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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for February, 2008

Leap Year Day

Friday, February 29th, 2008

Leap Year Day
Conceived and Executed by Brian Feldman
City Hall Commons Plaza, Orlando Fla.

Perhaps you have yet to visit City Hall Commons, otherwise known as the home of the Glass Asparagus. It’s right in front of City Hall and populated mostly by panhandles and politician, but on February 29th it was home to one of the most ambitious performance art projects in Orlando history. Brian Feldman, who first made his mark by charging people $15 to watch his family cook Hanukah dinner, will be jumping off a 12 foot ladder every 4 minutes for the entire day, midnight to midnight.

Like a Christo project, the end result is not as important as the process. To Orlando, building marble monuments for the populace outranks some crazy guy jumping onto an air mattress, and he snuck this past the City Council when they were all napping. It’s the sheer magnitude of the folly that matters, and Feldman’s efforts will equal climbing over 3/4 of a mile of ladder steps without using a nickel of the public’s money. His fall is a bit shorter than advertised, as he lands on a combination stunt mattress / kiddie party slide that’s about 6 feet tall. I don’t understand why he’s chosen this way to spend his quadrennial Bonus Day, but that’s what makes it art.

The show begin at midnight on a brisk but clear evening, and a small crowd of press, family and street folks gathered around to schmooze, fill out the mandatory questionnaire / survey, and generally hang out. Every hour Mr. Feldman dons a new jump suit, reflecting a number of questionable fashion statements but adding variety to what could become a tedious day’s work. Between Feldman’s jumps, the press and other acquaintances were allowed to try the jump, which I can report is just a bit scary.

I dropped by again around 8 am (jump 126 or so), actually got a parking spot, and found him in good shape and good spirits. The crowd was still small, but a live cam to a local newspaper’s web site might be drawing off some of his foot traffic, particularly for those who find Orlando’s draconian parking enforcement and wide spectrum of panhandlers intimidating.

At 9 p.m. (jump 306 by the light up sign) the crowd remained small, but there was a curious fascination to the event. Mr. Feldman was obviously tired and less extroverted, but between jumps he chatted with the crowed until a few second prior to the next jump. His staff would shout out “20 seconds!” and he’d sprint up the ladder while they counted him down. After three hundred jumps, his style had settled into to an efficient leap with one arm extended, which helped spread the blow, followed by a slightly graceful exit from the air bag, where he would resume whatever conversation he had been holding.

There’s almost a Kafkaesque feel to the event. While there is no compunction to jump, Mr Feldman returned to the stairs over and over again, and neither he nor his staff ever felt compelled to explain, they only facilitated. Curious onlookers gathered and dispersed, and only one fact remained true by evenings end – gravity is undefeated and undefeatable. But we now have 366 more data points in that grand experiment.

Find out more about Brian Feldman at www.brianfeldman.com

Www.cityartsfactory.com has some interesting information as well.

Life is a Dream (La Vida es Sueno)

Monday, February 18th, 2008

Life is a Dream (La Vida es Sueno)
By Pedro Calderon de la Barca
Directed by Alan Bruun
Starring Stephen Lima, Leander Suleiman, and Elena Day
Mad Cow Theater, Orlando FL

I had this weird dream the other night – a troupe of martial arts trainees crawled out of the floor at IKEA and put on a play. There was a king, a monster, a romance, a battle, a little love and a good bit of treachery. What more could you want? Bobbie Bell played King Basilio, a wily man in fear eldest son Segismundo’s (Lima) horoscope. Believing makes it true, and while Segismundo is locked in a magic tower, Basilio makes deal with Astolfo (Jamie Cline) to marry his own first cousin Estrella (Michelle Krause). Meanwhile, Rosaura (Suleiman) enters the tower in disguise accompanied by comic Clarin (Day). She’s looking for Astolfo, desiring either marriage or murder as he left her at the altar back in Moscow. To justify his torture of Segismundo, Basilio drugs him, places him on the throne for one day and tells him this is just a dream. His short rule is brutal, but when a rebellion displaces Basilio, Segismundo returns and rules as if he’s really in dream, a place where only good must be done.

I’ve never had a dream where anyone told me I was or wasn’t dreaming, but no matter, because plenty of good governance occurred tonight. This might be one of Stephen Lima’s best performances as the chained and backlit monster who finds redemption through the simple kindness of freedom of action and will. Bobbie Bell looks more and more kingly, and it’s always fun watching him in capitalist / monarchist roles. Ms. Krause was sultry if restrained, and I thought she paired up better with regal Mr Cline than the more mercurial Rosaura. Day’s Clarin was the comic, and looks like she studied well at the school of Red Skelton.

Michael Montgomery and Rebecca Hutchen’s set was particularly striking, looking like a carpeted cat run with white umbrellas raining down and serving as swords and other props as needed. The effect was as if an Elizabethan drama was done by an avant garde performance company in 1960, and by minimizing the clutter on stage, Segismundo’s curtain speech was magic. The Valentines Day opening connects well to both romance and battle, but there’s more here. “Life is a Dream” can takes us anywhere, just like a real dream.

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

The Misanthrope

Monday, February 18th, 2008

The Misanthrope
By Jean Baptiste Moliere
Translated into English by Richard Wilbur
Starring Michael Witherell, Fredy Ruiz, Elise Golowski
Valencia Character Company, Orlando Fl

Plain speech is a wonderful idea in principle, but in everyday practice it can turn anthills into avalanches. Alceste (Witherell) hectors his buddy Philinte (Erik Young) on the topic, even going so far as to justify telling someone their sonnet sucks, right to their face. In his mind, there is no greater service one can do for is fellow man. He gets to prove his point when romantic rival Oronte (Ruiz) appears with just such a sucky sonnet, and now the arrows fly. Alceste appeals to his beloved Celimene (Golowski) to pick him and show that bad poet who’s who, but she just flirts with both until they demand an answer. Oops! It’s neither of the two – maybe just a LITTLE flattery could have made Alceste a happier man.

The cast is a bit uneven in this otherwise stunning revival of this French drawing room comedy. Alceste and Oronte are the best actors on stage – Whitherell’s portrayal of Alceste drips with the sort of righteous anger one so often finds in those who stake their personality and public personal on righteousness. Ruiz’s Oronte feels much more comic, sounding like a straight yet offended Dr. Frankenfurter. Golowski’s Celimene seems more prim than flirtatious, and the swishy twins Acaste and Cilantro (Chad Erikson and Tiny Slater) are funny, but a bit over the top.

With a brilliant set, excellent staging, and wonderful costumes this Moliere brings us back to the silliness and satire of 300 years ago, but the story still finds relevance in today’s society. There is a place for plain speech, and there is a place for a little judicious flattery. Ask anyone who’s made a success of marriage or career.

For more information on Valencia Character Company, please visit http://valenciacc.edu/theater/

Machinal

Monday, February 18th, 2008

Machinal
By Sophie Treadwell
Directed by Dr. Julia Listengarten
Starring Brittany Rentschler, Kyle Crowder, Ryan Garcia
UCF Conservatory Theater, Orlando, FL

For a play nearly 100 years old, “Machinal” feels as if it were written just last week, when the fad for jinky camera work in advertising was at its height. “Machinal” follows the internal state of Helen (Rentschler) as she turns a crummy office job into a wealthy but loveless marriage to George (Crowder). The word “stifled” comes up more than once, and both her husband and her mother (Amanda Wansa) are the types that can praise you in one breath, and make you feel like used whale poop in the next. Things improve when she finds a lover (Garcia) who has a past, a way with women, and a burning desire to return to Mexico. Helen wants to follow him, but decides it’s quicker if she bonks hubby rather than hang around for divorce court. The rest – well, read the tabloids.

This creepy, claustrophobic show relies on fascist fashion and a cold industrial sound track to emphasize Helen’s despair. She seeks freedom, but that requires a bit of cash, and all she collects as we go along is more and more baggage. Crowder’s George is a bit pompous and self-absorbed, but he never does anything to Helen that would begin to justify murder. I like the guy myself, and wouldn’t mind a round or two of mini golf with him. Garcia is excellent as The Lover – he never appears cheap or sleazy, but genuinely caring and genuinely uninterested in commitment. Rentschler’s Helen isn’t exactly sexy, but attractive enough if you focus on her hands and try to ignore her low self esteem. Her world is narrow, but the speakeasy scene broadens her and us. It holds one of the funnier performances where Andrew Clateman plays a man trying to pick up a boy in a speakeasy with a florid description of the joys of Amontillado. That last sip IS the sweetest, right?

There’s a rather elaborate set of notes from the director in the program for “Machinal.” While the director’s interpretation offers useful insight, I think the essence of the show is more straightforward: People become trapped in life, and lacking the heroic vigor to change while change is possible, the slide into lives of quite desperation. And then some of them go a step too far…

“Machinal” is a meaty, thought provoking drama that probably isn’t a great first date show. Save it for that all important LAST date.

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

Opus

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

Opus
By Michael Hollinger
Directed by Mark Routhier
Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando, FL

We associate office politics with big corporations and hand-to-hand combat with marriages. But take the worst of both worlds, and we find ourselves in the middle of The Lazzara Quartet. These 4 string players struggle with artistic and financial direction, fight schoolyard battles with no 3rd grade teacher to moderate, and suffer painful personal attacks with no opportunity for make-up sex. We meet them as they teeter on the brink of success while seeking a replacement player for the unstable and recently fired Dorian (T. Robert Pigott). He was lover to bossy Elliot (David Karl Lee), but this sort of intergroup romance is always a bad idea. Dorian saw music no one else could, and perhaps his genius was worth his undependability, but replacement Grace (Meagan English) just might be his equal, and you won’t have to worry about her missing a dose of Lithium. Calm and collected Alan (C. S. Lee) books the group into the White House and a full 25 minutes of fame, but they have one week to rehearse and their 4th member Carl (Nowicki), has a touch of cancer bugging him. This should be one impressive concert, at least backstage.

“Opus” appeared in last year’ PlayFest as a workshop, and while this version lack major script changes, it feels tighter and slicker. The cast packs some real star power, with the PlayFest special Guest C. S. Lee in the lead role as a skeptical and detached musician, fed up with his quartet fellows and wishing they could leave their personal problems outside. Pigott bubbles along, always showing the bright, positive face of manic depression, but you’ll wonder what he saw in David Lee’s prissy and bossy Elliot. Grace and Alan make for a more believable chemistry, even as the specter of another inter band romance haunts the quartet. Nowicki’s wild hair and flustered parent persona gives him the look and feel of a prophet wandering the desert, seeking to redeem the rest of the cast from everything that leads to apostasy from gospels of Bartok and Beethoven.

There’s a smooth soundtrack of Lazzara strings supporting the cast as they constantly prodding each other about minor errors in playing. Director Routhier assures me those errors are real, but they are so minor it takes a much better ear than mine to hear them. Fortunately, this cast MAKES me believe I can, and that’s more than enough. “Opus” immerses you in highest levels of musicianship, but keeps the problems right down here with us mortals. It’s theater at its finest.

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

The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!

Monday, February 4th, 2008

The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!
By Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart
Jester Theater Company
The Garden Theater, Winter Park, FL

Orlando’s Jester Theater continues its program of theatrical Manifest Destiny by spreading the highly successful “The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!” across the state. They’ve abandoned the basketball-friendly Studio Garage Theater and captured the shiny new Garden Theater in Winter Garden. Perhaps you saw this wonderful parody of the American Musical Theater by Eric Rockwell and JoAnne Bogart recently. If not, it’s worth the drive up the turnpike to witness every significant American Musical rolled up into one big production. The plot is basic – “I can’t pay the rent” is the mantra of Natalie Cordone (as June, Jeune, Junie Fay, Junita, and Juny), and “You must pay the rent” is the unfettered capitalistic cry from the lonely but evil Kevin Kelly (as Jidder, Jitter, Mr Jitters, and the mysterious Phantom Jitter.) Ms J gets advice from Kate O’Neil’s (as 5 variants on Abbey) and romantic rescue from Todd Allen Long as five charming leading men.

It helps if you’re familiar with the lesser known works of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Steven Sondheim, and the duos of Kander and Ebb or Rogers and Hammerstein. That’s a lot of names, but a lot of song snippets and in jokes pepper the evening, all leading up the big “Show ‘Em the Hat” finale. Backed with Jim Rhinehart’s rollicking piano playing, this show is consistently good, and consistently entertaining. Best of all, the setting is a joy; this new theater has classic acoustics, clear sightlines, and still smells of paint and carpet cement. It also has the most powerful hand driers in the southeast, and adds new meaning to the term “hypersonic flutter.”

For more information on Jester Theater Company, please visit http://www.jestertheater.com

Information on The Garden Theater may be found at http://www.wgtheatre.org

Disney’s High School Musical

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

Disney’s High School Musical
Book by David Simpatico
Directed and choreographed by Paul Becker
Starring Justin Sargent, Jodi Melendez, Rachel Potter, and Spencer Morrow
Gramercy Theater, Orlando FL

The big thing about High School is it seems so important at the time. Tonight East Side High is split by 3 competing forces – the Jocks are focused on the basketball championship while the Brainiacs study for the big science decathlon and the Thespians audition for that big post feminist adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet.” Oh, were life so simple today! Bleach blond prima donna Sharpay (Potter) believes she’s destined to lead the musical and get cute-as-a Webkinz captain team Troy Bolton (Sargent) in the deal, but a threat lurks on the horizon. Transfer student Gabriella (Melendez) keeps a low profile, but her smarts, athleticism, and Metropolitan opera class vocal chords means she’s likely to take over the school on pure talent. While Sharpay invokes all her evil hormone powers to ostracize Gabriella, it’s no use – Gabriella and Troy are too strong a duet to not get on stage, and even the high-power Studio 54 dance arrangement Sharpay’s brother Ryan (Morrow) arranges can’t beat them down. We learn the essential truth all Disney films espouse – dream your own dream, believe in yourself, and don’t let the Noogies, Swirlies, and Indian Burns keep you from following your heart. But we all have to work together as a team.

Sure, it’s a stock script, but “High School Musical” exudes fun and energy with something for the adult as well as the prepubescent. The songs are all in the modern Celine Dion show tune style, with “Get’cha Head in the Game” and “Breaking Free” sticking in my head the longest. Long on spectacle, we get up to 35 people dancing and doing flips on Doug Huston’s and Paul Horan’s cleverly design set. Paul Becker’s snappy choreography impressed and local and largely high school aged cast worked as a tight team. Sergeant, Melendez and Morrow gave touching performances, but I found Potter strident as the self appointed princess of the school. Perhaps that was just direction, but I never felt sorry for her. The supporting cast shined, particularly Zeke (Vincent Miller) as the Jock whose soul lies in the bakery, and Kelsi (Michelle Gonzales) as the Thespian who wrote the Musical within this Musical.

Half the audience was underage, and everyone of them were completely entranced, often laughing or applauding in-jokes that flew over my head. With the HSM logo plastered on half the stuff in the kids section of Target, this is clearly a mass market phenomenon. If you miss it, that means you’re over 30 and way too responsible.

For more information on Gramercy Theatre, please visit www.GramercyTheatreOrlando.com

The Rainmaker

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

The Rainmaker
By N. Richard Nash
Directed by Rob Anderson
Starring Jennifer Christa Palmer, Don Fowler
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando, FL

A drought has driven the Curry clan to the brink of disaster. After a month with no rain and years without any love, everyone is frazzled. Daughter Lizzie (Palmer) can’t find a man, and living on the remote and desolate ranch on the edge of civilization makes opportunities few and far between. Pater familias H. C. Curry (Mark Edward Smith) lost his wife years ago, and sons Noah (John Bateman) and Jim (Paul Carbonell) fight over Jim’s penchant for women who flirt with him, and Noah’s uptight belief that nothing fun is ever worth pursuing. Sometimes the only solution to a sinking ship is jumping off into the raging sea, and Starbuck (Fowler) arrives to push the Currys overboard. For $100, he promises rain within 24 hours, and while his meteorological credentials are slim, he’s the only straw of hope H. C. can grasp at. As in any crisis, there’s a human need to do SOMEthing, no matter how grandly foolish it seems at the time.

There’s everything to love about this production from Sheriff’s (Alan Sincic) heartwarming dog stories to Carbonell’s charming goofiness to the rustically avant garde set by Bud Clark. Don Fowler gives one of the best performances of his career as the gilt-tongued Starbuck. Even as he admits his con, he becomes ever so much more believable. John Bateman’s Noah provides his counterpart, getting his way through power and abuse, and even as you know he’s wrong, you still feel compelled to follow his lead. Jennifer Palmer provides the most interesting transition of all – at the beginning, you’ll agree with Noah that in her homespun dress, she’s not much to look at, but when Starbuck lets her hair down, she glows with happiness from within.

How you look at it makes more difference in life than money or appearance or position. You can feel trapped in the open prairie of the west, and liberated in an 80 seat black box theater. “The Rainmaker” is just another example of changing viewpoints, and another example of Mad Cow’s tradition of great performances of great pieces by less well know authors.

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