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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for July, 2008

Major Barbara

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

Major Barbara
By George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Jim Martin
Starring Jennifer Christa Palmer, Ron Schneider, Michael Marinaccio, Robin Olson
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL

I thought I was the most cynical man I ever met, but Shaw’s “Major Barbara” makes me reconsider. The wealthy Undershaft family is torn by Lady Britomart’s (Olsen) societal pretentions and her distaste of husband Andrew’s (Schneider) business of making bombs and warships and selling them to all comers. He never met his children, but now its time for Mom to swallow her pride and ask Andrew for their allowance as none of them seem employable. She treats oldest son Stephen (Davis Knoell) as a child and despises Sarah’s (Fridlich) genially confused Charles (Jamie Cline). But the biggest disappointment is Barbara (Palmer) – she’s a Major in the Salvation Army, lives on less than a pound a day, and is engaged to homeless professor of Greek, Adolphus Cusins (Marinaccio). When daddy drops by to sort out who’s who, he and Barbara spar over war and morality until they each agree to visit each others work. This is the philosophical issue Shaw turns on its head – is morality served better by bribing the poor to church with bread and treacle, or by giving them middle class employment and values, and letting them decide for themselves what they want to believe? He argues that building bombs does more for the good of mankind than feeding the poor. If this was Face The Nation, they’d have his skin for a lampshade.

Under director Jim Martin the epic “Major Barbara” stays on focus and allows the conclusions to arrive unexpectedly and convincingly. Schneider looks the jovial father as he re-discovers his family while Olson perfects the Passive Aggressive Mother from Hell. Palmer’s Barbara stands tall and remains in control whether dealing with the physical comedy of Act Two or the philosophical contortions of Act Three. Stephen Lima stole the show as the abusive Bill Walker. His on stage beating of defenseless Jenny Hill (Sara Lockard) seemed gut wrenchingly real, and Walkers inner pride in the face of defeat and starvation won the audiences’ heart. Both Cline and Marinaccio worked hard to out self-efface each other – it was like watching two 8 year olds argue: “Your dad can beat the crap out of mine!” “No he can’t!”

The arguments Shaw makes are subtle, and comparisons with Swift’s “Modest Proposal” leave you wondering just how serious he was. Feeding the homeless and getting them off the streets is a noble cause, but it never seems to prevent more of them from magically appearing. Allowing people to blow off steam by killing their neighbors en mass feels good for a while, but as soon as the disgusted survivors are magically replaced by fresh cannon fodder, the cycle always repeats. Perhaps the Undershaft’s and their friends have the right idea – find a system to exploit and exploit it. Whether you’re scamming the welfare system or the Pentagon, it’s nothing more or less that brute survival. Get up, put on your pants, and go to work. You’ll eventually be dead, but try to delay it as long as possible.

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

Die, Mommy, Die!

Monday, July 14th, 2008

Die, Mommy, Die!
By August Busch
Directed by Tim DeBaun
Theater Downtown, Orlando FL

Rage, jealousy, incent and murder – this is the fodder of Opera, Grand or Soap. What’s the difference? Soap Operas never have a soprano, but Grand Operas eventually end. Sol Sussman (Christian Kelty) hasn’t had a hit movie in a decade and the mob is on his case about $20 million in back vigorish and he’s been constipated since Madrid. He discovers his wife Angela’s (Kevin Bee) infidelity with greasy Tony Parker (Joe Saunders) and his son Lance’ (Scott Poole) addiction to drugs and boys. Good thing his daughter Edith (Jennifer Gannon) dresses in her micro miniskirt for him and faithful retainer Bootsie Carp (Peni Lotoza), well, retains faithfully. Things hit rock bottom when Angela slips him a deadly suppository and poisons Bootsie’s hip flask. This what Wagner would sound like with fart jokes.

This brilliantly campy comedy draws on every Made For TV movie of the past 30 years. Clever audio sample emphasize the pseudo dramatic moments, and the audience supplies the critical laugh tract. While Kelly’s hairpiece is bit goyish and Lotoza’s grasp of Yiddish intonation is funnier than the line she’s supposed to say, the laughs flow like cheap wine. Things peak with Kelty’s rising from the dead with his 5 foot suppository, theme music, and dramatic lighting. Kevin Bee is brilliantly campy, and while it’s not clear why Angela is played in drag, its one of those jokes that wouldn’t survive rationalization.

Like any good camp show or opera, the how and why of the story are unimportant, so long as the spectacle impresses. Paul Horan’s elegant set and Singeresque painting are a deceptively calm canvas for the duplicity and avarice of the Sussman clan. The motivations are vicious, the execution devilish, and the net results is a great Feel Bad comedy. Hope you family isn’t like them, because living in an opera is bad for your health.

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

My Illustrious Wasteland

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

My Illustrious Wasteland
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Tod Kimbro
Directed by John DiDonna
Staring Chris McIntyre, Brittany Berkowitz, Tod Kimbro
Beth Marshall and Tod Kimbro at the Orlando Shakespeare Festival

It’s big, it’s noisy, it’s ambitious, and while “My Illustrious Wasteland” doesn’t quite make it to the stars, it at least makes it to the upper ionosphere. In the not too distant future implanted chips allow instant internet access and handset free cell phone communication. While the minutes are unlimited, it comes with instant government control of the subject’s already short attention span. History is measured by People Magazine and pop stars obsess a nation incapable of hanging up the phone for 5 minutes and talking about something important, like the weather. Mogs McCallsiter-Itch (McIntyre) can’t seem to remember who won Best Soap Opera Star for 1991 until he falls in love with Sunny Day (Berkowitz), recently married to evil President Reverend, MD (Kimbro). Early on, PRMD announced his plans to remain faithful until a better looking babe showed, so he’s a little miffed when Sunny takes up with Mogs. The Realists abduct Mogs, remove his implant, and improve his relation with his pill popping mother (Beth Marshall). What’s the message? Hang up your cell phones and think for yourself. This IS a speculative fiction.

If the story sounds complicated, it is and it’s not until the second act that the show settles on a principle story line that you can identify with. Kimbro is an effective villain, and a much better singer than your average bad guy. Berkowitz nails the blond bimbo look, but adds a spectacular voice to go with it. She stuns when she sings “As Real as It Can Get” and “Wake Up / Suspicious Sunny Day”, even with the bottom heavy sound mix that made most of the lyrics indecipherable. Mogs fit well into the Lost Boy of the Future, but he wasn’t very likeable until he got that implant removed. Backing band Lucifer-Itch did well with Kimbro’s quirky brand of rock and roll, and there’s a nice touch of choreography courtesy of Blue. A huge video screen provided running ads and commentary that parodied the information overload that takes over our lives. Some of the ads were hysterical, and some just weird. Interestingly, I didn’t detect a single cell phone ring during the show.

The fundamental hurdle My Illustrious Wasteland faces it its attempt to cover politics; love, pop culture, government conspiracy and slacker apathy in one go. While the commentary is funny and to the point, it’s not until Wasteland settles into the traditional musical themes of mixed up love and powerful pop ballads that it really takes off.

For more information on My Illustrious Wasteland, please visit http://todkimbro.com/

Unloved

Monday, July 7th, 2008

Unloved
Coordinated by Mark Brotherton, Amanda Wansa, Mark Koenig
Musical Direction by Amanda Wansa
UCF Conservatory Theater, Orlando FL

In the dog days of summer, it’s a great idea to put on a show and let the whole department take a shot at doing something, anything, on stage. This Summer Showcase themes itself around the “Seven Stages of Love” with songs, scenes and dance numbers from the past 70 years. While you might remember the 7 Deadly Sins or Shakespeare’s 7 Stages of Life, the passage of Love is marked are Alone, Looking, Fulfilled, Complicated, Alternative, Family, and At Long Last Love. Of these Fulfilled (marriage) is the shortest and Alone is the longest. There must be some symbolism there.

With 50 plus short numbers, this is like a punk rock show – if you don’t like something, its over pretty fast. “Taylor, the Latte Boy” sung by Natalie Finkelstein and Brock Yurich sounds like it ought to be from a musical, but isn’t, tells the sweet love story of a stalker and her victim sung with a creepy tension. “Always the Bridesmaid” (Stephanie Lloyd, Ashley Fischer, and Amanda Wansa) hops with a country beat while it whines about a closet full of matching ugly shoes and unwearable dresses. Andrew Clateman does a wonderful spoken word piece “Cheesecake Truck” and James Rinaldi and Emily Bramblett dash off a great “Masochism Tango” from famed math professor and novelty song writer Tom Lehrer. The strongest number wrapped up the first act as Khristy Chamberlin and “Santi” Reyes launched into Queen’s “Somebody to Love” backed by the full cast. All that was missing was the monster hair and white jump suits.

While the spirit of the Summer Showcase is “Hey, lets put on a show”, the result is no “awe, aren’t they cute?” production. There’s really not a bad number anywhere, the music is well arranged and when actors aren’t performing, they sit perfectly still on those comfy rehearsal cubes all theater keep around for times when they need to look stagey.

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