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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for January, 2010

Jitney

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

Jitney
By August Wilson
Directed by Anthony B. Major
Starring Stephen M. Jefferson, Joe Reed, Andrew J. R. Tarver, and Michael Sapp
Seminole State College, Lake Mary, FL

Fashions come and go, and in the field of city planning, the 1970’s saw a fury of “Urban Renewal.” Basically this involved demolishing the bad part of town and replacing it with modern high rise slums, or better yet an eight lane Interstate. Pittsburgh saw its share of that destruction, and Becker’s Car Service stood square in the firing line. As the bulldozers rumble to life, Mr. Becker (Jefferson) keeps his drivers in line and lectures his jail bird son Booster (Tarver) about what’s right and wrong. Youngblood (Sapp) works two jobs to buy a house and provide for his girlfriend (Shellita M. Boxie) and infant son, and Shealy (Kevin Rushing) drops in to use the phone for his numbers racket. The usual cast of August Wilson-esque charters fill in the story – Turnbo (Reed) meddles and gossips, Doub (Paris Crayton III) dispenses sage advice, and while Fielding (Dwayne Allen) doesn’t struggle with alcohol, he does lend it a helping hand at every turn.

I loved the set with its filthy windows and classic colored asbestos type floor, but I found the direction wandering around the neighborhood in this study of character and class. The fussy Turnbo and the slick dressed-for-Harlem highlife Fielding were always entertaining and on top of the material, and Youngblood and his girl friend Rena painted a tender and promising romance. Booster had a smoldering anger but his father Becker stumbled over lines here and there, and I suspect there were some missed cues in this production.

Unlike many of Wilson’s pieces, the issue of black/white interaction never surfaces. Someone tells Young blood “White people don’t even know you’re alive” and not even the city and the urban improvers seem very menacing. The story focuses more on the internal tensions between these men, all of whom at least hustle well enough to afford a few niceties. The principle question raised in “Jitney” runs to “Are you entitled to kill someone because they tell a lie about you?” The facile answer should be “no” but Wilson raises the point that it might actually be better to hang for a crime you committed than go to prison for something you didn’t do. Even with the rough edges on this show, there’s a heart and soul here and both are worth the visit.

For more information on the Seminole State College Theater program, please visit http://www.scc-fl.edu/arts/theatre/

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead
By Tom Stoppard
Directed by Alan Bruun
Starring Tim Williams and Michael Marinaccio
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL

God may not play dice with the universe, but Tom Stoppard sure does. In the sort of multi-doored room that indicates Hell in a Sartre play, we find Rosencrantz & Guildenstern (Williams & Marinaccio) in a state of quantum indeterminacy. They flip coins, getting a steady stream of heads in what ought to a Gaussian random process, and try to second guess the politics of distant Denmark. Occasionally, players from a competing show uptown drop in and give the pair murky instruction, but no back story. It’s a long wait for these boys; they play tennis with words and lose their capacity for disbelief in flashes of absolutely brilliant comedy that explodes across the acres of plodding dialog. They serve a higher purpose, confident in the importance of their work even if they can’t explain it to themselves. I’m pretty sure there’s a Shakespeare quote covering that somewhere.

In a combination of Noises Off, Waiting for Godot and Hamlet, Williams and Marinaccio triumph in a comedy where both they and the audience long to know what’s really happening. We are backstage in their lives, where the real drama often lurks. William’s cocky self-bluster and Marinaccio’s lost puppy eyes make a bond as close any lover’s, and they pair to the extent that their precise identities are always in flux. The cool and slick Hamlet (Jamie Cline) passes through them, and whiles the three were childhood friends, loyalties have shifted leaving them in the same status as those mysterious people you met in Mafia Wars. The closest Rosencrantz & Guildenstern come to external friendship is via Tragedians lead by the ominous and kohl-eyed Christian Kelty. He provides any variety of entertainment for a fee, whether it be uplifting rhetoric or sleazy carnal thrills. Ruling this incoherent kingdom is Claudius (Bobby Bell). Short in stature and long in hubris, he flashes in and out like the entourage of Michael Jackson or Taylor Dane. His time is short, but he at least feels like he’s accomplishing something: there’s a kingdom to rule and a queen (Elizabeth Judith) to romance.

Stoppard excels at providing theater going audience with subtly insights into mathematics and the philosophy of physics. Here we see probability in action: the potentiality of random events always solidifies at some point, and Schrödinger’s cat lives or dies. What happened to the randomness? It flees constantly into the immediate future leaving us grasping and chanting “woulda, shoulda, coulda.” Rosencrantz and Guidenstern are dead, their deaths just a smallish tragedy. What to the millions of other fatalities mean? Nothing, really, they’re little more than the projection of a Bayesian probability space. But these two were VERY funny just before they kicked off.

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

Mr. Marmalade

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

Mr. Marmalade
By Noah Haidle
Directed by Rob Yoho
Starring Alex Richmond, Ryan Lambert and Brian Hatch
Rollins Players at the Fred Stone Theater
Winter Park, Fl

Women get slapped around by the most charming and violent boyfriends, but 4 year old Lucy (Richmond) has a jump on all of them. Her imaginary and rakish Mr. Marmalade (Lambert) visits infrequently, as he is occupied with his imaginary job or other imaginary woman. It falls to his Personal Assistant Bradley (Casey Ottinger) to deliver chocolates and schedule brunch with Lucy. Mr. Marmalade slaps him around as well, blaming it on all the pressure at work. When Lucy’s non-imaginary baby sitter (Amanda Leaky) brings her non-imaginary boyfriend over to screw, his non-imaginary step brother Larry (Hatch) elbows in on Mr. M. This drives Mr. Marmalade into drink and porn and blow, and after a while everyone threatens suicide. Where does Lucy get this rich and violent fantasy life? I’ll just mention this in passing – Oprah and Sally Jessie and Fox News are VERY BAD FOR YOUNG MINDS.

As Precocious Child dramas go, this one is Tennessee Williams hot. The diminutive Richmond really does look like a 4 year old playing against the six-foot-something Lambert, and Hatch’s Larry seems about to cry for most of the show. The violence on stage is hard and fast, and even if you know Lambert isn’t really kicking Sally in the kidneys, its more realistic than anything the WWF stages. Ottonger’s Bradley shows a curious sexual dimorphism – occasionally he seems effeminate, other times merely asexual. That’s probably the realistic blend for a child hood friend, and he’s willing to play tea party and Barbie even as he begs Lucy to keep the secret his boss is abusing him. Backing up the principle actors are Amanda Leaky as Lucy’s slutty mom and her sluttier mother, and Dustin Schwab as both of the whiny boyfriends. The pair come together to perform as a thirsty Cactus and hungry Sunflower. These are Larry’s invisible friends which is somehow even sadder.

While the Fred Stone’s echoey acoustics make the dialog a challenge, the other aspect of Rob Yoho’s staging work well – the walls are finger painted with what might be a chocolate sauce and banana sandwich, and crude obscenities emerge in the darkness form phosphorescent paint. Psychologically, it’s the Freudian childhood sublimated sexuality, and practically it gives you something to look at between scenes. One hysterically funny moment arrives when Mr. Marmalade brings out a leaf blower to clean the set of spilled Doritos while he gives an impassioned speech. Both Lucy and audience ask “Huh?” but he charges ahead – it’s not the words he’s saying, but that he’s even bothering to talk at this point. Sally’s journey has a provisionally happy ending – with play friend Larry and Bradley to keep her appointments, she can retreat from the destructive adult world for a few years. But if the past foretells the future, this young lady has some rough relations ahead of her.

For more information on Theatre at Rollins College, please visit http://www.rollins.edu/theatre/index.shtml

From Sun To Sun

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

From Sun To Sun
By Zora Neale Hurston
Scripted by N.Y. Nether and Thomas Wilson
Directed by Elizabeth Van Dyke
Starring Troy Brooks, A. C. Sanford, and David Tate
UCF Conservatory Theatre, Orlando FL

A century ago there was a fad for studying anthropology in far off lands. While Cameroon and Papua New Guinea beckoned, the underfunded Zora Neale Hurston documents equally remote cultures in the work camps of Florida. Her stories of the people building railroads and cutting cane are relics of America, and here we see the hopes, dreams and frustrations behind “I’ve Been Working on The Railroad”. Sixteen year old Youngblood (Brooks) longs to see the big city. Tatum (Sanford) describes the fleshpots of Tallahassee, Jacksonville, and Apopka while showing him some practical tips on playing cards and shooting dice. Youngblood’s daddy Willie Lee (Tate) struggles to keep him on the straight and narrow road, knowing how easy to is to slide into an early lynching. Others want out as well, Belle (Edmarie Montes) and husband Nat (Harrison grant) debate the benefits of a city with good Negro schools vs. staying with work they have in relative safety and isolation.

Big concepts aside, “From Sun to Sun” crystallizes the 20th century black experience for the entertainment of outsiders. There are numerous highlights here – The Preacher (Matt Wenge) arrives to bring salvation and some righteous “amen’s” as well as collecting a few of the folk’s hard earned dollars. Tatum is the archetypical black hustler – proud and preening to his fellows, subservient to the white boss, and always looking for an angle even at the risk of getting shot. The women in the play are all strong and well balanced – Miss ‘Phelia (Pascha Weaver) runs the joke serving white lightening and the chance to blow off steam, and she belts the blues as well as the gospel with “Balling the jack” and “Bye and Bye”. The mysterious and pale Night Beauty (Brittany MacDonald) might be widely available, but ultimately she shows her heart of gold and makes a play for slow talking Sam (Donavan Carey). And the best sequence was the Step Dance track laying segment where the men set ties and tracks as if they were competing against another fraternity. I don’t think I’d let these guys hammer real spikes, but they sure did a nice job keeping the ties straight.

There’s a glow of a golden age about this show – times were bad and real options were few, but you feel a sense of community in this production. While undoubtedly an accurate social history, stories like this serve to create a mythological back story for today’s society. This isn’t just good for you, its fun as well.

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

Broadway’s Favorites, A Musical Revue

Monday, January 18th, 2010

Broadway’s Favorites, A Musical Revue
Musical Direction by Spenser Crosswell
Choreography by Jonathan Guise
Theatre Downtown, Orlando FL

As the frosty chill of Orlando’s winter fades, last season’s ghosts and enforced jollity flee as we begin the 2010 theatre season. Theater Downtown’s debut is an unusual and eclectic review of Broadway tunes, arranged in a rough chronological order. The two dozen cast members tackle nearly as many songs ranging from a hearty and heartfelt “Summertime” (Ian Clark) to the ambitious children’s ensemble of “It’s A Hard Knock Life.” A few song stand out, and Mr. Clark was involved in many of them. He joined Doug Shorts and Charlie Stevens to get the audience clapping “Oh What A Night” from Jersey Boys, and later teamed up with Mr. Stevens again for “What You Own” from Rent. A quiet but effective number came from Lucy Yarbrough with “Losing My Mind” and Marion Mason gave a dark and moving rendition of “Send in The Clowns.” The mega-show Les Miserables provide two more numbers, the radical “Empty Chairs, Empty Tables” and the rousing show closer “One Day More”

Jonathan Guise provided choreography, and while many numbers were “stand on stage and emote”, the cast infiltrated the audience for “Let the Sun Shine In,” providing a nice wrap to the first act. “All That Jazz” opened the second act, sending singers up and down the stair-filled set left over from the recent Christmas Carol. Lead singer Amber Winfrey’s voice got lost in the dancing as the chorus overpowered her from time to time. Music came from Spenser Croswell sitting in a dark side room, he’s a solid piano player but some of these songs demanded more music than a simple cabaret sound could give them. Still, the audience responded well, giving a partial ovation in the nearly sold out house. It’s hard to miss with a show like this, and it’s a fine start to this brave New Year.

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

Everybody’s Girl

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

Everybody’s Girl
Starring Natalie Cordone
Musical Direction by Chris Leavey
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park FL

The new and improved Winter Park Play House begins their Lobby Spotlight series with local favorite Natalie Cordone in this “New York” Style cabaret. After New York style pizza and New York style Chinese and New York style hot dogs, you’ll be interested to discover New York style Cabaret is only 45 minutes long. Thus, there’s no time for fooling around, and the elegant Ms. Cordone entered the room and got right to work. In her flowing silk skirt and pashmina, she offered the show tunes you expect: “Not For the Life of Me” and “Everybody’s Girl” are mixed with self effacing humor, banter with pianist Chris Leavy and gratitude that she’s on her way to an Off Broadway for a gig in NYC. In the middle of the expected, Ms Cordone let loose with the unexpected, a glorious aria for “Carmen.” My Italian nonexistent, all I know is it had something to do with an arrest, and it was wonderful.

After a brief intermission where the crowded room jockeyed for drinks and elbow room, Ms. Cordone returned in a blue evening gown to give us more hits – “Till There Was You,” “Someone To Watch Over Me”, and “Say It Isn’t So”. During thunderous applause, she attempted to sneak away, but an audience brandishing torches and hay rakes demanded her return, whereupon she supplied a tender “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. While the evening was short, it never felt rushed, just crowded. I suspect there will be more crowd control next time, lest the fire marshal gets upset or the bar runs dry. “Everybody’s Girl” is a great start to a very promising series. Who knows, it might even keep this joint solvent.

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

Rent

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

Rent
By Jonathan Larson
Directed by Lees Halstead
Starring Adam Galarza, Adam McCabe, Anan Bateman, Wyatt Glover
G.O.A.T. Theatre at the Orlando Shakes
Orlando, FL

On an ice-cold Florida night we all shuffled into an equally cold theatre to experience life on the hard streets of 1990’s New York. The bohemians are squatting in lofts, ashamed of daddy’s money and determined to make art on their own. The homeless camp next door, beautiful and glorious as an abstract concept, but prone to pooping on your door step in reality. Besides the bad weather, AIDS ravages the group and there’s no cure insight. Mark (Galarza) shoots low priced art film and Roger (McCabe) play guitar well enough to get the occasional unpaid gig. Their ex-roomie Benjamin (Michael Osowski) now owns the building and will forgive the rent if they get Performance Artist Maureen (Lana Stevens) to cancel her protest supporting the homeless camp. Roger conditionally falls in love with exotic dancer Angel (Bateman) but her addiction repels him as he realizes how much fun a junkie girl friend can be, but Tom (Glover) falls for drag queen Angel (Josh Roth) until death does them part.

This rambling remake of La Bohème with AIDS wanders around plot-wise but the performances and music overcome any deficiencies in the text. Everyone, including the cell phone toting chorus of Alphabet City residents, gets at least one great song and sometimes two. Glover participates in the tender and positive “Santa Fe” as well as the funeral oratorio “Goodbye Love” which had audience members crying on each other’s shoulders. Angel’s opener “You OK Honey?” nearly stopped the show, and everyone pulled together for the signature tune “Seasons of Love”. On the performances side, Stevens was perfect as the self centered performance artist of “Over the Moon” which including the only actual moon I’ve ever seen in the Shakes. McCabe and Bateman’s love duet “Light my Candle” made you cheer for their romance even if McCabe looked too healthy to be a real junkie. Late in the show she has the near death experience but gets rejected by heaven, making the romance even more precious.

Sometimes this show feels like Grand Opera, sometimes like Hair, and sometimes like a SNL skit, but it always has plenty of heart. The G.O.A.T.’s got kicked out of their regular space due to inaccurate wall placement in their restrooms, and they were lucky to get to squat in the Goldman for a few weeks. Having averted last minute cancelation, they pulled the show into the new space and presented a very professional if darkly lit production. The sound was well miked and while microphones aren’t essential in the Goldman Theatre, it’s better to pad the sound down than strain to hear it. “Rent” is another in a series of ambitious and well presented shows by this exciting company, and gave a fresh and interesting start to the New Year.

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