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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for October, 2007

What You Don’t Know About Women

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

What You Don’t Know About Women
Musical Direction by Christopher Leavey
Starring Heather Alexander and Luerne Herrera
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park, FL

None of us know that much about women, but not for lack of trying. The obsession with shoes, a deep need to move heavy furniture, and the weepy moments when watching Oxygen – all a complete mystery. That make Winter Park Playhouse’s attempt to clarify so heartwarming, even if they restrict the lecture to selections from lesser known musicals. In this low keyed musical evening, Heather Alexander and Luerne Herrera sing an enthusiastic explanation, backed up by the ever watchful Chris Leavey. The selection intentional aims for solid songs rarely sung, even if Ms. Herrera’s version of the Judy Garland standard “Come Rain Or Shine” sneaks past the censors. Later we learn that the slutty “Everybody’s Girl” comes form a show called “The Steel Pier” as Ms. Alexander sings it with more gusto than a girl should show in front of her hubby.

Some women turn to alcohol, others to chocolate, and while Ms. Alexander threatened to get a drink from the bar, she held onto her professional standards. Ms. Herrera, however, folded to her baser desires and ate most of a box of chocolates while singing “On My Own.” While her vocalization was none too clear, it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on stage. You may not learn much about women, but this much is clear: Chocolate is always the right size and color, and never gets returned.

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

Bathory – The Blood Countess

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

Bathory – The Blood Countess
Written and Directed by John DiDonna
Starring Peg O’Keefe, Nicky Darden, Samantha O’Hare, John DiDonna
Empty Spaces Theater Company at the Orlando Shakespeare Festival

Jesus, like the king had little to say about anything in 16th century Hungary. As a long war with the Ottomans wound down, authority rested in the hands of whoever lived in the castle and priests were in no position to censure their masters. Rugged terrain, isolation, and mysticism made any action justifiable and nearly impossible for a weak central authority to rout out. Countess Bathory may be the worst of the lot, but I doubt she was unique. Her particular hobby was beating peasant girls to death and bathing in their blood. Bad as that sounds, it’s the gossip that upset the king – Hungary wanted acceptance in a larger Christian Europe and Countess B was an embarrassment. King Matthias became so disgusted he sent is Minister Lord Thurzo (DiDonna) to tighten up royal discipline. The Bathory name was most important – Count Bathory fought with the king to oust the Turks, and if something wasn’t done to keep up appearances, it might be hard to get in the European Union later on.

Murder required Motive, Opportunity and Method. In this dark and disturbing production, Countess Bathory is played simultaneously by three actresses. Innocent Bathory provides motivation – she’s bullied by a domineering mother in law (Peni Lotoza,) seduced by her cousin Klara (Babette Garber), and goaded by the local witch coven. When you’re bored by Sodom and hubby is far away at war, murder seems a reasonable weekend sport. Stateswoman Bathory (Peg O’Keefe) shows us Opportunity – clever enough to conceal her actions and viscous enough to seek a steady stream of victims, she laughs off accusations and drafts the creepy Ficzko (Blake Logan) to help her harvest more bodies. Ironically, it’s her scrupulous record keeping brings her down. Most bothersome is the Legendary Bathory. She lives by the old dictum “Show don’t Say” as she graphically strips, beats and murders of one young servant (Beth Harless), then pours blood on herself and most of the cast.

There’s a splatter zone, and it’s not just in the gallons of special effects. We’ve refined the bloody habits of past eras into the iconic cartoon world of Halloween. DiDonna forces us back to the roots of this apparently harmless tradition. Surrounded by stage violence, edited news reports, and special effects, we’ve lost the horror of sudden and senseless death. Bathory takes us back down into this Black Persona lurking inside of us, and while her motives are repellent, the Countess’s action do have a logic, twisted as it may be. Here’s the real splatter – we inflict painful, brutal death on each other for no reason other than “we can.” Whether you prefer to blame sin or statistical mechanics is of no import. It just happens. Now that’s scarier than anything Universal can pull out of its makeup kit.

For more information on Empty Spaces Theater Company, visit http://www.emptyspacestheatre.org

Most Happy Fella

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

Most Happy Fella
By Frank Loesser
Directed by Ed Weaver
Starring John Mansell, Sara Barnes, Piper Rae Patterson, Dave Sucharski
UCF Conservatory Theater, Orlando FL

This seldom-done production seems to break many of the unwritten rules of musical theater – not everyone pairs up, disgust transforms to deep love without much motivation, and the big blowout numbers do little to push the plot forward. These problems were written in by Frank Loesser, but UCF’s massive crew makes them fade into the curtains with their sheer energy and skill. Tony (Mansell) finds the years slipping by, but a chance meeting with sweet voiced waitress Rosabella (Barnes) leads to a romance-by-US mail courtship. Tony’s nervous about his age and never goes to musical theater, so he foolishly sends a picture of his much younger assistant Joey (Sucharski) instead. When Rosabella arrives in rural Napa Valley, she discovers the deceit as Tony wrecks his truck and needs 12 weeks of close attention by any available young woman. I must have glanced away, but Rosabella immediately forgives Tony and latches on to him, even though Joey is cuter and much more interesting. Rosabella’s close friend Cleo (Patterson) drops in, mostly to meet uber-nice Herman (Taylor Jeffers) and sing the splashy but essentially irrelevant “Big D – Dallas” that keeps our toes tapping through intermission.

The story is weak and hackneyed, but director Weaver’s brilliant choreography of the 30-plus cast made spectacle plaster over the cracks in the story. The highlight of the many dance numbers was “Standing on the Corner” done as the Cotton Eyed Joe. The “Big D” rated a close second, as Cleo and Herman had a real stage chemistry. Still, Mansell’s Tony projected a persistent charm, and I’m completely stricken with Ms. Barnes’ voice and while the romance was iffy, they were the most enjoyable couple overall. Best supporting characters were the three chefs Pasqual, Ciccio, and Giuseppe (Benjamin Smith, Jason Clement, and Yaniv Zarif.) They sang, they danced, and they juggled cheese. It was more fun than any chain Italian restaurant.

Maybe Loesser was trying to break the Musical Comedy mold, but Tony’s older sister Maria (Megan Wiley) was a truly tragic – her every emotion was tied to her brother, and she’s set adrift for no good reason by his pursuit of Rosabella. Joey drifted off as well; he announced his intentions early on and stuck to them, although his biggest internal conflict was whether to stick around for dinner. “Most Happy Fella” gets Broadway revivals periodically and with mixed results. It’s an acceptable story, but not in the top 10 list for musicals. UCF shows they can make a mountain out of this molehill, and I congratulate them for that.

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

The Mousetrap

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

The Mousetrap
By Agatha Christie
Directed by Larry Stallings
Greater Orlando Repertory Theatre, Orlando FL

Now I know where “Colonel Mustard in the Drawing Room with a Coal Scuttle” came from. A blizzard besets Monkwell Manor as young Mollie (Kimberly Luffman) and Giles (David Strauss) open for their first day of business as a guest house. The usual collection of red herrings and eccentric characters drift in with the snow – stiff Major Metcalf (Eric Kuritzky), blustering Mrs. Boyle (Paula Keenan), suave yet creepy Paravicini (Kevin Sigman), swishy Christopher Wren (Glen Howard) and sexy Miss Casewell (Sarah Lockard). Each has a secret, each has motive and opportunity, each may or may not be guilty of an offstage murder. It’s up to efficient Detective Trotter (Daniel Petrie) to sort it all out.

The show has a pleasant period charm, and fits well in the College Park church hall in which it’s staged. One problem that bedevils the show is inconsistent accents. Kuritzky and Strauss keep a stiff upper lip, but other cast members wanders in and out of British, or just gives up and speak American. As to acting, Petrie’s Trotter does the best job; he’s efficient, ruthless, and intimidating. Sigman’s Paravicini feels over the top as the Italian suspect without portfolio even as he avoids the pregnant question “Exactly where are you from?” If anyone stole the show, it was Mr. Howard – his role involved overacting, but some how he made more sense than anyone else. Odd things happen on stage as well – when characters wished to avoid Trotter’s questions, they either studied the elaborate set intensely, or like Lockard, went and stood in corners until the next scene.

Of course, I won’t give away the ending, but intermission discussions were surprisingly prescient and figuring out the killer never seems the real point of the show. We read and enjoy mysteries not so much to solve the puzzle, but to partially enter a dangerous world of words. Our bodies are never at risk, but we can pretend they are, and that’s worth the visit.

Shylock

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

Shylock
Written and Directed by Gareth Armstrong
Starring Steven Patterson
Orlando Shakespeare Theater
Orlando, FL

“They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!” That pretty much summarizes all of Jewish history, and except for the food, that captures this rather unusual one-man show that deconstructs “The Merchant of Venice.” Steve Patterson, a tall, wild eyed man appears as Tubal, Shylock’s only companion and only the second Jew ever mentioned in the Bard’s works. With only 8 speaking lines, Tubal is down there with the Third Lord, Second Merchant, and Drunk: Fill the crowd scenes, say a word or two, then double or triple up in some other bit part. Minor as the role may be, it’s the cook view of the castle, and that’s where all the good gossip arises. From that vantage, author Armstrong takes a really good term paper and brings it to life. We examine the text of the play, the role of Jews in post-medieval history, racism, anti-Semitism, and what it is that keep Jews Jewish through more trial and tribulations than any other race seems to endure. That’s a lot of material from only 8 little lines.

While this may sound tedious, it’s actual a gripping piece. My eyes never left Patterson, and the coughing and fidgeting indicative of audience tedium never evidenced itself in the tight confines of the Goldman Theater. Tubal was a bundle of energy, probing and questioning everything thrown at him except the fundamental rightness of his ethnicity. Some segments were uncomfortable, some touching, but all relate back to the fundamental question of “Why does everyone pick on the Jews?” The answer is vague, but think of the fat kid in grade school – he was just different enough to make you feel superior, and he couldn’t fight back. That’s where Tubal leaves the audience: sympathetic, aroused, and craving a plate of Latkes.

For more information on Orlando Shakespeare Theater, visit
http://www.orlandoshakes.org

Return to Forbidden Planet

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

Return to Forbidden Planet
By Bob Carlton
Directed by Joel Warren
Musical Direction by Steve MacKinnon
Starring Cherish Glaze, John Gracey, Jim Meadows, Vicki Burns
Theater Downtown, Orlando, FL

In space, no one can hear you laugh. And in “Return to Forbidden Planet,” you couldn’t even hear laughs in a regular atmosphere. This musical is a hybrid of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and a 1956 Sci-fi film often regarded as the beast of the era. The dialog comes from the 16th Century, set from the 26th, and the music from an oldies station somewhere in Lake County. Captain Tempest (Gracey) guides his interstellar crew to the Forbidden Planet in search of his missing Science Officer (Burns) and meets long-lost Prospero (Meadows) and his babe-a-licious daughter Miranda (Glaze.) Prospero tapped a mysterious power from a long lost civilization and releases his Japanese horror monster id to attack Tempest’s ship and crew. Robot Ariel (Saenz) helps beat off the monster, and everyone flees to the nearest space bar to commiserate over Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters.

It’s hard to say what happened here, but the audience sat stonily for at least 20 minutes before there was anything resembling a giggle. That’s a shame, because everyone on stage was singing, talking, and dancing about as well as you could hope. Amada Warren choreographed the eye catching dancing, and the cast in general did an excellent job with the songs. Prospero’s theme was “Please don’t let me be misunderstood”, and Cookie (Eddy Coppens) did well with “She’s not there”. Perhaps the only weak singer was Glaze, her lead on “Mr. Spaceman” simply lacked volume.

Maybe it was the rushed delivery of the Shakespearean lines lifted from Hamlet through Henry the 4th. Perhaps it’s the serious tone of the source – Forbidden Planet was never a comedy, and The Tempest isn’t particularly funny either. Whatever the cause, I kept waiting for either “Rocky Horror” or “Menopause the Musical” to break out, but by the end I just felt Lost in Space.

For more information, please visit http://www.theatredowntown.net

The Heidi Chronicles

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

The Heidi Chronicles
By Wendy Wasserman
Directed by Katrina Ploof
Starring Leander Suleiman, Alexis Jackson, Todd Allen Long, Michael Marinaccio
Mad Cow Theater, Orlando FL

Old age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill, and that’s why idealism shines brightest in the young. In the fetid days of Vietnam and Eugene McCarthy, Heidi Holland (Suleiman) discovers politics of the most liberal kind – free love, free drugs, and voting Democrat without shame. All her friends are out to change the world – Scoop Rosenbaum (Marinaccio) runs a radical paper with an unpaid circulation of 362, Peter Patrone (Long) struggles with revealing his homosexuality and medical school, while Susan Johnson (Jackson) discovers boys and feminism. Heidi works the art world, and while she knows what’s best for women in general, she’s not so good at picking what’s best for her. It’s sort of a “Think local, Act global” problem. Her bumpy relation with Scoop crashes on his desire for a non-competitive wife who won’t notice his girl friends, and Heidi spend life bouncing from minor triumph to minor disaster. It’s a classic “Getting what you want doesn’t make you happy” story.

While the story has it strident moments, it’s really about a woman who is loved, but can’t find it on her own terms. Suleiman looks both lost and timeless, and somewhere in the second act you know she’s likely to spend here golden years with three cats and a subscription to the New Republic. Marinaccio continues to refine the Perfect Jerk persona he’s rehearsed since the Impact Theater days – he can charm the pants off a nun and then steal her crucifix. Heidi’s good advice comes from the soft and stable Mr. Long, everywoman’s Ideal Gay Friend, while Jackson’s over-achieving Hollywood producer role shows there is an alternative to idealism, and it pays much better.

We loll in an infusion of nostalgia here, with feminist slogans substituting for furniture and a flicker of iconic photos flashing on a screen giving a sense of time passing. Motown music provided a uniting thematic element, and we are forced to judge results by two tests – happiness with today’s situation, and the results of yesterday’s ideals. I suspect the world is slightly better for all of our agonizing, and who would deny us ex-hippies this minor pleasure of believing we did it all by singing loud?

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

Largo Desolato

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

Largo Desolato
By Vaclav Havel
Directed by Lani Harris
Starring Andrew Clateman, Melissa Mason, Courtney Moors
UCF Conservatory Theatre, Orlando, FL

There are plays written for presentation, and there are plays written for suppression. The old Soviet Block generated most of the latter, and “Largo Desolato” feels typical of the genera. In an ill defined time and place, neurotic author Leopold Nettle (Clateman) awaits incarceration for a rather thick philosophical tome that sounds less readable than Das Kapital. An efficient police state insures he has no appeals, so he waits, afraid to even go for a walk. His wife Suzanne (Mason) openly dates his best friend Edward (Jo Crandall) and exchanges pleasantries with Nettle’s mistress Lucy (Moors). The potential of a gloriously public prison term absorbs him, leaving no time for writing. Nettle finds to his dismay that notoriety brings its own problems as a steady stream of weirdoes pass through his parlor, each hoping for salvation from this balding little man.

While there is a clearly delineated under-current of menace “Largo Desolato,” there’s plenty of slapstick – maybe even too much. Nettle’s physical comedy is superb, and coupled with his Ringo Starr look and Groucho mannerism he draws nearly all the laughs in the show. Rather than finding occasional humor to break tension, we are never sure whether to laugh or cower. Lucy seems more like a wife than a girl friend, and Suzzana seems more a drop-in guest than a ccuckquean wife. More comic action comes from the Two Sydneys (Kyle Crowder and Michael Cox) who bury Nettle under stacks of tedious documents pilfered from the paper mill. They’re goofy high school students who represent the Common Man, but not as well as the creepy Three Chaps (Nathan Smith, Blake Borah, and Brandon Peters.)

This show feels long, and many of the jokes wore out before the dialog did. Havel repeats large blocks of text, which does have an interesting effect when said by the differing power centers of the story, but only at first. Despite these flaws, this is a rare show and worth seeing just for bragging rights. The line between hallucination and paranoia can easily blur, particularly when fear drives all open statements behind a veil of illusion and non-prosecutable culpability. If nothing else, this shows how a few decades in a totalitarian society can teach you a sense of humor – there is no other way to survive.

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