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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for June, 2010

The Clean House

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

The Clean House
By Sarah Rule
Directed by David A. McElroy
A staged reading by Southern Winds Theatre
Stardust Video & Coffee, Winter Park, FL

Sarah Ruhl’s 2005 Pulitzer Nominee filled the small stage at Stardust in this intimate and exciting reading. Lane (Marylin McGinnis) wants a clean house and a happy marriage and a career in medicine at an Important Hospital. Her live-in housemaid Matilde (Nicole Avery) hates cleaning and longs to be a comedian. Her parents were considered the funniest people in Brazil, so except for the language issues she got her chops down. Fortunately for her, Lane’s sister Virginia (Robin Olson) has time on her hands and finds cleaning cathartic, declaring “I LOVE cleaning toilets!” This all feels very homey until husband Charles (Dennis Neal) arrives with his new soul mate, the 67 year old post-mastectomy Ana (Kathleen Lindsay). Rather than the bitter post-divorce relations you might expect, the players each find a resolution that brings them happiness.

The cast dances over these philosophical underpinnings with glee, Neal and Lindsay (as Matilde’s parents) maintaining a “laugh out loud” relation we occasionally see but may never have personally experienced. Olson’s cleansing mania borders on obsessive compulsive but she doesn’t have the hand washing fetish yet. Matilde shows the most promise: for her house cleaning isn’t more than a way station, and she’s young and portable enough to make it’s at the comedy club in the next town. It’s McGuiness’s Lane I feel sorry for, her world not only fell apart, but she saw the flimsy construction that held it up and had to find a destiny helping her husband’s new soul mate.

Ruhl’s slightly surreal comedy raises the question “why aren’t you doing what you really want to?” It’s not society or tradition that has forced these people into odd situations; it’s just that sort of life happenstance that the Talking Heads pointed out: “How did I get here?” On the surface the path is all clear, but underneath lies a more complex kernel – we head out in a direction that we think is what we want, but by the time we get there and realize our initial take was wrong, we have some much time and energy invested we can’t easily start over. Once you set off on a voyage, it’s ever so hard to turn the rudder, but turn it will.

More information on Southern Winds Theatre may be found at http://SouthernWindsTheatre.com

Feelin’ Groovy

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Feelin’ Groovy
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
The Winter Park Playhouse
Winter Park, FL

Don’t worry about eating the brown acid, this show save the psychedelics for fashion and focuses on the Brill building sound of AM radio. “Feelin’ Groovy” and “Up, Up, and Away” open the show sung in harmony by the whole cast. Backing them we hear Winter Park Playhouse stalwarts Chris Leavy on piano and Sam Forrest on percussion. While anti-war politics are missing, the vocal work makes up for any missed and misremembered moments from four long decades of our collective and hopefully graceful aging. Jeff Clark and Todd Mummert wield a mean falsetto, they give it a tease with Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” but let fly with both barrels with Franki Valli’s “Sherry.” Say what you will about tight jeans, these guys can sing two keys above what a normal guy might hit on a good day, and it carries over to anther toe tapper “Walk Like A Man.” Mirroring the guys we have Luerne Herrera with a heartfelt rendition of Joni Mitchells “Clouds” and Melissa Vasquez belting the soul standards “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” All the troops pulled together to cover the one hit wonder Spiral Starecase’s “More Today Than Yesterday” and wrapped up with a nice Beatles medley, ending with “Hey Jude.” That song still brings a tear to my eye. “Feelin’ Groovy” fits right into the hot summer groove, its pop tunes are suitable for the beach or barbeque and you’ll never runs the risk of potato salad poisoning at the bar.

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

Butterflies Are Free

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

Butterflies Are Free
By Leonard Gershe
Directed by Heather Lucia Bass
Starring Daniel Boisrond, Katelyn Douglass
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park, FL

Escaping to smothering affection of a Jewish Super-mom is tougher than dealing with blindness, but Don Baker (Boisrond) is giving it a fair shot. He’s moved down from Scarsdale to the Bowery, and by exceptional housekeeping and complete concentration while walking he’s kept himself together in his cardboard walled apartment. Next door cutie pie Jill (Douglass) blasts her TV, and when he asks her to turn it down she invites herself over. She moves quickly, they meet, fornicate and move on fast enough to make your eyes blink. As Baker discovers women his mom (Sue Cohen) drops in unexpectedly and lets fly with both barrels. She doesn’t like the neighborhood, the furniture, Jill, or the idea he can be self sufficient without her. She does squeeze off a mom and daughter talk with Jill, but when Jill comes back from an audition Don’s whole world has shifted.

Despite the jarring color blind casting, this show was hitting on all cylinders after only a weeks rehearsal by Boisrond. He completely sold his role even if he occasionally made eye contact with his fellow actors. His portrayal of a young man wresting with independence and physical limitations stuck home, and made you wince when his mother did her best to shoot him down. He was well matched with Sue Cohen as his mother; she clearly has life experience that shows her orginal zip code wasn’t that far from Scarsdale, at least in outlook and expectations. Sometimes I wondered if she was acting, or explain to her own children the errors of their slumming ways.

While this show has a few dated lines, it was constantly funny and touching. Baker’s reaction when he discovered Jill’s hairpiece was a dream, and Douglass was cute and sexy and flighty as the ideal New York Girl Next Door. I’m not sure exactly when a play switches form “dated” to “period Piece” but I’m sure this one will make the transition successfully.

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

Shipwrecked! An Entertainment

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

Shipwrecked! An Entertainment
The Amazing Adventures of Louise De Rougemont (As told by Himself)
By Donald Margulies
Directed by Rob Anderson
Starring Eric Pinder
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL

Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story, and never leave a paper trail when you come across a great yarn. Adventurer Louis De Rougemont (Pinder) remembers the first and forgets the second as he relates his wild adventures. He’s assisted by Trennel Mooring and Eric Fagan and a collection of Victorian visual aids. Raised as a sickly child, Roguemont escapes mother at age 16 and takes to the sea to dive for pearls in the South pacific. Shipwrecked and adrift, he and faithful dog Bruno (Fagan) find an island and live for several years à la Robinson Crusoe. It’s a lonely life, but he learns how to ride a sea turtle and steer it by poking it in the eye. After a few years a canoe drifts by and he rescues the half dead occupants. In the canoe he finds young Yambo (Trennel), they fall in love and have two children. Later he becomes a big shot on their home island because of his stilt walking skills, and he eventually crosses the Australian Outback and returns to London only achieve fame, fortune and opprobrium.

This is a technically challenging show for Pinder, but he’s up to the task. While technically not a “one man show” Pinder does all the heavy digging, raises the structural framework, and completes the finish carpentry. Mooring and Fagan are funny and skilled, but they get to run back stage to change costumes, set props and take a swig of water as Mr. Pinder sweats away under the tropical lighting. While not as fall down laughing funny as some recent productions Pinder has starred in, here he mixes a more gentle humor with his acting skills and paints a man with a knack for exposition and pathos. The result truly IS an entertainment, and far more fulfilling than one of those truth-filled documentaries on cable TV.

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

9 Parts of Desire

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

9 Parts of Desire
By Heather Raffo
Directed by John DiDonna
Empty Spaces Theatre Company at The Orlando Shakespeare Theater
Orlando, FL

After attending this intimate look at Iraqi life from the female viewpoint, my first thought was “These people are SO screwed.” After a lifetime of Saddam Hussein’s campaign to murder anyone with half a brain, the US Army arrived to liberate Iraq with carpet bombing and Hellfire missiles. There’s not much left, except a fierce nationalism that transcends whoever is in charge and traces back 200 generation to the invention of the wheel, the city and writing. Tonight eight women reveal various facets of their reality in the opening years of the 21st century, and their stories ranged from the gripping to the heart breaking with small slivers of hope occasionally flashing in the rubble. Surrounding these human, loving, caring figures is a spirit of the country Mullaya (Suleiman). She announces “without the river, we would not be here” and every morning she cast about for worn and abandoned shoes. She takes these symbols of humiliation and throws them in the Euphrates River which washes them down to and thought the Garden of Eden. This purgative has yet to cleanse Iraq’s illness, but she will try until she succeeds.

So what is there to do when you are daily subject to random acts of humiliation and death? Carry on, as does the Doctor (Marcie Schwalm.) She struggles to save people when the hospital has no drugs and sewerage backing up into the wards. The anencephalic babies and 8 year olds with breast cancer are just the dressing on her cake. Amal (Olivia Horn) claims she’s fat, but it’s hard to tell under the robes. She’s seeking love and a family but her sexually repressed first husband cheated on her, and her new lover refused to see her a second time, never mind making her his second wife. Alcoholic Huda (Mikki Scanlon Kriekard) constantly flees revolutions and marches ineffectually to end whatever war grabs the headlines, while Umm Ghada (Stasha Boyd) jealously guards a bomb shelter that was no match for a bunker busting bomb. Artist Layal (Leesa Halstead) dares to paint nude figures and open have affairs, but she has found some favor from the regime, and that’s the only difference between her and the women raped beheaded and labeled prostitutes – the rule of law is the oriental will of the king, and there is no recourse.

Presented as a loosely connected series of monologs, the women pace the floor to speak and retreat to the shadows when others talk. Only Mullaya violates this rule of stagecraft, she hovers over the speakers like a guardian angel, but one who cannot deflect the blows of chance and self-expression. What surprised me was the field of action these women found in front of them. Head scarves and concealing dress seemed more a quaint regional fashion than a repressive requirement, and the taking and leaving of partners about as easy as in the west. The feelings and reactions seemed completely natural and transcend borders, but the issue of “how to fix this train wreck?” is a blank. In the face of a total breakdown of civilization, Nanna (Heather Godwin) did what everyone eventual falls to – looting the dead, and selling the good stuff on the street. Maybe in a few decades things might look up, but in the meantime those who can leave have created a Diaspora that might eventually challenge that of the Jews.

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

Chained To Freedom

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Chained To Freedom
By Alan L Bounville with Russell Taylor
Directed By Russell Taylor
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park

What if someone gave a Civil Rights Rally, and no one showed up? That though went through my head during this lightly attended but heartfelt show. “Chained to Freedom “was one of the Fringe shows I missed this year, but was brought in at the last minute to fill a slot from a delayed show. This one man first person monolog takes Alan Bounville from Open Gay Man to Openly Activist Gay Man. The triggering event was the murder of Ryan Skipper in 2006, the year Orlando’s murder rate peaked. The event attracted little attention, but it pushed Bounville into a journey of self discovery and self actualization. He gradually became involved in the drive for Gay Marriage and Domestic Partner Benefits at Orlando Health, a local mega hospital.

Bounville is a striking speaker, full of fire and energy. We all need a cause to believe in, and he’s taken his so much farther than most. He tells of a gradual start, telephoning non supportive family member to vote against Proposition 2, then attending rallies, speaking at rallies, marching, and eventually chaining himself to the front of the NYC Marriage Office. This piece of “Arrest Risk Civil Disobedience” galvanized him, and he’s picked up the cause at more rallies and actions. Backing him up was a jittery video projection of some of his “events” on a wrinkly screen, I hope he gets some Steady Cam support going forward. Yeah, there’s a strong Temperance Rally quality to this evening, but seeing someone fired up about injustice and willing do something about it is always inspiring.

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

For more information on Alan Bounville and his cause, please visit http://QueerRising.org

Almost Maine

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Almost Maine
By John Cariani
Directed by Julia Allardice Gagne
Valencia Character Company, Orlando FL

If you go far enough up country in Maine they give up naming places and just assign them grid numbers. While this lacks in the Romance of Place department, the town of Almost suffers from a surfeit of regular romance but with a distinctively practical and concrete taste. These people fall in and out of love but with the gimmick that every relational shift makes its catch phrase concrete. For instance, Glory (Ashleigh Ann Gardner) suffers from a broken heart, and carries it around in a paper bag like a set of broken eyeglasses, hoping for a repair. She lucks into local repair man East (Sean Michael Drake) when she sets up camp in his front yard, and he whips out the super glue while she watches the northern lights carry the spirit of her cheating ex-hubby to Valhalla. Another very funny skit has Randy (Drake) and Chad (Michael Martin) drinking beers and commiserating about the worst dates they ever had. Fed up with dating they begin falling in love with each other, but mistake it for slipping on the ice. Later, the saddest segment of the evening features Phil (John Clayton) and Marci (Beatrice Roberts) finishing a tense evening of ice skating and squabble over whether or not they had fun. Pro tip: If you have to ask, the answer is “no.” Her shoe is lost, and about that time the idea drops on them that this whole thing just isn’t working. Surrounding these vignettes we have Pete (Colin Taylor) and Ginette (Martha Gibbons) sitting on a bench, wordlessly longing for each other and drawing laughs from the audience. Ginette wants to be as close as possible but 25000 long miles stands in her way. When she returns, we all applauded her superb effort.

“Almost Maine” has had a few readings around town, but this is the first full production. A very cool set complete with twinkling stars and icebergs propped up along the stage add to the chilly winter scene, but the show is powerful enough to stand with almost no staging. Director Gagne gets excellent comic timing out of her students – the obvious gags are suppressed and more subtle facets of the show predominate. Clayton takes some serious blows to the head in “It Hurts”, the aforementioned Drake and Martin’s tumbling act was some of the best physical comedy I’ve seen, and the snowmobile stripper number in “Seeing The Thing” shows that you can have sex anywhere, anytime if you want it bad enough. “Almost Maine” is almost the best show I’ve seen all year, and a great introduction to theater and the joys of the VCC.

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

Travel The World With Music

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

Travel The World With Music
With Jim and Theresa Segers and Eric Branch
Maitland Public Library, Maitland FL
June 11, 2010

This wonderful free concert popped up on my calendar with little warning, but I hopped into the car in time to arrive about 10 minutes before show time. The venue was the Multipurpose Room of the Maitland Library, and the head librarian apologized that the show wouldn’t start for 10 minutes. Would I like a tour of the facilities? “Why not?” I thought, and she eagerly showed off the new book shelf and the DVD section and the children’s room, explained the history of the building and that there was free Wi-Fi thought out. I thanked her and said I had to use the Orange County Library System, but that it was a wonderful library.

In the Multipurpose Room, unusually comfortable folding chairs were set out as the busts of Shakespeare and Poe peered down on us from a shelf crammed with board games. The Segers and Branch musical ensemble was setting up a microphone, keyboard, and a cute little footswitch to simulate the pedal on a piano. Today’s topic was “Travel The World With Music”, and the show began with a rousing version of “Oklahoma” complete with the wind whistling down from the air conditioning vents. Our host for the afternoon was a mustachioed John Segers in a top hat and tux. He both sang and introduced the other performers with a fine MC style honed over the years on the Holland America Cruise Line. He sang two more songs feature the USA, “Memphis in June” and the very obscure “Gary Indiana” from Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man. “Gary Indiana” is an odd choice, the song repeats the name of the city for several bars as if looking for inspiration, and then vamps around until the music runs out. Time to flee the country…

We head to Western Europe with Branch singing a nice “Come Back to Sorrento” in Italian and an unpronounceable Welsh love song. I think his Welsh is pretty decent, although it’s been years since I’ve heard a native speaker. “White Cliff of Dover” comes from Theresa Segers and her stunning vibrato, and then she teams up with her hubby for “Yes I Remember” from “Gigi.” Leaving Western Europe we hear “Bali Hai” and “Shall We Dance” from the “King and I”, both featuring Ms. Segers. Mr. Segers returns to sing about every country in the world with Grouch Marx’s “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” from “Animal Crackers.” It’s not bad hearing it from a guy with a real mustache and eyebrows, and he even gets Groucho’s awkward dance moves correct. The entire company wraps up this hassle free trip with the theme from “Around the World in 80 Days” just to nail the concept.

I’m not sure how multicultural this has made me, but there was no threat of unexpected food or odd sanitary facilities. As the group was striking their equipment, Mr. Segers gave us a bonus track: he sang an old Irish industrial accident song called “Bucket of Bricks.” It’s about the construction worker removing bricks from a 14th floor building with a barrel and a pulley, and even if Myth Busters disproved its possibility years ago, but it’s still a great song. I’m not sure when or where this show will reappear, but I suggest keep an eye on the libraries web site. This was a fun afternoon.

For more information on programs at the Maitland Public Library, please visit http://www.maitlandpubliclibrary.org

The Cradle Will Rock

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

The Cradle Will Rock
By Marc Blitzstien
Directed by Alan Bruun
Starring Ame Livingston and Stephan Jones
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL

If theatre is the medicine for a sick society, this show might be cod liver oil – good for you, but sometimes hard to swallow. In the disarray of the Great Depression the Works Progress Administration attempted to find relevant work for the displaced, rather than giving direct handouts. The logic was better to have men raking leaves upwind than fomenting revolution. The Federal Theatre Project was part of the WPA, and commissioned this work which became a blunt call to unionism and the repeal of capitalism. The back story of “The Cradle Will Rock” is more interesting than the play itself – with production suppressed by the FTP, the actors forbidden to appear on stage, and the theatre invaded by soldiers, director Orson Wells and Producer John Houseman moved the whole show to a venue, delaying opening by almost an hour, and staged it from the seats and balconies, thereby evading the prohibition of On Stage appearance by the actors.

So what got everyone undies in a bunch? In Steeltown, family names indicate profession – Dr. Specialist (Jonathan Lang), Editor Daily (Bret Carson), union organizer Larry Forman (Jones), and Gus and Sadie Pollock (Mellissa Mason and Todd Alan Long). It saves on exposition, and even the evil capitalist mill owner (Joe Reed) and his wife (Janine Papin) are just Mr. & Mrs. Mister. The Unions are driving to organize the mills, and goons and bombings and violent strike breakers make this as close to civil war as we’ve seen in the 20th century. The pure hearts and united masses of the steel works overwhelms venal Mr. Mister, but there are casualties along the way – Gus Pollack and Harry Druggist’s son (Mather Schwartz) die, and artists Dauber (Jones) and pianist Yasha (Almeida) sell their souls for a bowl of soup. The steel mill may be a closed shop, but anyone can play piano or compose an aria.

The acting takes us far beyond the cardboard story: Jones’s call to action is the stuff that makes you stand up and march, even if you’re not sure where. Moll is pure of heart and seems genuine apologetic when she offers her body, but Mrs. Mister shows no similar remorse. Mr. Mister didn’t have that may lines, but he delivered them with the energy and authority of Big Daddy Warbucks and Rev Salvation (Eric Nicholas Bridges) had the distant arrogance only the truly holy can muster. The music in this musical seems purpose designed to lack humabilty, and always sounds a bit off key. Gus and Sadie have a nice duet, and a strong energy keeps things moving along, but I suspect the intention is to capture the mistuned sound of a $5 piano.

I see parallels between “The Cradle Will Rock” and “Our Town.” Both are set on nearly empty sets and emphasize staginess over realism, and both revel in the small decisions and chance events than make life. In “Our Town” all paths leads to a calm serenity in the graveyard, but in “Cradle” it leads to martyrdom for ideals. In both Steeltown and Our Town the choice is not free, it is cast on you by fate, and both are propaganda pieces for differing American Ideals. Propaganda has no sense of irony: We cheer for a pyrrhic Union Victory, but we do it knowing that 50 years later there would be virtually no steel production left in the United States.

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

Showstoppers: The Songs of Kander and Ebb

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

Showstoppers: The Songs of Kander and Ebb
Created by Wade Hair
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL

Who knew Kander and Ebb wrote so many flops? These two guys were one of the great writing teams of the 20th century stage; giving us the mega stage hits “Chicago” and “Cabaret.” But chances are, you’ve never seen (nor are you likely to see) the likes of “Steel Pier” or “Flora the Red Menace” or “70, Girls, 70” or half a dozen more obscurities even if they did contain one or two great numbers. Local impresario Wade Hair scoured the internet and his own encyclopedic knowledge of K&E material to create this friendly cabaret, and most of the singing comes from his talented throat. Supporting him are Krystal Gillette and his daughter Erin Hair, and despite some rambling introductions, this is a class act.

Kander and Ebb’s first Broadway foray was the aforementioned “Flora…” in 1965. Hair sings “Dear Love,” a typical ballad of longing for romance that doesn’t break new ground, but it allows Hair to warm up and draw us into his world. “Flora…” was not well received on Broadway but led to Liza Minnelli’s first Tony Award. Kander and Ebb worked with Minnelli for most the mutual careers, their mix of romanticism and jaded show business smarts worked well with Minnelli’s strong voice and famous-too-soon personality. Hair’s next number is Billy Flynn’s “All I care about” from “Chicago.” Surprises and forgotten gems fill the show, young women dance out with audience treats during “Sara Lee”, and Hair has found numerous video clips of awards ceremonies and Dinah Shore Show performances to highlight the history of Kander and Ebb. Some of the video quality is ultra low-res You Tube, but there’s a real feeling of history and continuity in this work, and the house was packed with enthusiastic fans of the American Musical. Don’t you wish you’d put on your tux and dropped by?

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