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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for February, 2010

All’s Well That Ends Well

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

All’s Well That Ends Well
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Jim Helsinger
Starring Eric Zivot, Stafford Clark-Price, Marni Penning
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando FL

In a perfect romantic comedy, a young couple is kept apart by barley surmountable obstacles, yet unites at the end for one long waltz in the moonlight. But Mr. Shakespeare is less kind to cowardly Bertram (Clark-Price) and clever Helena (Penning). She’s a servant and he’s a young noble, and while a roll in the hay would suit him fine, she has bigger plans. His mother, Countess of Roussillon (Anne Herring) sends him off to the King of France (Steven Hendrickson) who is on his last legs. Bertram recommend Helena for a cure, her father was a notable physician who rarely killed his patients, and occasionally cured them. Helena mixes up some dry ice and lighting and puts the sparkle back in the King’s step, so he rewards her with her choice of grooms. Bertram is the lucky boy, but his class conciseness makes him flee to the wars after the ceremony but before the consummation. His servant Parolles (Zivot) egged him on, and during a truce Helena catches up to Bertram, tricks him into a pregnancy and some other paperwork, and when Parolles is disgraced and they all end up back with the king, there’s a look of true horror on Bertram’s face. He’s been snookered, sniggered and smoked out, and I suspect their married life will make Petruchio and Katherina’s look like Ozzie and Harriet.

I’ll grant that Bertram and Helena make a nice couple that you might see in Orlando Magazine, but they aren’t as engaging as the villains. Parolles got the good lines, and most of the good scenes. A flamboyant dresser and the sort of lovable scoundrel to which you should never lend cash, he blustered Bertram and lied to himself and even when he was down and out projected a boyish charm. The King won on the joke count – Hendrickson abandoned the stately rhythms of iambic pentameter and fell back on borscht belt timing to make jokes where even The Bard didn’t write them. The moral center of the show revolved around Johnny Lee Davenport as the dignified Lafue – he always expressed the correct amount of outrage, but then withdrew to the expedient rather than the bombastic. Finally, there’s everyone’s favorite court fool, Lavatche (Brendon Roberts). He pranced through the show in his patches and bi-colored hose and I kept hoping director Helsinger would give him a pie to throw.

While this story is rather long and relies heavily on reading letter to cover the exposition, the evening is enjoyable. The clever set uses some mysterious mechanism to switch the upper gallery windows from Paris to Roussillon, the cast sneak attacks the audience from behind the light booth, and Parolles’ off stage sound effects really punched up his entrances. I liked everybody except the loving couple, but it’s not the acting but the text. Helen’s a nice girl, but she deserves better than the philandering Bertram.

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

Marat / Sade

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

Marat / Sade
By Peter Weiss
Adaptation by Geoffrey Skelton and Adrian Mitchell
Music by Richard Peaslee
Directed by Michael Shugg
Starring John DiDonna, Eric Fagan, and Christian Guevarra
Valencia Character Company, Orlando FL

Just because you’re crazy doesn’t mean you can’t produce theater. The Marquise de Sade (DiDonna) finds himself in the progressive insane asylum of 1808 Charenton. Coulmier, the asylum manager (Fagan) allows him to produce a piece of theater about the murder of Marat (Guevarra) hoping the play might help inmates as much as hydrotherapy. The topic is politically touchy, the French revolution is fresh in the public eye and Napoleon just got whupped on by the Spanish. Marat and the rest had toppled the aristocracy, but had yet to figure out how to build a stable and sane society in 1793, and 15 years later the problem still had more than few raw edges.

On a grimy set covered with bunting and bars, a ragtag array of men and women shuffle in with two “Nurses”(Naveed Chinoy and Flavio Malachi) keeping them out of the audience. Their ills cover more ground than even today’s miracle happy pills can cure, but at least they’ve recently bathed. Coulmier is fussy and officious, a role made more humorous by his slight build and fancy hair. Marat, notionally a paranoid, sits in his bathtub suffering from skin diseases and the burning thought that enough scribbling will not only change the world, but make it better. The murderous Charlotte Corday (Samantha O’Hare) suffers narcolepsy but wields a mean kitchen knife. She dozes thought the story with a pair of nuns (Neil Bernard, Shannon Singley) and Sade keeping her on her marks. The mentally ill are so often accommodating, but lack a sense of dramatic timing. Wrapped in straight jacket is the radial priest Jacques Roux (Robert Wright III), yelling invective to encourage Marat and upset Coulmier. DiDonna seems a bit clean-cut for a libertine and child molester, but he coaches the actors, makes outrageous speeches, and early removes his short when Corday whips his bare back. I admire his authenticity on stage, but there are some things that ought to remain private. However, flagellation wasn’t the most extreme activity, we had a nicely authentic water boarding and even a hanging. It’s Grand Guignol, Lite.

This loud, raucous production pushes VCC’s staging skills but succeeds in creating the incoherence of a mad house temporarily channeled into a purposeful activity. The set is a pile of large boxes and grilles that entrap and confine the bodies of the deranged, even as they are reasonably free to mingle with the bourgeois in the seats. You might have an autistic help you to your seat or a simpleton sit in your lap, but they all mean well. The danger lies not in the insane but in the principled men who make revolution. As De Sade points out, many join the revolt because the soup is burnt or their shoes are too tight, but after a few million die, their feet still hurt and the soup tastes the same. Revolution is a dangerous thing, it might actually work and then you find the Ancien Régime did offer a few services of value, like civic order and steady food. Just remember, when you start the revolt, people will expect you to keep the trains on time. That counts for more than your political purity.

For more information on Valencia Character Company, please visit http://valenciacc.edu/theater/

Topdog / Underdog

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

Topdog / Underdog
By Suzan-Lori Parks
Directed by Be Boyd
Starring A. C. Sanford and David Tate
Mad Cow Theater, Orlando FL

The acting outstrips the script in this intense drama of two brothers trapped in grinding poverty. The setting is one of those third world apartments here in America – roaches intimidate the landlord, and the toilet is down the hall and no one flushes. Lincoln (Sanford) has the crappy job; he dresses in white face, a stovepipe hat and lets people pretend to shoot him in an arcade. His brother Booth (Tate) shoplifts for a living, but he’s the guy with the apartment and the part time girlfriend. The surface tension revolves round Booth’s desire to become a Three Card Monte dealer but Lincoln won’t teach him after he quit the hustle when a friend was shot. The deeper tension comes from their abandonment by their parents, sibling rivalry, and a small amount of money Booth retains from his mother. There’s no going back to Ma and Pa, but there lure of the cards draws Lincoln back to the street when a wax dummy replaces his arcade gig.

What keeps this show interesting is the studied casualness of the actors. Sanford seems more philosophical about his position, knowing that all of life and work is a hustle that can fall apart with no warning. At least he has cash coming in and skills to fall back on. As the classic sharp witted man of the streets, he can best his younger brother at just about anything, and sucker him into a bet if needs be. Tate is more outgoing and humorous, but lost in a world where parents never did their job. He lacks an angle and shoplifting isn’t a career with health insurance, but he’s the more boisterous, preening around when he wins and blustering anger when he loses. His girl friend may only be a friend who happens to be a girl, but he’s the one full of dreams. Together, Sanford and Tate may not physically appear related but they sure seem to have that brotherhood gene and the sort of unacknowledged love that can rip you apart. Both men need each other, but both resent the tie. They squabble for dominance, although it’s not clear what dominating the underdog in this play gets one.

It takes a while to dig though the jive talk and hustler lingo, but author Parks shows an almost operatic obsession with “motherfucker” as a dialog foundation. Her foreshadowing is heavy handed – what would expect with Booth and Lincoln on stage and a Chekhovian gun? You might hope for some sort of double reverse twist in the story, but it plays out in a linear, no surprise plot line. Vintage video of Blaxploitation films and soft-core porn set the mood, but these guys aren’t Superfly or Dolomite, their just two low grade hustlers in a big, nasty city.

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

Dog Sees God: Confessions of A Teen Age Blockhead

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

Dog Sees God: Confessions of A Teen Age Blockhead
By Bart V. Royal
Directed by Tara Corless
Starring P.J. Gadja II, T.J. Parman, Kyle James
Breakthrough Theatre Company, Winter Park, FL

Ever feel like you have no control over what you see, say, or feel? Maybe you’re a cartoon character stuck in a three panel hell, and you’ve outgrown your cute and precious stage. That makes it time to belly up to life and deal with sex and drugs and that most contrived prison called high school. CB (Gadja) is searching for answers after his pet beagle croaks. He never found acceptance in his childhood, but high school allows him the freedom to join the pack and beat the crap out of those cursed with difference and uncoolness. His sister (Megan Goldman) waffles between modern dance and paganism, his buddy Van (Adam DelMedico) discovered dope and skating, and that former cloud of dust Matt (James) cleaned up his act, became a Misophobe and spews vitriol at the probably gay Beethoven (Parman). When CB comes out a party, there are bound to be repercussions, and they fall hardest on Beethoven. Once he’s gone, the whole gang acts sorry, even though they couldn’t come up with a kind word when he was alive. The exception is CB who has finally cut though his shyness and says what on his mind. Now he’s the weak, different one, but at least he has experience. He realizes a group can’t survive without someone to dislike.

With minimal set and lighting, this coming of age comedy abandoned stage spectacular yet pulls all the anger and vitriol that lurks in this story. CB seems a genial jock until he kisses the pathetic Beethoven and becomes the poster boy for gay acceptance. The battle between Beethoven and Matt in the music room seethes – I was waiting for Beethoven to physically attack Matt, but the opposite happened in one of the most disturbing pieces of stage craft ever presented in Winter Park. Comedy came from Marcy (Megan Borkes) and Tricia (Lindsay Pennington), the class alcoholics and party girls. While they’ll do it with boys, that’s not absolutely essential for their immediate happiness. Another creepy teen act comes from Van’s Sister (Bunny Fitzgerald). She, too, is jealous of CB and has a pyro streak that allows her to she set fire to the hair of CB’s dream girl, and now resides in the cartoon loony bin.

The story begins with CB’s losing his best friend to rabies. The dog asks for help in the only inarticulate way a dog can, and that muffled cry for help echoes through the story. Everybody here needs help, but most don’t realize it and fewer respond. And those who help are excluded from the group. The biblical injunction of “Do unto other as you would have them do unto you” is never ignored more heartily than in high school.

For more information, please visit http://www.breakthroughtheatre.com

Almost, Maine

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

Almost, Maine
By John Cariani
Directed by Jim Howard
Orlando Theatre Project
at The John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center, Orlando FL

This is what a sucessful short play festival ought to look like. In the distant reaches of Township 13 Range 7, Maine life and love proceed in small slices. Glory (Darby Ballard) brings her broken heart in a paper bag to see the ghost of her husband leave earth in a blaze of northern lights on the front lawn of East (Doug Ballard). Jimmy (Ryan Gigliotti) notices his ex-girlfriend (Jennifer Christa Palmer) is remarrying but he’s accidently tattooed the name of his next girl friend on the forearm. Steve (Eric Pinder) can’t feel pain until Marvalyn (Allison DeCaro) beats it into him with her ironing board. Gayle (Krista Lynn Pigott) brings back all the love Lendell (David Jachin Kelley), and in return gets a much smaller box. Randy (Richard Width) and Chad (T. Robert Pigott) fall down, and realize the fall wasn’t really an accident. Phil (Mark Whitten) and Marci (Ame Livingston) finally hear the last the last shoe drop while ice skating, while Hope (S. Elizabeth Block) takes a cab all the way out to the middle of nowhere to find out she really IS nowhere. And Rhonda (Christine Decker) and Dave (Phillip Nolan) spend 5 minutes stripping off snowmobiling gear to find true lust. Bracketing this small town highlife we find Pete (Mark Lainer) and Ginette (Linda Landry) walk around the world on a snowball.

What do all these stories have in common? They’re all about love, and they all have an element of surrealism, and they’re all strong stand alone productions that loosely tie together a place out of time and space. The snows of winter pile high on stage, but no one tackles the down east accent – this is that odd space in Maine where everyone talks like there from TV land. The execution is superb, the stories mix humor and pathos, and the all-star audience is nearly as impressive as the cast.

Now for the bad news. While this show played to packed houses and drew a standing ovation, this is OTP’s last production. They’ve basically run out of money after 24 years, and threw in the towel. This was a fund raiser to try and cover some outstanding bills and provide for an orderly shutdown. This trip to snow country was bitter sweet – the show rocked, but now even the ghost light has been unplugged.

There is no more information on Orlando Theatre Project. Sorry.

Driving Miss Daisy

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

Driving Miss Daisy
By Alfred Uhry
Directed by Aradhana Tiwari
Beth Marshall Presents
Garden Theater, Winter Garden FL

Old age begins when your experience restricts your world rather than expands it. Aging Miss Daisy (Elizabeth Murff) wrecked another car today, and her son Boolie (Michael Lane) lays down the law: She can live by herself so long as she gets a driver to take her to Piggy Wiggly and Temple. The lucky chauffeur he hires is Hoke (Michael Mormon), a self-effacing man who prefers to work for Jews. He’s aware of the Yiddish reputation for tightness, but reports it’s the generous and all-loving Baptist who really can screw you out of your last nickel. The initial relation between Miss Daisy and Hoke is tense, she won’t give up her independence and he won’t give up this well paying job. As the days roll on, she grudgingly begins to accept him, his patience wears her down, and Boolie gives him generous “cost of putting up with mom” raises. As Miss Daisy ages, her friends die off leaving her alone with only one person to depend on – the man who has gently re-oriented her concept of independent living.

In this triad of mutually assured co-existence, there’s a constant character growth for everyone on stage. The respectful and gracious Hoke initially excuses Miss Daisy’s outrageous antics, but eventually stands up for his own individuality. His pivotal scene has him demand to urinate on the long road strip from Atlanta to Mobile. After all, they don’t allow blacks to pee at the Standard Oil station. Boolie realizes the pressure Hoke is under, and supports him not only financially, but accepts him an equal member of the family. When the chance to buy one of Miss Daisy’s used Oldsmobiles arises, Boolie offers to sell directly at a discount to Hoke, who wisely insists the extra money he’ll pay by going through the dealer is well worth the lack of nagging he’ll receive from the old lady. Ms Murff’s histrionics recall relatives in my personal woodpile, yet stay just this side of the funny/annoying border to keep Miss Daisy believable. As all three slump and shuffle, they magically age the quarter century of stage time this show covers.

While the cast held up their end of the theatric bargain, the subtle backlighting of a simple stage set provided a dramatic visual angle to the show. Director Tiwari’s blocking and Amy Hadley’s light design placed the set in silhouette for scene transition, and brought it back in to a realistically genteel Atlanta for the action. The result was a shimmying flow thought the story and a delicate backdrop the growth of Miss Daisy’s affection for Hoke. We see that friends are where you find them, and the master/servant relation is not necessarily one of exploitation. While Uhry’s story made a fine movie (four Oscars), I found the stage play much more effective and engaging. This is a show worthy of the ovation it received, and one of the best productions Beth Marshall has delivered.

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

The Fantasticks

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

The Fantasticks
Book and Lyric by Tom Jones
Music by Harvey Schmidt
Directed by Aaron Babcock
Musical Direction by Spenser Crosswell
Choreography by Jonathan Guise
Starring Charlie Stevens, Lorelei Sandberg, and Wesley Speed
Theatre Downtown, Orlando FL

“The Fantasticks” is one of those feel-good chestnuts you want to dislike, but every time it gets staged the story’s charm and warmth sneaks up behind you, bops you over the head with a romance, and steals you heart and cell phone. The story is fairy tale simple – their dads, Hucklebee (Rod Cathey) and Bellomy (Adam Shorts-brown) raise the children under the guise of a neighborly feud, knowing that will make the kids fall in love. When the hormones kick into overdrive, Luisa (Sandberg) and Matt (Speed) try to elope, but the dads cut them off at the pass by arranging an abduction by the dashing El Gallo (Stevens). The pair falls in love, only to split up after the harsh sunshine of intermission. Adventures ensue, the dads have a falling out, but the slightly older and more experienced teens return to make everything happily-ever-afterish. You’ve seen it a hundred times, but it never fails to grab you.

I never completely got behind Luisa and Matt, but they presented vocal power when the music called for it. More to my liking was Mr. Stevens, his voice was warm and pleasant, and his “Try To Remember” sold the show from the beginning of the first act. The dads both found chemistry, they both had absent wives, but even when they were fighting over watering radishes and pruning kumquats, they seemed to genuinely like each other. Larry Stalling as The Old Actor and David Clayton West as Mortimer were both perfect for the role – Stallings acted lost and confused, yet jealous of his light and time on stage, and Mortimer had a Bud Abbott single-mindedness in doing that one special thing he was good at: dying on stage.

Backing the show were a piano (James Naven) and a harp (Dawn Marie Edwards) adding a nice classy edge to the show. The stage was minimal, as required, and the action flowed up and through the seats bringing the story into the laps of the audience. If you’re not carefully, you might trip one of them. While “The Fantasticks” is an easy sell, it’s emblematic of the times: in today’s tough environment, risky shows may be too risky, and its best to pull in the artistic horns until things get safe. This is a safe and well loved show, pleasant to watch and unlikely to challenge any of your prejudices.

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

Five Women in the Same Dress

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Five Women in the Same Dress
By Alan Ball
Directed by J Lee Vocque
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL

Men – you can’t get them to pick up their undies, and you can’t shoot them. That’s the undercurrent of “Five Women in the Same Dress”; a perennial favorite chick plays that has popped up at the always-entertaining Breakthrough Theatre. Outside a high-class Knoxville wedding is rumbling along, and inside Meredith’s (Katie Thayer) room the bridesmaids have holed up to drink, smoke and figure out what to do about men once they’ve bedded them down. When Meredith first comes on stage, even in my fashion unconscious guy mind I thought “Now THAT’S a dress she’ll never wear again.” Meredith is determined to create havoc at her sister’s wedding, and as the story unfolds, we discover each of the women has been involved with the same man. He made a pass at the religious Frances (Alyssa Jane Foley), did it behind a dumpster with the emotionally wrecked Georgeanna (Kim Crandall), and has a frequent flyer card with Trisha (Monica real Rifkin). He’s even had a go with Mindy (Rochelle Wheeler), and she bats for the other team.

For a show with a high whininess potential, this was a very funny production. Along with the physical comedy of the evil bridesmaid gowns, there’s a slow reveal of the individual hell each woman passes though. Each journey had that “laughing past the grave yard” quality that made you just a bit uncomfortable – you might be in the same spot yourself someday. The most grounded woman was Frances: while she excused every lack of vice with “…I’m a Christian”, yet she seemed least likely to get her heart stomped on, or at least deflected the problem with her strong beliefs. Opposite her was the floozy Trish, who hadn’t met a guy she wouldn’t do and had a wing tip shoe fetish. Georgeanna carried the biggest load of woe, yet made the dumpster tryst sound appealing, in a “gratuitous sex in a public place” way. The male element in the story Tripp (Joe Coffee) swept her off her feet, even if his delivery was more Joe Friday that James Bond. But the star was Thayer’s Meredith, she spit real venom before gradually revealing her deep secret, and even when you could guess it, you still wanted to protect it from the world. They say talking about your problem is therapeutic, but of course we never come back and see if there’s a change than matters for these five bridesmaids. “Five Women” offers a peek in to the private world women share when they all go to the bathroom together, and the aftermath of the random encounter men create. It’s heartfelt and funny, besides offering some of the most frightening costumes this side of October.

For more information, please visit http://www.breakthroughtheatre.com

iMove_2.0:iCandy

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

iMove_2.0:iCandy
Voci Dance
with DJ Nigel
Say It Loud Studios, Orlando, Fl

It’s cold and a bit rainy, but that didn’t stop the hipsters and hipsters in training from making the Modern Dance scene in Big Orange, that mysterious bunker in the heart of Orlando’s ViMi district that actully goes by the name ”
Say It Loud Studios.”The atmosphere is postmodern high school prom, but without the sparkling promise of a post dance hook up. With V-day just around the corner, the theme is giant candy hearts and “I Love You.” A giant paper chandelier dominates the room – each strip of paper is inscribed with romantic thoughts, rising up into the ceiling. In another corner a collection of typewriters and dial phones litter the bench, and obsolete and unloved cell phones hang from the rafters. As patrons drift in, the dancing begins, unannounced and unexpected. One moment you’re chatting about the new iTablet, and suddenly young women are rolling on the floor between your feet like enthusiastic Airedale pups. DJ Nigel spins music from a dangerous looking balcony – while there is certainly dancing going on, the music isn’t what you’d think danceable – it’s moody and electronic and supplanted by video projections on the big white cyclorama that subtly dominates one corner of the room. The dancers are the Voci regulars, including Lisa Mie, Mary Clymene, Rokaya Mikhailenko, and others. The dance numbers come from standard repertory, some of which involved large video projections. A flustered stage manger wields a walky-talky and a clipboard, giving mysterious cues to an unseen lighting tech, and local tweetmaster Brian Feldman posts 140 character updates to the outside world while ineffectively herding the crowd with bicycle safety lights. Yes, the floor is hard and the acoustics cavernous, but the vibe is happy and friendly. This is part of the local ArtsFest program, designed to draw in people that wouldn’t normally see dance in such a raw setting. Whether that aspect worked, the night was a success, more than a few people in the crowd had been spotted at previous events.

For more information of Voci Dance, visit http://www.vocidance.org

Married Alive!

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Married Alive!
Book and Lyrics by Sean Grennan
Music by Leah Okimoto
Direction and choreography by Roy Alan
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy

Young lovers are soooo cute: they have no idea what they are in for. Paul (Todd S. Mummert) and Erin (Natalie Cordone) exchange self important and self written vows, promising to treat their love like dolphins or the infield fly rule, which ever applies at the moment. Attending the wedding are Ron (Michael Edwards) and Diane (Lourelene Snedeker) who are unclear about where they know these youngsters from: it might be work or it might be Face Book. The four break in to song immediate with “Suddenly / Stupid in Love!” a double duet about how wonderful and short sighted young love can be. Proceeding along, we follow Erin and Paul as they battle travel, debt, children, evil extended families, and the dark side of marriage. Ron and Diane are a couple, with fluid relation to Erin and Paul – sometimes wry observers, sometimes relatives, and sometimes just the Fred and Ethyl observing from next door.

Musically, this show extends WPPH’s long string of charming and perfectly executed productions. Some of the best numbers are the oddest, with “This Game Takes Two” mixing sports metaphors with romance. It’s a guy song in every respect; studies show that after a few years many men prefer to watch the wide screen to participating in the live event with their girl. Closing out the first act was the tent meeting gospel revival number “Oh, Knocked up!” It features a bouncy Natalie with here tambourine, praising a secular God for the holy gift of reaching her biological imperative. Later we witness the whitest rap number ever staged “That’s Right Suckas!” Michael Edwards has a fine voice and years of acting experience, but he will never capture the street cred of Grandmaster Flash or M.C. Hammer.

While the song titles tend to display excessive exclamation points, the show zips along under the direction of Chris Leavy and Roy Alan. You may recognize the set, and there are more than few silly gags, but there’s nothing nicer than laughing at other people’s problems as if they never ever happened to you personally.

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