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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for October, 2008

West Side Story

Monday, October 27th, 2008

West Side Story
By Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, and Steven Sondheim
Directed by Be Boyd
Starring Luke Bernard, Brandon Peters, Samantha Freistat, Carlos Aviles
UCF Conservatory Theatre, Orlando, FL

Mix gangbangers with ballet students, and your likely to get this bloody and surreal classic of American musical theater. In post war Manhattan, the Polacks and the PRs fight over a small sliver of asphalt and the right to call themselves “American.” The Slavic Jets out number the Hispanic Sharks, but the Sharks are better dancers and when Jet Tony (Bernard) falls for nubile Maria (Freistat), full-scale war looms. That’s the rule of the street – hit me, call me names, but NEVER touch the women. A tense school dance is neutral territory, giving Jet leader Riff (Peters) a chance to call out hefe Shark, Bernardo (Aviles). What ought to have been a “fair fight” leaves Bernardo and Riff dead and Tony on the run. He has just enough time for a quickie with Marie before getting shot by cuckold Chino (Abdullah Zainol), leaving Lt Schrank (Dave Scarfskin) and officer Krupke (Nathan Smith) to sweep up the corpses.

Despite it size and scope, West Side Story is a robust musical and UCF makes the most of the story with its large talent pool. The dancing (choreographed by Tim Ellis) excelled, with only a few loose chorus dancers in the back row missing beats. Riff and Anita (Julie Gordon) over shadowed the clean cut Tony and tentative Maria, although Anita and Maria had some very enjoyable moments. Aviles showed the classic hot headed Latin attitude toward women, and as a supporting gang member Action’s (Brock Yurich) skin head psycho look and attitude drove the action in the big rumble scene. Of the adults, Doc (Andrew Clateman) seemed the most realistic, even though he technically aided and abetted a murder by hiding Tony and giving him money. Tony and Maria seemed like a nice couple, but it was Anita and Bernardo that spray sex sparks over everything on stage. Behind the scenes we had a full orchestra lead by Nathaniel Beversluis which made the classics “Maria”, “America” and “Gee, Officer Krupke” really pop.

Loosely based on Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story is slightly less bloody (Maria survives) and the kids make up their own bad advice rather than getting it from adults. Once you accept the whole conceit of a knife fight set to modern dance, the show build an internal logic that lacks the wince factor of the original. The stakes are high, the promise of forbidden love timeless and the silhouette back drop of the Brooklyn bridge looks like it goes all the way back to the islands. Your never far from a hit song, a nervous joke, or a Fosse inspired dance, and whether you’re a Shark or Jet in really life, tonight you live in a dream for just a few hours.
For more information on UCF Conservatory Theatre, visit

The Glass Menagerie

Monday, October 20th, 2008

The Glass Menagerie
By Tennessee Williams
Directed by David Karl Lee
Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando FL

Our real job in life it to forget. What we think we remember may or may not have happened, and any proof as to actual events is forensic at best. Amanda Wingfield (Anne Herring) obsesses on her glorious girlhood beset with gentlemen callers and the opportunity to offer her virginity to any young planter she desires. How could she know the charming man she chose would ditch her for Mazatlan and a life apart? Amanda raised crippled Laura (Katherine Michelle Tanner) and ambitious Tom (Jim Ireland) to support her financially and emotionally. Amanda is anything but loveable; she can pump more guilt per minute than the toughest Jewish mother and Tom’s about had it with her. A warehouse job and sleazy bars are his only entertainment. Until he gets a mate for Laura, mom won’t let him join the merchant marine and get that tattoo he always wanted. In desperation he invites his boss Jim O’Connor (Brad Roller) over for dinner, hoping for a quick mating and permission to weigh anchor. O’Connor is spoken for, leaving Amanda and Laura to whither in the bluster of a St. Louis winter. Tom is luckier; he can look forward to a quick death by U-boat.

Scenic Designer Bob Phillips gives us a smoke filled theatre setting us clearing in William’s nether world of fading memories. The smoke is ironic, as present day smoke free rules turn this 2-pack-a-performance into a pantomime of Tom just missing ignition on his lucky strikes. That’s one of the few departures from reality in this dream story – real rain falls on the windows, the wallpaper is hand stenciled blue roses, and I think I hear real 78 RPM shellac on the Victrola. We even forgo the slide show that struck me when I first read this play in High School. While Herring alternates stridence with a withering Southern Charm, Tom plays a hard boiled detective who’s seen it all and knows it won’t get better. Together they watch Amanda’s hopes for Laura setting into a rust pile as Tom prepares to abandon this sinking home. The Winfield’s shows love at its worst – clinging, manipulative, and unproductive. There’s bitter laughter from the audience, this sort of pain is everywhere. “Glass Menagerie” is more entertaining than 3 celebrity drug rehabs.

For more information on Orlando Shakespeare Theater, visit

Zombies From The Beyond

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

Zombies From The Beyond
By James Valcq
Directed by Jay Hopkins
Musical Direction by Jim Rhinehart
Starring Kate O’Neil, Todd Allen Long, David Almeida, Mellissa Mason
Jester Theatre Company at The Garden Theater, Winter Garden, FL

Milwaukee. I can’t believe I’m back in Milwaukee. Like a bad flashback we’re in 1955 and crisis grips the heart of the Milwaukee Space Center (Just off Mitchell Street, right down there where the streetcar bends the corner around). The Probe 7 team suffers from the usual interoffice romantic politics – Captain Jones (Almeida) and newcomer Trent Corbett (Todd Allen Long) spar over Major Malone’s (Rod Cathey) nubile daughter Mary (Elizabeth Takacs) while frustrated Charlene (Mason) debates whether her bio-clock is ticking loud enough to warrant a date with tap-dancing delivery boy Billy (Corey Matos). The Probe 7 team sets out to launch a camera to photograph the sun, but their sexual battle shifts into high gear when they discover a UFO full of horny undocumented alien zombie she-devils. We all know what THAT means – time for ray guns and tap dancing!

“Zombies From The Beyond” pushes the boundaries of corny camp, although the Zombie purist may object to the lack of shuffle-footed brain munching. The dialog is painfully stilted, and author James Valcq left no page of his science thesaurus unused. Almeida as evil Captain Jones danced fluidly in “Big Wig”, but the show stealer was Billy and his “Atomic Feet” tap routine. O’Neil’s Zombina had a cartoony sex appeal, even if you had trouble hearing the words in her operatic “The Last Man On Earth” and “Breaking The Sound Barrier.” The sexiest women on stage was Charlene – while she never ditches the pink Edith Prickly eye glasses or lets her hair down, the sexually aggressive and unfulfilled secretary is always the hottest role in any sci fi show.

Jester did an excellent job of recreating the Milwaukee skyline – both the Allen Bradley clock and the Wisconsin Gas building looked just like I remembered them, and while a nod to Schuster’s or Kopp’s Custard Stand would have been nice, it’s good to see that the arts community is still up to kicking old Beer Town around. The underlying paradigm of immanent absorption and annihilation by the Commies Pod People had passed out of our collective conscience, and I’m happy to report that “Zombies From The Beyond” avoids the temptation of replacing it with eco-fear or Palin jokes. Jester did what it does best – family friendly goofy comedy that entertains with out lecture and makes you laugh at the groaners as well as the actually funny stuff.

For more information on Jester Theater Company, please visit

For a complete listing of events at The Garden Theatre in Winter garden, please visit

Anything Goes

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

Anything Goes
By Guy Bolton. P.G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse
Music by Cole Porter
Directed by Julia Allardice Gagne
Starring Aaron Crass, Monica Rae Reiken, Sean Flynn
Valencia Character Company, Orlando, FL

Back in the Old Testament, you got to Europe on a ship. It took longer, but the food was better, a whiff of romance hung in the sea air, and no one made you take you shoes off. Best of all, the foredeck was big enough for a spontaneous kick line of sailors and tap dancers to form up at any moment. Try THAT on a 767. Through the logic of the American Musical, Billy Crocker’s (Kass) is heading to London on the borrowed ticket and passport of Public Enemy #1 Snake Eyes Johnson. He’s hot on the trail of his girl friend Hope Harcourt (Kayla Kelsay) who’s engaged to the rather odd Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (Michael Kendrick). Fallen evangelist Reno Sweeney (Reiken) and mobster Moonface Martin (Flynn) help him along until Billy and Moonface are tossed in the brig, mostly to allow Moonface his one song, the completely silly “Be Like A Bluebird”. Billy gets Hope, Moonface gets off the Public Enemy list, and kinkiest of all, Sir Evelyn and Reno hook up. Then there’s more tap dancing.

This version of the show seems loosely based on the 1962 revival. Porter and the writing crew fiddled with the show endlessly, and it now has become a Cole Porter Greatest Hits revue. The story is loose enough to tolerate the surgery, and the result is a sort of American Musical songbook that always seem to get the best out of set designers. While there was some wooden dialog in the first act, Krass and Reiken were both exceptional singers. When either of them gets their teeth into some music, you forget all the other imperfections. Most of the dialog is in the first act, and the second act nearly all singing, so things improved as the evening went on. The on-stage chemistry felt strongest between Billy and Reno, with Kelsay’s Hope a distant second romance. Kendrick’s very odd accent and mannerisms were at first off setting, making the relation between him and Reno feel forced, but he grows on you. You never ever confused him with anyone else.

There were several major tap numbers between the sailors and Reno’s Angels, all choreographed by Lesley Brasseux. These alone make the show worth while, and the pinnacle of the show is the first act blow out “Anything Goes”. While there are a few rough spots, the show on the whole entertained and left people singing the reprise out to the parking lot. Cole Porter might be a fading memory, but his music remains immortal.

For more information on Valencia Character Company, please visit

Our Town

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

Our Town
By Thornton Wilder
Directed by Bobby Bell
Seminole Community College, Lake Mary FL

Thornton Wilder’s memory play about appreciating the minutia of life finds constant renewal in schools everywhere. The large cast, old fashioned values and general lack of controversy guarantee its persistence, even though it sorely lacks the classical antagonist/ protagonist relation that make drama dramatic. The plot is simple – In 1901 Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire life slowly changes after the industrial revolution. There’s a steam train and a telephone and a sense that while nothing happens, big changes loom. The notional action centers around the families of Dr. Frank Gibb (John Kelly) and editor and publisher Mr. Charles Webb (Larry Stalling). Their respective children George (Nathan Bartman) and Emily (Samantha O’Hara) are at the brink of sexuality, and by the second act 3 years are gone and they wed. More years pass by the third act – now Emily has died in child birth, along with George’s mother Julia (Meredith Johnson). As the dead chat amongst themselves, we learn that if there’s something important in life, it’s all the little things that you pay no attention to at the time.

Maintaining the narrative flow is the Stage Director (a very clean but Bobby Bell). The cast is mostly students, peppered with local stalwarts like Kelly (know for his excellent funeral acting) and jittery Stallings. Some highlights were Simon Stimson (Michael Sapp) as the town choir master and drunk, the gracious Mrs. Myrtle Webb (Tara Corless) and George’s younger sister, curious Rebecca Gibbs (Samantha Haslacker.) While the undertaker had trouble with his lines and a few actors were a bit stiff, the biggest problem lay in the tricky New England Accent. A few of the braver students attempted the slow, acerbic nuance of granite hard farmers or a weak “Ayup,” but it would have better to just stick with their native flat central Florida accent. Even Mr. Bell sounded like a laconic Irishman.

Our Town, like rural living, does have a charm that can grow on you, or drive you to seek out Mr. Stimson for some company. This production succeeded despite its scattered flaws, and the enthusiasm of a young cast finding itself on stage for the first time is one of those charms. There’s love, death, and mild debauchery here, but that’s not the story – rather, watching a really nice sunset or coming home to a warm house on a ten below zero day represent the drama in Wilder’s world. That’s nice enough, but I still wish Emily’s death was more heartbreaking instead of just a matter of fact life event.

For more information on the Seminole Community College Theater program, please visit

A Streetcar Named Desire

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

A Streetcar Named Desire
By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Paul Castaneda
Starring Daniel Cooksey, Sara Jane Fridlich, Leesa Halstead, Roger Greco
G.O.A.T. at The Cameo, Orlando FL

Women always seem to fall for the most abusive men they can find, and Stella DuBois (Fridlich) picked a doozy with brutish Stanley Kowalski (Cooksey). The sex is great and the bruises heal soon enough, but when displaced sister Blanche Dubois (Halstead) drops in for a permanent vacation, their fun and games are interrupted by Blanche’s penchant for hogging the bathroom and lacking the manners of her dueling slave master ancestors. The Old South did have its standards, low as they might seem today. Blanche is desperate for an income and nearly latches on to Stan’s buddy Mitch (Greco), but she holds out just a bit too long. Stanley’s low grade gumshoe work reveals she was once declared “Off Limits” by the Army, and her only escape is the Looney Bin. Good for her, this leaves Stan time to resume his main hobby – slapping Stella around as she tried to raise his son.

Daniel Cooksey was an odd choice for Stanley; he’s always been the cuddly nice guy in a romance. Still, he does a good job with the role, even if he seems nasty to Blanche from day one and never changes his tune. His relation with Stella and her “rationalize the bruises because that what love is” feels one dimensional, but then he IS pretty much focused on one thing – the animal lust we seek in the Deep South. The sex scenes are more explicit than one would see at, say, Theater Downtown, and one hopes the director issued him a condom. I liked Halstead as Blanche, when she put on her silver sparkly dress to capture Mitch; you knew the alcohol had eaten away her sex drive to the point where all she could hope for was a mercy rape from Stanley.

White Greater Orlando Actors Theatre has been around for a year or so, this was the debut of Orlando’s newest funky theater space, The Cameo. Located in the heart of V-town, this art deco movie house offers an exposed brick and wiring black box experience. The space is low and long and seats are scatters around, but the blocking keeps most of the action clear and entertaining. This is a particularly angry Street Car, and an impressive beginning for a low budget start up theater.

For more information, please visit

Jesus Hopped The A Train

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

Jesus Hopped The A Train
By Stephen Adly Guirgis
Directed by John DiDonna
Starring Roger Floyd, Alexis Jackson
Empty Spaces Theatre Company and Warren Acting Company at The Orlando Shakespeare Festival

The world is full of SOB’s that need a bullet in their ass, but does that mean they’ll give you a parade for popping that cap? Not in the case of Angel Cruz (Floyd), he shot a money grubbing cult leader and finds himself in lockdown with born again con man Lucius Jenkins (Dennis Neal). Lucius’ sweet arrangement with friendly guard Charlie D’Amico (Lawrence Benjamin) blows away when hard ass Valdez (Jeremy Wood) replaces him. No more vanilla fudge Oreos for Lucius, Valdez isn’t buying the born again cant and prefers Satan worship every Sunday at 10 am. Public defender superstar Mary Jane Hanrahan (Jackson) drew Angel’s case, and his quick confession doesn’t do much to quell her hubris about getting him off the hook. She turns down deal after deal until she has only one path forward – perjury and a Johnny Cochran style showboat bet-the-farm defense. Where is this taking us? To a jail house happy ending – Lucius gets lethal injection, Angel gets 20 years, Mary Jane is disbarred, and everyone gets to roll around in the joyful dung of self righteous self-salvation. God, I feel so superior to these people.

Empty Spaces stakes out the high ground on Serious Theater in Orlando. Jesus JumpeHopped The A Train is a meaty and complex drama, if a bit blunt. The Free Will vs. God’s Plan whips around furiously until it forms the sort of mousse you see on dip stick in a Chevy with a bad head gasket. Floyd plays an excellent Latino hothead, capturing both the verbal inflections and hand gestures of a desperate man with a rapidly failing case of self justification. Lucius’ jail house conversion is a cheesy as tinfoil art, and while he talks a good streak there’s no remorse for his serial kills and connoisseur’s taste for high grade coke. Wood was a deadly nasty Valdez, able to intimidate his wards even if he barely made welter weight. Public Defender Hanrahan felt wooden, but her cockiness to let you know she was going down before the final curtain.

There plenty of explicit language and descriptions of inhuman acts, but at its root “Jesus” reworks the classic Greek tragedies with a hero who gets kneecapped by the Gods. In some sense, though, everyone gets a happy ending. Angel admits to himself the magnitude of his crime, Lucian gets to see heaven and leave the rest of us in peace, and even D’Amico gets out of prisoner humiliation and opens a pool cleaning service. The only thing that feels wobbly is Hanrahan’s discovery that being the best damn public defender in Christendom made her feel hollow inside. I forget what she ended up doing, probably some sort of animal rescue service. A gassed Dalmatian probably expresses the same level of appreciation when she screws up as Angel did.

For more information on Empty Spaces Theater Company, visit


Saturday, October 11th, 2008

Baby Blue Start Productions
Footlights Theatre, Orlando FL

While no one spoke German and the table to table phones were missing, this show makes you feel exactly like an extra in “Cabaret.” Blue and the Invisible Arts crew pulled together another lip sync extravaganza, completely different than their previous high energy low inhibition exhibitions. Baby Blue, Nick Gray, and the Lollie – Yezzi – Tymisha troika were joined by Beth Marshal in her black leather lounge wear. Beth has the satanic high priestess shtick nailed, and offers communion by pouring a bowl of hot wax on the cast. It’s a bit kinky, but cheaper than the regular hair waxing places.

The act opens with Mr. Grey posing as the tough Village People-style cop busting Blue as they dance “Nobody Knows Where It’s At.” Blue wears those ridiculous city ordained latex pasties and a fuzzy pink elephant trunk G-string. It’s a happy but ambiguous pachyderm, and she soon upstages it with a large lavender product placement from the sponsoring Adult Toy store over on the Trail. This segues into a Betty Page illustrated live action version of Madonna’s “Hanky Panky.” How is it the only Madonna songs I hear on the radio are the sappy MTV hits, and all this great B material slides past me? Does Blue get special Sex Show Only DJ releases?

The pace of the show gradually slows and the dancing becomes more classical ballet oriented and some of the songs get downright wistful, even if ball gags are involved. Blue and Yezzi even knock off a Swan Lake feeling break up ballad. You come for the eroticism, and leave with a tear – Joel Gray would be proud.

The Footlights Theatresocial calndar is filling up fast and this very unusual show only runs on Wednesdays. There not much up against it, so there’s no reason to miss this extravaganza of run-run-leap dying swans mixed with a pounding disco soundtrack, latex morality guards, and Beth Marshall acting like you always imagined she does.

For more information on the Footlights Theater, please visit or

Learn all about Blue Star Productions at

Little Shop of Horrors

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

Little Shop of Horrors
Book and Lyric by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
Directed by Dan Roche
Starring Steven Lane, Michelle Allsopp, Ron Schneider
The Gramercy Theatre Company at the Plaza Theatre, Orlando, FL

High production values and excessive smoke effects made this a memorable opening show for Gramercy Theatre, one of Orlando’s rare fully commercial theatres. You’ve heard the story of Little Shop – the original film written and shot in 2 days on a bet by Roger Corman and eventually turned into a hit musical.

Down on skid row, Mushnik’s florist shop is dying. Mushnik (Schneider) is about to send the staff home permanently when put-upon Seymour (Lane) reveals his prize experiment in a pot, carnivorous Audrey 2 (voiced by Valens Sylvain and operated by Kerry Silson). Audrey 2 is an immediate pop sensation, and not only does the Mushnik’s trade pick up, but Seymour now has a chance with Audrey 1 (Allsopp). The only thing standing in his way is Audrey’s psycho dentist boyfriend Orin (Kevin Kelly) and Audrey 2’s insatiable need for fresh human blood. The two Audreys are like a co-dependent vampire crossed with the IRS and when Seymour makes a few bad Life Choices, everything turns to compost. But never fear, this is a musical, and we have only one option – a big blowout finish.

There’s everything to love about this polished performance, except the smoke. Jeff Schultz provides an impressively clever set, one of the best I’ve seen outside the Carr in a long time. The Urchins (Shonda Thurman, Tymisha Harris and Colecta Johnson) provided excellent backup singing, and keep the leads on the spot to out perform them. Lane’s Seymour feels a bit more clean-cut than a typical bowery refugee, but he needs that Zest look to justify sexy Audrey 1’s ultimate acceptance of whacko boyfriend Orin’s mysterious disappearance. Kelly’s Orin and his Sleazy P Martini hair style highlights the show. They make his over the top fetish of pain and Nitrous Oxide look more fun than summer camp in the wrong gender’s cabin. You might wonder what Audrey saw in him, but remember this – the scuzziest guys ALWAYS get the most chicks. Nice guys finish virgin.

The original film is one of Corman’s low budget classics, and the line “I want a long, slow root canal” is one of the great missing lines from the AFI’s top 100 lines. This musical version sticks close enough to the original, but parodies the whole sci-fi / mutant / horror genres, and works much better than the The Rocky Horror Show did on stage. Silson and Valensky were up to the technical challenge of voicing and animating Paul McAvene’s impressive Audrey 2’s. Director Roche appeared a little awkward during the preshow speech, but his work with this first rate cast is well worth seeing. Just bring your Primatene inhaler.

For more information on Gramercy Theater and the Plaza, please visit

To Kill A Mocking Bird

Sunday, October 5th, 2008

To Kill A Mocking Bird
By Harper Lee
Adapted by Christopher Sergel
Directed by Frank Hilgenberg
Starring Dean Walkuski, Amanda McRea, and Will Barbara
Theatre Downtown, Orlando Fl

In a land of ringworm and racism, it’s tough to get justice in any shape or form. White trash Bob Ewell (Barbara) charged field hand Tom Robinson (Kevin Lang) with the capital crime of Raping A White Woman. No matter Bob was interested in his daughter Mayella (Amy Campione) first, but this hopeless defense assignment falls to high minded Atticus Finch (Walkuski). We hear the story from Atticus’s daughter Scout (McRea), her brother Jem (Noah Schnacky) and the other town children. They have trouble understanding what the trial is really about, just as they are intrigued by the unseen Boo Radley (Robert DelMedico) and his history of insanity. Allowing Tom a defense of any sort deeply offends the citizens of Maycomb, Alabama, and Atticus uses the abuse heaped on him to teach his children tolerance, understanding, and other skills that won’t endear them in their home town later in life.

Mocking Bird relies on the children’s view point to tell most of the story, but it’s hard to follow as these kids had trouble projecting while they blasted through their lines. Fortunately, the adults doubled up on the exposition, so you never loose the story even if you didn’t catch all of Scout and Jem’s banter. Walkuski projects a calm dignity and always looks professorial even as the bumpkins bounce off of him. Barbara’s Bob Ewell was particularity effective as the cocky man out to raise his social status by taking down Robinson, a man clearly better and more useful than himself. Lang’s Robinson always knew the answer to his trial, and looks to Atticus with the eyes of an animal knowingly on its way to slaughter. Other standouts were Marion Marsh as Mrs. Dubose and Harold Longway as Sheriff Heck Tate. This is a big show with big production values – eighteen actors on another one of Tom Mangieri’s knock out sets, and a Gospel concert as a warm up preshow.

The adult world is always strange to a child. Whether the odd relative that smells funny and gives you socks for Christmas or the strange stories Dad tells about work, decoding adults gives you clues on how to behave when you arrive yourself. While Scout seemed precocious and a minor expert on courtroom procedure, her real project is dragging Boo Radley out into the sunlight. That’s exactly what Atticus attempts when he seeks justice for Tom Robinson. You can lead the world to reason, but expect it to kick and scream all the way there, and then spit on you for your trouble.

For more information, please visit