Number 54 - Pick Your Crisis and Blame Mom Issue
I watched some news last night. Best as I can tell, Monica Lewinski caused the World Trade Center collapse and Dick Cheney sicced Hurricane Katrina on Louisiana over some Senate vote. There was something about Lieberman and Hurricane Ernesto, but then I switched over to the 24-hour a day used car channel (Brighthouse channel 18 here in Orlando, it's why I'm getting rid of cable). But my big question revolves around something more practical - why the infestation of Sondheim here in town? Reviews at 11, right here at good old Ink19.
Don Juan Comes Back From the War
By Odon von Horvath
Directed by David Lee
Starring Vandit Bhatt, Christine Perez, Carol Palumbo
UCF Conservator Theatre, Orlando, FL
The war is over, we lost, the dead are buried, and the living are left to sort out "What Next?" Don Juan (Bhatt) wanders shell shocked through this devastated society, searching for his lost fiancťe. Well, lost is stretching it a bit, as he left her before the war began. As he journeys, lost more often then not, he charms his way into success as an art dealer, and into the bed of every woman he meets. He goes a bit too far when he seduces the daughter of his Landlady (Christine Perez). He takes French leave, traveling to the grandmother of the mysterious fiancťe (Carol Palumbo), and then to the grave of the woman he loved. I think he even makes it with the maid on the way to the cemetery. He may be a bastard, but he's a thorough bastard.
On a dark and dramatic monochrome set, parasail wings hung as drapes rise and fall as Don Juan wanders between broken windows and an all purpose bed. Bhatt seems little more than a scruffy refugee, yet he exhibits a consistent appeal to every woman he meets. Occasional musical number populate the show, opening with the odd sounding "Baghdad Song" and leading on to some classics including a mournful "Gonna Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair."
Based loosely on the Odyssey, all the typical enemies of the epic traveler lurk in these women - Sirens, Lotus Eaters, and a Cyclops. Don Juan seduces or eludes them all as he seeks an unavailable love. Like the original Odyssey, this show wanders along and it isnít always clear where Don Juan or the story are headed, and more than a few audience members seemed confused as they travel back to the parking lot. There's an antiwar element lurking here, but it's the peace, not the war that propels Don Juan. His memory of love brought him through the horror, but now he canít find its reality, and nothing else seems the same. Thus, the loss occurs before the battle begins, and persists long past the next set. The world shifted, but very, very slowly.
For more information on UCF Conservatory Theatre, visit www.theatre.ucf.edu
Out of the Box
City Art Factor, Orlando FL
Modern dance and Pornography have something in common - while no one can define them, every one knows them when they see it. Voci Dance invaded the new City Arts Factory with a fine mixture of modern dance, poetry, artists at work and a full bar, and a receptive audience did an excellent job at recognizing all of these. Based on the concept of mixing dance with spoken word, Voci hooked up with Seattle poet Christa Bell, and used her voice as part of the sound track for several of the numbers.
Opening number "La Cafť Mimosa" featured a put upon waitress (Choreographer Amy Tattersall) opening, serving, and closing a trendy spot inhabited by the thin and beautiful, and not at all unlike what City Arts hopes to become. Ms. Bell recited to a piece called "Fly" which brought fluid motion together with awkward heel to toe walks by Kelly O'Donnell, Rokaya Mikhailenko, and Mary Clymene B. Wilkins. (I'm almost afraid to ask about the "B"). Music from the Doors set up the closing segment of the first act "People are Strange", and we repaired to the bar or the easel to discuss dance, politics and art.
The second act featured more of Ms. Bell's tightly paced verse supporting 3 works. These include an ode to the uvula "Yoniverse", "There She Goes," and a piece vaguely reminiscent of Flash Dance "She Takes Up Space". After the show, the dancer stretched out on stage, and took questions from the audience. There were the usual plaudits and technical questions, but one hung the cast dead - "Please define Modern Dance." They can dance it, but there's no consensus as to what it is or isn't. Now THAT is art.
For more information of Voci Dance, visit www.vocidance.org
By David Mamet
Directed by Paul Luby
Seminole Community College, Lake Mary FL
This is as good a reason to stay out of academia as I've ever seen. Professor John (John DiDonna) teaches skepticism, postmodernism, and is right on the cusp of tenure. As you may know, tenure makes you nearly impossible to fire unless you bugger the dean in public. He's called sullen Carol (Rebecca Valentine) in to discuss her numerous academic weaknesses, including poor organization, weak sentence structure, and insufficient adoration of his new book. Carol has trouble with big words and takes copious notes to make up for it, and when the interview ends badly, she edits them into a MUCH stronger document for the tenure committee, calling him on the carpet for sexual harassment. The professor foolishly calls her back to "straighten out" the matter, and ends up with attempted rape and murder on his rap sheet. Carol may not understand the role of modern education, but she'll make a damn good ambulance chaser.
Like any good Mamet story, everyone is rude, condescending, and morally corrupt. The good Professor drips contempt for his students and his job, answers the phone in the middle of Carol's sentences, and points out quite clearly he's not delivering much of value to those who pay his way. Carol, on the other hand, clearly doesnít "Get" college, and seems weak in general knowledge and academic skills. She's working on a major in Unemployable Studies, with a minor in Unpleasantness. By the third act, I wanted to come on stage and hit both of them with a stick, but I know that would end up on my permanent record.
There are more than a few serious questions raised. Should students pay good money to be told the dream of college is just a sham? Should professors allowed to teach any drivel to their students and squeal "academic freedom" if someone complains? Is it worth the risk to consul students out of class, or have any interaction at all, for fear of false, undefendable accusations? And most of all, if you never believe in what you are doing, can you really lose it? Since Community Colleges focus on actual job skills, SCC is a safe haven for this play, but I can think of a few colleges where this would get the cast burned at the stake.
For more information on the Seminole Community College Theater program, please visit www.scc-fl.edu/arts/theatre/
Respect: A musical Journey of Women
By Dorothy Marcic
Directed by Ellen Jones
Orlando Science Center, Orlando Fla.
There's a pop song written every minute, and natural selection allows just a few to evolve into hits. Author Dorothy Marcic found 2401 of them sung by women in the Top 40 lists of the 20th century, and simmered them down to this enthusiastic revue. Three accomplished singers (Heather Bernie, Shannon Bilo, and Celina Rodriguez) belt out snippets of 40 or more biggies, occasionally doing a full verse or two. Narrator Kristen Jepperson strings the song together with commentary on the times they were sung, and how women's roles in society have expanded. There's a hip looking trio backing them up, making "Respect" feel like a cabaret combined with a lecture on Women's Studies.
With solid singing and dancing, the show draws a positive audience response, even if the narration seems bit drawn out. Intermission comes as a surprise, and there was some debate in my row as to whether the show was over, or it was just time to buy a few souvenirs in the lobby. We all elected to stay, and were rewarded with another solid set and more costume changes. Sound problems bedeviled the show, with a blaring audio system and no stereo separation as the singers ran across stage. I suspect these are temporary problems, but they did annoy. While "Respect" has humorous moments, it's not a laugh out loud comedy like Menopause, but more like a VH1 "Where are they now?" episode. I wouldnít see it for the lectures, but the music was fun, the whole thing zipped along, and they even mentioned Pewaukee. How can you not love a show from Pewaukee?
For more information on Respect, please visit www.respectthemusical.com/
Ten for the Fringe
Footlights Theatre, Orlando, FL
The problem with holiday themed short play programs revolves around their supposed holiday centrism. Either everyone toes the line, or its gets a bit repetitive, or a few stray sheep wander into the woods and people whine "What did THAT have to do with Saint Swithin's Day?" Despite these cross currents of Halloweenier than Thou, this year's "Ten For The Fringe" fund raiser had the usual mix of brilliance and dross.
There's a spectrum of silly to serious, with the opening number "Trickntree" sent in by DCO alum Peter Hurtgen, Jr. Fringe matron Beth Marshall appears on stage after a far-too- long hiatus as the red neck mother of little gap toothed Jennie Kline, Little Janine has her heart set on free candy, until mom gives her a more adult solution, solving both problems in one blow.
I found David Lee's "Closet Monsters" more proactive, with three young ladies dressed in nighties and Orange County approves latex pasties telling stories and acting them out. The dialog was...adequate, but the denouement superb. Thank you, Mr. Lee!
Local dance troupe Cine Dance did a very nice motion piece "Excerpts from A.D.D." which somehow relates to observations of modern love, but really showcases the joy of moving without having to explain anything. I hope they get a slot in the upcoming lottery.
The terminal piece came from Rob Ward and Jameson Beane "Hallo-Queen", a fairly straight forward parody of the already self referential "Scary Movie (versions I to XXX)." I thought it completely silly, but Michael Wanzie stepped up and contributes several undergarment tips, making this little number much sillier that it had any right to be.
Two films appeared in the show. Doodie Humor contributed "How to Kill a Zombie", a nice take off on the Crown Films some of us grew up with during the Khrushchev administration. A more serious piece came from Todd Kimbro and the Empty Spaces Theater Company, "Violins". Coked out Tim Williams is a clean cut CW star who comes out of the john to find a dead hooker in his bed. Not only is this bad for the rest of the tour, but he seems a bit offended that his agent hasnít fixed the problem already, and are there any Quaaludes left in the shaving kit?
"Out of the Closet" showcases Michael Wanzie's ability to write comedy to any completely absurd and arbitrary script spec, with two young men exploring mom's closet for Halloween costume ideas in a dieing coal mining town in Northhamptoncleeseshropshire, or some other PBS-forsaken corner of a starving England. Doug Ba'asar provided his typically absurd big guy drag as a contrast to the rugged and Camel Straight trained mother, Kate Singleton.
Mike Garvey explores some personal hauntings in "Ghost Stories". Scott Browning is possessed by sort of ghosts we all have, tattered remnants of failed past relations. All the people he's been close to have moved on, to other lovers or other planes of existence, and all he has to show for it is a rag-tag ensemble of Goodwill rejected clothing and accessories. A similar relationship comes from Scottie Campbell in "Song for a Guy," a reflection of fidelity and adventure in a gay relation where the rules are flexible, until someone decides they ought not to be. Can the two find peace, or will they spin apart like another failed solar system?
My absolute favorite piece is buried in the second act, Dave McConnell's one man show "Al's Idea". I havenít seen a lot of Dave since he got a family, but obviously things are happening to him, just as they are to all of us. Dave's wife is at work, leaving him to watch the baby with his buddy Al, who is not the best influence on his life. Just as reality was dawning on me, a friend leaned over and asked "Where is this going?" It went very far, very deep, and very fast, and was one of the strongest short plays I've ever seen. Way to go, Dave!
Ok, half this stuff has no real relation to trick or treat, but that's really just an artifice. Anything can be set in an arbitrary day on October, but that shouldnít diminish the clever and not so clever ideas Fringe pulled out of the local talent pool to drum up a few bucks. If you love the weird and unexpected, this is a great evening, and in this day and age, nothing is as scary as an unexplained lump or a thick letter form the IRS.
For more information on the Orlando Fringe Festival, please visit www.orlandofringe.org/
Fiddler on the Roof
By Joseph Stein, Sheldon Harnick, Jerry Bock, Jerome Robbins
Directed by Jim Brown
Starring J.J. Ruscella, Samantha Stern
UCF Conservatory Theater, Orlando, FL
Tevye (Ruscella) is a simple man. All he wants from life is peace, quiet, and a nice conversation with Jehovah. He'd even settle for a healthy horse and a well-to-do son in law. This week, God is off working a plague or a revolution, his horse is lame, but Yente the yenta (Janet Raskin) has a deal and a half - well off butcher Lazar Wolf (Kyle Crowder) wants Tevye's oldest, Tzeitel (Nicole Niefeld). Tevye discovers she's made a promise to poor Motel (Jason Whitehead), and soon his other marriageable daughters spiral into worse and worse marriages. Hodel (Katrina Williams) falls for Siberia bound radical Perchik (Robert Stack), and Chava (Sara Barnes) makes the worst choice of all - Cossack Fyedka (Jared Timmons.) That's not just marrying out of the tribe, that's marrying out of the species.
With a cast of dozens, Fiddler counts as the extravaganza show of UCF's season. Everyone gets on stage, and sometimes they are a bit hard to separate with their beards and drab costumes. Ruscella's Tevye is the matzo that binds the show together - his physical appearance and sly winks at the audience and the Divinity steal the show. Wife Golda (Stern) seem permanently catching up - she doesnít project a strong enough presence to counter his charms, and even Crowder's Wolf out weighs her. Cossack Fyedka charms, and gets one impressive operatic note early on, impressing both the audience and future wife Chava.
Fiddler is packed with great songs, and all are treated well. The big standards "Sunrise Sunset" and "Matchmaker" are well done, but the title song "Fiddler on the Roof" and the thematic "Traditions" are the ones I hummed on my way back to the car. Elaborate dance numbers fill in the odd moments, with the Jewish folk dancing going on at length. The Cossack dances were audience favorites, and while real vodka might have tightened them up, the flips and kicks draw solid applause. The only real flaw in the show is Tevye's Dream sequence, which features a flying Fruma-Sarah (Madison Stratton, Lazars dead first wife) the effect was spectacular, but the audio processing made her words unintelligible.
So where is God in all this? He answers Tevye, but in that tricky, frustrating roundabout way so often associated with divinity. His daughter find happiness, the local commissar is apologetic enough as he beats the Jews into leaving, and with a future in America and a past in Israel, we learn that Russian is just another waypoint for the wandering Jew. It all about attitude.
For more information on UCF Conservatory Theatre, visit www.theatre.ucf.edu
Frankenstein - The Modern Prometheus
By Jim Helsinger
Directed by April-Dawn Galdu
Starring Steve Patterson
"Monster...want...LOVE! Want love now! Or I kill!"
That encapsulates the essence of Jim Helsinger's one man epic treatment of Mary Shelly's romantic novel "Frankenstein." We enter the world of reanimation with the ill fated voyage of Robert Walton, a dreamer who thinks the North Pole is a tropical paradise that was simply overlooked. Trapped in the ice somewhere north of Spitzenburg, he sees a dog sled on the pack ice, and later recovers another dog sled with the half frozen Victor Frankenstein. As Victor thaws, he relates a cautionary tale of his seduction by the dream discovery as he sought and found the recipe of life itself. It's not all he hoped for - the monster is a deformed killer, and not even a year in Greece can wash the ill feelings from his soul.
The first act is Victor's story, and the second act focuses on the monster's point of view. Victor comes off as a real jerk, treating his creation to rejection, physical abuse, and living with pigs. It's not easy being 8 feet tall and deformed, and when this nameless creature asks for a mate, Victor agrees, retreats to Scotland, and defaults on his promise. A monster scorned is a monster to be recon with, and for a one man show, we have more than a few bodies lying about.
Top notch acting by Steve Patterson, excellent direction, and a spectacular set highlight the problems with the underling text - the monster's loneliness is beaten to death, the second act seems to go one endlessly, and the final action leaves more questions than it answers. I'm impressed this monster went from illiteracy to deconstructing Milton in a year, and mystified as to how all of Geneva missed his striking form as he fled the city. Captain Walton leaves the biggest question mark - why would he spend more than 5 second deciding whether to return to England or press on with a huge, iceberg induced hole in his hull? This Frankenstein is like eating lunch at Chamberlains - its ultimately good for you, but there's an awful lot of chewing involved.
For more information on UCF-Shakespeare, visit www.shakespearefest.org
The Lost Comedies of William Shakespear
Created and Directed by David Charles
Sak Comedy Lab, Orlando, FL
Remember the first time you sat through a Shakespeare play, and it sounded like complete gibberish? It was. Elizabethan English is foreign enough, with different enough structure, intonation and vocabulary to leave the typical modern American lost. But while most people think of The Bard as high class, it's the fart and fuck jokes buried in the text we all cherish, and Sak takes the time to make some new ones that Will himself would have approved. Local improve guru David Charles takes a few ideas from his recent success Long Form success "Fourplay", adds a board full of random audience selections, and incorporates them into what passes for iambic pentameter in this modern world.
Each Improv show is different, except for the parts than sort of have to be the same. Character names may be inserted at will, and no one really has to spell Illyria, but the night I visited there were a few stumpers. Working Professional Mud Wrestling into the past seems to give the crew pause, but veteran Darren Vierday nailed the phase "get over it" by tossing reluctant Juliet (Morgan Russell) over an invisible hedge. But here's the really cool part - whenever they get got stuck, all it took was a paragraph of Elizabethan double talk to grease over the problem, and we back to the adventures of Sebassino, Chris Dingus's patched up attempt to be too many people at one time.
Opening night felt a bit rough, with Mr. Charles anxiously looking at the Big Board of non specific places nervously near the end, praying that nothing had been forgotten. Some of the humor comes from the misapplied Shakespeare text, some comes form the "leper passing though" conceit used to move people across stage when they ended up in the wrong place, but most of it comes from the pained expression of these highly trained improvers thinking "Where do this idiots come UP with these suggestions?' Hey, they asked for it, and if it was easy, we'd do it ourselves.
For more information on SAK, please visit www.sak.com
Anna In The Tropic
By Nilo Cruz
Directed by Kate Ingram
Starring Ryan Garcia, Brittany Rentschler
UCF Conservatory Theater, Orlando, FL
Down in turn of the century Ybor City, they roll cigars the old fashioned way, creating a quality product no one has time to enjoy anymore. Factory owner Santiago (Michael Croker) gambles away his money as mysterious half brother Cheche (Cody stone) lobbies for a more streamlining mechanized process team. The workers prefer the old way, forming tobacco in the heat as a velvet voiced lector Juan Julian (Ryan Garcia) reads them news and politics and Tolstoy. The consensus of the male workers is the lector dangerously increases the women's sex drive, but they seem pretty hot blooded all on their own. Worker Palomo (Danny Reyes) has a bit on the side, and his wife Conchita (Brittney Rentschler) feels turnabout is fair play, so she takes up with the Juan Julian. Tension grows, and let's just say Anna Karenina didn't come to a happy end, and neither does this play.
The quality of the cigars rolled on stage was dicey, but the feelings of workplace camaraderie and Cuban pride came through in this excellent student production. Garcia's lector exuded Spanish charm which contrasted nicely with a jealous Palomo. Santiago wore a goofy mustache, and seemed genuinely nice, in a classic guy sort of way. Youngest sister Marela (Danielle Sagona) charmed and seemed sexier than her older, more practiced sister Conchita. Real tobacco graced the set, and we even got a whiff of the real cigar by the shows finish.
So what's this all about? Anna In The Tropics takes us to a similar place that Tolstoy takes us in Anna Karenina. A woman takes a lover, and while her husband knows the facts, social pressures keep a lid on things until something, anything breaks. What breaks isnít the point, only that there is a rupture, and after the bang, the world still wobbles on its axis.
For more information on UCF Conservatory Theatre, visit www.theatre.ucf.edu
Smokey Joes Cafť
By Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Directed by Rush Trowel and Damien Middleton
Seminole Community College, Lake Mary, Florida
I always felt Rock and Roll was just music your mother didnít like, but I think my mom danced to a few of these tunes. Leiber and Stoller did a good bit of work in the music industry before the creation of the Sensitive Singer Songwriter. They wrote the music and the words, passing them to professionally created groups of musician who recorded them and sold them to the public. Smokey Joe's collects the works of these two pillars of teen sound and puts them on stage with a posse of dancers, but without any particular order or story.
Some of these songs will ring a bell, like "Kansas City Here I Come", "Charlie Brown", Poison Ivy" and "Love Potion Number 9". More than few fell below my Oldies radar screen, and some good music like "On Broadway" or "Little Egypt" are clearly from the Kennedy administration, but hardly class as rock and roll. The singing felt competent, but numerous audio problems ranging from loose cables to poor microphone placement and scattershot mixing made the words hard to follow. An excellent 5 piece band redeemed the show, making a solid with a great internal sound balance.
Deciding who sang what was a challenge with most of the theater program onstage in one capacity or another. Edward Tereja rocked out as the Elvis impersonator covering "Jail House Rock," Holly Heller looked good handling "Pearl's a Singer" and the blaxplotation influenced "'I Keep on Forgetting". One of the nicest voices came from Earnest Hargett fielding "Spanish Harlem".
This is an oldies revival, nice enough if you seek some Happy Days reminiscences. There's an impressive array of dancers, some of whom show some real if still raw talent. While hardly dramatic, itís a pleasant enough evening, particularity if the sound gets cleaned up.
For more information on the Seminole Community College Theater program, please visit www.scc-fl.edu/arts/theatre/
Singing In The Rain
Directed by Joel Warren
Starring Joel Warren, Amanda Warren, Stephanie Adams, Rick Paulin
Ice House Theater, Mount Dora, FL
All talking, all singing, all dancing, all raining - all at the Ice House Theater way up in sprawling Lake County. Based on the 1952 film, "Singing in the Rain" follows a pair of silent film stars as they deal with that pernicious new technology - sound movies. Hunky Don Lockwood (Joel Warren) and his leading lady Lena Lamont (Adams) specialize in period swashbucklers. Lena tends to believe the press, and wonít accept Don wants nothing to do with her offstage. Don wisely dodges this screeching weasel and falls for the more reasonable and marketable Kathy (Amanda Warren). When their first talkie screen tests worse than Bush addressing the Democratic National Convention, it takes wiry sidekick Cosmo (Paulin) to come up with the saving concept - make the turkey into a musical. I seem to recall Jolson sang on film first, but no matter, in Hollywood, any idea is new and exciting if it makes money.
Ice House's new artistic director Joel Warren (this guy does everything up here) shepherds this technically challenging piece to a respectable and enjoyable evening out. Both Warren and Paulin are excellent tap dancers, and the Broadway Rhythm Ballad really clicked. Scenic designer Tommy Mangieri staged The Dancing in the Rain sequence with 40 or 50 gallons of real rain, and showed spectacle always has a place on stage. The best singing came from local stalwart Andre Provencher in a number of supporting roles, one of which was the "Beautiful Women" dream sequence. Paulin's Cosmos became more enjoyable as the evening went along, even if his Make Em Laugh number didnít result in any internal injuries.
I admit I had been reluctant to drive all the way to Mount Dora, but this show made the trip worth while. Ice House has a large backstage and good sight lines, all put to wise use in this classic musical. There were a few rough moments, and the sound had a tendency to blast, but over all this was a fun show.
Moon Over Buffalo
By Ken Ludwig
Directed by Tom Larkin
Starring Mike Briggs and Cira Vance
Center players at Osceola Center for the Arts
Theater is dying and the Hay Family isnít doing much better. The company fades away and the chances of getting out of Buffalo solvent are slim to none. Oldest daughter Rosalind (Suzanne Hakimipour) took up advertising and wants to marry a TV weatherman Howard (Richie Vadnie), George Hay (Briggs) has impregnated his supporting female actress Eileen (Lydia Claire), and his wife Charlotte (Vance) is dating their lawyer Richard (Jeremiah Krivinchuck.) Only one thread of hope remains - mega film director Frank Capra is heading to Buffalo to size up George to replace an injured Ronald Coleman. Even his wife Charlotte might ride these coat tails to Hollywood stardom, so today's matinee becomes crucial. Too bad George went on a bender, and by the time they find him, everyone's forgotten whether they're doing Noel Coward's Private Lives or the swashbuckling Cyrano De Bergerac.
Brigg's George seems to lack the hopeless desperation needed to motivate his role, although he was an excellent foil to his long suffering yet faithless wife. The calm center of this show resided in Grandmother Ethel, played by local veteran Jan Peterson, who seemed completely disassociated from the action bouncing off her. I like Andrew Hakimipour's Paul, the diminutive company manager who looked like he wanted to go Groucho at any moment, and Rosalind seemed all business and ready to settle down and be June Cleaver.
Moon over Buffalo is one of the classic slapstick "play-in-a-play" comedies of our age, and this company did a respectable job of getting the jokes to work, entertaining the audience, and not injuring themselves in pratfalls. Theater isnít really dead; itís alive and lurking in community theaters like this across the country.
For more information on Osceola Center For The Arts, please visit www.ocfta.com/
By Michael Frayn
Directed by Mark Brotherton
UCF Conservatory Theater Orlando, Fl
There's always a joy in seeing a show when the audience is full of enthusiastic Fine Arts Minors. UCF's season opener attracted the usual large proportion of theater majors cheering for their fellow students in this fast-paced comedy. We follow the somewhat professional cast of "Nothing On," a dreadful British bedroom farce, as it travels from Weston-Super-Mare to Stronking-On-The-Scrote, or some other completely dreary British backwater. Backstage, director Lloyd Dallas (Michael Pettey) has impregnated stage manager Poppy Norton Taylor (Libby Tatum), but really wants blonde bombshell Brook Ashton (Andrea Dunn). Leading man Garry Lejeune (Spencer Morrow) romances fading leading lady Dotty Otley (Erika White), as this entire play within a play revolves around a symbolic plate of sardines. I think I'm oversimplifying here.
Unlike last weeks Sondheim orgy, this play carries very little message or subtext. It's a vehicle for slapstick and sight jokes and excuses for Ms. Dunn to running around in her J.C. Penny undies. There's a certain amount of overacting required for this show, particularly for the drunken Selsdon (George Milton) who has only one voice setting - loud and plodding. That worked well enough but I thought Ms. Dunn's antics were so over-the-top as to be distracting. I like Kyle Atkins' role of Tim Allgood, the long suffering stage tech, and Pettey's Dallas had a believable polyester and Vitalis feel about him.
The second act takes place backstage with the show running, and contains a beautifully choreographed scene with the entire cast fighting over a Chekhovian axe. If you're not familiar with this show, it requires a very complicated set, and it's worth sitting through intermission to watch the stage hands rotate the behemoth. I caught the second intermission, which featured some sort of unplanned collision. Everything halted for a round of furious backstage pounding. It's rare to have this much entertainment value in the intermission.
It takes until the second act for the audience to get the real joke here, but the journey is pleasant. While there were a few garbled lines, you really have to have seen this before to notice them. Like a Henny Youngman show, once the first giggles start, they keep coming all the way to the end. Noises Off, but Humor In.
For tickets and more information, please visit www.ucftheatretickets.com
Annie Get Your Gun
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields
Directed by Jennifer Jones Cavanaugh
Starring Daniel Tuegel and Kristen Burke
Annie Russell Theater at Rollins College
Winter Park, FL
Do I smell half-baked Political Correctness? This classic musical dates to an era when Indians were the all-purpose villains and stooges in Hollywood, and no one thought twice about what an ethnic slur might be. Unfortunately for this classic piece of American Musical Theatre, this perspective generates anxiety among the well-meaning artists of the 21st century, and reflects in this otherwise interesting local production.
Buffalo Bill Cody (Joseph Bromfield) runs a Wild West show in need of a new star. Sharpshooter Frank Butler (Tuegel) puts bullets in targets but not butts in seats. Cody lucks into backwoods hunter Annie Oakley (Burke), who can shoot pheasant with a rifle at 100 yards. They clean her up and slap some publicity on her, and next thing you know she's in love with Butler. As a Classic Old West Guy he can't tolerate being upstaged by a woman, which only goes to show Annie's big song is right - "You Can't Get a Man With A Gun." It takes a European tour and near failure of the show to bring Annie and Frank together, but I suspect this marriage shouldn't keep firearms around the house.
With a small but competent live orchestra in the pit, the musical backing here is wonderful, even if the microphones on the singers gave some persistent dead spots in the front rows. The set consisted of a dozen or so large flats dropped in from the loft, which gave the show a nice period feel. Both Tuegel and Burke are excellent singers, even if their chemistry seemed flat. The funniest character was the dragged-up Eli Green playing the Cincinnati hotel owner. Other outstanding performances came from Michael Mastry as Charlie Davenport, Cody's manager, and Rob Yoho as Pawnee Bill and a few other support players.
Oh, did I mention the Native Americans? The program has rather long ruminations about the whole business of casting the roles, and whether they should even be there, or what to do with them in this enlightened age. This is not the original script, as "I'm a Bad, Bad Man" sung by Frank and "I'm An Indian, Too" by Annie and the Indian Chorus are pulled and sort of replaced by the awkward "I'll Share It All With You." I assume the copyright Gods have blessed all this surgery, but I feel everyone onstage wishes the Indians hadnít been written in and they could just sing "No Business Like Show Business" and "I Got The Sun In the Morning" and then go home. I canít say what the right course is here, it's certainly an artistic decision, but if a show is that uncomfortable for the cast and crew, maybe they should pass on it. The awkwardness telegraphs to the audience, and while the show had some wonderful moments, it felt unenthusiastic.
For more information on the Annie Russell Theatre at Rollins College, please visit www.rollins.edu/theatre/index.shtml
Court Ordered therapy - Ladies of Eola Heights Part 3
By Michael Wanzie
Directed by Kenny Howard
Footlights Theater, Orlando FL
Orlando canít seem to get enough of oversized drag queens. The Ladies of Eola Heights are back again in the third installment of this slow moving soap opera centered on the dysfunctional Loxdale family, who magically continue to live in the once squalid but now pricey part of town. Gratuitous violence in "Part 2 - After the Prom" now leads to some court ordered quality time with head shrink Jonathan Burroughs (Frank McClain). Matriarch Pearl (Michael Wanzie) told everyone to clam up and do their time, so most of the early comic action revolves around the doctor losing patience with his patients as the spirit of Pearl's deceased son Jackson (Miss Sammy) lip syncs his way through '70s standards. Eventually the women crack, and Ruby (Tommy Wooten) opens up to her anger about their father's cremation and subsequent internment in a dumpster, and conservative yet alcoholic Opal (Doug Bas'ra) berates Pearl for her disrespect of the flag. It could be anyone's family.
Is it funnier than your family? Only to a degree. Wanzie has a solid franchise here, and knows how to milk the laughs for all their worth. The running gag is simply the look of the three women, coupled with the arbitrary appearance of Miss Sammy and her wild outfits and over the top "singing". Comedically, the only real problem is the rather vicious diatribe on the war about three-quarters of the way into the show, which really lets the wind out of things. It's heartfelt, it motivated Pearl's action, and drew a positive audience reaction, but it really broke the feeling of the show. Of course, it only took a few minutes to recover, and as we all felt some closure (whatever that is) near the end, a 4th installment was promised. We trust that Wanzie and all his weird creatures will stay fresh longer than a certain raygun-toting film franchise did. Otherwise, what would we do to feel superior to those snooty residents of Cathcart Street?
For more information on the Footlights Theater, please visit www.theparlimenthouse.com or www.Wanzie.com
By Steven Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler
Directed by Alan Bruun
Starring Stephan Jones and Laura Hodos
Mad Cow Theater, Orlando, FL
Sweeney Todd is the finest Serial Killer Cannibal musical Mad Cow has ever performed. In this narrow genus of stage productions, there are few contenders, and it takes either Sondheim or Trey Parker to capture the mood of the protagonist without getting overly campy or moralistic. Benjamin Barker (Jones) escapes Australian exile and adopts the name Sweeney Todd. He has a bone to pick with vile Judge Turpin (Ron Schneider) who sent him away so he could steal Barker's beautiful wife. Todd finds his daughter Johanna (Meggin Weaver) a ward of Turpin, and since she's bumping up against a ripe old 15, Turpin plans to marry her, and who's to stop him? Vengeful Mr. Todd sets up shop with Mrs. Lovett (Hodos), seller of the worst meat pies in town. As Todd begins murdering for practice, she bakes the carcasses into the pies, boosting sales enormously. Eventually, Todd gets Turpin where he wants him, and in an ending reminiscent of Titus Andronicus, bodies pile up so fast some of the extras have to come around twice to get murdered.
Moral? Be careful who you kill, it might be someone you love. Music? Sondheim, so it's tougher than most, but "Worst Pies in London" rocks, and "A Little Priest" was the toe tapper you to take to the bar at intermission. Acting was superb, with Jones a smoldering time bomb with nothing to lose and nothing to gain. While Hodos tries to smooth his rough edges, she sings as well as I've heard her and "By the Sea" nearly moves you to marry. Another fine performance came from David Alameda in the roll of Perrelli the Barber, but Weaver's Johanna was on key if a bit overly soprano for my taste.
As always, Mad Cow crams more stuff in a small space than anyone else in town. With a series of clever semi-translucent screens, set designer Cindy White makes rooms come and go, and back lighting soften some of the more gruesome murder and sausage-making business. A live band holds forth, and as a tenth anniversary offering, this show is a milestone for downtown Orlando's last surviving Theater Company.
For more information on Mad Cow, please visit www.madcowtheatre.com
A Thousand Variations on a Lie Once Told
By Stacey Lane
Directed by Kathleen Lindsey
Starring Marty Stonerock
Sponsored by the Women's Playwright Initiative
Tupperware Theater at the Orlando Rep
Once a liar, always a liar. It's the harsh side of perfection - once you make the teeniest mistake, you're impure for life. Abby (Stonerock) lost her husband long ago, but found a new man, Patrick (Paul Carbonell). This Christmas, she's invited her three perma-PMS'd daughters over, and they are spoiling for a fight. Dead old Dad supposedly wrote them each a letter before he died, but Abby denies this ever happened. None of the daughters will accept even the slimmest possibility the letters were never written, and for 20 years acid and vitriol roll over the family. Eldest daughter Whitney (Kylie Koscoe) won't even give Abby a picture of her granddaughter, youngest daughter Anna (Kelly Slonecker) pretty much rolls with the facts, but its middle child Rena (Melissa Ready Hoepner) who blasts both barrels of the attitude shotgun constantly. In order to prevent open bloodshed, Abby puts Patrick on the spot to do a little last minute forgery, which pours a bit more benzene on the fire. This is the sort of house where you should always save the last bullet for yourself.
This is a fairly new piece, and is still undergoing some rewriting by Rollins alumnus Stacey Lane. With a well-chosen cast, the show features a relentlessly hammering first act, followed by a more evenly paced second act. Ms. Stonerock kept the most control of her life, and while her goal is to make everyone happy, ultimately no one is even close. The daughters are all true to their dialogue, with Ms. Hoepner giving an excellent effort as the Most Unpleasant Girl In The World, and Kelly Slonecker emitting as much niceness as the script allowed. One of the side points here is that Abby's friends decide she likes frogs, which simplifies their Christmas shopping. Set designer Kristen Abel must have scoured every thrift shop in town for the hundreds of amphibians lining the book shelves.
There's an interesting story here, and if the daughters were a bit more sympathetic, it would play more realistically. In the story, Abby hasnít had the girls over in six years, and if they were my kids, I'd host this dinner in a dive bar. At least there, the bouncer will toss you out if you get too nasty.
For more information on Women Playwrights' Initiative, please visit www.WomenPlaywrights.com/
By Alfred Jerry
Directed by John DiDonna and Seth Kubersky
Starring Bobby Bell and Peg O'Keefe
Empty Spaces Theatre Company at Orlando UCF Shakespeare Festival
What do you call a film that no one ever watched, but everyone speaks of knowingly? It's a classic, and Ubu Roi falls right in the stage section of that category. First presented 110 years ago, it only ran twice but provoked riots and got banned. We donít have that level of commitment to art these days, as you canít even get a Fringe show shut down without violating the fire code. Art and entertainment has progressed in this century, even if politics and human folly has stayed constant. And today absurdism is a minor industry.
Here's the log line: Pere Ubu (Bell) conspires to kill the King of Poland (John Bateman), then loses all to the Russians when he fails to pay his bribes. Simple enough, and it's the telling not the tale that makes the show. Mere Ubu (O'Keefe) occasionally gives advice, but it's the oath taken on her size 44 boobs that seal the demise of gassy hubby. Pere Ubu's indicted co-conspirator Bordure (Joe Comino) straps a plunger on his crotch, and takes the fall when needed. Brett Carson makes a corpulent yet fashionable Czar of Russia with his pants around his legs and sequined red boxers. A dozen other refugees from Rocky Horror re-enactments and the Fringe circuit fill in the gaps, and even the audience gets to help out with fart sounds. Good thing I had a raisin, apple and peanut butter sandwich for lunch.
So what's the big deal? While this piece is a stock element of drama school texts, apparently no one has bothered to perform it in decades. Perhaps it's the intimidating cast, the dated absurdity, or the need for a large number of horses onstage. Whatever the reason, it's a happy moment that our local avante garde troupe tackled this paleoabsurdist icon, and executed it with the panache of Pee Wee's Playhouse. Action flies along with the bare minimum dialog needed to nail the story, and convenient signs hang around the necks of actors so you never wonder who the tall guy in the doublet really is. Childlike in simplicity and directness, Ubu combines nearly every element of the standard dramatic form - five acts, clear protagonist/antagonist relations, rising action in two waves, and a host of other nitty things only a specialist could love. It also has Bobby Bell saying "poop" loudly and clearly, applying his profound knowledge of Brecht to a clearly defined and crucial acting task.
Perhaps more decades will pass before someone tackles Ubu again. Unlike Godot, the other Absurdist classic no one really has the bladder power to sit thought, this King Ubu zips along with plenty of motion, laughs, and a wonderful sense of flatulence. Conceptually, it props up Dada, the Marx Brothers, and Mad TV; and as Pťtomane would have recommended: "It's a gas!"
For more information on Empty Spaces Theater Company, visit www.emptyspacestheatre.org
Yada Yada Yada - A Cabaret
Musical direction by Kyle Mattingly
Winter Park Playhouse
Winter Park, Florida
Who says you need a plot to have a good time? WPPH bases its philosophy on singing in the shower while CNN drones on in another room. Three WPPH regulars, Heather Alexander, Mark Taylor and Elizabeth Block, are joined by newcomer Tim Evanicki, lately of Bathhouse - The Musical fame. Dressed in matching red and black outfits, the team banters likes an Action News Team while delivering a stream of Broadway Standards that fill their intimate show space.
After the girls gently needle Mark Taylor about his stock good looks and Disney stage experience, he replies with an amazing "If Ever I Would Leave You" from Camelot. Ms. Block had two nicely contrasting pieces, "If I Could Be Funny" near the opening, and "Everyone's Girl" near the end. Evanicki seemed a bit outside the main flow, but pulled off a nice pairing with "Poor, Unsuccessful, and Fat" followed by Heather Alexander's "Rich, Powerful and Famous." Somehow, those two songs should be a duet.
Despite his appearance as a new comer to this practiced crew, Evanicki had the two best pieces, a heart-rending "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables, and a very silly "Mr. Cellophane" which featured the rest of the cast ignoring him while getting snacks and chatting up their cell phones. The second act opened with a hilarious rewrite of "Traditions" from Fiddler on the Roof. Taylor put on his best shetl accent and sang about Orlando Actors avoiding work in the Villages. Why do they do it? "Ambitions," of course.
Yada is sharp, entertaining, and on key. And it's over too soon, but that's the rule - leave 'em begging for more.
For more information on Winter Park Playhouse, visit www.winterparkplayhouse.org
Man From Nebraska
By Tracy Letts
Directed by Fran Hilgenberg
Starring Larry Stallings, Lori McCaskill
Theatre Downtown, Orlando, FL
OK, so living in Lincoln, Nebraska and selling insurance is a bit dull. It might make you challenge your religious beliefs, and that's a good enough reason to enjoy a midlife crisis. This sums up Ken Carpenter (Stallings) and his life, but at least his marriage is still intact. When that pesky break with God arrives at three a.m., wife Nancy (McCaskill) freaks out, especially when she discovers itís not a heart attack. Days go by with no salvation in sight, so Revered Todd (John Minioble) suggests a few days in a cheap hotel and a stack of Louis L'amour novels. Odd advice, but it gets Ken to London, where he meets some locals, takes up sculpture, and eventually decides whether God exists or not, he really does like his wife.
Ken's life is Bor-ring, and as the audience leaked away in the first act, we all hoped for something, anything exciting to happen. Act Two picked up quite a bit as Pat Monday (Alana Leonard) and her two exceptional talents attempt seduction. Then Ken whines a bit, takes up drinking, and befriends locals Tamyra (Carmen Garcia) and her gay flatmate Harry (Andrew Beaudoin). They teach Ken that art and drugs are more useful than prayer and abstinence, but it takes the long-awaited passing of his mother (Bridgette Hill) to get him off his existential butt.
While Stallings was an excellent choice for a man with nothing happening in his life, I really liked Garcia and Beaudoin's work as the semi-dissolute Londoners with semi-believable accents. Minioble's Reverend Todd may not have offered believably Baptist marriage advice, but his voice and presence made him look suitable for a prime-time channel 52 gig. His father, Bud Todd (Jon Archer Lundgren), really seemed like a classic randy yet smelly old guy who takes a fair shot at seducing middle-age Nancy. Nice casting!
The set was dominated by a table that swung this way and that, accurately modeling Ken's state of mind. His story feels real, even if he and Nancy's motivation seems diffuse and unbelievable. Bud Todd and Ken's mom are the two poles of old age - one wastes away in a nursing home, and the other embarrasses himself grabbing for that last bit of gusto. Pat Monday and Reverend Todd show us good and evil - Sundays in church, or Fridays handcuffing a wanton. I suppose in this case you could do both, but it feels wrong somehow. Harry and Tamyra are the alternate path of life, showing Ken he can still grow and experience new ideas. Lastly, Nancy shows acceptance under all conditions, while Daughter Ashley (Megan Wiley) is ready to dump anyone for any reason, including looking cross-eyed.
There you have it, pick one from column A and one from column B, and see where you end up. I'll pick the "randy old guy rejected by family but sculpting naked women" option. Hey, life's all about choice, isnít it, Ken?
For more information, please visit www.theatredowntown.net
Carl F Gauze is a wealthy but reclusive student of the arts, semi-retired from a stellar career as an insurance calendar salesman. His real fortune derives from his great grandfather, Herman S. Gauze, who invented the sterile surgical dressing in Zurich shortly before the First World War. Because of Switzerland's neutrality and the obvious humanitarian uses of this bandage during the tragedy, he amassed a vast fortune selling the dressing to both sides. He's recently been looking at bikes, and can't decide between a Harley Fat Boy or a Vespa. Decisions, decisions...