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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

An Octaroon

November 12th, 2017 by carl-gauze

An Octaroon
By Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Based on a play by Dion Boucicault
Directed by David Reed
Starring Arius West, Andrew Coleburn, and Mandi Lee
UCF Conservatory Theater
Orlando, FL

Back in the old days, if you needed a black actor you put a white guy on stage in blackface. Today, if you can’t get enough white actors for your slave days production, you put black actors up in white face. And if you need a Native American, red face will do just fine for tonight. This “An Octaroon” derives from a very popular 1859-piece decrying slavery: it adds a bracketing device, special effects, lighting that won’t set the building aflame and it camps up the racism till it’s laughable. It also depends on a quick-change cast and a few modern stage tricks. It’s all very Brechtian, even if you must cheat and look it up.

After a rather surreal costuming rant, we travel to Terrebonne (Good Earth) plantation. Like all literary plantations of the antebellum its deep in debt, run by a nearly dead and unseen aunt, and populated with happy slaves doing their level best for their overseers. The stage is full of stereotypes played for yucks: dreamy photographer George (West) flirts with Dora (Stephanie Cabrera), proposes to Octaroon Zoe (Lee) and takes an incriminating picture that convicts his alter ego M’Closky for murdering a child and stealing the US mail. Along the way Terrence Lee waves ocean waves of blue tulle, tings bells to indicate evil, and receives abuse for being third billed. The female black trio and Greek chorus of Minnie, Dido and Grace (Reva Stover, Waneka Leary, and Bria Holloway) talk sassy and bring in the cotton. This should be offensive, but the script is so self-knowing you can’t help but laugh.

What should we take away from this “Follies” of race? There are multiple options: everything comes around, and what was once OK is now offensive, but what was once offensive can be OK if you own it properly. The slave based south was a nasty and brutish place, but there was a sense of belonging, even if that belonging consisted of your name on a bill of sale. And lastly, add enough camp and even a Nazi POW camp can be a hit sitcom. As I rode the cart back to UCF’s byzantine parking lots, a young (white) man behind me rejoiced he was born in the 1990’s and far away from this sort of misery. I pointed out I was old, and he was young, and now it was his job to make things even better. I like to think he’ll make a better world someday, but I never get my hopes too high. Tonight’s show was a notable example that a lesson taught with comedy lasts longer than ones taught with a lecture.


For more information on Theatre UCF, please visit http://www.theatre.ucf.edu

The House of Bernarda Alba

November 12th, 2017 by carl-gauze

The House of Bernarda Alba
By Federico García Lorca
A New Version by Emily Mann
Directed by Nadia Garzón
Starring Ibis Enid Rodriguez, Leonor Velosa, and Lisa Morales
Seminole State College
Lake Mary, FL

Fortune is fleeting, and in this tense and claustrophobic tale its already two miles down the road. Senior Bernardo Alba is dead, and his stiff wife Bernarda (Rodriguez) declares eight years of mourning for him. The Victorians could wrap up mourning in 12 months or so, and Bernarda’s rule makes life tough for her five virginal daughters. They range in age from 20 to 39 and you can do the math. Bernardo left all his money to the eldest Angustias (Morales). She’s the ugly one and needs the most help and at 39 the toughest to sell in a society obsessed with descendants keeping the family lineage alive. Men abound, but working class is too déclassé. Laboring blood would aid the gene pool, but it removes any chance of moving back to Madrid. Advice and commentary come from housekeeper La Poncia (Velosa), but to no avail. By law, tradition and control of the food sources Mom rules and she ain’t taking any back talk, no siree. The hottest point of rebellion lies in young Adela (Francesca Toledo). She wears a sexy green dress, ignores mom, and has an affair with Angustias’ s unseen paramour Pepe. It’s a bit of a soap opera, and there’s a good operatic ending.

Lorca draws some sharp contrasts about his pre-war Spanish society: the obsession with status and mating correctly clearly limits everyone’s choice, and in a small town with poor transportation options for marriage are limited to start with. Next there’s the elaborate rituals, first introduced to set the king and nobles apart from the prols. If you didn’t know the formalities, you were obviously working class and should go empty the chamber pots. Finally, there’s the obsession with sex and how not to have any unless a tall order of rules gets checked off in the right sequence. Like many conservatives, Bernarda believes the old ways are much better, and any sexual innovation limits the possible. Then there are the wonderful lines that survived translation: Adela admits “Sometimes I love under clothing” and a man is identified as “A lizard between her breasts.” With wonderful words and brutal analysis of his homeland Lorca traps all these concepts in one place, and fillets them for our consideration.

As to the production, Rodriguez certainly delivers the stern, no nonsense head mistress role out on stage. Your sympathy goes to Velosa’s long suffering housekeeper and her assistant Criada (Angel Cotto) who can never clean to her standards of the house. The daughters mostly form a giggly swirl of girlishness waiting to escape while Ms. Toledo alternates between a young girl and a possibly mad one. All float across a simple set of columns and pillars: the story is classily confined to a single space, just as these women are confined by Bernarda’s impossible standards. Their life only offers rough entertainment and sweaty, working class heroes and that looks like a better life than all the formality and lace. Yes, these are the tribulations of rich and semi-famous. And while not as sympathetic as the trials of the working class, they are real nonetheless.

For more information on the Seminole State College Theater program, please visit http://www.seminolestate.edu/arts/theatre/boxoffice.htm

Orphans

November 11th, 2017 by carl-gauze

Orphans
By Lyle Kessler
Directed by Marco DiGeorge
Theater on the Edge
Edgewater, FL

If there’s one thing this place needs, it’s a light up sign you can see from the street. What it’s good at is stage intensity, and the ability to get wallpaper to look like cockroaches put it up in 1978. Meet gentle Phillip (Adam Minossora) who misses his dead mom and lives under the thumb of his violent brother Treat (Zack Roundy). Treat won’t teach him to read or let him out of the house; Treat is the worst kind of control freak. Treat does support him with picking pockets and other minor crimes but one night he brings home drunk-as-a-skunk Harold (Allan Whitehead). Notionally, he’s a “Businessman”, but that business seems to be securities theft. (Back in the old days, stocks and bonds were all physical and if you stole the certificate, it was hard to trace. Now everything is electronic). Treat threatens to kill Harold, but Harold hires him as a bodyguard, and puts some sense into Phillip. But Treat has anger issues as well as a cheap streak. Instead of taking a cab like Harold said, he takes a bus and nearly gets into a shootout with a rude bus rider. Things are grim in the house, and when Harold takes Phillip for a walk his past catches up to him. Treat may be a lost cause, but Phillip might finish all the great American novels someday.

There’s a theme here; every TotE show has focused on intense male relations and desperate people pushed to that selfsame edge. Mr. Roundy can scare the pants of you, and sitting in the back row is scant safety in this tight space. Mr. Minossora remains gentle and eager to please; he’s a classic hostage with no way to send a message to the neighbors and ask for help even though he’s in a cramped row house with walls made of spiderwebs. But the real scare Machine is Mr. Whitehead. He may be jovial and generous, but those with access to the securities market are the ones who can do the real damage, and they don’t even have to get close to you.

As always, there’s an amazing degree of verisimilitude here. The set is reportedly built to the actual 1949 building code, there’s a real radiator, and at the very beginning as Phillip kneels before the television it reminded me of a 1980’s video. It’s an intense evening, and one you’ll remember.


For more information on Theatre on the Edge, please visit http://theaterontheedge.org/ or http://facebook.com/TheaterOnEdge

Red Black and Ignorant

November 11th, 2017 by carl-gauze

Red Black and Ignorant
By Edward Bond
Directed by Jeremy Seeghers
Starring Daniel Cooksley, Sophia Anne Tretro, and Sean Kemp
Valencia College Theater
Orlando, FL

It’s the end of the world, and these folks know it. There are no more theaters; all we have tonight is a bunch of chairs set out in the grass in a concrete circle near the shrinking Econ river. Flashlights to illuminate the scene. Out of a rubble pile, The Monster (Cooksley) emerges. His face ashen, his words halting, he describes his apocalyptic life and an even worse future awaiting. We see his life: as a child humiliation rules. In the few times he isn’t ignored, he’s beaten and harassed. Spat upon and ignored, he eventually finds love and marries. His woman (Tretro) and he spawn a male child (Kemp). Children are expensive, and they must sell the boy, but the only buyer is wealthy and a tough Buyer. It’s sell or starve, and the boy enters the military, now the only functional branch of society. In the climactic scene he returns home with the mission of picking one person on his street and killing them in cold blood. Besides mon and dad, there are only the elderly couple on the corner. Decisions, decisions.

Florida weather is always a roll of the dice, but tonight turned out perfect. The occasional jet passed over head, blanking the text but adding to the tension. The mosquitos were down, cars with glass packs raced up on Highway 50, but we were safe in our small, hermetic capsule. Covered in grey make up and open sores, Cooksley looked like the last survivor of Hiroshima. His voiced halted and raced and he truly looked like he’d been in a low budget Sci-fi apocalypse. Ms. Treto offered the only soft position here; she was loyal and loving and innovative, just as any 1950’s sitcom mom should be. Jeff Williams played The Buyer; he wore a vest and might have been Gatsby’s stock broker. Finally, there was the gun toting Kemp. He stood firm, scared yet sticking to his training. My only complaint is even though he toted a prop gun, his finger was on the trigger way too often. Gun safety should never stop with theatrical props. Brutal, unique, and exhilarating, this is a don’t-miss show for its innovative staging, apocalyptic message and soft mirroring of today’s political landscape. Check the weather, and don’t forget your DEET. You won’t be getting any more of it after this scenario plays out.

For more information on Valencia College Theater please visit http:// http://valenciacollege.edu/artsandentertainment/Theater/schedule.cfm/

Double Jeopardy

November 11th, 2017 by carl-gauze

Double Jeopardy
The Trial of B. B. Wolf
Music by Curtis Tucker
Word by Nelson Sheeley
and Trial By Jury
By Gilbert and Sullivan
Directed by Dee Axel
Musical Direction by Nishaa Carson
Central Florida Vocal Arts
Presented at CFVA Black Box Theater
250 SW Ivanhoe Blvd
Orlando, FL

Courtroom procedurals can drag, but if you can sing them in opera, well, the entire legal system becomes entertaining. Tonight, there are two cases on the docket: a costume heavy children’s piece, and a more adult case from the masters of operetta Gilbert and Sullivan. In “The Trial of B. B. Wolf,” Mr. Swine (Christina Rivera) sues B. B. Wolf (Bryan Hayes) for destroying his house. The tall, bewigged Hans Christian Anderson (Andrew LeJune) defends, and Little Red Riding Hood (Katrina Stenzel) offers additional testimony. Mr. Wolf looks a bit like John Candy in “Spaceballs;” his defense is pointed and controversial and the case is postponed until a later date. Defending a fairy tale case can get expensive.

Post intermission we discover a jilted bride and the man she sues for lost affection. This was a real legal thing 150 years ago, and the innovative Gilbert and Sullivan employ the scuffle to comment on the hypocritical mores of their day. Mr. Hayes returns as Edwin T. Defendant; he’s in the dock for dumping Angelina T. Plaintiff (Rivera). We begin with the usher (LeJeune) instructing the jury to ignore the defendant but abide by everything the Plaintiff says. The judge appears (the same John Segers who judged Act 1). He admits marrying ugly for money, then ditching his bride. These guys could run for office today and get all the conservative votes. But when the Bride appears, the judge decides to marry her himself, letting Edwin off the hook. Justice in not only blind, it makes no sense whatsoever. But if we sing it, no audience in the world will convict for lack of entertainment.

As with all CFVA shows the singing outshines the plot, and the set is minimal. Mr. Segers and Mr. LeJune were my favorite male voices while Mrs. Rivera won my female vocalist votes. Mr. Hayes did most of the acting; he kept both the destructive wolf and the philandering defendant physical and almost always in motion, or at least reacting. There’s just a piano pounding out the notes, allowing the voices to shine as they should, and the church hall acoustics are much better than most stages in the area. While not exactly a kids show, there’s nothing her to offend, and happy endings are the main goal of both segments. In a weekend full of dark performances, this one keeps a happy face and never disappoints.

For more information on Central Florida Vocal Arts please visit www.centralfloridavocalarts.com/
Facebook.com/CFLVocalArts

Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical

November 5th, 2017 by carl-gauze

Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical
Book by Susan L. Schwartz
Music by Andrew Sherman
Additional Music and Lyrics by Tom Kitt and Jonathan Callicutt
Directed by Adam McCabe
Choreographed by Michelle Alagna
Starring Takara Anderson
Footlights Theater, Orlando FL

The Footlights Theater continues to up its game; tonight we have both a proper overture to this musical and a good tap sequence in the middle. Based on a porn film so notorious it has its own Wiki article, DDD is now a rather risqué musical with dance numbers substituting for the explicit sex. It’s also one of the most heteronormative shows ever produced at the Footlights. There’s plenty of hetro sex, and only a smidgen of the lavender loves we’ve come to expect. Is there a plot? Why yes! That’s why the original movie was so good: they have stage worthy motivation. Debby leads the cheerleading squad at Anonymous High, and she been accepted into the Texas Cowgirls. She just needs to raise some money for bus fair, and her cheerleading team pitches in. Minimum wage jobs aren’t getting the lawnmowed, but the team has extra special charms men are willing to pay for. Tidying up gets replaced with going down, and soon there’s enough money for everyone to go to Dallas. Is there a moral? Yes: selling your body can bring in big bucks, and having a soul is overrated.

Despite limited backstage and not much wing space, this little show pulls off numerous set changes, some decent singing, and sticks close to the original story line. Ms. Anderson’s Debby faces a difficult moral choice, seeks out an exploitive career, and is generally completely sympathetic. The guys all take on multiple roles: Kyle Stone focuses on the creepy middle-aged guy willing to pay for his thrills, Johnathan Spiegel aces the dumb jock roll, and Tripp Karrh works best with a fright wig and a sleazy backstory. On the female supporting side Katie Ford remains sort of virginal as she seeks out higher political office while Sarah Orbrock acts all clean-cut while acting all nasty in secret. Ale Martinez lost her voice tonight, so the sound guy read her lines, and that substitution was hysterical. There were some good songs here, and closer “It Only Cost Me My Soul” almost brought a tear to my eye. The P-House bar scene might be fading, but the shows in the intimate little space keep getting better. And parking is easy as well. No reason for you not to go visit this out of the way show room.

For more information on shows at the Footlights Theater, please visit http://www.parliamenthouse.com/footlight-theatre/

Grounded

October 29th, 2017 by carl-gauze

Grounded
By George Brant
Directed by Monica Long Tamborello
Featuring Cynthia Beckert
Mad Cow Theater
Orlando, FL

Jet jockeying just isn’t like “Top Gun” anymore. Our unnamed flyer (Beckert) used to drive F-16’s around the sky, but that air frame is almost as old as I and our new war fighters might as well be playing a video game. She meets a nice guy on leave and has an “Oops” moment, and now her career stalls with the addition of a daughter, a husband and a new job in the modern fighting Chair Force. She’s still flying something but its more like that famous Penn and Teller video game “Desert Bus”: hours of ennui punctuated by brutal greyed out violence. And when the body parts fly, it’s not a game – it’s some other mother’s son dead in the burning dessert sand. Patriotism is one thing and earning a living is another, and they don’t mix all that well in her life. Her husband deals blackjack and while he wipes out people’s life savings, its not the same as her wiping out someone’s life. When put to the real test, she fails all because she’s too good at mapping herself into that tiny remote monitor and the soon to be dead enemy of our state. War is, in fact, hell. And here it’s a hell you can drive home from after a shift, then commute back to again tomorrow.

Enthusiasm and patriotism are the entry points to war, and disillusion and tortured dreams the end. Author Brandt accurately captures the surrealism of the modern battle front. Becket feels right as a pilot: the swagger, the casual profanity, and the confidence all came forth in her performance. She admitted after the show her family “had some aviation about it” and she did nail all the jargon. While your chances of death in the Chair Force is about what any office job risks, the ability to separate the focus of the battle field and the joys of home is compromised and that’s where the character finds her downfall.. There no set to bother this story, just some miscolored VASI lights and two panels of Midwestern fluffy cumulonimbus. Beckert takes our attention, and keeps us on her glideslope of total emotional destruction.

For more information on Mad Cow, please visit http://www.madcowtheatre.com

Love and Marriage

October 27th, 2017 by carl-gauze

Love and Marriage
With Kelly Morris Rowan
Musical Direction by Chris Levey
Spotlight Cabaret Series
Winter Park Playhouse
Winter Park, FL

I can tell we’re in for an evening of elegance as Ms. Rowan enters in a blue evening gown dripping with a formal style we rarely see today. Her theme is “Love and Marriage.” Tonight’s program recounts her courtship and marriage starting at a Pennsylvania Renfair gig. Here are some prime picks: “And Then He Kissed Me,” “Old Fashioned Wedding,” and “I Chose Right.” You get the idea. Stories about pets and counselors filling between songs, and Ms. Rowan takes some time to sing a duet with Maestro Chris Leavy. You can always count on an encore here at the Winter Park Playhouse, and the ending is telegraphed by a rather down tempo mashup of “Too Late Now” and “Our Love is Here to Stay.” We won’t go home without a rousing close, and that comes from the swinging “Glory of Love.” An ovation, a trip to settle a bar tab, and we leave with romance in our hearts. Romance – I’m so glad she’s enjoying it…

For more information on Winter Park Playhouse, please visit http://www.winterparkplayhouse.org

Evita

October 24th, 2017 by carl-gauze

Evita
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Directed by Paul Castaneda
Starring Victoria Sol Del Agua, Brandon Munoz-Dominguez, and Freddy Ruiz
Valencia State College
Orlando, FL

Even by musical theater standards, Juan Peron (Munoz-Dominguez) gets off easy tonight. Of course, he doesn’t get all the hits, either, so it looks like a wash for him. His wife Eva (Del Agua) emerges from the countryside, and sings her way quickly to the top. Peron was a milder form of the South American dictator, and I attribute that to the raw charisma of Eva. She finds her way to the big city (“On This Night of a Thousand Stars”) and quickly sleeps her way into Peron’s life. A good bit of negotiation is called for (“The Art of the Possible;” “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You”) but in the end Eva becomes the face of the regime, and whatever good or bad occurred in her short life it was always overshadowed by her popularity. Che (presumably Guevara) (Ruiz) comments on the action and often presents an alternate take on the scenes but ultimately, he’s only as effective as a commentator, and no one on stage takes cues from him.

Here we have a big musical in a big space with some big voices. Director Castaneda takes advantage of the pair of follow spots, an industrial strength fog machine and a well selected cast to bring Eva’s oversized persona down to a real, loveable size. While Mr. Munoz is often stiff and a bit hulking, he feels very vulnerable as a dictator. Ms. Del Agua has the voice for the high notes although the sound mix could stand a little more bass. It’s Mr. Ruiz’s Revolutionary commentator that holds your eye; he’s skeptical of the entire revolution but offers no practical alternative. The set is simple but effective, lights and projects pop the flats into your lap as the chorus specializes in fast changes, energetic dances and solid specialty roles. This is how to run a revolution.

For more information on Valencia College Theater please visit http:// http://valenciacollege.edu/artsandentertainment/Theater/schedule.cfm/

Of Thee I Sing

October 15th, 2017 by carl-gauze

Of Thee I Sing
Book by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind
Music by George Gershwin
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin
Directed by Mark Brotherton
Musical Direction by Chris Endsley
Starring Kyle Laing, Jennifer Totcky, Joseph Edward Herr
Theater UCF
Orlando, FL

Politics never changes; it’s just that new crooks appear from time to time. Tonight, we find ourselves in a post Hoover time warp where Alaska is a state but we have still to fight WW2. “The Party” has nominated John P. Wintergreen (Herr) as their man for the White House, but they need a platform to stand him upon. Ideas fly by but the one that sticks is “Love.” Wintergreen will run on a policy of Love and his Bobby Bitman-influenced campaign manager Fulton (Laing) will round up each state’s most beautiful gal and pick the best. If Wintergreen wins, they marry on Inauguration Day and if he loses? Who cares. We have been governed under worst conditions. Along for the ride is un-noticed VP Alexander Throttlebottom (Kent Collins). Nobody remembers his name and no one tells him his job is to run the Senate. He is very, very happy with all this. The winning girl is bombshell Diane Devereaux (Katie Whitmore), but Wintergreen is having nothing of her – he’s fallen for his assistant Mary Turner (Totcky). This takes us to inauguration where Deveraux claims breach of promise. Soon we have an international incident and a very silly French Ambassador (Mikey Reichert) threatens war with the United States. Today, that seems totally plausible.

The politics are as cartoonish as CNN, but this IS a Gershwin Brothers piece that won the Pulitzer Prize. The duplicity and sheer lack of respect make this a funny piece even if you don’t get the plot point that prohibition is still in effect yet everyone carries a hip flask. Herr has the preppy good looks to win and hold office, Whittemore is clearly the American Ideal circa 1932, and while Laing overplays his role, its a choice that pays off: innocent Collins is sweet and harmless and draws his laughs from the traditional low esteem Veeps hold. As FDR’s second in command John Nance famously remarked: “The Vice Presidency isn’t worth a bucket of warm piss.” Yet, Throttlebottom appears to fall short of even that low standard. The main Va-Va-Voom factor here comes from Whitmore in her flattering red swim suit. When you first meet her, you think: “Woman scorned. Beware!” and Mr. President fails on that count. Musically, the songs are all well staged and sung, but only “Love Is Sweeping the Country” sticks in my mind for its melody while “Posterity is Just Around the Corner” gets points for its non-sequitur title.

There’s tons of energy here; all the dance numbers are attacked like the D-Day landing. A clever moving thrust stage pulls and pushes the action along as color changing columns indicate mood and time. A few references here and there allude to the current administration, but the parallels lie more in the broad strokes of politics more than today’s headline. Heck, even the American Flag shirt contingent stuck around for the second act. If that’s not cross aisle bipartisanship, I haven’t seen it. And no, I haven’t seen any for many a year. Go for the dance, the acting, the music and the set along with the privilege to see an important but rarely produced classic executed with grace and style.

For more information on Theatre UCF, visit http://www.theatre.ucf.edu