Do you want to write for Ink 19?

Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for November, 2007

She Loves Me

Monday, November 19th, 2007

She Loves Me
By Sheldon Harnick, Jerry Bock, and Joe Masteroff
Directed by Alan Bruun
Starring Erin Beute, David Jachin Kelly
Mad Cow Theater, Orlando, FL

In 1935 Budapest, the world was still beautiful even if money was no good. There’s still time to park grand piano in the back of Maraczek’s perfumery and worry about who’s dating who. The only thing more important than a date is a job – Ladislav Sipos (Dennis Enos) sings about it, Steve Kodaly (Ward Ferguson) loses his, and Amalia Balash (Erin Beute) bluffs her way into one. It’s a happy if uptight little circle under Mr. Maraczek’s (Ron Schneider) supervision, even if Georg Nowak (Kelly) doesn’t get along with Amalia as well as he might. They both have an unexpected connection, and as soon as they have their first spat, you know they are bound to fall in love.

“She Loves Me” is a pleasantly old fashioned musical, full of exposition-laden songs, pot-boiling plot twists, and waltz-based music set up on a beautiful and well conceived set. You cheer for the lovers, but it’s the supporting cast that holds your eye. David Alameda’s Headwaiter at the murky Café Imperial stole the show with his rubbery yet unctuous mixture of disdain and obsequiousness. Ron Schneider’s genially rotund Mr. Maraczek held his staff to high standards, but was just a big teddy bear inside. I found Chad Gneiting’s Arpad Laszlo a bit too over eager, but Ward Ferguson’s oily Kodaly captured the essence of European overachieving charm.

While the songs weren’t the strongest, Steve MacKinnon played a mean grand piano, and was as much a member of the Maraczek business as any of the “real” characters. Songs like “A Trip to the Library” and “A Romantic Atmosphere” all sparkled with our imagined grace of old Europe. The singing matched it – Kelly and Beute were at the best when they sang together, and when they were apart, you wanted them back together as much for the singing as the story. Enos’ big number was “Perspective”, and even though he was a corporate brown noser, he could easily move from selling soap to singing about it. The finale is set on Christmas Eve, but there’s no beating you over the head about happiness or ghosts. These people know happiness is a state of mind, not a date on the calendar. I like that idea.

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

Gypsy

Monday, November 12th, 2007

Gypsy
By Jule Styne, Steven Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents
Directed by W. Robert Sherry
Starring Margo Moreland, Elizabeth Weisstein, Jennifer Finch
Rollins College, Winter Park FL.

If it wasn’t for stage moms, there might be a few more happy, adjusted people in the world. Rose (Moreland) never made it on stage, and she substitutes her daughter’s lives for her own as she pursues the fading vaudeville circuit. Baby June (Christina Pitts) is adorable in that syrupy way that charmed America 100 year ago, and finds a B-list success that Rose milks until she develops her breasts and turns into the Older June (Finch). A shift in marketing doesn’t help cash flow, and June flees with one of her supporting dancers. That leaves Rose and Louise (Weisstein) to fend for themselves in a seedy burlesques house, where Louise takes to stripping. When Louis finds the fame and wealth Rose never had, Rose is miffed, and looks back on her life in the blow out final number “Curtain”.

“Gypsy” comes as close to the canonical Great American Musical as any other show you can name. Packed with hits (“Let Me Entertain You”, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”) and a loveable story of success after struggle, it succeeds on nearly every level. Sherry’s stage direction and Jason Wetzel’s musical direction finds all the warmth and pathos the story puts forth. Ms. Moreland belts the songs on a clever set with a runway and stage arch that brings the cast perilously close to falling in the orchestra pit. The Kiddy Acts are suitably schlocky, and June in both her incantations feels perfectly comfortable in here role as a perma-child. Louise, however, feels weak as the stripper. She never succeeds in making her act erotic, and it’s hard to buy her success in the final scenes.

As a parent, you have some sort of right to influence your offspring, but it’s patently unfair to make them replicate what you dreamt for yourself and failed, or worse, at what you succeeded in doing. Rose pushes her dream onto everyone around her, and while the abuse makes them stronger, it robs them of what they might have dreamt and done them selves. While the singing, dancing and spectacle are outstanding, this is still a cautionary tale – guide your children, but when they are old enough to sass back, consider letting them make their own decisions. If they’re happy, you should be happy.

For more information on the Annie Russell Theatre at Rollins College, please visit http://www.rollins.edu/theatre/index.shtml

The Piano Lesson

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

The Piano Lesson
By August Wilson
Directed by Belinda Boyd
Starring David Tate, Sidonie Smith, Michael Baugh
UCF Conservatory Theater, Orlando, FL

Some times you inherit a ghost, other times you install it yourself. Boy Willie (Tate) wants that piano his granddaddy carved with scenes of slave life, his dad stole fair and square, and he can turn into 100 acres of farm land back home in Mississippi. His sister Bernice (Smith) prefers to keep this only remaining relic of her family’s past, but once Boy Willie sells his truck load of watermelons, only Bernice stands between him and buying the land his ancestors worked as slaves. Surrounding the pair is a cast of perfectly drawn black stereotypes – womanizing Winning Boy (Alex Lewis), preacher and elevator operator Avery (Kenneth Dowling), and subservient Doaker (A. C. Sanford). As the fight intensifies, the ghost of Mr. Sutter haunts the house. Boy Willie knows more than he lets on as to who pushed Sutter into that well. It will take more than removing the piano to exorcize these people’s lives.

There’s everything to love here – the cast fully embraces the stereotypes, and joyfully lampoons them to the Looney Tunes level. Dowling’s Avery has a real knack for the preachers cant, and as he warms up to saving Boy Willie, the audience seems ready to give him a solid “AMEN!” Smith plays the consummate no-nonsense uptight black woman, with no tolerance for Boy Willie’s shenanigans, yet unable to remove him from her life. Tate finds a perfect balance of swagger and desperation, and Winning Boy seems ready to steal his grandmothers gold teeth with a deck of marked cards.

Backing the action on stage is one of the cleverest UCF sets ever – a scrim of wall paper fades into disrepair as we approach the attic full of carved ancestors howling in faceless pain. Preshow and intermission are filled with a hidden chorus singing spirituals and works song. The black homeland is still deep in unrepentant Sunflower County, Mississippi, and the industrial north a virgin land to be explored and conquered. The times were both trying and thrilling, and while civil rights were a generation away, economic rights went to those willing to work. Rights with out means to enjoy them are meaningless, and Wilson’s storytelling captures a central struggle of Black America – dwell in the past, or moving into the future? Either choice requires giving something up, and the decision can tear a family apart.

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