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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for March, 2009

The Lark

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

The Lark
By Jean Anouilh, adapted by Lillian Hellman
Directed by Dr. Donald Seay
Starring Courtney Moores, Kyle Adkins, and Mark Brotherton
UCF Conservatory Theatre, Orlando Fl

Great sets, great costumes, and great acting weren’t enough of a miracle to redeem this wordy and exposition laden retelling of Joan of Arc’s story. At 12, Joan (Moores) saw visions and received a message from St. Michael to drive the English out of France and restore the French Monarchy. A heady assignment for an uneducated farm girl born I the ruins of the Hundred Years War, but she impressed Robert De Beaudricourt (Andrew Clateman) and scatterbrained Charles VII (Chris Longfield Smith), lead the army to some surprising victories, and kicked butt on the English. Charles was crowned; France was saved, but she was captured, sold to the English and tried for heresy. The trial brackets her story on stage, and there lies the weakness of this play.

Joan’s heresy is really a political accusation, necessary for the English to attack Charles. Like many medieval trials, it’s populated by some very unpleasant church figures and giving the accused a reasonable chance at self defense is considered working for the devil. There’s an Inquisitor (Carlos Aviles), dressed in very natty red and black velvet, who yells most of his lines and assumes he alone may interpret Gods will. Even nastier is the cleric in Green (Peter Cortelli) who snaps knotty theological questions at Joan, and any answer including silence is dismissed as witchcraft. It takes monkish Cauchon (Brotherton) to actually show her some Christian charity, but even a complete confession and technical acceptance back into Catholicism results in a miserable prison sentence. Joan’s early life involves a brutal father (Robert Aronowitz). He nearly beats her to death in a very disturbing scene of country life where women rank as property, treated with less respect than a horse would receive.

There are some fun scenes, fortunately. Joan’s first contact with nobility occurs when she talks Robert de Beaudricourt (Andrew Clateman) out of a horse and some soldiers. He’s interested in a quickie, but dense enough to fall for her flattery and thus propels her on the way, making Joan’s journey to the Kings Court sound like his own idea. Clateman wields his loopy persona like an epee, and I’m so happy they didn’t make him one of the endless priests. Later, when Joan reaches the court, the semi-official Charles plays with toys while his advisors The Archbishop (J. Scott Browning) and Mssr. De La Tremouille (Trent Fucci) boss him around. His wife and mistress and mother in law flit about annoying both him and the audience, and it’s in everyone’s best interest that he be weak and will less – there’s not much left of France, but they plan to consume it while they can.

Battles are only alluded to, and the second act drags us through the kangaroo court of the church with endless titles, preambles, hard-to-grasp theological principles, and the clear abandonment of Joan by everyone she helped. There’s a real effort to stay reasonable true to the history books here, but that’s not a good thing – rather than feeling the triumph of the underdog, you get a full serving of legal minutia and a sparse cut of drama.

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

A Grand Night For Singing

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

A Grand Night For Singing
Conceived by Walter Bobbie
Music and Lyrics by Richards Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II
Arrangement by Fred Wells
Directed by Roy Alan
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park Playhouse

You know this show is going to get serious as soon as you sit down, there’s a harp smack in the middle of the stage. Roger and Hammerstein are always a popular mix of uplifting music and gentle social messages, but Director Roy Alan REALLY likes them – he choked up introducing the show, a first in my experience. From the spritely opening number “The Carousel Waltz” to the emotional “Impossible/ I have dreamed” closer, the WPPH singers belted out another top notch show in their crowed little studio. Picking out a favorite is out of the question, but Tim Eveniki’s “Surry with the Fringe on Top” set a standard that lasted a full six songs until Patrick Brant and the company hit another homer with “Honey Bun”. That’s the song with that wonderfully sexist line “… broad where a broad should be broad….” The theme of sex and roses continued with “Don’t Marry Me” (Brandt and Evanicki) and “Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” with Belinda Johnson, Natalie Cordone, and the ever elegant Heather Alexander. Harpist Dawn Marie Edwards adds an elegant touch to the always engrossing paints Chris Leavy and drummer Sam Forrest.

Most of these songs come from musicals, and Rogers and Hammerstein made some of the best. Their real contribution was moving the song and dance elements from decorative filigrees to integral elements in pushing the story forward. True, gangs can break into dance numbers and dream lovers appear magically, but now they build the story and the element of “huh?” rarely crosses the viewer’s mind. The magic of these songs is they all stand alone, each a coherent scene that stands alone and allows these singers to show their stuff. In the hands of skilled singers like those who haunt WPPH, each becomes a magic spell unto itself.

For more information on Winter Park Playhouse, please visit http://www.winterparkplayhouse.org

Amadeus

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Amadeus
By Peter Schaffer
Directed by Alan Bruun
Starring Philip Nolan, David Knoell, Sara Lockhart
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando, FL


You need two things for a good opera – soaring arias and a tragic death at the end. “Amadeus” provides both in Peter Schaffer’s dramatic if not terribly accurate retelling of Mozart’s (Knoell) life. The narrator is Antonio Salieri (Nolan), Kapellmeister to music loving Joseph the Second, Emperor of Austria (Neil Olcott). Salieri found fame and a career advising the Emperor on music, writing opera and symphonic compositions, and dodging the conservative support staff around the emperor. Mozart appears unexpectedly, fresh from Salzburg and looking for work. Salieri immediately recognizes the danger – Mozart is unconsciously brilliant, while Salieri is more of a skilled drudge. Salieri negotiate with God, and when the deal goes bad (as it so often does with all powerful and uncaring deities in opera) he sets off to destroy the boorish Mozart. The harder Salieri pushes, the more brilliant Mozart’s work becomes, although Mozart can’t seem to monetize his skills. When Mozart is carted off the pauper’s field, Salieri begins to go insane.

We’ll side step the fact that Salieri admired Mozart and even taught his children. After all, operatic plots need to be larger than life. Nolan is larger than life as well he presents the near monolog that introduces the story. His path takes him from a chaste, God fearing man in to the role of a clumsy Machiavelli, and you really feel for him when he breaks down in the final scene. The Venticelli (David Almeida and Chad Gneiting) feed him and the audience all the heavy exposition while they sashay around the stage. Knoell’s Mozart is silly and profane and a drunk and you’re drawn to him by his brilliance and childish charm, yet repelled by his naivety and bad personal habits. The only female on stage is Mrs. Mozart (Sarah Lockard), and she’s a good balance between the Madonna and whore – loyal to her husband and proud of his work but when she get desperate to eat, she offers all she has and then dies inside at Salieri’s last minute rejection.

“Amadeus” plays out in front of a set of rococo frames with a series of arty pencil sketches rear-projected on the center screen. The transition from scene to scene is flawless; you may never notice the transitions as the cast keeps your eyes from wandering the evening through. There’s a bit of musical theory to be gleaned here, but the story is a classic tragedy of hubris fed by a series of small mistakes. Salieri’s flaw was jealousy, Mozart’s naivety, and Vienna’s pride. Emperor Joseph had the resources to gild his empire when an empire was something worth having. He may not have fully appreciated the skills of every artists that crossed his threshold, but the best flocked to his court, and he created one of the great bulwarks of Western art. This might even encourage you to sit through a whole opera, assuming any of them are left in business by next week.

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

The Merchant of Venice

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

The Merchant of Venice
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Jim Helsinger
Starring Joe Vincent, Marni Penning, Steven Patterson, Armistead Johnson
Orlando Shakespeare Festival, Orlando Fl

William Shakespeare’s nastiest play takes on a curious bipolar temper in this sparkling production. Technically a comedy as there are no bodies left on stage and all the romances wrapped up successfully, the show feels like a tragedy, as Shylock (Joe Vincent) loses everything including his racial identity. His Christian neighbors spit at him, call him names, and then demand his financial services and the right to set terms. When they default and he insists on the same legal privileges they receive, he’s out manuvered by some last minute adjustments of the legal system.

The story is simple enough by Elizabethan standards – the marriage of Portia (Penning) and Bassanio (Johnson) requires some spending cash to proceed, but he hasn’t two groats to rub together. His friend and best no-doc mortgage banker Antonio (Patterson) has all his cash some can’t-lose shipping expeditions. Now they’re washed up on the rocks and they both need the Jew Shylock to keep going. The boys are rather nasty about the whole transaction, but Shylock cuts him them a high risk deal – no interest for 3 months but default requires flesh and blood. Antonio agrees with the confidence of a Jim Cramer before John Stewart got hold of him and the results are about he same – the money ain’t forthcoming, and the borrowers get off scot-free on some technicality of the law. Shylock, the only responsible one on stage get the screw job – his daughter Jessica (Brittney Rentschler) runs off Lorenzo (Andrew Knight), another bad credit risk, and she takes daddy’s pension plan. It’s not unlike the present financial situations – the deadbeats get rescued, the responsible pick up the charges, and they don’t even get to golf at the executive country club.

The Shylock scenes are dark and disturbing. Solanio (Michael Beaman) and Salerio (Kyle Crowder) harass Shylock with the inbred bitterness of any Upper Peninsula White Supremacist, and even when dour Antonio parades his Christian Goodness in front of Shylock, you know he has no intention of changing his attitude toward and Jew, no matter what is done in his favor. Countering this dark and essential element of the story are some over-the-top comedy segments where Portia gets around some bizarre restrictions on whom she marries. They loved this stuff half a millennia ago – her suitor must do nothing more than pick the right metal box to win her and her fortune. Never mind the whole falling love thing, some of these characters shouldn’t be allowed to run a carnival pitch, much less and estate. Israel Scott is the Prince of Morocco, and Nathan Gregory is the price of Aragon, and both go beyond comedy into Monty Python silliness. More reserved is Anne Herring as Nerissa with her schoolmarm charm and responsible tutor air, but she tosses that aside as soon as a pair of suitable guys show up. No point just one of them getting married, is there?

What might be the weakest element of the show is Portia’s Courtroom scene. After protesting and demonstrating she has only an inexperienced girl’s knowledge of the world, she pulls off a solid and surprising victory over Shylock. Problem is, she spends the first half of the argument begging for Shylock to reconsider and take a cash deal, then with no real foreshadowing she produces the “no blood, and exactly one pound plus or minus zero” argument. It’s clever, but hard to swallow.
With all that out of the way, the production has a typically brilliant set by Bob Phillips, nice set changes with masked men moving furniture, and the sort of lighting by Bert Scott that we’ve come to expect in the Margeson Theater. The warts are relatively minor, and the parallels with today’s financial crisis unmistakable.


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

Our Town

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

Our Town
By Thornton Wilder
Directed by David Lee
Starring Chris Gibson, Jennifer Bonner, Jesse Lenoir
Beth Marshal Presents at The Garden Theatre, Winter Garden FL

Part ghost story, part replica of the American Dream, “Our Town” is one of those stories you either love or hate, but always end up seeing when the resources included a large cast and small production budget. Wilder purposefully made the show “stagey” when painted flats and realism where the order of the day, emphasizing words and actions over pretty pictures. We begin with the stage manager (Gibson) giving the cell phone and cellophane candy speech, introducing the cast, and removing the ghost light. Now we transport to rural America at the turn of the last century, where the scars of the Civil War lurk but the horror of Europe’s second Thirty Years War is still half a generation away. Children are born, mature, and recreate more children, and nothing more threatening than a rainy day or lost baseball game clouds the future. A comfortable income is available to all willing to work hard, exercise thrift and display civic gravitas. Of course, that idyll never existed, but we invoke it perennially whenever we feel badly as a nation. Elysium might be golden, but it must always lie just beyond reach.

There’s a plot, such as it is. Young George Gibbs (Lenoir) falls in love with the girl next door, Emily Webb (Bonner,) and nothing stands in their way. Money is no problem; there are no romantic rivals, fatal diseases, quests, towers to climb, or anything else much exciting. Their lives are paced by canning beans, ice cream sodas, chopping wood, and studying the speeches of Cicero. They don’t even have trouble booking a hall for the wedding, and by the second act they are playing man and wife, with no more guidance than any other couple. Then Emily dies, and learns post-mortem that she was having more fun than she thought. In other words, as soon as something drops away, you long for it.

While I’m no fan of this tension-free plot, the production was flawlessly executed and each individual gave an outstanding performance. Gibson is a natural for the Stage Manger; he exudes confidence no matter what he does. I was very impressed with Doug Ba’aser as Editor George Gibb. He was smooth and erudite, and displayed none of his reputation for modifying lines on the fly. Bonner and Lenoir were both sincere and seemed like an ideal teenage couple. They felt like they were in love, and yet displayed no interest in lust – somehow, that would be un-American. Mike Lane as the dissipate choir master Mr. Simons and Chris MacIntyre as Howie the Milkman added an slightly comic element, and Trennel Mooring as little sister Rebecca Gibb again proved she has a huge voice in her petite frame.

While we got a good look at the back wall of the Garden Theatre, there were some nice technical touches in the show. The Garden Theater’s opposing balconies came in handy for the evening discussions of algebra between Emily and George, as did the sparkly Ceiling of Stars. Lighting designer Amy Hadley did some real magic on the stage cluttered with chairs, she some how got the underside of the umbrellas in final funeral scene to glow pink underneath. The show even used some VERY small children on stage, and they all behaved perfectly.

Winter Garden has transformed itself from a small town citrus packing facility to a bedroom community in the sprawl of Central Florida, yet it’s still a conservative town and prides it self on what passes for family values in today’s world. “Our Town” fits nicely into that facet of the American dream, and the monthly classic car show one must navigate to get to the box office reinforces the ideal: the past is always better, because we remember the pleasure more easily than the pain. You don’t need a revolving stage to demonstrate that.

For more information on The Garden Theatre, please visit http://www.myspace.com/gardentheatre or http://wgtheater.org

Sleepwalk

Friday, March 20th, 2009

Sleepwalk
By Brian Feldman
Winter Park Outsider Art Fair
at Frames Forever & Art Gallery
March 20, 2009 to March 22, 2009
Winter Park FL

If Surrealism is Dream reduced to Art, Brian Feldman is Surrealism reduced to Theater. In an ever-expanding effort to get the world to stare at him while he stares back, Mr. Feldman has now commandeered a few feet of sidewalk and arranged to take a heavily marketed and supervised nap. The Winter Park Art Festival is running not more than a mile or so up the road, and while his efforts are neither in fabric, clay, glass, or collage, he still acheives a form of art. It’s facile to say “Oh, anyone could do that”, but the point is no one did. You certainly didn’t, and these days we call it art. So there.

Winter Park is a classier area than Downtown Orlando and knows free parking draws more people than aggressive towing compaies, and I suppose sleeping on the sidewalk here would normally get you the bums rush to Church Street. However, Mr. Feldman doesn’t smell bad, it’s particulariliy psycotic and is wearing a nice set of blue flannel PJ’s covered with contented Wisconsin cows. He’s surrounded by a small coterie of support personal, has extensive lighting and advertising, and perhaps even some sort of permit. Time will tell, other recent Feldman projects have drawn police intervention.

How is sleeping for 50 hours art? We all know of DJ’s staying awake for 100+ hours, including a well publicized failure over at WPRK. (Their guy was beat out by an Australian they didn’t know about and could have beat.) What makes this art on a slightly higher plane is the walking feature of “Sleepwalk.” The public is invited to walk over a Plexiglas and metal scaffolding while Brian dozes away. He got off to a late start, but when I left the event he was lying still and may not have nodded off. But like a child sent to bed early, it’s the silence and the posture that matters.

Mr. Feldman begins his long night's journey into the next two days.

Mr. Feldman begins his long night's journey into the next two days.

Midnight, March 20/21.

The Feldman support crew furiously text messages media world-wide.

The Feldman support crew furiously text messages media world-wide.


Things are quiet. Perhaps too quiet. About 20 people have “walked the walk.” Smoke from a Florida brush fire hangs in the air, and “Sleepwalk” by Santo & Johnny plays over and over. After a while you tune it out, or so they say. Brian sleeps soundly as his attendants text furiously in folding chairs. His producer, Katie Windish, runs a framing shop and when Winter Park refused his application to perform on city property, he approached her. She reports Brian’s presence is more effective advertising than a large glossy monthly magazine, so no matter how weird the event may seem, he is accomplishing something. If only he could fulfill his parent’s dream of monetizing his knack for self promotion…

Brian Feldman - Sleep artist.

Brian Feldman - Sleep artist.


Of all the Feldman projects, this one seems the most disconnected from his audience. Mr. Feldman can hold your attention with his personality, but frankly, he’s sleeping right through this performance. I can’t even say he’s phoning in his lines. Out of respect we keep the noise down and the party atmosphere of Leap Day or the techno- bonding of “txt” is missing. He’s been motionless for 7 hours, and I’ll give him this – he has excellent bladder control.

Three p.m. March 21, 2009

It’s mid afternoon on a breezy, partly cloudy day. Although a bit chilly by Florida standards there’s no rain and pollen fills the air making breathing difficult. The Outsider Art Festival is rolling along; about a dozen artists are hanging out, chatting, and painting. A few things sell, but over all it’s quiet. Mr. Feldman was reported to have gotten up briefly around 7 a.m. but soon returned to his public bed. He now lies on his side in a semi-fetal curl. At the point, 84 people have sleep walked with him, but an umbrella blocks the walkway, shading him from the intermittent sun. Close to the half way point the event is running smoothly although the volunteer list was lost. The work load is light; staying awake is the main issue. At this point in the show I’m fairly sure Mr. Feldman remains uninjured and relaxed. I wonder what his post show plans are – he should be well rested and ready to tackle just about anything – roofing, mowing, helping friends move. We shall see.

At 22 hours Brain switches strategy from the Dead Soldier position to the Semi-Fetal.

At 22 hours Brain switches strategy from the Dead Soldier position to the Semi-Fetal.

One a.m. March 22

It’s a nice night sitting out on Orange Avenue 33 hours into this marathon. One hundred fifty four people have walked over Mr. Feldman and we’re waiting for last call at the bars up the street. He has taken two short breaks, and maintains his repose.

Curiously, this event now feels like a low keyed wake. Sleepwalk is all about Brian Feldman, Brian Feldman is right here in front of us, and yet Brian Feldman is not part of the society of “Sleepwalk.” It’s the feeling I had at a recent memorial service: the principle person is not with us anymore, and now its time to talk nice about them. Not that there much negative to say about Mr. Feldman…well, he IS a bit of a nudge on spelling and grammar, but really that’s not all that evil.

Mr. Feldman is present, yet missing in some metaphysical sense. It’s the sort of relation the wealthy have to their posthumous philanthropic foundations. Henry Ford created the Ford Foundation, but he’s been gone so long that no one in the foundation has any memory of meeting him. Their actions are largely disconnected from his desires. The action is no longer under the control of the spark that started it, and it takes on a form unpredictable form the initial conditions. Here’s the genius of “Sleepwalk,” and more than few of the Feldman Project projects – you can riff BS off his work indefinitely. He’s a godsend to the art critic with writers block.

The Marque

The Marque

Six p.m. March 22.

Dropped by one last time. Mr. Feldman is getting up at 6:25 pm, and I have another event to visit. A cold rain is starting, it’s been promised all weekend but luckily it held off until the very end of the event. A total of 215 people took the walk, including some 4 a.m. drunks. The crowd is small, the support staff folding chairs and cleaning up what can be cleaned up.

What does is all mean, anyway? I’ve philosophized about a few interpretations, but what remains in my mind is Hunter Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” This is the American Dream, all right – the right to do any eccentric thing you want so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, maybe make a buck or two, and get on TV. Now it’s time to make that flat-out low speed burn down Orange Avenue past Demming and Clay and King and Rollins. Then on to I-4 and on into frantic oblivion. Safety. Obscurity. Just another freak, in the freak kingdom. But living your dream…

For more information on Brian Feldman Projects, please visit
http://www.brianfeldman.com/

Barrymore

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

Barrymore
By William Luce
Directed by Jerry James
Starring David Aston-Reese
Sleuths Mystery Dinner Theatre
Orlando FL

It’s unusual to take that long drive down to the tourist district to catch some innovative theater, but Sleuths’ making a stretch to expand its repertoire makes the trip worthwhile. The “It’s No Mystery” series dispenses with the food, making your skill at selecting a decent restaurant part of the fun. I missed the first few of these food free, high art content shows, but this one and a half man show indicates a few goodies went under my radar.

John Barrymore found fame on stage and screen as an actor and leading alcoholic of my parent’s generation. His dissolutions and larger than life character that makes for a good one man show, and the small crowd and distant location made Aston Reese’s performance even more poignant. Tonight Barrymore (Aston Reese) rented a theater with the intention of making a comeback by performing a one man Richard the Third. He’s down on his luck, and it’s not clear how he’s covering the 20 other roles, but we’ll cut him some slack. As his rehearsal proceeds, his prompter Franklin (Jeff Lindberg) throws out lines, advice and the sort of chastisement that can only be delivered by a true fan. In turn, Barrymore philosophizes, strains a Manhattan with his fingers, and makes it clear that not only hasn’t he got his lines down, he may not even be sure who Richard is.

“Barrymore” is a tragedy just as surely as “Richard III” was. Both had skill and potential, yet fell into the abyss. Barrymore’s involved of alcohol and the abuse of a handful of wives, and nearly got him on Star Trek. But even on the way down, Barrymore is more the sort of guy you’d go out drinking with, fully expecting to wind up in Tijuana two weeks later with no clear idea of where your passport went. Aston-Reese seems nearly as large when greeting audience post show, and I suspect a real role as the hunchback king would play just as well as his version of the dipsomaniac Barrymore.


For more information on Sleuth’s Mystery Dinner Shows, please visit http://www.sleuths.com

Death Of A Salesman

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

Death Of A Salesman
By Arthur Miller
Directed by Frank Hilgenberg
Starring James Zelley, Cira Larkin, Daniel Cooksey, Dean Walkuski
Theater Downtown, Orlando, Fl

I find child actors and high school football heroes the saddest of all people – they taste success early, but never again find that easy glory. That’s Willy Loman (Zelley), a once hot traveling salesman now reduced to a shadow of his former self. Maybe the market changed, maybe the economy faltered, maybe his mind is slipping, but the bottom line is the same – he’s not cracking the nut anymore, and his reality gradually slips away. While Willy’s wife Linda (Larkin) stays loyal, His sons Biff (Walkuski) and Hap (Cooksley) are bunking upstairs for a few weeks, preparing to take that same journey. Biff’s been shoplifting out west, while Hap chases skirts for no reason other than he’s good at it. If only they’d done their math homework with geeky cousin Bernard (Stephen Pugh), they might have something positive going on in their lives.

Zelley’s Loman blusters and bullies through the show, his gaunt features reflecting the thinness of his life and his self selling sounding thinner and thinner as the evening progresses. While he won’t take the blame for his children’s failures, deep down he knows he messed up somewhere, but refuses to accept that failure. Cooksley adopts a smug swagger and a sense of style that reeks of too much cologne and hair oil. Walkuski is the introvert, looking more the deranged serial killer, and when he breaks down you almost expect to hear “I coulda been a contender!” Larkin plays the wife like a wilting flower, always making nice, defending her fading husband, and so devoted to him she’d never spend the insurance money. Supporting the main cast we find a resonant Uncle Ben (Lee Lupton) looking the part of an Alaskan planter, and henpecked Stephen Pugh once again placed in to argyle patterned plus fours.

Willy’s black and white judgment system places style over substance, and rates everyone as either Madonna or Whore. He teaches his sons that Cool is better than Competent, getting laid is more important that being loved, and there’s no need to reach out and risk yourself, because you will automatically get what you deserve. That last condition comes true like a Greek prophecy; the letter will be fulfilled while the apparent intention will be subverted. Plenty of substance in this show, and well produced to boot.

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