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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for September, 2009

Oleanna

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Oleanna
By David Mamet
Directed by John DiDonna
Empty Spaces Theater Company in Association with Riverton Playground Theatre
Orlando Shakespeare Center, Orlando FL

Professor John (Dennis Neal) teaches doublespeak at Anonymous U and is up for tenure. His student Carol (Trennel Mooring) majors in Whining with a minor in PC, and when she has some academic problems, she comes to see the prof. It’s never clear what the academic issue is, but she bought his book and can’t make sense of it and he won’t refund the price. The phone keeps ringing and neither lets the other finish a sentence and while he’s an arrogant jerk, he doesn’t seem to do anything actionably illegal. Carol thinks otherwise, and by Act Two she’s filed a harassment complaint and John’s career looks pretty wobbly. At this point, any reasonable lawyer would tell him to keep away for Carol, but he tries to charm her out of the complaint and instead gets a lecture on his arrogance, and ultimately a charge of attempted rape. While Carol may be academically weak, she knows the value of keeping good notes.

Like all good Mamet, everyone on stage encapsulates the worst in human interaction. Neal’s professor is smug and arrogant, flashing his soon-to-be-tenured status with a new house near a private school in the face of his student. Mooring’s Carol is sullen and dangerous with the look of a street thug in her eye as she gambles her hard won college entrance against a charge of sexism and elitism and “Who-do-you-think-you-are-ism?” There are glimmers of pity for the professor, but only glimmers, and while Carol has a technical case against him you wonder “Why is she in college?” and “What does she think she’ll gain?”

The brutal intensity of Oleanna bleeds down in the two longish intermissions, but this is a nasty story about two nasty people and the herculean struggle of an underclass to change the no longer relevant ways of an over class. The ashen bitterness of the argument will stay with you long after you leave the theater, just as the battle scars of Oleanna will remain with Professor John and Ms. Carol. It’s a classic academic fight – blood and guts everywhere, and if you aren’t in the system, you’ll never clearly understand what that battle was all about.

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

A…My Name Will Always Be Alice

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

A…My Name Will Always Be Alice
Directed by Wade Hair
Musical Direction by Wendy Feaver
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park, FL

There’s always a market for a solid collection of female-centric songs, as long as they tackle the subjects with some humor and forgo the bra-burning earnestness that forces a cabaret tune into a lecture hall. “A…My Name Will Always Be Alice” avoids that trope that by a wide margin, presenting a feminist’s dozen songs, poems, monologist and skits that makes for a fun and zippy evening. The only really tie the title has to the show is an opening ensemble recitation with all the girls stating their alliterative names and situations. Boyfriends, jobs, home towns and internal conflicts are all brought to you by the letter “A.”

Once we get thought that barrier, the show relaxes and finds its direction. “Trash” takes a boring day at the office and spices it up as the protagonists Karene Vocque imagines that she and the stream of salesmen passing through secretly populate a bodice ripping novel. Orlando veteran Janine Papin sings “Wheels”, a dreamy ballad about strollers and bicycles and guys cruising in cars and growing old. Her other big role is as the Kindergarten Nazi, berating moms like Janet Randolph and Kisha Peart for allowing their children to have a positive self image and excellent sharing skills. Randolph packs the best voice on stage, and her funniest piece came in “Honeypot.” Here she’s a sultry blues singer in therapy working though the blues euphemism for sex, struggling to say the words “penis” and “vagina.” I guess its progress, but the Bessie Smith sound just ain’t the same this way. Another crowd favorite is “The French Song” by Katie Thayer. She captures all the subtlies of Montmartre the chanteuse, from “Noblesse oblige” to “Pince Nez.” Two berets up!

There’s no real story here, just a polished set of musical heartbreak and novelty, sung from a female perspective that recalls “Menopause the Musical.” You’ll find “A…My Name Will Always Be Alice” completely entertaining and never strident, and fully suitable for both first dates and silver anniversaries.

For ticket prices and show times, please visit http://www.breakthroughtheatre.com

Picasso at the Lapin Agile

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

Picasso at the Lapin Agile
By Steve Martin
Directed by Ashland Thomas
Starring Kevin Sigman, Adam Shorts-Boarman, Scott Mills, Ashley Evelyn Hoven
G.O.A.T., Winter Park FL

Its unlikely Einstein (Shorts-Boarman) and Picasso (Sigman) ever met in a Parisian dive bar, but it’s a great conceit to explore the parallels between science and art. On a typical evening in 1904 Montmartre, Einstein wanders in expecting his date to meet him at a different watering hole. Working class bartender Freddy (Mills) and his more thoughtful wife Germaine (Hoven) flirt and banter while Einstein fills his note book and Picasso’s groupies wander in and out. When the great artiste arrives, he and Einstein challenge each other, but after a few grunts and chest butts they observe they are brothers in intellectual exploration. Each is out to change the world, but its clear Picasso will get more chicks.

Author Martin cheerfully bends facts to make his surrealist points in this quirky, 4th wall breaking comedy. The players are well drawn, even if his portrayal of Einstein puts him into philosophical positions he despised in real life. Shorts-Boarman worked as well as he could with the text, giving his Einstein a charming naivety, almost as if he were Charlie Brown with a good grasp of tensor calculus. Picasso’s art dealer Sagot (E. J. Younes) gave a great if flamboyant portrayal of a man who had an eye for talent and no qualms about exploiting it. Mill’s Freddy was as earnest as Hoven was flirty, but the commercial genius Schmendiman (Joshua Roth) came across as a bit smarmy. Sigman’s Picasso had the right mix of cockiness and confidence, and his groupie Suzanne (Brooke Elise Sullivan) seemed just the sort of girl a guy like Picasso would chew up and spit out.

As we rolled through vector fields of surrealism and wobbly philosophy, the final element of weirdness arrives in the form of a time traveling Elvis played by Joe Glass. Perhaps he represents fame transcending time, or the uniting of science and art via music, but he might just represent a goofy cultural reference to the wave of Elvis sightings about the time this play was put on paper.

While we meet interesting people and get more than few laughs, this play leaves one wondering what Martin intended. His philosophical musings lack a unity or direction to take us to places we’ve not been. Einstein in particular felt very inauthentic, in life he was never a wiz at raw arithmetic and despised the uncertainty principle, and what really drove him to create the Special Theory of Relativity is never mentioned. Picasso’s intellectual challenge that gave the world cubism and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is equal unexplained. Occasionally the 4th wall breaks, but only briefly and to no specific end. There’s good acting and good direction here, but don’t rely on this to get you out of studying for that physics exam or Art history 101.

For more information on Greater Orlando Actor’s Theatre, please visit http://www.goatgroup.com/

The Big Bang

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

The Big Bang
Book by Jed Feuer
Music and lyrics by Boyd Graham
Directed by Jim Helsinger
With T. Robert Pigott and Philip Nolen
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando FL

This just might be the funniest show ever performed in the Margeson Theatre. It’s high concept humor that never looses sight of its low brow roots, combining slapstick, sight gags, and jokes you might need a PhD in history to decipher. Jed (Nolen) and Boyd (Piggott) hijacked the swank Park Avenue penthouse of Dr. and Mrs. Lipbaum to plug a big budget, SFX intense musical that covers the history of the universe form the Big Bang to Health Care. Since the real show will run twice as long as the Ring Cycle (Wagner or Tolkien, take your pick) The boys are just hitting the highlights tonight, singing and miming the show in hopes of getting the price of a B-2 bomber to stage their over-wrought and over-written dream. There’s even room for product placement.

From the opening silent film introduction, complete with canapés and Hors D’oeuvres, to the rapid fire 20th century montage at the end, there was barely a moment the audience stopped laughing. The songs were untitled, but lyrics like “Free food and full frontal nudity” and “We’re Jews and we’re tired” nearly brought the house down. Mr. Pigott tuned himself into Nefertiti with a curtain and a waste basket, and later became an excellent southern bell with the same curtain and two open umbrellas. Like all good comedies, this one charges fearlessly into the land of political incorrectness, with Asian women and American Indians getting the jab as often as dead white guys. With the every-busy John DeHaas on the piano (I’ve seen him in 4 shows in the past month alone) the music always felt elegant, even if the lyrics drifted from silly to absurd. In an excellent display of conservation and recycling, just about every single prop on stage was put to unintended use from the telephone handset to a topiary tree. This show is absolutely delightful, and well deserved it standing ovation. Encore!

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

Love Letters

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

Love Letters
By A.R. Gurney
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park Fl

Letter writing died about a decade ago. While we email and text and tweet like we actually have something to say, all that instant communication will never contain the thought a hand-written letter requires. When each letter and each word must be considered, that process encourages thought from both parties, leaves a concrete memory of the past, and provides a modicum of privacy if you’re careful where you mail things. In this touching and unusual performance, A. R. Gurney specifies no rehearsal for the cast – they just sit down and read this chronicle of a life long relation, and don’t worry about lights or costumes or critic.

Andy Ladd (David Gerrard) fires the opening salvo in this gentle war of words by accepting an invitation to a second grade birthday party. Melissa (Sue Cohen) responds with the carefully polite “you’re a boy, you have cooties” but after that, things take off. They’re both classic preps – she’s booted out of a series of schools for booze and Chesterfields but has a flair for art, while he’s more the uptight protestant, with a responsible career path of military, law, and the Senate ahead of him. Despite their missed signals over the years and that disappointing evening in the Hotel No-tell, you really feel the two belong together. By the time they join up again, too much other water passed under the bridge and while the sex is great, the scandal is greater still.

Gerrard has a boyish charm and looks like a lovable teddy bear, and his reading conveys a certain fun gravitas. He’s the really cool physics professor you had for one semester in High school. Cohen exudes a world-weary sexuality – she’s the party girl you always wanted to date but either couldn’t find the courage to ask out, or you were intimidated by who ever she was seeing that week. Together, they seem like a young Mrs. Robinson and an older Ben Braddock – they click in bed and out, but the stars or the fates or a lot of bad decisions means neither will ever be truly happy. Would they do it differently if they had a second chance? Perhaps, but no one should start life with the scars and cynicism of old age.

For ticket prices and show times, please visit http://www.breakthroughtheatre.com

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Monday, September 14th, 2009

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
By William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin
Directed and Choreographed by Rob Anderson
Starring Pricilla Bagley, Jay T Becker, Trevor Dion Nicholas
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL

If you can’t run fast, jump high, or look cool, there’s always The Spelling Bee. Higher profile than chess club, less potential useful than model railroading, and open to all who score in the 99th percentile of the Iowa Test of basic Skill test, it’s the Geek activity of last resort. Ms Perretti (Bagley) won ages ago, and now she carries the torch for all the kids who can use Syzygy
and Centical in grammatically correct sentences. She’s a bit frustrated, but not as badly as assistant principle Douglas Patch (Becker). He’s only an adequate speller, but as they say “Someone’s gotta read the words.” On the kids side we find the usual dysfunctionalities – charming Chip Tolentino (Alex Thomas Ferguson) can’t hide his erection in a cub scout uniform, ethical Logainne Schwartzandgubenierre (Mellissa mason) has two daddies and the last name from Hell, and arrogant William Barffeè is classically overweight and mucus riddled, and no one pronounces his name correctly. There are more, but you get the drift – kids overcome their inborn problems by competing against equally handicapped uncools.

While this brilliant comedy surfs on the story and the characterization of these abecedarians, there are a few good songs sprinkled among the hard words and frenetic dance energy. Leaf Coneybear (Eric Nicole Bridges) grew up third generation hippy and laments “I’m Not That Smart,” although he knocks off some respectable words. Another touching moment comes from Logainne and her duet with community service parolee Mitch (Nicholas) in the touching “Woe Is Me.” Mitch did some minor time, and now passes out hugs and juice boxes to the losers. The oddest yet most compelling song comes from Marcy Park (Regina Fernandez), the Overachieving Asian. “I Speak Six Languages” talks about sleeping 3 hours a night to be a success at everything she touches. When she misspells an easy word (Cystitis or Ecdysiast, I forget which) she’s out of the Bee, but realizes its OK to fail sometimes. Just not too often…

While the fun revolves around the tortures of youth, and hopefully our own adjustment to adult hood, there’s a deeper message. We preach diversity and multi culturalism, but there’s a persistent anti-intellectualism in America, and it celebrates cool and athletic over smart and introspective. If you are burdened with intellect, you’re sent off to the hell of debate club and math track meets but the pains of growing up are still the same – will they like me, will they accept me, and will they give me another swirly? No, No, and Yes.

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

Everything Is Rosie!

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

Everything Is Rosie!
Written and performed by Wendy Hayes
Musial Direction by Chris Leavy
Winter Park Playhouse
Winter Park Orlando

From the corny “Mambo Italiano” to the heart rending “Say Goodbye” Wendy Hayes’s recreation of Rosemary Clooney captures the sound and spirit of America greatest female vocalist. Clooney came from a broken home in Kentucky and posted a string of top ten hits with CBS records under Mitch Miller’s guidance. Clooney hated the novelty aspect of his song choices, and after the requisite bout with pills and rehab, she eventually move to Concord Records and cranked out twenty well received jazz disks, starred in film, and even hosted her own TV variety show.

Hayes did extensive and tax deducible research for this one woman show, even visiting Maysville KY and interviewed Clooney’s life long friend Blanche Mae Chambers. Hayes narrative intermingles with the songs, including some the hits you know (This Ole House, Half as Much) and some more obscure tunes (I Wish I Was Back In The Army, Didn’t Do Right By Me). All deliver with Hayes’ rich voice, Chris Leavy’s skilled piano, and the ultra cool jazz drumming of Sam Forrest. It’s a chatty, gossipy story, littered with romances gone awry and the sorts of entertainment horror stories that make you wonder why anyone would choose singing as a career. Hayes begins the show in a vintage Sunday-Go-To-Meetin’ silk skirt, but returns after the intermission in a red and black lounge dress as she climbs the stairs into the audience, patting the balding heads of the guys smart enough to sit on the aisle.

“Everything Is Rosie!” is the sophomore show for the new home of WPPH. One door down from its old location, it leverages the tile floor and rotunda of the previous tenant into the spiffiest preshow space in the area. Add in a sexier bar area, the promise of frequent Cabaret show in the lobby, and additional rest room space, and something pretty cool just got better. The seating really impressed me, they upgraded from coach to first class – it’s now possible to get to off-the- aisle seats without making everyone in the row stand up, go out to the aisles and return. A tip ‘o the hat to the newest space in town!

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

The Wiz

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

The Wiz
Book by William F Brown
Music and Lyrics by Charlie Smalls
Based on “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” By Frank Baum
Directed by Steve MacKinnon
Choreography by Jonathan Guise
Starring Shonda L. Thurman, Emily Patterson and Dominique Minor
Theatre Downtown, Orlando, FL

“The Wiz” proves a stellar musical doesn’t need much of a plot as long as it has great songs. This adaptation of Frank Baum’s classic pares down the plot to a bare nubbin, ditching all that tedious motivation but leaving at least one great song or dance for everyone on stage. Dorothy (Patterson) is at odds with her Aunt Em (Thurman) for full 2 minutes until Aunt Em puts her arm around her and lets her know she’s loved with the soulful “The Feeling We Once Had”. Then a whirlwind of ballet dancers (courtesy of Harwood Watson Dance) takes us away to Oz in a strobe lit tornado, dropping us in the land of pre-teen munchkins. Worries about the real pup playing Toto fade as Amanda Bronte Balon takes over in her puppy-tights, and Dorothy heads down the Yellow Brick Road to adventure and enlightenment. We spend the rest of the first act collecting the Tin Man (St. Claire Du Berry, Jr.), the Scarecrow (Jovany Ramirez), and the Lion (Joshua Eads- Brown). Meeting The Wiz (Minor) put the first act over the top; he tore up the stage like a demented Dr. Frankenfurter in a fright wig. After intermission it’s off to wash down the Wicked Witch Evillene (Julie Ohrberg), meet her single flying money (Gabriel Brown), return to The Emerald City, and pass out the tchotchkes of everyones heart’s desire.

Despite the episodic flow of the show, it’s hard to find fault with any of the performances. Topping the show was the Tin Man’s arrival – he’s pushed on stage artfully concealed in a pile of metallic junk, and dazzles with rusty robot dance moves as he calls out for more oil “to slide down his spine.” The Cowardly Lion put in another over the top routine as he played with the line between his cowardice and everyone else’s personal space. Evillene’s foot fetish drew knowing laughs, even if it drifted toward a level of kink not really appropriate for the generally youngish audience.

While “The Wiz” is notionally a Black Play, there’s little in the text other than some ethnic voices tying it to the Black Experience. It’s still the story of a lost girl who finds that her strength lies inside her, and that can apply to anyone. While the stage set consisted of a projection screen and some artistically arranged dryer ducting, the entertainment value lies in the exacting dance moves by choreographer Jonathan Guise and the advanced musical direction by local favorite Steve McKinney. It’s a psychedelic swirl of color and movement, and even though Kansas keeps some nice earth tones, there’s no attempt to slavishly follow the visual design of the original film. Take off your story goggles and just watch the moving colors, and feel free to bring your youngest relatives. It’s a chromatic wonderland for all ages.

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