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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for January, 2008

Alice Experiments in Wonderland

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

Alice Experiments in Wonderland
Adapted by John Schafer from a novel by Lewis Carroll
Directed by John Schafer, Gerd Hauck, and George Brown
UCF Conservatory Theater in conjunction with Bradley University and The University of Waterloo
Orlando, FL; Waterloo, Ontario; and Peoria, IL

The first derivative of Surrealism is Absurdism, and the second derivative is Chaos. Chaos was all I saw in this ambitious yet seriously flawed attempt to add a new technical dimension to the theater experience. Like the multi-media fad of the early 70’s, this show takes video projectors to an unnatural level with concurrent productions of this sub-MST3K experiment in Orlando, Ontario and Peoria. Little Alice (Laura Adams in Orlando, Johanna Roden and Kate Teddiman elsewhere) argue with The Book (Brian Gell) over the relative merits of print vs. Googlepedia.com. A set of Technowizards (Kyle Adkins, Jeff Ulrich, and Tahnee Lamon, all in cyberspace) work to resolve the IT problems in the script with Indian call center efficiency while the Cheshire Cat (Brittany Dobbs in Orlando, Ciaran Meyers and Rachael Waldon elsewhere) struts around looking sexy. Alice decides to become queen, which involves avoiding the Jabberwocky while meeting all of Wonderlands other denizens. As someone helpfully points out 5 or 6 times, “it’s just like a video game.” Yes, indeed – just like a FORTRAN based text game.

What all this razzle lacks is a decent story. Schafer’s adaptation focuses on obsolete computer jokes that lost their punch around 1992, and what passes for conflict or character development involves strident whining and frenetic motion devoid of purpose. If anything saves this evening from a total Blue Screen of Death, its Heather Henson’s amazing puppets. The Caterpillar (Michael Beaman in Orlando, Kimberlee Walke in Waterloo) wiggles out swathed in green pool noodles and chop stick fur, and the Gnat (Brendan Rogers in Orlando, Shawn Forgeron and Devin Kelly elsewhere) was brilliant in his baroque faceted eyes and stilt walking arms. The Jabberwocky only appeared in video, but seemed reminiscent of last year’s “Heart of Coal” monster.

“Alice in Wonderland” is a tempting target of adaptation – brilliant imagery, fluid plot, and no copyright restrictions, but its one rarely handled successfully. Perhaps “Titus Andronicus” or “The Crucible” would have faired better in this COMDEX style of distributed presentation with its audio latency problems and style over content emphasis. Still, nothing makes my blood run cold like a director opening a show with an admonition against cell phone usage and an apology for what was about to happen on stage. Mr. Shafer, I accept your apology. At least you tried something new…

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

The Sweetest Swing In Baseball

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

The Sweetest Swing In Baseball
By Rebecca Gilman
Directed by Fran Hilgenberg
Starring Jamie-Lyn Hawkins
Theatre Downtown, Orlando FL

So, are you hip enough to get into the Artist Club? Funky hairdo, overpriced leather jacket, and a tattoo of a Matisse on your butt are a start, but until you can explain the difference between “Figurative” and “Giclee”, you might as well buy your culture at the Sears. Diane Fielding (Hawkins) flames out early and this evening’s gallery customers drinking cheap white wine in plastic cups aren’t buying. Looks like we need critics to explain what art means before we can love it or regard it as random pots of paint tossed on the canvas.

A mistrustful relation with her boyfriend and a tendency towards psychosis leads to a suicide attempt and relocation to the Discount Looney Bin. It turns out psychosis is just another club with different jargon and tougher entrance requirements. “Multiple Personality Disorder”, “Manic Depressive” and “In Recovery” are the code words, and status revolves around your insurance carrier. Dana likes it in here, it’s safe and no hard decisions need be made. Dana finds mentors in psychotic stalker Gary (Dean Walkuski) and professional alcoholic Michael (Doug Shorts). They show her the ropes, and when she adopts the personality of baseball ledged and train wreck Darryl Strawberry, they brief her on baseball stats and lingo. There are clubs everywhere, if you look hard enough.

There’s plenty to contemplate on this concrete gray stage full of empty frames designed by Paul Horan. Dana finds a mirror to her real world life in the asylum, seeing distant yet controlling authority in Lori McCaskill as both gallerist Rhonda and therapist Dr Gilbert. Mr. Walkuski gave a surprisingly strong and active performance, including an excellent rant on the subject of art that pretty much summarizes the show’s central theme. Marcie Schwalm represents Concern, and as Dana’s only true friend in real life (Ericka) and in asylum life (Dr Stanton), she continues to care through the deep abyss of mental illness. The genuinely likeable character falls to Doug Short – even with the distraction of his really noticeable tattoo can be forgiven in his portrait of the friendly, not-that-self-destructive alcoholic.

There’s plenty of humor in what might be a real downer of a story, and that keeps us in the world of the surreal without needing to deal with the real tragedy that might overtake “Sweetest Swing.” The only rough spot is Dana’s transition to Darryl. It drops out of the sky, and seems weakly motivated, but once Dana starts Working Her Program, everyone buys in, at least enough to keep Dana safe and sound until she finds her own way forward. The minor question, though, is left unanswered – is a portrait of a chicken in a baseball hat standing in the outfield “Real Art?” Or is it the sort of temporary kitsch that you’ll set out on the curb one morning? When you tire of it, call me first, I like pictures like that.

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

As You Like It

Monday, January 14th, 2008

As You Like It
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Dan McCleary
Starring Polly Lee, Tyler Hollinger, Carl N. Wallnau, Brad DePlanche
Orlando Shakespeare Theater

“As You Like It” may well be the Universal Shakespearean Comedy. It features cross-dressing, the “Hey Nonny Nonny” song, contrived plot points, and the requisite mass marriage happy ending. Rosalind (Lee) falls madly in love with madly in love with the hunky Orlando (Hollinger) when he grapples Wrestler Charles (Charles Waters) into the first full suplex I’ve seen on the legitimate stage. Needless to say, their parents are at war – Duke Frederick usurped Rosalind’s father Duke Senior (both played by Mr. Wallnau), and Orlando’s dad was on the wrong side of that rumble. Now Duke Senior lives in exile in mystical Arden Forest, a place best reached by climbing into a magical chest and hanging tight to the magical silk handkerchiefs provided for your convenience. As Frederick turns against Rosalind she grabs his daughter Celia (Susannah Millonzi) and court fool Touchstone (DePlanche) and jump into this wonderful theatrical device, and in a few acts, everyone gets a mate.
The show is a visual treat, and spectacle usurps story. Frederick’s court writhes with belly dancers and Arabic flutes, and while it look like we might be in for some sort of war commentary the action and accents gradually slip back to Elizabethan. You’ll cheer for Rosalind, Orlando, and his bad poetry, yet they seem less the center pole of the story than scaffold for a wacky supporting cast. That includes the intellectual grumpiness of Jacques (Erik Zivot) and a cast of comic servants including the slight yet elderly Adam (Brandon Roberts). As you would expect, the show stealing was all done by Mr. DePlanche and his faithful maharoof keeps us amused with his over the top antics and courting of the morally indistinct Audrey (Erika Wilhite). “As You Like It” feel fluffy, but in a enormously entertaining way. The dancing is exotic, the lighting dramatic, and the story non-threatening. It’s a great start to 2008.

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

Wayburn Sassy’s “Screw You Revue”

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

Wayburn Sassy’s “Screw You Revue”
Glo Lounge
Orlando, FL

Old pop stars never die. If you’re the semi-legendary Wayburn Sassy (Dewey Chaffee), old age and incontinence coupled with really good insurance might get you a hottie like Nurse Gracie (Robyn Pedretti) to keep your meds coming in on time. Nurse Gracie bends over quite a bit, and we all applauded Wayburn’s habit of tipping for especially nice bows. It’s never clear how Wayburn became a pop icon, but today he defines homophobic, racist, and half a dozen other “un-TP” habits we wouldn’t admit we have. It works like this – when your 40 and you say something bad, the press crucifies you, but when you 80, it’s considered cute.

Backed up by John de Orderly (John de Haas), this Glo Lounge show follows the structure of last year’s hit Fringe show. Wayburn tells the jokes we shouldn’t find funny but do, Nurse Gracie flirts and displays her charms, and DeHaas takes Wayburn’s abuse, occasionally playing a bit of transition music but other wise remaining silent. The ultraviolet lighting of Glo makes your clothing fluoresce in a most enchanting manner, and the martini glasses all have flashing colored lights I wish we had back in 1975. It’s a long ride down to lower I-drive, but the show is still as fun as ever, and you can down a few Whimsicals while you take you abuse pill. Just remember to wear clean undies.

For directions to Glo Lounge, please visit http://www.gloloungeorlando.com/
For a prevue of The Screw You Review, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ax9NRBEjcsY