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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for April, 2008

Barrettwerks & Voci Dance

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

Barrettwerks & Voci Dance
Choreography by Ellie Potts Barrett
Johnny Holloway Theatre, Orlando, Fl

So often, the coolest stuff happens in the spaces with the worst seats. The Johnny Holloway Theater lurks in an unexpected industrial area off East 50, and features carpet-covered bleachers for the Extreme Dance Enthusiast. The more comfort oriented can grab a Wal-Mart lawn chair and sit off to one side with a good view of the wings. It’s worth the inconvenience as tonight’s show features the choreography of St Augustine based dance legend Ellie Potts Barrett, and the virtuoso Voci dancers.

We open with “Sonata Cantata,” featuring the entire company of over a dozen dancers. The music is one of J.S. Bach’s greatest hits, and while we regard him as a WMFE long hair, the dancers were clapping and dancing, tying today’s pop sensibilities to the same genera of 4 centuries ago. Voci stalwart Mila Makarova next appears for “Interlude”, a simple, alluring performance set over a dark and moody Jazz arrangement from Simon Henneman. “And Yet another Tango” introduces a pair of dancing couples, improvising on the classic tango moves with a bit of vinegar, then joining up for a clever foursome united in one dance formation.

Genevieve Bernard interjects a piece I’ve seen before, but still find enjoyable – the video age “Monitor.” Constantly regenerating arrays of dancers play video games over a Space-age sound track. Their thumbs never stop moving, their bloodshot eyes never lose focus, and the defeat of entire star systems are summarized with half of a high 5, followed by another epic pixel battle.

The enigmatic “Two For Tutu” wraps up the first half of the show with a soft parody of “Swan Lake”. I think I see a swan dying up there, but it might just be some loose Sugar Plum Fairies. The images are iconic, and by pushing the edges of the moves and costumes of Tchaikovsky, we tie modern dance to the classics, just as in the Sonata Cantata does with the pop hit.

The highlight of the second half, “For Opal”, is based on a true story of a young woman who went insane and spent most of her life in an institution. Here Barrett dances us thought the journey from a relatively carefree youth into the horrors of state institutions and the loss of freedom of will and actions. It’s a difficult piece, at least for the audience, but shows that dance can depart the completely abstract and portray the real world without reducing itself to mime.

While the dancing was superb, the transitions from piece to piece felt over long, and with the packed house tending to chat amongst themselves, that production flaw lessened the impact of the evening. Nevertheless, the Holloway is an excellent dance space, and sometimes it’s good to suffer for the art you care about.

For more information of Voci Dance, visit http://www.vocidance.org

Beckett Plays – Play Shorts I

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

Beckett Plays – Play Shorts I
By Samuel Beckett
Empty Spaces Theatre Company at Lowndes Shakespeare Center
Orlando, Fl

As World War 2 ended and Europe rebuilt itself, theater suffered continuing blows as Film and Television became the de facto story telling media of the masses. Samuel Beckett attempted to stand astride the rift, writing cinematically precise plays that simultaneously excluded both the “legitimate” theater audience and that of the new mass distributed media. Tonight’s program explores some of these nearly still borne projects

We begin with “Act Without Words II.” (Corey Volence and Joel Warren, directed by John DiDonna and Kevin G Becker) Two men are asleep in bags, they take turns waking, performing, ablutions, and getting on with the days tasks. A mysterious force lurking under the riser stage left pokes them awake, and we find Warren’s fellow slovenly and misshapen, while Volence almost looks employable on a daily basis. It’s the poke the audience applauds best, the stick is propped up by a Seuss-like wheel, and as persistent as a dog in need of a walk.

In “Play”(DiDonna, Babette Garber, and Teri Lynne, directed by Becker), three heads entombed in urns are all that remain of an adulterous relation. Speaking as fast as humanly possible, they each tell their side of a story that may or may not be true. As in so many of this series of shorts, the message is not in the words so much as the spaces between them. Tone is half of the communication and the tone of language was a hectoring self justification. They may be dead, but they’re still human.

“Not I” (Peni Lotoza and Jessica Pawli, directed by Margaret Nolan) is perhaps the most technically difficult for the actor. Ms Lotoza’s character has a 20 minute self recursive monolog that has the hypnotic effect listening to a frenetic phone call on the other side of a very thing hotel room wall. A small spot light illuminates her lips, and across the room in a gloomy pool of light is a dark robed figure someone referred to as an “Auditor” (Pawli). The Auditor had no words, but merely gestures as if to say “Can I Use the phone? It’s important. Really.”

I attended this show twice to catch “Quad.” (Lori Engle, Sarah Lockard, Lynne, and Samantha O’Hare, directed by Anna DeMers). I would class “Quad” as a dance piece rather than theater, there were no words or actions that might convey decided action or emotion. Four hooded actors walked in an elaborate, mathematically derive patterns as an overhead view of the motion was projected on a screen. This is as close to pure artiness for artiness’s sake as you can find on stage.

Intermission. Bar closed. Mill around, use the rest room, smoke outside. Funny thing about smoking – almost all the smokers I know are actors. Almost all the actors I know are smokers. All my day job buddies quit. Go figure.

In “Footfalls” (Marty Stonerock, directed by DiDonna) a woman is in charge of dealing with her elderly, bedridden mother, who may or may not be alive, dead, or a hallucination. The Ms Stonerock paces, reflects, and interacts with a woman in an increasingly creepy and oppressive atmosphere.

We wrap up with “Come and Go” (Lotoza, Laurel Clark, and Garber, directed by Becker and DiDonna). Three women in monochrome coats get together to gossip in silence, and dish the dirt on each other when one of them might step off stage. I wish I knew there secrets, I’ll bet they were really…common.

What to make of all this? Beckett is tough going. He’s deliberately obscure, open to interpretation and doesn’t “write like other writers.” During the one talk back I attended, the range of comments from audience and actor covered the waterfront. Beckett can make you think, make you fall asleep, and make you swear you’ll never buy another theater ticket again, but you’ll never conclude “Been there, seen it, done it.” No one should have to tackle him twice.

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

Waiting for Godot

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Waiting for Godot
By Samuel Beckett
Directed by Seth Kubersky
Starring Brett Carson and Kevin Kriegel
Empty Spaces Theater Company at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando FL

This may be the most feared play in the western canon, yet its one of the most humane. On a low rise near a seemingly dead tree, Vladamir (Carson) and Estragon (Kriegel) hang out daily, waiting for Godot to arrive and save them from meaninglessness. Their feet hurt, their clothes dusty, food is sparse, and Estragon is beat nightly for reasons no one understands, least of all his attackers. What’s the point? Ah, that’s THE question, and we’ll discuss it in a few lines.

People often say “Nothing happens in this play”, but that’s patently absurd. Shortly after we meet Gogo (Estargon) and Didi (Vladamir), their peace and quiet is intruded upon by Pozzo (Christian Kelty, playing himself) and his obedient and nearly mute carrier Lucky (Josh Geoghagan, playing Lucky). Pozzo is well off, curious about Kriegel and Carson, and completely oblivious to their fate. The bones that fall from his lunch are a great boon to Vladamir and Estrogen, as their insights are to him. As he moves across their space, ultimate exiting stage left, a boy (Corey Volence) arrives and politely informs the pair that unfortunately, Godot will be unable to appear this evening, but might certainly appear tomorrow.

Life can be comedy even in its bitterest moments, and I’ve seen more laughter at funerals than weddings. Director Kubersky plays the pieces as a silent comedy with pratfalls, juggling, and motions requisitioned from Chaplain, Keaton, and Theda Bara. Careful attention will inform the viewer exactly who and what everything is, why its there, and what to expect. GoGo and Didi pair up because it’s all too much for one man, Pozzo is the world at large tormenting its servants for which attention they are greatly appreciative, and the easy interpretation of Godot is that of the divine spirit that infuses us, but is always a few centuries late for his appointments. I’ll ignore the line “We don’t encourage thinking” and state if “Waiting for Godot” DOESN’T make you think, you might as well be dead. Is there a point to life on this bitch of an earth? Of course. Its’ just a bit subtle, and if you don’t pay attention, you’ll miss it until one day that damn Godot finally does show up.

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

Rabbit Hole

Monday, April 14th, 2008

Rabbit Hole
By David Lindsay-Albaire
Directed by Kevin Bee
Starring Jamie-Lyn Hawkins, Jenifer Gannon, Dean Walkuski
Theater Downtown, Orlando FL

Ultimately there is no way to replace the loss of a loved one, except by putting one foot ahead of the other and walking ahead in life. Howie (Walkuski) and Becca (Hawkins) lost 4 year old Danny to Jason’s (Josh Paul) careening down their street 3 miles over the limit. Anger threatens to tear them apart as they exchange brittle barbs that sound oh-so-familiar. Becca’s sister Izzy (Gannon) is no help, she gets into bar fights and pregancies without a second thought to anyone else’s feeling, and her thoughtless reproduction seems the flaunt Howie and Becca’s pain. They’ve tried the superficial and useless, cleansing their lives of Danny’s presence, building shrines, seeking counseling, infidelity and alcohol, but all are useless. Only life will cure unexpected death.

It’s’ a dark, meaty play, well done and surprisingly upbeat at the end. Walkuski gives another excellent performance, and continuing to show development as one of Orlando’s best middle aged white guy actors. Jennifer Gannon’s Izzy also shows her development as an actress, and Lori McCaskill as Nat, mother to the two girls shows here own vulnerability as she resolves another child’s death. And young Jason wrote a story about his own life and dedicated it to Danny – another strategy, and one I find helpful in my own life.

There’s a humanity lurking in this play that modern stagecraft so often replaces with spectacle or Disneyfied music. When Howie finally succumbs to his wife insistence they attend a barbeque with old friends, he looks stunned. But he walks himself through the evening, agrees the result won’t be horrible, and stand up to go do what has to be done. Becca’s already found her resolution by discussion Jason’s story with him, and Nat talks endlessly about her loss as she putters around Becca’s house. If theater mirrors life, this is a highly polished reflection, and it holds us up at our worse and our best: when we have to convince ourselves that we have no choice but to soldier on.

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

Macbeth

Monday, April 14th, 2008

Macbeth
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Jim Helsinger
Starring Ian Bedford, Jean Tafler, Paul Bernardo, Anne Herring
Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando, FL.

In the murky darkness of medieval Scotland, an ominous drip, drip, drip of fluid failing from a spiked ceiling recalls an avant-garde East German art installation just before the chaos of Communism’s collapse. As the lights dim, a knife cuts through the blooded canvas center stage, releasing wraiths that climb like ants out of the womb of a wounded world. Macbeth (Bedford) won a great victory, and the wraiths predict further glories for he and Banquo (Bernardo). Hard years of study warn us: spirit predictions always carry a twist ending, and these are no exception. While Macbeths victories are as great a career move as you would want in one step, his ambitious wife Lady M (Tafler) wants more, and talks him into murdering King Duncan (Steer Patterson), claiming the throne, and ultimately falling to the hubris required of all great tragic heroes. If nothing else, be warned that a trip to the palm reader can be a shortcut to hell.

Spectacle rules the show, with costumes reminiscent of a Norwegian heavy metal band, enough smoke and fog to set off the smoke alarm, and an imaginative Theater in the Round staging. Things moved quickly in the first act up to the Dagger of the Mind speech, and then seems to slow down. As so often happen in this play, I’m never really convinced about Macbeth decision to turn on Duncan, it always seems forced and not completely justified. Bedford’s tattooed Macbeth seemed less the fearless warrior than a fickle opportunist once he returned home where Lady Macbeth seemed to have an unnatural control over him. Her big speech about blood spots seemed rushed, and while she might be ambitious, psycho, or just bored, I’m never convinced she could convince her hubby to act so badly. I enjoyed Banquo (Bernardo), both alive and as a ghost, as well as Mac Duff (Paul Zivot), Siward (Bob Dolan) and all the assorted Thanes wandering the set. Anne Herring’s twin roles as Macbeth’s house keeper and Hecate, Queen of the Underworld, were delightful and necessary to break the darkness of this story of betrayal and blood.

Despite any story flaws, this is a great production of one of Shakespeare’s most accessible plays. The sets and lighting of Bert Scott and Bob Phillips stun, the cast well chosen, and the use of space innovative and surprising. And if the witches are tricksters and deceivers, they dance beautifully – if you’re going to Hell anyway, might as well to ride along with them.

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

Beckett Plays – Play Shorts II

Sunday, April 13th, 2008

Beckett Plays – Play Shorts II
By Samuel Beckett
Empty Spaces Theater Company
At the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, Orlando, FL

One question that never crosses you mind during Beckett is “Will he get the Girl?” By normal dramatic and story conventions, Absurdism focuses instead on the folly and futility of life and how we cling to it. As part of John DiDonna’s ambitious effort to present the entire corpus of Beckett’s work, this evening explores 5 of his latter works, most of which were written and originally produced in the early 80’s. “Act Without Words I” (with John Bateman and Jessica Pawli, directed by John DiDonna, Anna Demers and Kevin Becker) feels as if the main character is trapped in a goofy science experiment. Random objects drop from above, nearly but not completely allowing our protagonist to survive or die, but never giving him the resources he needs to resolve life one way or the other.

“Rockaby” (with Peg O’Keef, directed by Laura Lippman) appears to represent an old woman’s random thoughts as she rocks her day away, trapped in a cycle off little change and even less reason for change. The cycle repeats hypnotically, prompted by the single word “More…” But after a while, you felt “more” was more than enough.

“Catastrophe” (with Lori Engle, John Kelly and Jeff Lindberg, directed by DiDonna and Becker) finds a sad looking actor atop a plinth under the questioning and arrogant eye of impresario Lindberg. The pose, the color and the concept are not quite up to his standards, and workman Engle hustles to meet his arbitrary desires, even as she spoils what she knows to be her masterpiece. That’s a job; you work hard, some jerk shows up from corporate, spoils it and takes the credit.

There was an intermission. The lights did not come up for it, but there was a loud buzzing noise on the PA. The audience took it in stride.

Act 2 contained “What Where” ( with John Bateman, Kevin Becker, Nathan Raley, and Corey Volence, directed by Anna DeMers) This may or may not have occur in a future world with only 5 survivors, each clad in black robes like monks from a science fiction film. Confessions were demanded, and incorrect response resulted in someone receiving “The Works”. As ‘The Works” appears fatal, the cast dwindled down to one person, ending the play.

The final piece on this evening’s program was “Ohio Impromptu” (With DiDonna and Lindberg, directed by DiDonna and Christian Kelty). Perhaps the most enigmatic in this puzzle collection, two men sit at a table as one reads a small repetitive story consisting only of short words and other passive verbs. An occasional knock on the table paces him, but the words need to be said, are said, and don’t really influence the next set of words. This, like all the plays seems like reflections of the futility of life. Over all, it was a very existential program. You should see it, even if it really is meaningless in the grand scheme of the universe.

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