No other theater in the Bay area offered more winning productions last season than did Tampa’s Stageworks. To start things off, there was the wonderful Raisin in the Sun, a stirring version of a great American classic. Next came Venus in Fur, David Ives’ mind-warping meditation on sex, gender, power, S&M, and theater itself, followed by the hilarious, beautifully designed The Divine Sister, and then by the surrealist Ten Percent of Marta Solano, a rare departure (for local stages) from fourth-wall realism. The suspense in A Few Good Men was delicious, and The Sugar Bean Sisters (above) brought us a funhouse ride of Florida Cracker slapstick mixed with moral quandaries and supernatural hijinks. So many peaks and so few valleys: it was a very good year. stageworkstheatre.org
Once a month during the spring, summer and fall, the touristy Sponge Docks host a lively night that transports you to the Old World and will have you snapping your fingers like Zorba the Greek. During the event series Night in the Islands, revelers can enjoy Greek music — which includes the bouzouki, a mandolin-like instrument that characterizes Greek music — dancing, and dining on the street, preceded by an hour of free Greek dance lessons from 6 to 7 p.m. The district, with its whitewashed stucco buildings and eclectic shops and marina, conjures the Greek Isles and provides the perfect backdrop for the high-spirited Hellenic tradition. It’s a fun time all Tampa Bay residents should experience at least once. Saturdays, Oct. 4, 6-11 p.m. and Nov. 1, 6-11 p.m., Dodecanese Boulevard, tarponarts.org
The airport is usually reserved for teary-eyed goodbyes and joyous reunions, but the airport’s marketing team also wants to keep people entertained. The best example of that is the Friday Flight series, which kicked off last October with a show by Tampa lounge legends The Vodkanauts. They greeted passengers arriving at TIA’s main terminal with swinging sounds and warm welcomes you can usually only get at a bar. Pretty unorthodox, but inherently Tampa — and we love it. 4100 George J. Bean Pkwy, Tampa, 813-870-8700, tampaairport.com
Livers cringed when Fest (Gainesville’s long-running autumnal punk rock bacchanal) decided to pregame with shenanigans in Ybor City, and while organizers weren’t exactly sure how fans would take to the idea of a couple extra days of partying at a site a couple hundred miles away, the gamble paid off. Revelers got 48 extra hours to hang with friends at official venues (plus not-so-official house shows), and folks who might not have been able to take the time off work got some mid-week action to satiate the itch. An encore performance is slated for October 29-30, and the beer-soaked streets of Ybor couldn’t be more excited. thefestfl.com/prefest
Were you a tuba or clarinet player in your high school marching band? Then the Greater St. Petersburg Area Awesome Original Second Time Arounders Marching Band (The “Rounders”) is the place you need to be after you graduate. The very first band of its type, and known to be the largest permanent adult marching band in the world with more thn 500 members, is dedicated to those who have marched in high school, college or military marching bands, and dreamed of doing it one more time. With members’ ages ranging from 18 to 85, the band performs locally and travels around the world to participate in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Calgary Stampede, and The Cherry Blossom Festival. secondtimearounders.com
Sullivan played Memphis, owner of a Pittsburgh diner about to be torn down, in American Stage’s excellent production of August Wilson’s Two Trains Running. Sullivan’s Memphis was a demanding businessman, an indefatigable justice-seeker, a fast-talking local hero who could also be unreasonable and short-tempered. Again and again, Sullivan showed us Memphis’ strengths and failings as a Rembrandt might: without judgment, without irony, with only a microscopic attention to detail. And the result was, we came away from the character awed by the dazzling, and wondrously inexplicable radiance of his humanity.
In Lorraine Hansberry’s modern classic A Raisin in the Sun, the one member of the Younger family who never seems very central is Ruth, wife of Walter, mother of Travis, and a tired, overworked woman. But Tia Jemison took this part at Stageworks and made it matter so much, you had to reevaluate the whole play. As Ruth, Jemison was a wonderfully complex figure, loyal to a husband she pretended to disdain, willing to take his side only when he wasn’t around to see it, torn between a glad pregnancy and an expedient abortion. Facing two other strong women — mother-in-law Lena and sister-in-law Beneatha — Jemison’s Ruth displayed a stamina and an endurance not far from heroism. What a revelation!
Poetry n’ Lotion’s sophomore full-length was released at the tail end of August, just a hair too late to make it into BOTB 2013, its high-octane release party occurring only a few weeks before last year’s issue dropped. We felt the need to pay it some due, since the irresistibly fun, Kickstarter-funded Electric Acres found the quintet embracing an even cheekier and more Zappa/Ween-esque kitchen sink attitude in their songwriting, a fuller instrumental presence with all kinds of added keyboards and percussive textures, and a generally tighter, brighter sound overall. Plus, we can’t help mentioning the epic tribute show spurred by the highest Kickstarter pledge, in which PNL offered to learn an album selected by the winning donor (in this case Kenny Pullin’s mom) and perform it live. Her choice? Abbey Road, and PNL tackled the Beatles classic in a fantastically unconventional yet still reverent concert presented for free this past May at Crowbar. facebook.com/poetrynlotion
Lee Blessing’s fascinating play about Ty Cobb, a prodigious baseball talent with a pronounced ugly streak, examines Cobb at three stages of his life — the teenager just starting out, the middle-aged player near the end of his career, the bitter old man — by showing all three at once, squabbling with one another about what really transpired in the past. A fourth actor plays the Negro League star Oscar Charleston, known as “the black Ty Cobb,” whose presence threatens Cobb, a racist unwilling to concede that a black player could be his equal. The play lends itself well to the staged reading treatment given to it by A Simple Theatre this spring, and the reading benefited from its site, the St. Petersburg Museum of History, home to a noted baseball exhibit, Schrader’s Little Cooperstown. But the strongest suit was Cobb’s cast — Chris Jackson, Jim Sorensen, Bob Heitman and Kibwe Dorsey — who made each of the Cobbs distinct and mesmerizingly present, so much so that you forgot they had scripts in hand. If only the 2014 Rays had played this well… asimpletheatre.org
Runners Up: BlueLucy, Tempus Projects