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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for September, 2008

Jake’s Women

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Jake’s Women
By Neil Simon
Directed by Ed Weaver
Starring Trent Fucci, Linda Farmer
UCF Conservatory Theater, Orlando FL

A tortured writer haunted by the ghosts of the women past – where have we seen that before? Jake’s (Fucci) current wife Maggie (Farmer) is a weak replacement for Wife 1, Julie (Brit Cooper Robinson). Julie died in a car accident, and Jake spends his idle moments imagining conversations that might still occur between her and the other women around him. Maggie senses something is wrong, and while they share a bed, it’s not even platonic anymore. As things spiral down in to relationship hell, perhaps a trial separation will resurrect the happiness of earlier days. The toxic cocktail of past longing and present guilt keep Jake in a permanent state of self induced misery and drives the story forward. His imaginary shrink Edith (Kristen Shoffner) offers the advice he wants but won’t follow, and when he imagines a pass, she easily deflects him. Jakes argues with his apparitions and loses – Twelve year old daughter Molly (Kristen Gunderson) offers precocious advice and Sister Karen (Megan Wiley) points out her only makes her say what he wants and he still loses to both of them. Only the real life girlfriend Shelia (Brooke M Haney) has the sense to flee when Jake argues with an imaginary Maggie. Inscrutably attractive to women despite his self absorption and fear of commitment, he seems destined to collect doomed relations. Is this guy a Shmendrik or what?

Jake’s lives in a stunning blue themed temple to writing designed by Ryan Emens. The nave holds the sacred Royal Underwood surrounded by a nimbus of books. None of the women, real or imagined are allowed up here, although Maggie gets as close as the first landing of the stairs. It’s not clear she could survive viewing the face of Jakes internal glory, or in seeing it realize it’s just another mirage of his own making.

Fucci’s acting is a little over the top – he out Woody Allen’s Woody Allen with his Jewish guilt. None the less, he charms the girls with that Lost Little Boy quality that oozes “Save me, I CAN be changed.” He can’t, of course, there are some male characteristic that are so innate no feminine power can repair them. Maggie seems a bit strident – as the career woman on the go, she represents the mirror of a classic 50’s Man in the Grey Flannel Suit. Neither party to this union understands or is interested in the other. Of the supporting actors, I found Edith’s earthy sensuality most attractive. She even rationalizes an otherwise inappropriate relation with a client by clever use of referrals. And little Sheila? For a real, flesh and blood woman, she was the only one smart enough to pack and run when Jake reveals his true colors.

“Jake’s Women” makes an enjoyable evening out of a convoluted and perhaps common situation. Unlike the typical dramatic love story, there’s not a clear Happily Ever After resolution, no one makes the dramatic, committing decision that will repair the marriage, and the ghosts of past still linger, even if Jake can no longer summon them at will in his Story Mind. Maggie and Jake are together, Julie, Edith, and Karen might be gone on holiday at the curtain, but if this was Real Life, I’d be willing to bet on a sequel.

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

L’Ange Avec Les Fleurs

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

L’Ange Avec Les Fleurs
Directed by Rocky Hopson
Garden Theater
Winter Garden, FL

What’s more French than a wheezy accordion? Why, a French Melodrama starring a wheezy accordion, of course. “L’Ange Avec Les Fleurs” (The Angel with the Flowers) recalls the France as a mythical land, filled with joie de’vivre, love and loveable scoundrels. “L’Ange” began life as the slightly raunchier “La Putain Avec Les Fleurs” (The Prostitute with the Flowers) at the 2002 Fringe Festival and has undergone several revisions and extensions that improve the show, extending the original 45 minutes into an experience twice as long and twice as interesting.

Stephan LeCoq (Chris Gibson) leads the Theatre Des Funambules (Theater of Wire Walkers), a direct nod to the classic French film “Les Enfants du Paradis.” Its 1940 France and the Germans have arrived uninvited, with stern Mr. Germany (Michael Lane) admonishing the cast and audience to only have wholesome fun, and not too much of that. He’s universally greeted with fart noises and represents the sort of mockable authority that infests the universe. Assisting LeCoq are stick thin Pierre LeFleurs (Chris McIntyre) and femme fatal Isabelle Belle (Cami Alys Yankwitt). The band Bric-A-Brac sits stage right as accordionist Tabarin (Rob Houle) comments on the action and offers advice. We soon meet Baptiste (Gibson) at the peak of his circus career, yet a dispirited man seeking something new. He heads off in a cardboard taxi cab with the advice “All roads take you somewhere new, yet they all take you back to where you are right now.” Baptise’s story is a search for self, and he tries manual labor, married life, and monastery before he learns the greatest story telling truth of all – what you want is right here in Kansas or Toulouse. It’s advice that can only come from experience – we all must learn it over and over again.

“L’Ange” updates an old European form of Comedia Del Arte, and features a non stop barrage of corny music, gently off-color jokes, mime, puppetry, and what ever else might be salvable from the old Vaudeville days. Our friend The Big French Bear (Lane) appears several times, and while he’s scared a few children in his time, tonight he behaves like a good Bear. The original plywood Puppet Theater Box from 2002 reappears and makes the entire world of Baptise and his friends come to life. This potentially scattershot show comes together to form a unified whole from the preshow audience harassment to the closing number under the excellent direction of Rocky Hopson, the shows creator.

This traditionally structured pantomime never feels old or out of date and sports the sort of physical jokes kids appreciate and carefully calibrated double entendre they ought to miss. It’s a perfect accompaniment to the gorgeously restored Garden Theater, and well worth the drive.

For more information on The Garden Theatre in Winter Garden, please visit http://wgtheater.org

Gone Missing

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Gone Missing
By Steven Cosson and Michael Friedman
Directed by Alan Bruun, Anna Demers, and Steve Mackinnon
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL

In the frame of high concept art, it’s easy to misplace a sense of humanity. Gone Missing doesn’t fall in that trap; it instead focuses on the common stories of common people losing common objects. It might keys, a diamond ring, or a single size six Gucci pump that mysteriously reappears in a Rio taxi cab, but everything lost somehow eased the journey through the day. There’s a rule about the lost object in this show – it must be an object, not a person or an abstraction, and that leads less heartache and more laughs that you might expect. After all, things are less important than friends and relatives, even the ones you don’t like.

These true stories gathered from interviews give us quick glances into the lives of strangers, with jovial Jonathan Lang carrying the longest narrative line. He’s the rookie cop, sent to pick of the pieces of dead bodies the more experienced cops won’t touch. He loses his lunch. Another continuing character is the smarmy pop psychologist Dr. Palenoris (Keith Kirkwood) who wrote the book on losing and psychoanalyzes the losers while spouting off about Atlantis, the ultimate lost object. You’d like to strangle him, except he’s so charming.

While the music in  Gone Missing won’t blow you away, there are some nice numbers. Lang and the Company first sing  La Bodega in Spanish, and with my weak Spanish it sounds like a man looking for the child on the side of a milk carton. When Kevin Zepf sings the subtitle, the song becomes much more tender and personal. Still, the mistake on my part was fun. Later Jenny Weaver did a nice job with the lonesome Hide and Seek, and Mr. Zepf sang an inexplicably gentle song in German about dreams and broken hearts.

Alan Bruun’s stark set is cluttered with a dozen rehearsal cubes set on a black and white grid. The cast marches about on the lines, moving the boxes to form temporary stages that are most effective during Kirkwood’s  Lost Horizon number and when they all reveal a striking surprise for closing number Stars. The set and motion mixed thoughts of Air Force cadets walking the grid at Colorado Springs and an urge to call out “Knight to Rehearsal Cube 5, Checkmate! ”

Gone Missing is experimental as all get out and worth getting out to see. The concept challenges while the acting reminds you of your own losses. And every time you see a shoe on the roadside or a cell phone in a restroom, remember: Someone is having a hell of time getting along without it.

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

2008 New Works Festival

Monday, September 15th, 2008

2008 New Works Festival
Orlando GLBT Theatre Festival
At Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando, Fl

Another festival has appeared on Orlando’s burgeoning Theatre Festival calendar. This one goes by the name of the  Orlando GLBT Theatre Festival, and focuses on the Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Trans Sexual life style. (Always define acronyms the first time they are used. It’s polite.) While this festival had some grand plans, the mechanical details have cut its scope severely; the 10 Minute New Works segment is pretty much all that appeared in the debut. But that alone justifies the project; John DiDonna pulled together an exciting program that drew an enthusiastic opening night audience for a staged reading of 7 new plays from all over the country.

Opening the roll call was  Baby Summer (Ms. Michael Ramirez, directed by Margret Nolan). Bev (Heather Wilkie) and Champie (Tiffany Weagly) adopted an infant they found on the subway, and now it’s the kid’s 7th birthday. Bev wants to tell the child the bitter truth, and Champie leans toward creating a fantasy family tree for the child. The story is touching and obviously both parents love the child. There lies the problem, there’s really not much conflict, making the piece feel more like a vignette or small scene from a bigger story.

Quickly following we see  Daniel(le)  (Asher Wyndham, directed by Lester Malizia). This monolog has drag queen Danielle (Nicholas Wuerhmann) reflecting on a half century of dressing up, entertaining, and facing her mortality. It begins as a brilliant comedy and gradually transitions to a touching swan song as we find Daniel’s days are numbered. Weurhmann’s acting was superb, and I’d love to see this done as a full production.

The Boileroom (Bill Cosgriff, directed by Seth Kubersky) introduces us to chatty Craig (Kevin Kriegel) and taciturn Anthony (Michael Marinaccio) as they banter in a gay bar. Craig is a pro at this; Anthony has just popped over from Staten Island and is in need of a seminar on pickup etiquette as both navigate the mine field of convenient lies that indicate their relation may never sail smoothly. The characters are well drawn and funny, but the piece fades out with an indefinite ending. A tighter resolution or expansion to a full length seems reasonable, but either way, the audience agrees — Marinaccio has a cute hiney.

There’s a darker turn in Godfrey (Ian August, directed by John DiDonna). Godfrey (DiDonna) wakes up on a sidewalk after a competent butt kicking. He walked out of a bar in Greenwich Village, and wasn’t expecting anything like this. One of his lesser injuries is a missing tooth, but that’s enough to get some two bit help from Jessica Pawli. She might be wacko, but she gets Godfrey cleaned up enough to carry on. The premise is cute, but this isn’t a “ha-ha” comedy, after all someone got the shit kicked out of him.

We could use an intermission about now to visit that creepy guy in the men’s room that gives you hand soap and towels (am I the only person who finds men’s room attendants unsettling?) Instead, its time for Kids R Us (Josh Levine, Directed by Rob Ward). Mattie (Jimmy Moore) and Andrew (Blake Logan) are committed partners, but it’s a mixed relation – Andrew makes latkes and lights the menorah, Mattie wants a pine tree with twinkly lights. Mattie is the pushy one, he brings home an audio animatronic Suzy Doll (Gina DeRoma). Susy is a typical 5 year old, demanding and not completely open about potty time. Logan’s Andrew makes it pretty clear that he and bubbly Mattie still have a few issues. My opinion is NEVER have a kid to save a faltering relation.

Songs My Brother Sang (Myra Slotnick, directed by Laura Lipmann) brings us back to the AIDS quilt, a fabric document that attempts to capture the death toll of the past decades. Abby (Jessica Miano Kruel) visits to check up on her departed brother Peter, and a fastidious Docent (Ryan Dowd Urch) fusses about as she drinks, smokes, and spreads ashes of Peter’s favorite pet. Peter’s old buddy Marcus (Corey Volence) drops by before Abby breaks down in the arms of the Docent. Abby’s character never generates much sympathy, and even though she insults the Docent grievously, he’s still there for her.

Wrapping up the evening is a perfect Tim DeBaun story, This Functional Family (Tait Moline, directed by Chad Lewis). It’s next Sunday, A.D., and Carson (Steve Johnson) is waiting for his prom date to pick him up. Father Vern (DeBaun) fusses about singing show tunes and offering advice while Uber Mom Wilma (Janine Klein) lectures about condoms and drugs and little sister Rachel (Kyla Swanberg) fumes about recycling. When Kelly (Chris McIntyre) shows up, the fuss reaches a crescendo and Carson does what all smart teens do in this situation – he bolts out the door. DeBaun’s apron is charming and the scenario bespeaks a more tolerant world, but the recycling lecture is unnecessary and the dated political references take this from Timeless to Out-Of-Date.

The Orlando GLBT Theatre Festival has some real potential and some enthusiastic worker bees. This group may take a year or two to find its groove, but it’s exactly the sort of thing that makes Orlando Theater exciting. They’ve got a Mission Statement and all that regalia, but I have high hopes they can overcome that vestige of 80’s management speak and become another New Playfest or Caberetfest.

For more information on the Orlando GLBT Theater festival, please visit www.glbttheatrefest.com

Shining City

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

Shining City
By Conor McPherson
Directed by Fran Hilgenberg
Starring Daryl Wells, Dave Thome
Theater Downtown, Orlando FL

If you’re looking for immortality, your choices boil down to conquering Asia Minor, having a kid, or haunting a person or place you were close to. John (Thome) lost his wife in an enigmatic taxi accident and now she appears behind the closet door and drives him nuts. He’s sought out counselor and ex-priest Ian (Wells) whose own life is so complicated he HAS to have some good advice. As Ian drags John out of the woods he falls more deeply into his own private hell. He impreganted long suffering Neasa (Lockhard) but after a few months of heterosexual joy, he finds himself strolling down a different primrose path. While John eventually finds peace, his ghost doesn’t and Ian is left with an out of work ghost in need of a person to hang around.

Like most theatre, it’s the internal state of mind that fascinate, not the odd or inexplicable incidents. McPherson’s slice of Irish life is long on fractured dialog and only mildly creepy. Much of Ian’s dialog consists of unfinished sentences tbegging for a decent direct object. Holding the show together were John and Neasa. Sara Lockhard offers a heart rending plea for her husband and lover to return and save her from the evil eye of her in-laws. Thome’s John and his self confession of failed affairs to a failed preist shows a man who’s wrestled with the devil and just barley escaped with a scorched soul. Ian was harder to get a grip on, his blocking showed his back to the audience just as his words showed his back to Neasa. For a few lighter moments we had Patages’ puckish cruiser Laurence. I found him sympathetic, but quite American sounding.

While “Shining City” is offered as a ghost story, the ghosts are mostly the Casperish demons we all possess as they posses us. Churches make a big deal about repenting and sinning no more, but with out our sins what would we be? Nothing but Putti floating above a distant planet, and bereft of anything juicy to discuss at the dinner table.

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