The question is, which theater brought us the best plays in the best productions? And by a mile, the answer is American Stage. There was the life-changing Wit, the riveting Amish Project, and the beautifully meaningful My Name is Asher Lev. There was Hysteria’s look at Freud, A Doll’s House’s look at sexism, and The Piano Lesson’s look at African-American memory. And who else dared to give us a play by Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin? What a spectacular season! 163 Third St. N., St. Petersburg, 727-823PLAY, americanstage.org.
If you asked Gary to suggest an even more horrible name for the massive shed located off I-4, he’d probably just shrug his shoulders in befuddlement. No worries, though, as 58-year-old MidFlorida Credit Union has come to the rescue and slapped its banner onto the structure, ensuring the venue will continue to cause head-scratching amongst booking agents, artists, and fans alike. Good thing it’s still a great place to see a show... midflorida.tampaamphitheatre.org
In June 2012, Justin Vernon and his demigod-status project Bon Iver played before a packed house and put on a spectacle within the cavernous space of the Straz Center’s Morsani Hall. A little over a year later, another neo-folk messiah — Winston Yellen of Night Beds — would hold a much smaller audience in a relatively tiny venue equally (if not more) spellbound. The boy’s haunting tenor is breathtaking, and hearing him quietly work through cuts from what might be one of the best albums of the year (Country Sleep) was a gift you don’t get handed very often.
We liked Tony Stark’s latest tricks and gizmos in Iron Man 3, but the real scene-stealers were massive street art-style paintings by St. Pete-based artist BASK, whose work won a cameo in the summer blockbuster. His gritty, politically charged paintings transformed the lair of pseudo-villain the Mandarin into an unforgettable place.
As mentally-challenged Lenny in the Stageworks version of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Duggan was convincing to the point of miracle. From the infantile way Duggan spoke to his friend George, to the worry lines on his bewildered face as he sought sense in a confusing world, this was precisely the innocent but lethal simpleton from 1930s California that Steinbeck conceived, dangerous to small animals and to women who treated him tenderly. Acting this good is uncanny.
Fay is a protean actress, one who transforms herself completely for each character she plays. In The Year of Magical Thinking at The Studio@620, she was shell-shocked Joan Didion, trying to survive the serial deaths of her husband and daughter. In Jobsite’s Much Ado About Nothing, she was sharp-tongued Beatrice, always one up on Benedick — until love entered the picture. And in freeFall’s An Empty Plate at the Café du Grand Boeuf, she was the elusive Mademoiselle, the only interesting mystery in the pageant. What next?
In August, Mindy Solomon announced she was packing her bags and moving Mindy Solomon Gallery, formerly of St. Petersburg, to Miami’s Wynwood arts district. Less than a week later, she was gone. Parting has been sweet sorrow — Solomon hosted four years of impressive exhibitions — but we wish her the best.
Permanent Make-Up seemed like a surprising addition to the New Granada Records family until we heard The Void … It Creeps, a potent 12-song avant garage/post-punk debut. Its churning dissonance is built on reverb and distortion from heavy fuzzed-out guitar riffs and chunky grooveless basslines. Susan Dickson-Nadeau’s steadily trouncing rhythms provide the foundation for aggressive commentary and metaphor-filled tirades, whether delivered in straightforward conversational-style or supportive yells from guitarist James Bess, or as braying shouts by force-of-nature frontman Chris Nadeau. The album’s gotten some DIY blog cred, too, with high-rated reviews on Obscure Sound and Collapse Board. permanentmakeup.bandcamp.com.
If you’ve seen any theater in the last few years in the Bay area, you’re likely to have enjoyed the work of this multi-talented couple, either individually or as a team. Together they’re Blue Fox Arts & Entertainment, theatrical hunters and gatherers who work wonders with props and set dressing. Jerid is props manager for American Stage, where he also designed the ingenious double-duty sets for My Name Is Asher Lev and Art, and his name seems to show up in the credits for every other production in Tampa Bay. Joel is an ebullient song-and-dance guy who performs frequently around town, but he’s also a veteran puppeteer. This season he’s creating (with Jerid’s help) the homespun puppets for freeFall’s Fiddler on the Roof, including a gigantic old crone of a bubbe and an adorable little lamb they’ve nicknamed Racka. Fiddler on the Roof can be seen at freeFall Theater, Sept. 21-Nov. 3, freefalltheatre.com
The writer, actress, artist and performer (Me and You and Everyone We Know, The Future) visited the University of Tampa for a free reading on June 15, as part of UT’s Lectores series. Her first reading was “The Swim Team” from her collection of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You. “I can't swim,” July admitted afterward. She finished with a never-before-read excerpt from a work-in-progress, a novel that started as something to occupy the July during her pregnancy. It was about the awkward break-up with an older, wealthier beau over dinner, and his new 16-year-old fiancée, for whom he sought the narrator’s blessing. Her deadpan delivery underscored and blurred the sharp, strange curves each took. Warm and approachable, she amiably signed books for fans afteward. ut.edu/mfacw/lectores.