense of joy in music-making.

All of the instruments could be clearly heard, which helped the audience appreciate the skill of each player. Concertmaster Adda Kridler stood out here, with a kinetic, dazzling performance of her part, which at times approaches a solo violin concerto.

The Fifth Brandenburg Concerto was no less brilliant, with Owolabi, Kridler and flutist Ebonee Thomas making stellar contributions. Thomas has a large, polished sound with a true singing quality, and Kridler's dark tone is married to a laudable precision that adds a definitive feel to everything she plays. Owolabi handled the whirling, spinning, bravura solo part of the first movement most capably, with a couple tiny gaps that sounded as though they were caused by the harpsichord's mechanism.

The three played the trio sonata second movement with a lovely seriousness that further showcased their individual excellence, and in the final movement, the tempo again was swift, and the feeling athletic, even amid music of quite a different character than the close of the Third Concerto. Both Brandenburgs were played with the kind of youthfulness and power that perfectly suited concertos written to impress and entertain, and if this kind of performance is what we can expect from the future Firebird Brandenburgs, the next two installments will be required concertgoing for South Florida classical fans.

Soprano Kathryn Mueller.

The other two Bach pieces on the program were equally accomplished. The Cantata No. 84 featured the soprano Kathryn Mueller singing a text of simple thanks (its title translates as I am content in my good fortune). Mueller has a full, strong voice that was able to handle the leaps of both the cantata's arias -- the title aria spans a tenth in a very short time -- with smooth shifting from low to high. She sings with fine diction and sonic purity, characteristics even more in evidence in the second aria, Ich esse mit Freuden mein weniges Brot (I eat my humble bread with joy).

Because the final chorale had to be sung as a solo, it added still further to the overall feeling of piety and simplicity. Oboist Rick Bashore was the fine instrumental soloist who joined the Firebird for the cantata, contributing a nice round sound that blended well with Mueller's voice.

Flutist Ebonee Thomas.

The concert closed with the Orchestral Suite No. 2 (in B minor, BWV 1067), featuring flutist Thomas. This performance had a broader approach, with slower tempos and fully fleshed melodies, even though it began with a rather quick pace for the Overture. Thomas played excellently throughout, and of course was the star of the show during the final Badinerie, which blazed along like a speed trial.

To hear this great music played so well, and so freshly and energetically, was an unalloyed delight, and long overdue for area audiences. It reminded me of the orchestral player interviewed at the end of John Eliot Gardiner's Bach cantata pilgrimage of 1999, who said she and the other players were wondering why they just couldn't keep on going, just keep playing Bach day after day.

Here's hoping one day the Firebird and Seraphic Fire join forces for a local version of the Bach cantata pilgrimage. Saturday night's performance showed they could do it, and that would be a gift for South Florida classical music like no other.

The View From Home: New releases on DVD

By John Thomason

While we’ve been dedicated to reviewing the newest movies to hit theaters on a regular basis, we here at ArtsPaper know that most viewing is done at home these days. Many movies already debut on pay television concurrently with their theatrical release, and many quality films either don’t receive theatrical distribution or don’t play in the comparatively small South Florida market.

Quite simply, to ignore DVD is to ignore the future of cinema -- as sad as that may sound to purists like myself.

Every couple of weeks I’ll be looking at some of the most interesting DVDs to hit the shelves, focusing particularly on the ones that fly under Blockbuster’s radar. Here’s the first installment.

Hunger (Criterion Collection)
Release date: Feb. 16
Standard list price: $29.99

With art-film distribution shrinking and theater bookers growing increasingly unimaginative, Hunger is just the kind of movie destined to slip through the cracks. The hyperlimited release of this punishing British drama – in Palm Beach County, it played for one week at one theater – is a great shame. Hunger should have been an event movie, and in the auteur-valuing ‘70s, it would have shaken up the moviegoing mainstream. Thankfully, the Criterion Collection has helped cement Hunger as the masterpiece it is with a superlative DVD.

The debut feature from writer-director Steve McQueen (no relation to the late Hollywood tough guy), Hunger dramatizes the events leading up to, and culminating in, the 1981 hunger strike by imprisoned members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army against the Thatcher-led British government.

The prisoners, members of a paramilitary guerrilla organization, struck to attain political status, and they eventually did – after 10 strikers, led by Irish national hero Bobby Sands, starved themselves to death (Most of this is not explained in the film, and it may help to first look at the informative 1981 news program The Provos’ Last Card, which is included on the DVD as a supplement).

McQueen, a visual artist whose early shorts were projected onto art gallery walls, wanted viewers to feel fully immersed in the prison experience, and indeed, Hunger engages on an almost tactile level. McQueen’s camera glides poetically over the prisoners’ feces as it’s smeared into modern art on the concrete walls, their discarded food as it congeals into goulash in the cell corners and their urine as it’s poured under the doors toward janitorial extinction.

We then get a sense of the unconscionable abuse suffered at the hands of the prison guards, filmed with unflinching, cover-your-eyes authenticity. Heads are slammed into walls, and every orifice is probed. Attempts at prisoner retaliation yield only bloodier beatings. It looks uncompromisingly real.

McQueen accomplishes all of this with an economy of words as well an austerity of images. There’s almost no dialogue in the picture aside from its herculean theatrical centerpiece: a 23-minute conversation, filmed largely in a single-take long shot, between Sands (Michael Fassbender) and a Catholic priest (Liam Cunningham) who tries to persuade the angry inmate not to go through with the hunger strike.

When Sands finally does, in the movie’s final third, the results are even more harrowing. It’s a tour de force of dedication from Fassbender, whose emaciated frame begins to look exceedingly unhealthy until it’s all bloody cysts and saggy flesh on bones.

In the enlightening interview with McQueen included on the DVD, he calls the 1981 hunger strike the most important event in contemporary British history. But he never bogs the film down in political didacticism, letting the untraditional beauty of his images provide the message. McQueen treats us to a body’s physical deterioration with medical-school veracity and distance, leaving us angered and shaken to the core – more so than in almost any overtly political polemic.

A director poised to become an international arthouse darling, McQueen has already been tapped to film the story of another significant figure, African musician and activist Fela Kuti.

$9.99 (E1 Entertainment)
Release date: Feb. 23
SLP: $22.49

The witty script and idiosyncratic insights of this feature from Israeli director Tatia Rosenthal are enough to carry it, and its stop-motion animation style will make it either doubly fascinating or frustratingly distracting, depending on each viewer’s disposition.

Nevertheless, $9.99 is a marvel of three-dimensional, deep-focus cinematography, and the film’s subject matter is no less ambitious than the meaning life, which can be found in a little boy’s piggy bank or a visit from a drunken angel as much as a $9.99 book on the topic. The story weaves together a mosaic of lonely characters mostly situated in the same apartment complex – from a brokenhearted stoner who imagines talkative Lilliputians on his turntable spindle to a single father dealing with the trauma of watching a homeless man shoot himself in front of him.

In the end, we may not understand the meaning of life, but we can appreciate that happiness can come in the strangest of packages. Anthony LaPaglia and Geoffrey Rush contribute voice acting to two of the characters.

Bad Girls of Film Noir, Vols. 1 and 2 (Sony)
Release date: Feb. 9
SLP: $19.99 each

Women were never more dangerous or seductive than in classic films noir, and these two four-film compilations honor some of more obscure, and nastiest, femme fatales from noir’s heyday, 1946 to 1953. Each film is new to DVD, and while the designation of noir can be used a bit liberally (Bad for Each Other, with Charlton Heston as a returning Korean War vet, is more of a straight-up melodrama), these films provide deeper insight for noir fans who have already seen Kiss Me Deadly, The Big Heat and the other heavy hitters, and wish to delve further.

There are no major directors on any of these projects, but there are B stars galore, from Ida Lupino to Gloria Grahame to Cleo Moore. With titles like Women’s Prison and One Girl’s Confession, these are the kind of movies that probably can be judged by their covers, but that isn’t always a bad thing. Only a schlocky noir would christen a movie about a dame from the wrong side of the tracks who tries to go straight by learning photography with the title Over-Exposed. Gotta love that.

Clint Eastwood: 35 Films, 35 Years at Warner Brothers (Warner Home Video)
Release date: Feb. 16
SLP: $129.99

How much Clint is too much Clint? According to Warner Brothers, there is no such thing. This 19-disc collection comprises 34 movies Eastwood made for Warners – as actor, director or both – from 1968’s Where Eagles Dare to 2008’s Gran Torino. It includes a short film by critic Richard Schickel, who wrote the definitive biography on Eastwood, plus a 24-page booklet and rare correspondence and photos, packaged in a double-wide gift box.

Dirty Harry and its numerous inferior sequels are here, of course, as well as masterpieces like The Outlaw Josey Wales, Unforgiven and Mystic River. There’s also garbage in here; I’d pity the fool who braves the hackneyed waters of Firefox and The Rookie. But this set also includes underrated classics such as Bird, White Hunter Black Heart and A Perfect World.

Hopefully, a set like this will bring renewed interest to Eastwood works that have been unjustly ignored.

John Thomason is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Opera review: PB Opera's bold, radical 'Giovanni' stumbles without statue

Gezim Myshekta as Don Giovanni.

By Greg Stepanich

Chekhov’s rule in theater was this: If you’ve got a gun on stage, you’re going to have to fire it at some point.

By the same token, if you promise people a monster, you’re going to have to show it. But the Palm Beach Opera’s new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which opened Friday night at the Kravis Center, dispenses with the climactic theatrical device of the opera -- the arrival of Giovanni’s doom in the person of a giant stone statue – and, frankly, it simply doesn’t work.

Which is a shame, because in almost every other respect, this Don Giovanni, directed by the up-and-coming Italian director Stefano Poda, is otherwise so different and theatrically effective that opera aficionados should want to see it. He has created a kind of netherworld of bleakness and decay, of internal rot, that reflects the moral disarray into which Giovanni has cast his world, and he has made it interesting to look at.

Instead of scenery, we have one giant room with doors, the central one at the back being much taller than the others. A series of hanging tapestries that turn out to be scrims are lowered and lifted as the action progresses, in some cases turning into glowing doorways, and in others serving to provide a film over something like interpretive dance performed by a Lady in White (Cecilia Dougherty).

Lighting, which Poda designed along with the costumes, is a series of bold colors (blue, orange, deep yellow) that suffuse a scene, or a strip of narrow white that highlights the pages of Giovanni’s famous little black book as it is strewn across the stage.

Pamela Armstrong as Donna Anna.

Poda’s costumes are sumptuous Venetian Carnival, a century later than the original setting of the opera, and for most of the two acts, chorus and supernumeraries walk glacially across the stage in a kind of stately sarabande, with their thick cloaks, masks and tricorn hats creating a constantly shifting backdrop. The action is often frankly sexual in a stylized way, with characters often lying down on the stage in about-to-be-ravished positions, and instead of a table laden with food in the final scene, Giovanni and Leporello “feast” on cloaked women, biting into their arms and necks until they collapse in inert heaps.

It is not in any way a conventional interpretation, but for the most part it is compelling theater and intellectually coherent, and the Palm Beach Opera should get credit for trying something so different.

But it falls flat when it gets to Giovanni’s confrontation with the dead Commendatore, whom Giovanni has slain in the first act and who returns like Hamlet’s father in the form of an avenging monument of stone. Poda’s conviction is that the Commendatore is really Giovanni’s conscience, and so we see no statue in the cemetery move its head and speak, we see no statue arrive for dinner, we see no statue grasp Giovanni’s hand and seal his doom.

Julianna Di Giacomo as Donna Elvira.

Instead, Leporello and Giovanni act out the cemetery scene to the air, facing the audience. And when the Commendatore (Peter Volpe) arrives for dinner, he stands in the aisle, in a tux, while Giovanni, behind a scrim, is slowly approached by a host of figures clothed in the conical hoods of the Spanish Inquisition. Squirming, shirtless men then surround Giovanni and swarm over him, dragging him to perdition in front of a huge backlit cross, which adds a touch of heavy-handed camp.

The idea that Giovanni’s conscience has come back to wrestle with him is an interesting one, but it’s too amorphous to work in concrete theatrical terms. It doesn’t come across, and I guess the only way you could do it would be to show the stone guest coming to dinner, but instead of looking like the Commendatore, he looks like Giovanni himself.

Up until that point, the audience seemed willing to go along with this fascinating take on Mozart’s opera, but Poda lost them in the Commendatore scene. His reception at the curtain call was icy, with applause suddenly dwindling to almost nothing and some muffled booing at the back.

The other effect of Poda’s staging is that it draws a lot more attention to the singing, particularly in Act II, which for much of it is a series of elaborate, static arias for the principal singers.

Gezim Myshketa as Don Giovanni
and Amanda Squitieri as Zerlina.

Gezim Myshketa, an Albanian-born baritone, made an excellent Don Giovanni, acting the part with relish but not hamminess. He has a strong, clear voice and he deployed it well throughout the night, most especially in the Act II aria, Deh vieni alla finestra, which he sang with real feeling, using a hushed half-voice when comparing the maid’s sweetness to honey, and stretching the tempo in and out with the tone of the words.

His Leporello, Denis Sedov, also sang and acted well, and made a believable foil to his master. His voice is thicker and deeper than Myshketa’s, and that worked against him in the Catalog Aria of Act I, which could have used a lighter, more comic approach. Vale Rideout was a fine Don Ottavio, making the most of his creamy tenor to offer compelling versions of Dalla sua pace and Il mio tesoro.

Bradley Smoak, a good actor and a singer with an attractive, decent voice, was an engaging, sympathetic Masetto, bringing Ho capito, signor sì to plausible life. And Volpe, as the Commendatore, has a big bronze voice that was quite effective in the closing moments; his first post-death statements as the statue were somewhat marred by microphone reverb offstage, depriving the audience of hearing both his voice clearly and Mozart’s beautiful trombone scoring.

Of the women, both Donna Anna and Donna Elvira were sung by sopranos with large, commanding voices, and both gave strong performances. Poda gives them a lot of running around to do in difficult costumes, and they handled that part of their assignments with aplomb. Armstrong was compelling as the distraught Anna, and in her final aria, Non mi dir, bell’idol mio, her voice demonstrated a quality of real poignancy, a pleading sound that mirrored her character quite well.

Armstrong did suffer from some shrillness here and there, but that was not true of Julianna Di Giacomo as Elvira. Di Giacomo was less persuasive as Elvira than Armstrong was as Anna, but Di Giacomo has a well-rounded, powerful voice that was exciting in Ah, fuggi il traditor and impressive in Mi tradí quell’alma ingrata, with its leaping melodic line carefully controlled and convincingly delivered.

As Zerlina, Amanda Squitieri was excellent, believable as a gullible peasant girl and a master of her own relationship, and good with Smoak and Myshketa. Squitieri has a relatively rich, mature soprano, unlike the lighter voices that are more common for Zerlina, but it worked well, particularly in her fine reading of Batti, batti o bel Masetto.

The chorus work was unfocused, but that’s primarily a function of Poda’s staging. There was no group of contadinas, for instance, in Act I; that was sung by the women while covered in cloaks and hats, and their backs to the audience, and they had to sing at odd angles to each other. Things were a little better at the very end (Tutto a tue culpe), though a little more male heft would have been useful.

Bruno Aprea conducted the proceedings with his usual mastery and hard-driving tension. Some of the tempos early on were slower than expected, and that might also have had to do with the unusual staging, which has an overall air of deliberateness.

Vale Rideout as Don Ottavio
and Pamela Armstrong as Donna Anna.

All told, this Don Giovanni gets points for its high style and striking visual ideas, a function of its director reimagining it as a philosophical meditation on uncontrolled id. Because of its intellectual consistency, it loses its impact at the end, when its impact should be greatest.

If that makes this production a failure, it does not take away from much of the fine singing and acting in it, either, nor should anything be taken away from this company for going out on a limb and trying something so radical, unconventional and unprecendented.

Don Giovanni can be seen tonight at 7:30 at the Kravis Center, with Daniel Okulitch as Giovanni, Alexandra Deshorties as Anna and Michèle Losier as Elvira. Friday’s cast can be seen again at 2 p.m. Sunday, and tonight’s cast can be seen once more at 2 p.m. Monday. Tickets: $23-$175; call 561-833-7888 (PB Opera) or the Kravis Center (832-7469), or visit or

Denis Sedov as Leporello.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Weekend arts picks: Feb. 26-March 4

Gezim Myshekta as the title character
in Palm Beach Opera's Don Giovanni

Music: Palm Beach Opera’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni opens tonight, and it could mark a real departure for the company. That’s because it’s secured the services of Stefano Poda, an up-and-coming Italian director who’s created major buzz with his recent productions, including a Thaïs for Turin that was remarkable for its costumes and set designs. Tonight’s cast (also appearing Sunday afternoon) includes the Albanian baritone Gezim Myshketa as the lecherous Don, Pamela Armstrong as Donna Anna and Julianna Di Giacomo as Donna Elvira; Saturday’s cast (also appearing Monday afternoon) finds Daniel Okulitch, Alexandra Deshorties and Michèle Losier in those roles. Bruno Aprea conducts. The curtain rises at 7:30 p.m. at the Kravis Center tonight and Saturday, at 2 p.m. Sunday and Monday. Tickets: $23-$175. Call 800-572-8471 or visit or

Keyboardist Kola Owolabi.

The Bach Brandenburg Concertos are perhaps the most popular works the great German Baroque composer ever created, but it’s rare to hear a local performance of any one of them. Starting tonight, the Miami-based Firebird Chamber Orchestra redresses that omission at it presents the first concert of a three-year project in which the group will perform all six concertos. This weekend, Patrick Dupré Quigley leads the orchestra in the Third Concerto (in G major, BWV 1048) and Fifth Concerto (in D, BWV 1051); the harpsichord soloist for the Fifth Concerto is Syracuse University professor Olukola Owolabi. Kathryn Mueller will be the soloist in the Bach Cantata No. 84 (Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke), and the orchestra also will play the Orchestral Suite No. 2 (in B minor, BWV 1067). 7:30 p.m. today at First United Methodist Church in Coral Gables, 8 p.m. at All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale, 4 p.m. Sunday at Temple Emanu-El in Miami Beach. Call 305-285-9060 or visit -- G. Stepanich

Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster in The Messenger.

Film: One of the most involving Iraq War films, The Messenger, manages to grip moviegoers without firing a single shot. It’s the story of two members of the Army Casualty Notification Service, those guys who arrive at the doorstep of those who have lost loved ones in combat. Directed and co-written by Oren Moverman, the film is muted in its emotions, which makes it all the more powerful. Woody Harrelson is not an actor we are in the habit of taking seriously, but he impresses here as the veteran messenger of death, earning him a deserved Oscar nomination. First seen here in late January, it returns today to area theaters. -- H. Erstein

The cast of Make Me a Song: (back row) Stephen G. Anthony
and Patti Gardner; (front row) Julie Kleiner,
Joey Zangardi; David Nagy at the piano.

Theater: Even those who are familiar with the musicals of composer-lyricist William Finn (Falsettos, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) may not know many of the numbers in Make Me a Song: The Music of William Finn. Included in the evening are tunes from unproduced musicals, special material for obscure cabaret shows and songs that never met an audience until now, all with Finn’s signature offbeat rhythms and conversational lyrics. Area favorites Stephen G. Anthony and Patti Gardner head the cast at Mosaic Theatre in Plantation, opening this weekend sand continuing through March 21. Any songwriter who can rhyme “Israeli” and “ukelele” is OK with us. Call (954) 577-8243 for reservations. -- H. Erstein

Sunset is a 30-inch-by-90-inch
oil on canvas by Esther Gordon.

Art: Liquid Assets, an exhibition presented by Palm Beach County’s Art in Public Places, will offer a reception to meet the artists from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday on the second floor of the Palm Beach International Airport. Paintings and photographs by 20 local artists will be shown through March 25. The artwork is also for sale. Featured artists are Maria Amatulli, Linda Botwinick, Betsey Chesler, Joel Cohen, Kris Davis, Gwen Eyeington, Esther Gordon, Cecily Hangen, Cynthia Kallan, Ann M. Lawtey, Marc A. Merlis, Melinda Moore, Susan Oakes, Hilary Pulitzer, Penney Seider, Barry Seidman, Jan Stein, Barbara Wasserman, Bruce A. Yodanis and Margaret Ziede.

Works range from abstracted interpretations of water, such as Hangen’s acrylic on canvas titled Aqua, to Yodanis’ Silver Dawn airbrush on an aluminum panel of the sunrise over the ocean, and Davis’ beautifully rendered Mangroves at Low Tide. And an oil-on-canvas 90-inch wide triptych by Palm Beach Gardens artist Esther Gordon deftly captures the orange glow of sunset over the waves. For more information, call Elayna Toby Singer at (561) 233-0235, or visit the Art in Public Places site.

In Palm Beach, Mulry Fine Art will be featuring a photographic exhibit of photographs by Joel Arthur Leavitt. The photographs are non-representational images of patterns and forms. A public reception is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday. Mulry Fine Art is located in The Paramount Building at 139 North County Road. For more information, call Fecia Mulry at (561) 832-8224, or visit

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Art review: Flagler Museum's tropics show intimate, inviting

Large and Small Orchids With a Beetle (1875-90),
by Martin Johnson Heade.

By Gretel Sarmiento

A "Wow!" is heard in the first room of the Flagler Museum's second-floor gallery.

It's uttered in response to Martin Johnson Heade's massive The Great Florida Sunset, one of the highlights of the Flagler's winter show, New World Eden: Artist-Explorers in the American Tropics, running now through April 18. It won't be the last.

In the mid-19th century, the German explorer Alexander von Humboldt, who had spent years in Central and South America, realized visual artists were needed to capture the raw beauty of the region. This exhibit is the happy reunion of those who responded to his call in very personal ways: Heade, Frederic Edwin Church, John James Audubon, Louis Rémy Mignot, Hermann Herzog and many more.

Landscape in Ecuador (1859), By Louis Rémy Mignot.

They came, they saw, they conquered -- with the brush. Three rooms comprise the exhibit, each of them a different color: blue, purple and peach.

Not everything in that first blue room needs a pause at the bench.

If one work does, it's The Great Florida Sunset, the largest painting Heade (1819-1904) ever produced, and commissioned by his friend Henry Flagler for the Ponce de Leon Hotel.

It's an unusual work because of that simple flat land Heade chose to depict using bold colors and use of light. It's simple, not dull and specially not devoid of emotions. Other landscape artists turned the eye in search of a more robust, eventful scene as the one captured by Church for In the Andes. It's less intimate and more idealistic.

In the Andes (1878), by Frederic Edwin Church.

Although a scientist, Church (1826-1900) shared von Humboldt's notion that the tropics was a place touched by the hand of God. His paintings thus reflect the divine without neglecting realism. They show an artist busy with studying the place's natural history and geological forms.

Before you move on, spend some time with Charles de Wolf Brownell's Limestone Cliff of Bolondron, Cuba, 1860. That serene multi-color sky seems to have inspired the rooms' wall color. Brownell, a contemporary of Church and Heade, spent winters in Cuba, where the family owned sugar plantations. It's not that surprising, therefore, to find natives depicted in this painting.

Right below, an iguana fuses with the environment, just as we would expect in real life and one single white bird is seen flying west. These two singular elements suggest a shift toward the more Darwinian outlook: focus on the individual rather than in the grandiose general vista.

The second room reflects just how strong was the influence of the author of The Origin of Species.

Passion Flowers With Three Hummingbirds (1875),
by Martin Johnson Heade.

Here it is the hummingbird and orchid works by Heade that steal the show. We find two of the surviving hummingbirds prints he created while in Brazil and for a series he had hoped would capture the birds' habits and life cycles. He was the first artist to paint them from life and desperately wanted to capture their jewel-like coloring but was apparently unsatisfied with the results he achieved.

Ironically, he exceeds our expectations, for how close can an artist really get to capturing the iridescent color of a live hummingbird? Very close, it turns out. Hummingbirds and Their Nest, an oval painting from 1863, combines a dreamy background with that incredible distinctive color of the bird that fascinated Heade.

On the right side of the room his paintings get more elaborate. We find his orchids often paired with hummingbirds and beetles. One dramatic example is Large and Small Orchids with a Beetle, in which one big orchid (Cattleya labiata) is pushed to the foreground, to the point we feel we can reach it with our left hand. On the background, the plants yet to bloom appear to be moving. It's the perfect marriage of reality and imagination.

Complementing his paintings and Laura Woodward's watercolor takes on the red hibiscus flower are stuffed hummingbird displays, feather hats, beetle-inspired jewelry, orchid brooches and a sensational orchid vase from Tiffany and Co., which museum curator Tracy Kamerer said took many negotiations to bring to the exhibit.

Orchid Brooch, Odontoglossum cervantesii (1889-96),
by Tiffany and Co. [designer: George Paulding Farnham]

The objects remind us that art manifests in our life in more than one way. It feeds fashion, literature, politics, religion. It appears in one medium and soon takes over the rest.

More jewelry, rare old books and romantic depictions of wilderness fill the third room of the exhibit. It is here that we find the bold Mignot, the romantic one, with an adorable, warm vision titled Tropical Sunset. In the first room he is seen mirroring his friend and travel partner, Church. One thing Mignot (1831-1870) did differently was to feature human interest elements -- bridges, people, paths -- in his works.

Home of the Heron (1893), by George Inness.

If Mignot remains obscure, a better-known 19th-century landscape painter who experimented a great deal with light effects and dared to add a personal touch to his work is George Inness (1825-1894). For a work that contains very little action -- a lone heron stands to the left-- Home of the Heron is surprisingly dreamy, highly mysterious and moody. This is a work to avoid if you feel down, but it's perfect for the adventurous soul and the meditative one.

While in this room, listen for another loud Wow! This time it belongs to Church: Twilight in the Tropics stands apart not just because of his darker tones but because of that romantic bright moonlight without which, we suspect, we could not see the magnificent vegetation. By now we are used to Church's daylight tropical vistas and big-picture style. But here he takes a closer look at individual plants and in doing so, a more Darwinian approach.

The intimacy of the painting, suggests an artist more in touch with his own essence or perhaps more devoted than ever to his work. The painting, whose lender is anonymous, actually dates to the time Church spent in Jamaica following the death of his two young sons in 1865.

Red Hibiscus (1890-1905), by Laura Woodward.

If you are touched by nature or touched by the art it inspires, this small, sweet exhibit will be worth your time. Plus, it doesn't take an entire morning or afternoon to introduce you to works so precious that, according to Kamerer, "nobody wants to lend them anymore."

This year marks the museum's 50th anniversary and museum organizers wanted to do something simple and close to Flagler. It's not the exhibit to see if you're looking for edgy: This is, peaceful, warm, gorgeous; at times wild, but not looking to shock.

Once here, be like one of many natural elements you'll see depicted. Be water or a flower or a hummingbird. Go with the flow.

Gretel Sarmiento is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

NEW WORLD EDEN: ARTIST-EXPLORERS IN THE AMERICAN TROPICS runs through April 18 at the Flagler Museum on Palm Beach. Admission is free with a ticket to the museum. Adults: $18; $10 for youth ages 13-18; $3 for children ages 6-12; and children under 6 admitted free. For more information, call 561-655-2833 or visit

Florida Seascape II (1890), by William Aiken Walker.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Theater review: Capitol Steps' brand of gentle satire proves durable

The Capitol Steps originated among U.S. Senate staffers.

By Hap Erstein

Dealings in Washington have become so acrimonious lately, there seems to be nothing to laugh about as government grinds to a halt. But that has not stopped The Capitol Steps, which has been poking fun at federal machinations for almost 30 years, putting -- as the group likes to say -- “the MOCK in democracy.”

The Steps set up shop at the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse on Tuesday for a three-week residency through March 14. Although there is not as much fertile material as there was during the election season of 2008, these genial satirists will never lack for inspiration as long as Sarah Palin remains in the limelight, health care disinformation proliferates, and sexual transgressors from Mark Sanford to Tiger Woods keep supplying comic ideas too delicious to make up.

Most of the Capitol Steps' 90-minute, intermission-less show consists of song parodies of familiar hits from the pop charts or Broadway. Timeliness can trump an obvious rhyme, as with the plea of Toyota executives, Help Me, Honda (to the tune of The Beach Boys’ Help Me, Rhonda) on the day that hearings were held on the Japanese automaker’s quality control woes.

Then again, Bill Clinton is old news, but his brazen frat-boy demeanor is still good for a few laughs. And Sarah Palin is apparently the gift that keeps on giving to political comedy writers. Her recent note scribbling on her hand inspired a joke that probably works wherever the Steps play, but when she delivers a welcome note to West Palm Beach, it contains an extra joke since she reads it off her west palm.

You have to admire the mind that came up with a skit on rampant obesity and capped it with a song that puns I Wrecked My Heart With Spam and Crisco. Or the one that overcame the somewhat stale idea of pitting President Obama against his campaign rival Hillary Clinton by using a Paul McCartney-Stevie Wonder tune, newly dubbed Ebony and Ovaries.

Not every sketch works, of course. There is a generic number called Oprahbama (to the tune of Oklahoma!) that seems to have been born because it has the right number of syllables rather than anything to say about Ms. Winfrey or the president. And it might be time for The Steps to retire its Lirty Dies sketch, an extended monologue of reverse-consonants spoonerisms. If the show were on television, the Lirty Dies scene would be a cue to head to the refrigerator knowing you would not be missing anything important.

The Capitol Steps never really go for the throat in its satire and they carefully calibrate their act to target both sides of the aisle with roughly equal disdain. They give the audience credit for being up on the news from Washington and, for the most part at the Rinker on Tuesday, that faith was well-founded.

THE CAPITOL STEPS, Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Through Sun., March 14. Tickets: $40. Call: (561) 832-7469 or (800) 572-8471.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Theater reviews in brief: 'Bat Boy,' 'Tintypes,' 'Magical Thinking'

Matthew Korinko, Stephanie Simon, Rick Pena
and Anne Chamberlain

in Slow Burn Theatre's Bat Boy.

By Hap Erstein

'Bat Boy' charms, but new company needs smaller space

Making its area debut, Slow Burn Theatre Company certainly fulfills its stated mission by selecting Bat Boy: The Musical, a quirky, cult show about, yes, a kid who is half-bat, half-human, based on the character immortalized in the pages of the tabloid Weekly World News.

With a clever, eclectic score by Laurence O’Keefe -- who went on, alas, to write the far less interesting Legally Blonde -- this could have been a hit on the level of Little Shop of Horrors, but it opened off-Broadway in 2001, a time when few were going to the theater in New York because of the aftershocks of 9/11, and those that were largely went to The Producers.

Slow Burn’s co-artistic directors, Patrick Fitzwater and Matthew Korinko, were involved with a successful production of Bat Boy in St. Louis, so they were hoping to jumpstart their new Boca troupe by resorting to the same offbeat material.

There is some talent, albeit non-Equity, in the production, but the performers are hampered by the cavernous West Boca High School auditorium and by a dreadful sound system that renders the show overly loud and shrill. In addition, money problems mid-rehearsals reportedly led to a switch from a live band to recorded music accompaniment, not the sort of decision that is going to gain friends and followers in this market.

The show itself is a lighthearted statement on prejudice against those who are different, or at least a send-up of such melodramatic Hollywood fare as The Elephant Man, Frankenstein and King Kong. Rick Pena is oddly appealing as the pointy-eared, pointy-toothed title character, Anne Chamberlain is convincing as the teen who falls in love with him, but it is Stephanie Simon who anchors the show as the Donna Reed-ish mom who is curiously conflicted over having a bat boy in the family.

Ian T. Almeida’s scenic design is amusing and almost makes the huge West Boca stage seem workable, but Slow Burn really needs a more intimate playing space to succeed at the sort of theater they have in mind.

BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL, Slow Burn Theatre Company at West Boca High School, 12811 West Glades Road, Boca Raton. Through Sunday, March 7. Tickets: $25. Call: (954) 323-7884.

* * *

Clockwise from bottom left: Christine Paterson,
Christopher Vettel, Dara Seitzman,
Lisa Estridge and Howard Kaye
in Maltz Jupiter Theatre's Tintypes.

'Tintypes' not very memorable, though cast works hard

Probably motivated by an urge to save some money, the Maltz Jupiter Theatre has been programming musical revues like Smokey Joe’s Café or Beehive in its seasons, and they rarely live up to the increasingly first-rate execution of its book musicals. A case in point is its current songfest, Tintypes, a lightweight, nostalgic stroll through the pop songbook of the turn-of-the-20th-century.

Never a show that was destined to be on anyone’s “must-see” list, Tintypes works best when produced simply and delivered effortlessly, but that is not the approach that director J. Barry Lewis and his pleasant cast of five take. As they sprint through the three-and-a-half-dozen musical numbers, they seem to be pressing hard to entertain, presenting them so insistently that their natural joy drains away.

The show’s premise is that history is mirrored by the pop songs of a period, and that the early 1900s were a time of innovation and optimism, even if we can look back from today’s vantage point and see that era as mainly a preface to the First World War.

The show’s creators -- Mary Kyte, Mel Marvin and Gary Pearle -- do a credible job mixing the familiar and still popular (You’re a Grand Old Flag, Bill Bailey) with the deservedly obscure (Getting More Like the White Folks Ev’ry Day). There are social and political themes if you look hard, but the show is mainly a look back at a less hectic time.

In the five-member cast, standouts include Lisa Estridge, who handles such mournful ballads as Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child and Nobody, as well as Christopher Veitel (I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen), even if his visual impression of Teddy Roosevelt is a stretch. Music director John Mercurio leads an onstage band that plays the score with vintage verve, even if they occasionally overpower the singers.

The title "Tintypes" refers to the early days of photography and the personal keepsakes that were generated, but the revue Tintypes does not leave enough of an impression to be preserved in a scrapbook.

TINTYPES, Maltz Jupiter Theatre, 1001 E. Indiantown Road, Jupiter. Through Feb. 28. Tickets: $40-$59. Call: (561) 575-2223.

* * *

Actress Angie Radosh.

Grim 'Magical Thinking' doesn't succeed as a play

There is no denying the pain that shoots throughout the pages of Joan Didion’s essay on her close encounter with death and dying, The Year of Magical Thinking.

It chronicles in precise, brittle language what it was like to watch her husband of 40 years and longtime writing partner John Gregory Dunne expire unexpectedly in front of her and then go through a different torture of seeing her newly married daughter Quintana Roo mysterious slip into a coma and slowly die before her eyes.

It is a stunning essay to read because of the stark statement in it that, with some of the details changed, what Didion went through will happen to each of us someday. How I wish she had left well enough alone, though, and not adapted her prose into a one-woman show. Over the years, I concede that I have developed a knee-jerk aversion to monodramas, with their lack of dramatic context -- where is Didion speaking from, and why in the world is she telling me these intimate details of her life?

At The Women’s Theatre Project, Angie Radosh is a stalwart stand-in for Didion, very restrained and under control, until the tears that she had been fighting all evening do eventually overtake her. But the thought occurs that this non-theatrical monologue, if it has to be recited at all, might as well be done as a radio play, since there is no action implied by Didion’s words.

Yes, director Genie Croft has Radosh rise from her chair and wander about the stage every now and again -- another one-person show cliché -- but the movement is as unmotivated as the unsubtle changes to Natalie Taveras’s lighting. Granted, it is nitpicking, but even Croft’s choice to insert an intermission in the 90-ish minute work seems detrimental to the cumulative power of the script.

As you would expect, The Year of Magical Thinking is no laugh riot, but it is not without its moments of humor. What it is not is a play, and it gains almost nothing being placed in an actress’s mouth and on a stage.

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING, The Women’s Theatre Project, 505 N.W. 1st Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Through March 14. Tickets: $25. Call: (866) 811-4111.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Music review: Spalding shows she's a rising force in jazz

Esperanza Spalding. (Photo by Johann Sauty)

By Greg Stepanich

No one who attended Saturday night's show at the Duncan Theatre by the rising young jazz bassist and composer Esperanza Spalding could have any doubt about her talent.

The Portland, Ore., native is a striking presence on the stage, slim and tallish, with a mountain of very cool hair that she had to tie up and get out of her eyes after the first couple songs with her backing trio. She played an aggressive, high-energy evening of largely original songs from her most recent album (Esperanza), music of complex harmonies, busy melodies and strong but not overwhelmingly tricky rhythms.

Spalding also has a powerful voice that nevertheless is relatively light; when she belted in her higher registers, she tended to sing under pitch, but the softer side of her vocalizing was most appealing. She switched from a short-bodied double bass to bass guitar depending on the song, and demonstrated in both cases an exceptionally strong left hand that hammered out lines and solos with great clarity.

Indeed, one of the best things about her bass playing, particularly on the acoustic instrument, is the melodic character of her solos. In the very first song, Betty Carter's Jazz (Ain't Nothin' but Soul), she crafted a solo with a slowly climbing, triplet-heavy melody on the G string that climbed excitingly into the stratosphere. She did some bowing, too, in the middle of her nearly two hours on stage, but more typical was how she set up songs by laying down a crisp introductory rhythm, as she did when going into a lovely version of Milton Nascimento's Ponta de Areia.

As a way of introducing Precious, a much more pop-like song about a woman standing up for being just who she is despite her lover's complaints (But all you got was me/And that's all that I can be/I'm sorry if it let you down). Spalding joked amiably about getting Christina Aguilera or Britney Spears to sing the song, thus bringing in massive royalty checks. She said she wrote the song intending it to be a radio smash, but "my jazz brain kept leaking over into my pop brain" as she wrote it, thus ostensibly sinking its salability.

But many a big dollar has been made from pop songs rooted in extensive jazz vocabularies: Donald Fagen, Stevie Wonder and Joni Mitchell, to name three, have successfully melded the two styles for fun and profit, and frankly, Precious comes close to that lucrative road. Like several of her other performances Saturday night, her rendition of Precious was much more forceful live than on record, and that made it far more emotional.

Spalding also played several other originals, including her next-best song after Precious, I Know You Know, with its catchy, giddy chorus, as well as She Got to You and Cinnamon Tree, a newer song with a nice chorus that again suggested pop-rock territory.

Spalding is backed by a fine trio of musicians: Pianist Leo Genovese, guitarist Ricardo Vogt, and drummer John Davis. Genovese, Spalding and Vogt traded impressive solos easily all night, and drummer Davis favors a deep-voiced, hard-edged kind of drum work that was propulsive and committed.

The only real downside to the concert was its lack of subtlety, which is odd considering the sophistication of this music. Most of the songs received full-on, loud, driving performances, which on the one hand was interesting because the band was trying so hard not to offer a traditional jazz concert, with its obligatory moments of reflective wispiness. But on the other, some of this music needs a gentler approach to make its full impact, and variety along that line would not have come amiss.

Also, Spalding would make a stronger impact with a couple more really good songs: her White House performance of Wonder's Overjoyed, for instance, is a good example of how her gifts, in particular her flair for arranging, can bring a truly fresh take to a beautifully crafted song. Spalding's own composing no doubt will continue to grow from its already considerable strength, but in the meantime some veteran material would enrich her set lists.

Then again, for her encore before a full house at the Duncan, she led an audience singalong in an 11-note riff from I Adore You, then put on a face of mock depression when the crowd couldn't repeat the 32 bars or so of scat that followed. As the audience filed out, plenty of them could be heard still singing the riff, proof enough of the power of her music, and of her remarkable talent, to reach a group of receptive, eager ears.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Books feature: Chris Bohjalian, novelist of empathy

Novelist Chris Bohjalian.

By Chauncey Mabe

Empathy pays.

In a confessional age, when the memoir has replaced the novel as the primary literary form, Chris Bohjalian is a bit of an anachronism.

In one bestselling novel after another, he wields that always rare literary gift, the ability to create believable characters far removed from his own background and experience.

Black children, transsexuals, homeless people, Germans and Jews alike in World War II, and women – most especially women – Bohjalian has written convincingly about them all.

“I love the idea you think I have empathy,” Bohjalian says, speaking by phone from a Denver stop on his current book tour. “I need to sit you down with my sisters-in-law, who think I’m a classic middle-aged guy who doesn’t get it.”

Tell it to Bohjhalian’s devoted following of mostly female readers. Accompanied by a flotilla of rave reviews, his latest, Secrets of Eden, debuted at No. 5 on The New York Times bestseller list Feb. 14. A representative assessment, from the Seattle Times: “These characters seem real, and what happens to them feels like it matters.”

No stranger to South Florida, the Vermont-based Bohjalian will be in the area this week for three appearances to talk about Secrets of Eden, a novel of domestic abuse, and also about his previous novel, the Holocaust-themed Skeletons at the Feast.

“I will never tire of talking about 'Skeletons at the Feast,'” Bohjalian says. “It will always be an important book to me because of the material. It’s an exploration of the complicity of an average German family in the Holocaust, and whenever I talk about it I’m reminded of the remarkable people I interviewed for this book.”

But Bohjalian says he expects to feel the same way about Secrets of Eden, a story of domestic abuse and murder in a small Vermont town. In its first 10 days on sale he had already heard from “55 or 60 women” who say it reminds them of their own lives.

“I know my books aren’t going to change the world,” Bohjalian says. “First and foremost I hope I’m writing a ripping good yarn. A 105,000-word op-ed would be pretty dull for most readers and it wouldn’t raise visibility for whatever issue I’m exploring.”

Born in New York, raised partly in Miami, Bohjalian got his big break in 1997 when Oprah Winfrey selected his fifth novel, Midwives, for her television book club. The story of a midwife embroiled in legal trouble after a patient dies, Midwives shocked many female readers when they discovered Bohjalian is a man.

“There were midwives and women who questioned whether I had the moral authority to write about the place of birth in our country because I’m a male and not a midwife,” Bohjalian says. “Since then, people are less likely to question my credentials. I’ve written so many books people start to trust me. They know I will respect their story and I will do my homework.”

And therein lies the secret to Bohjalian’s success – his willingness to conduct extensive research and interviews. As a result, he says, he has no trepidation about “diving” into subjects like the Holocaust, even though he’s not Jewish.

And yet, as a novelist, Bohjalian resists the temptation to “lean too heavily” on that research. Quoting fellow novelist Jay Parini, he says only about 10 percent of his research makes it into the final book. The remainder makes him more knowledgeable and allows him to deepen his characters.

Research can also alter the course of a Bohjalian book. Originally, he envisioned only two point-of-view characters for Secrets of Eden: Stephen Drew, the adulterous Baptist minister, and Heather Laurent, a New Age writer with a tragedy in her own childhood. All that changed when he had lunch with Lauren Bowerman, Vermont’s assistant attorney general.

Bohjalian recalls asking about the damage a gunshot does to the human body. Bowerman, eating a cheeseburger, said, “Oh, you want to know about blowback, how much of the bastard’s brains were up the gun barrel.”

“I love everything about that sentence,” Bohjalian says, “the alliteration, the bluntness. I knew at that moment the fictional state attorney’s voice had to be in the book, too. And all of a sudden the book had more plot, and a more linear drive. That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t done my research.”

Bohjalian, the son of an advertising executive, has often said he did not find his writing voice until he abandoned his own New York advertising career and moved to Vermont.

“I was trying to write hip, Jay McInerny-Bret Easton Ellis kind of novels,” he says. “When I got to Vermont I no longer felt pressure to be the coolest guy in the bar. I could write about things that really interested me: family, raising kids, marriages. I don’t want to give the impression I don’t love New York, but I wouldn’t have become a very good novelist if I’d stayed there."

Perhaps less known is the origin of Bohjalian’s love of reading, which was fostered in a public library in Hialeah. In 1973, Bohjalian’s family moved from Connecticut to Miami Lakes, where his new orthodontist fitted him with an appliance that “looked like the business end of a backhoe.”

“I had to wear this thing for four hours a day, and I certainly wasn’t going to wear it to my new school,” Bohjalian says. “So I’d come home from Palm Springs Junior High and then go to Hialeah Lakes Public Library with my headgear on. I have the best memories of reading in the library.

"Looking back, that’s were I fell in love with the novel instead of short stories or poems or the newspaper. It was that autumn, in the eighth grade.”

Chauncey Mabe is the former books editor of the Sun-Sentinel. He can be reached at Visit him on Facebook.

Chris Bohjalian appearances

A Literary Afternoon with Chris Bohjalian, 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, at the Beifield Auditorium at the Harvey and Phyllis Sandler Center for Jewish Life Enhancement, 21050 95th Ave., Boca Raton. $20. For more, click here. Or call 561-852-3241.

Chris Bohjalian at Books & Books bookstore, 8 p.m. Wednesday. Free. 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables. Click here for more information. Or call 305-442-408.

An Evening with Chris Bohjalian, sponsored by the JCC of the Palm Beaches, 7 p.m. Thursday at a private residence. $36. For information and directions, call Sharon Lowenstein at 561-676-4104, or click here.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

ArtsBuzz: New director at Norton; FAU sets Haiti concert

Norton Museum of Art director Hope Alswang.

Norton names new executive director

After a nearly year-long nationwide search, the Norton Museum of Art’s board of directors has named Hope Alswang executive director of the West Palm Beach museum.

Alswang succeeds Christina Orr-Cahall, who left in May 2009 to become executive director of the Experience Music Project (EMP) Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle. Roger Ward, Norton’s chief curator and and acting director since last May, has been named deputy director.

For the past four years, Alswang has been president and chief executive officer of the Museum of Art of Rhode Island School of Design. Before that, she was executive director of the Shelburne (Vermont) Museum (New England’s largest) and director of the New York State Council of the Arts Museum Program.

“We are every excited to welcome Hope Alswang as the museum’s new executive director,” board chairman William H. Sned said in a statement earlier this week. “Hope has an exceptional reputation not only as a strong administrator, but also someone who loves art and who is able to engage the community in the life of the museum.”

For more information, call 561-832-5196 or visit

The Hotel Montana, after the quake. (United Nations photo)

FAU departments host Haiti relief concert

Florida Atlantic University's record label and its peace studies program will join Sunday night for a concert and art gathering to raise money for victims of the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti.

About 230,000 people were killed in the quake, according to the Haitian government, and at least 1 million people were left homeless.

Sunday night's event, called Dear Haiti: Notes of Peace and Compassion, will showcase artwork and musicians who record for the Hoot/Wisdom label. Danny B. and Marcus Banks will headline the concert at FAU's University Theater, and there will also be music by Alton Terry and a jazz fusion band led by Kiki Sanchez.

Artwork from FAU artists will be displayed and sold in a silent auction, and there will be letter-writing stations for attendees who want to send messages to Haiti. Special guest for the evening will be Sandra Devoe, project coordinator for Food for the Poor, a Coconut Creek-based international relief organization that says it feeds 2 million people a day.

The art-and-music event begins at 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free, and all proceeds go to Food for the Poor's efforts in Haiti. For more information, call 929-2340.

Online film festival offers $50,000
prize, a global online film networking community and digital platform distributor for independent cinema, plans to award a grand prize of $50,000 cash at its first film festival.

Coral Gables-based Bigstar has aligned with the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival (FLIFF) to assemble two panels of judges for the competition. FLIFF has brought together a jury of 20 industry professionals, including FLIFF president and Chief Executive Officer Gregory von Hausch and senior programmer Bonnie Leigh Adams, for preliminary screenings of all entries, which will culminate with the selection of 10 finalists.

A jury of celebrities including Steve Guttenberg, Ian Ziering, Victor Nunez and more to be announced will screen the 10 finalists and announce the winners on March 31, 2011.

The Bigstar Online Film Festival (BOFF) is open to short films of any genre that are 5 minutes or less. Additional details are available at now through Dec. 31. Entry fees are $25 per film.

The winning films will be presented at Cinema Paradiso, FLIFF’s year-round art-house theater. Visit for more information.

- Compiled by Skip Sheffield and Greg Stepanich

Friday, February 19, 2010

Weekend arts picks: Feb. 19-21

Anne-Marie Duff, Helen Mirren
and Paul Giamatti in The Last Station.

Film: Fans of great acting have a new must-see movie opening this weekend in The Last Station, a diary-based fictional account of the final days of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. He is played with crafty charm by Christopher Plummer, but the film really revolves around his wife Sofya (Helen Mirren, giving the single best female performance of 2009). Tolstoy is a communist, in the pure sense of the word, and he believes that the copyright to his writings should go to the Russian people upon his death. Understandably, Sofya disagrees, feeling they should remain in the family. Their verbal battles and her attempt to seduce him into changing his mind forms the crux of the film. Impeccably directed by Michael Hoffman (who previously made Soapdish, a curious antecedent), the real mystery is how this movie did not make its way onto the list of ten Best Picture Oscar nominees. In area theaters. -- H. Erstein

John Leonard Thompson, Matt Mueller and Dennis Creaghan in American Buffalo.

Theater: Life is a con game to David Mamet, whether in real estate (Glengarry Glen Ross), Hollywood deal-making (Speed-the-Plow) or the petty heist of a coin collection in his 1977 American Buffalo, now being revived at Palm Beach Dramaworks. As the three denizens of a rundown Chicago junk shop, Dennis Creaghan, John Leonard Thompson and Matt Mueller live by their wits and their words and it doesn’t take long to realize that they are impoverished in both. Still, Mamet’s fragmented, profane street poetry is mesmerizing and this three-way tug-of-war is the stuff of compelling drama. Directed by William Hayes on another stunning, albeit junk-strewn, Michael Amico set. Call (561) 514-4042 for tickets. -- H. Erstein

Violinist Soojin Han.

Music: Back in August, the Kronberg Academy began raising funds in Palm Beach County for its work training the great violinists, violists and cellists of tomorrow, a path it has pursued since 1993 at its home in west-central Germany. Tonight and Saturday night, the Palm Beach-based American Friends of Kronberg Academy presents Soojin Han, a 23-year-old Korean-born English violinist, who will perform two recitals with pianist Jonathan Feldman in West Palm Beach and Delray Beach. Tonight’s concert is set for the Lassiter Rotunda at the Warren Library at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, and Han’s Saturday night concert is scheduled for the Ora Sorensen Gallery in downtown Delray Beach. On the program are the Sonata in F, K. 376, of Mozart, Fritz Kreisler’s Caprice Viennois, the Meditation from Massenet’s Thaïs, and the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso of Camille Saint-Saëns. Tonight’s concert begins at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday’s event is set for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tickets for both recitals are $20, $10 for seniors, and free admission for students. Call 866-342-5777 for tickets.

Pianist Claire Huangci, one of the competitors in the Chopin contest.

If your thirst for Olympics-style competition hasn’t been slaked by this week’s events on the ice and slopes of Northwest Canada, the 8th Annual Frederic Chopin National Competition gets under way Saturday night at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium in Miami. Over the course of eight days, 21 pianists will play a great deal of Chopin as they vie for the grand prize: $20,000, a recital at Carnegie Hall, and automatic entry into the International Chopin Competition, scheduled for Warsaw in April. The pianists will face off in preliminary, quarter-final and semi-final rounds, concluding Feb. 27 and 28 with two concerts and six soloists playing one of the two Chopin piano concerti with Thomas Sleeper and the Frost Symphony Orchestra of the University of Miami. Tickets are required for the orchestral events, but all the others are free, and it can be a fascinating way to check out the state of the nation’s concert pianist talent. Competitors can be heard from Saturday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, at the auditorium. Tickets for the final concerts, which range from $18 to $38, are available from Call 305-868-0624 for more information.

Pianist Vladimir Feltsman.

Speaking of pianists, one of the foremost Russian pianists of our time, Vladimir Feltsman, comes to the Kravis on Sunday night for a crowd-pleasing program of music by Beethoven (Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, Pathétique), Haydn (Sonata No. 49 in E-flat, Hob. XVI: 49), and Musorgsky (Pictures at an Exhibition). Tickets for Feltsman’s 8 p.m. appearance are $25-$75. Call 800-572-8471 or visit

Jazz phenom Esperanza Spalding.

One of the most impressive newcomers in the world of jazz is the Oregon-born bassist, singer and songwriter Esperanza Spalding, who comes to the Duncan Theatre on Saturday. You might have seen her on the talk show circuit, where she wowed David Letterman, or playing and singing a killer version of Overjoyed for its composer, Stevie Wonder, during the recent White House concert in Wonder’s honor. After her Palm Beach State College appearance, you can catch her next at The Village Vanguard. Saturday’s concert begins at 8 p.m. Tickets: $27. Call 868-3309 or visit – G. Stepanich