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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for August, 2010

Red Chair Affair

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Red Chair Affair
Directed by John DiDonna
By The Red Chair Project
At the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center
August 28, 2010

Way back when I stared this column, The Central Florida Theater Alliance acted as a clearing house between actors and jobs and let you know about oddball shows. Today they’ve grown and expanded that function and now wear the opaquely name “Red Chair Project” and act as marketing, publicity and all around cheer leader for our area arts group. Tonight they held their annual mega-fundraiser and packed Orlando’s soon-to-be-retired Bob Carr Performing Arts Center. I grabbed a last minute seat way up under the balcony, and while opera glasses would have helped, everything sounded crystal clear.

I missed the preshow lobby performances but the fifteen on stage acts highlighted the best of Orlando’s professional entertainment industry. The Bach Festival opened with the “Star Spangled Banner” and we needed the MC reminded us to stand, yet few did the “hand on the heart” thing. Our National Anthem is notoriously hard to sing and it was nice to have a few solid sopranos in there to hit the high ones. Cirque du Soleil followed with a speedy and impressive juggling act called “The Juggler and the Green Bird” but I must point out the bird guy was actually dressed in yellow and red. Orlando Shakespeare put Mellissa Mason and Mike Gill up to sing two cute songs from the upcoming “Jingle Jangle Christmas,” and later the Orlando Gay Chorus side project “Mélange” belted through a popular medley of Frankie Valli tunes from “Jersey Boys.” Other noteworthy music came from Melissa Vasquez in Winter Park Playhouse’s snippet from their recent sell out “Feelin’ Groovy,” and the impressive youngsters from Orlando Rep successfully re-arranged Bill Wither’s “Lean On Me.”

Several dance companies appeared. Emotions Dance had local spoken word guy Todd Caviness narrate their interpretation of the beginning of the world, and the Orlando Ballet danced with a minimal mix of modernism and tradition: Katia Garza and Patric “I have a garish tattoo on my belly” Palkens had the Five Positions and Advanced Leaps down as well as the newer Aaron Copland moves. I’ve always missed Yow Dance at the Fringe, but now they’re on top of my list after seeing their ambitious “Blackberry Winter” with its 13 dancers and quick “behind the curtain” crossing maneuvers. Finally, Baby Blue Star and her VarieTEASE girls did what they do best, although they toned it down for this predominantly blue haired audience – the flipped their skirts, but kept on all their undies.

Comedy snuck in with Sak’s three Daves (Russell, Charles, and the piano player guy) improving a game called “Interrogation” and wrapping it up right at the wire. Bay Street players produced the famous “Baseball” song from “Ragtime” to remind us how professional sports can teach young man respect, sportsmanship and how to properly dress down a lousy hitter while chewing tobacco. Still, my favorite number came right at the end where The Orlando Philharmonic has a brass sextet blasting off a medley of numbers from “Chicago” covering “All That Jazz” right up through “Mr. Cellophane.” Off on the side of all this activity you saw Thomas Thorspecken sketching furiously and a pair of ASL interpreters. They were nearly as entertaining as the performers with the signers even performing some duets. Between acts there were short videos from local officials and sponsors with local landmarks like the Eden Bar and City Hall green screened in behind them. Our officials were a bit stilted and the sponsors tended toward self congratulation but I figure the videos gave the stage hands good cover to move sets. And after all, some people are better at acting, and others are better at giving actors a place to act, and we need them all.

For more information please visit http://RedChairProject.com

Sketches of this performance will appear at http://thorspecken.blogspot.com/ shortly.

The First Ever 10th Anniversary Show Presented by The Traveling Carnies

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

The First Ever 10th Anniversary Show Presented by The Traveling Carnies
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park, FL

These guys have restored my faith in Improv, even if they scripted some of the scenes. Somehow this loose collective of sketch comedians has stayed off my radar for a decade, and now I’ve found them they’re leaving to try their luck in entertainment friendly Los Angles. Tonight was their last Orlando show in the clubby confines of Breakthrough Theatre. They were turning away fans at the door, but I was their early enough to grab the last parking spot next to the CSX line and squeeze into a front corner seat. The opening number was a corporate training sketch done as improv featuring Joe Glass, Grant Gentry and Nicky Urban. I’ve been through these things in real life, and adding comic actors to teach us how to sexually harass and surf for porn at work somehow makes it more humiliating for everyone involved. Just like at work audience input was sought and ignored, props were preset, and stepping outside of the work place made this one of the funniest improv-like skits I’ve ever witnessed. Video was a big part of the show, a montage of past members mixed with funny yet sophomoric scenes of cruising chat rooms for bear porn and humping Jell-O. But their best material was the live stuff: Glass as the redneck driving instructor was perfect and Gentry’s testicle grabbing Dr. Leo Hernandez was equally as entraining. Nicky Urban had her finest moment freeze framing with assistant Carnie Mike Beshaw in the “Party Guys Sketch,” and the elegant Jasmine Rahbari help out in the occasionally painful “Married Couple” Routine. It’s a shame these guys didn’t get more publicity while we had them, – their comedy has some rough and rude edges but it cuts to the funny bone.

Keep up with The Traveling Carnies at http://www.travelingcarnies.com/

Some Girls

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Some Girls
By Neil LaBute
Directed by Paul Castaneda
Greater Orlando Actors Theatre as the Orland Shakespeare Center

Guy (Corey Volence) exists on a much higher plane of jerkdom than most guys. It’s not that he’s womanized his way through at least a half dozen relations, but when the chips are down he’s the first one out the back door, pants and keys be damned. A mediocre writer, his only small successes came at the expenses of his girlfriend’s shattered egos. That’s why his tour around the country to reconcile with long dead loves is so mysterious – he’s scratching open scabs that everyone else would leave under a pile of sleeping dogs. His first contact was with a high school sweetheart Sam (Jennifer Bonner). You’re willing to cut him a little slack here, not all high school romances are destined to become major chick flicks and what looks good at 18 might not be what you need at 23. Tyler (Renee Wilson) accepts what happened and offer to roll him a joint or roll him on that Embassy Suites king size, but he holds back. Why is he doing this, and why do so many of his girlfriends have masculine names? Lindsay (Leesa Halstead) was married to his boss when they did it, Reggie (Emily Killian) was under age, and he tried for a threesome with Bobbi (Olivia Horn) and her identical twin sister. Why, why, why is he doing this? There’s a reason, and when you catch on, you can see that Guy is truly a world class predator.

“Some Girls” is not for the faint willed – Volence and his harem are so well acted that you’re afraid they may rub off on you. Halstead’s attempted voyeuristic seduction was particularly disturbing, it didn’t end as you thought it would, but it showed that at least some of his conquests were ready, willing and able to extract revenge. Killian’s Reggie was another predator trained by the best. While what he did with her would technically cost you a few years in the slammer today, it might well have slid by a few decades ago and now she wields a powerful lever against him. Bonner and Horn felt the most innocent and the most wronged, but they also seemed to have the least to lose.

LaBute has a reputation for writing nasty male characters, and Volence steps up to the plate and nails this one. See this one with someone you’ve already ditched, that’s the only way either of you will feel better.

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

Six Guitars

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

Six Guitars
Created by Chase Padgett and Jay Hopkins
Performed by Chase Padgett
Downstairs Cabaret Theatre, Rochester, NY

Passing though upstate New York, I heard that Chase Padgett had taken his hit Fringe show on the road. He was playing a small venue near downtown Rochester, and preparing for a run at the Edinburgh Fringe. I arrived a bit later than proper, but was snuck into a pitch black room filled to capacity. Onstage Padgett wore a black silk shirt and rotated though the repertoire of six different guitar players who cover the water front – Blues, Jazz, Metal, County, Folk and Classical Spanish. While the script was identical to the Orlando show I was lucky enough to catch, this was Padgett’s 19th performance and he was settling into his characters. Changing between characters is a simple switch of voice and mannerisms and he avoids the cliché of changing hats or God forbid, spinning around to clue the audience that a new guy has replaced the old one.

As the six stories flow, each artist plays samples of their sound and explains why each is the best example of guitarist’s art. Some focus on a single chord for all their work, another creates chords that may not even exist in advanced cheat books. But as each story unfolds, the unity of music reveals itself to the point that even the most hard hearted Black Metal Demon agree that Johannes Sebastian Bach is in the same groove as Ozzie.

In the post show bows, Padgett asks the audience how many people were here because of recommendations from previous nights shows. Exactly zero hands went up, revealing that if nothing else, upstate NY audiences were willing to take chances on unknown acts from distant lands. Audience comments and my own observation shows that what this show needs more than anything else is lengthening: we all want to hear these finger picking wizards get a solo or two. The world is full of platitudes about music bringing us all together, but Padgett has demonstrably pulled the Mods, the Rockers, the long hairs and those guys with the funny hats and big belts into the same room, and made all of them happy. The premise may be a generalization, but the execution is superb. Padgett will be back from Scotland in a few weeks to continue the run and if you’re looking for something exciting and new, head to Rochester – the show is grand and the parking easy.

For more information on Six Guitars, please visit http://www.sixguitars.com

For other events at Downstairs Cabaret Theatre, please visit http://www.downstairscabaret.com/

Waiting For Godot

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Waiting For Godot
By Samuel Beckett
Starring Bret Carson, Alan Sincic, Cory Boughton
Relevant Theatrics at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando FL

Godot has still to arrive, but the wait provides a blank canvas for whatever philosophical issues are clouding your mind. Vladimer and Estragon meet as they always do at the dead tree near the stinking bog out on the road that’s rarely traveled. As the day unfolds, the minutia of life ties them together: bad fitting shoes, poor food, and an empty feeling that life is useless and not worth living. But one overriding goal in Valdimir’s life keeps them vertical and breathing – he’s waiting for Godot, a mysterious guy with a bad delivery record. Others pass by, officious Pozzo (Boughton) passes through with his abused servant Lucy (Kim Luffman) only to return the next day blind and broken and not sure why. But Godot never appears, instead sending a messenger every day to promise arrival within the next 24 hours. Godot is a like a very evil FedEx.

Notionally a comedy, there were titters in the vanishingly small audience even as Carson used all his physical comedy and Sincic mused as ironically as he could. They were a good team, with Carson focused on the bunions and starvation of the moment and Sincic always looking at the longer plan. Boughton’s abusive and arbitrary treatment of his fellows made for an uncomfortable comedy, even as a drawn and pale Luffman clung with tired desperation to the stool and picnic basket of her boss. Despite the muted reaction, this was quite well done and included one of the best existential trees I’ve seen (courtesy of Stephen Ricker). But with only seven people in the seats, the cold room could have held a funeral.

There’s plenty of room for interpretation in the play, and with Beckett long gone we are free to our own flights of fancy. The read I took home is Pozzo plays the earthly church, promising a last judgment that’s now about 401764 days late. It eats the food, it ignores the poverty, and it abuses it members with arbitrary tasks and duties. Meanwhile Vladimir and Estragon clearly need help, yet Pozzo offers little except a used bone and sage advice. You may have your own read, but this is the one play to view that makes you a true student of the stage. Every time you see it you receive a small medal to wear on your uniform.

For more information including show times and tickets, visit http://www.relevanttheatrics.org

Vampire Lesbians of Sodom

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Vampire Lesbians of Sodom
By Charles Busch
Directed by Tim DeBaun
Starring John Reid Adams, Jamie Cline
Theatre Downtown, Orlando FL

No one wants last week’s meatloaf for lunch, and that’s why the Succubus (John Reid Adams) insists on a pure virgin diet. As she prepares to dine overlooking the beautiful plains of Sodom and Gomorrah, dragged out sacrifice Jamie Cline begs the guards to deflower her, thus putting the touch of Tupperware on her and preserving her for another day. Flash forward to 1920’s Hollywoodland where the Succubus is now La Condesa and works for the studios. She and her immortal rival Madeline Astarte (Cline) bat helpless King Carlisle (Scott Browning) back and forth like cats with a laser pointer. He thinks he’s the king of leading men, but to these two jaded jades he’s just another dick in a tuxedo and even his girlfriend Renee Vain (Jamie Lyn-Hawkins) can see which side his toast is buttered on. The battle drags in to 1980’s Las Vegas, where Astarte and Condesa come to realize all they have is each other, but together they can fill Caesars Palace. Ah, reunion and reconciliation!

That’s an amazing amount of plot for an over the top dress up show, but it doesn’t get in the way of the fun. Director DeBaun takes this campy shindig and pastes on more and more feathers and glitter until you can’t help laughing. Cline is suspiciously sexy in drag, his three wig changes make you focus on the program to make sure it’s still that nice boy you’ve know from much straighter leads. Adams varied incarnations are equally convincing – you know he’s a he, but when playing the flat chested silent era film goddesses doubts may cloud your mind. Eric Branch plays various assistants and butlers, and as an opera singer and a man born to wear a tux, he gets off a surprising number of laughs. Other supporting actors could easily star – Hawkins as the bimbo eye candy, Steven Pugh as the swishy spandex dancer, and Scott Browning as the only straight character in the show. The entire cast straightens their falsies and proudly says “Yes, we believe this is all serious, so let’s not have any cheap red wine coming out your nose.” VLOS runs as a midnight show for another week or two, and then moving to a more work friendly 8 o’clock slot. Either way it flies along so fast you’ll never yawn or check you watch.

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

Children of Eden

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Children of Eden
By Stephen Schwartz and John Cairo
Directed by Wade Hair
Starring Wyatt Glover, Robb Ross, and Krystal Gillette
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL

Sometimes you have to just say “damn the source material; let’s write a show that works!” That’s the motivation behind “Children of Eden,” a unique retelling of the tales of Adam and Eve and Noah. It’s packed with cool songs and great voices, but the books feels like the writer never sat through Sunday School. God, who we’ll euphemistically call “The Father” (Glover), swoops around creating planets and animals and Adam (Ross) and Eve (Gillette). He drops them in the Garden of Eden with one of those plot provoking rules – “Do NOT eat from the tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil.” Adam is OK with this, and takes up taxonomy as his hobby. Eve considers the greater world: what’s above the water fall, what’s over the hill, and why shouldn’t humans have an innate knowledge of morality? The Snake (led by Rob DelMedico) plies her with even more questions, and eventually it’s too much – the whole wave-particle duality thing pushed her over the edge, and she takes the fatal bite. Evicted and lonely, Adam and Eve have their own sons Cain (John Gracey) and Abel (Heath Boyer). The boys ask the same questions as Eve did, and Adam deflects them just as The Father taught him. Any question he’s uncomfortable with gets the stock answer “Because God said so, and we’re not here to ask questions.” This attitude is surprisingly popular once you have kids of your own.

Despite anachronisms like Cain discovering Stonehenge already old and abandoned and The Father busting Noah for blowing schedule on the ark, this show is a joy for the singing and songwriting. Glover gets most of the good songs including “Let There Be”; he shares the best song of the show with Ross in “The Hardest Part of Love”. Ross was consistently strong throughout, with highlights like “Closer to Home” and the trio with Glover and Gillette “A World Without You.” Gillette in turn shined with “The Spark of Creation” and as the leader of the blow out number “Ain’t It Good.” A square box like Breakthough’s tiny space often gives the best acoustics, and tonight the unmiked voices filled the room without blasting, making it sound like we were all sitting in the middle of a Lutheran Choir.

As written, The Father never feels especially almighty or all knowing – he places his creations in a rule set they can never obey and abandons them when they fail. He demands obedience and worship but vague about acceptable sacrifice, and seems confused that in giving free will to humanity people don’t always chose the way he would. Adam and Noah mirror this, and those who question or seek or step outside of an ill defined box are abandoned. While almighty beings aren’t under any obligation to explain themselves writers are and I was often confuse by The Fathers actions and attitudes. Perhaps the invocation to “make man in his own image” was intended to mean “groping for answers and not always find them.” That’s as much philosophy as will fit in here, so just stick to the singing. It’s glorious.

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

Macbeth

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

Macbeth
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Alan Bruun
With Bobby Bell, Michael Sapp, Sophie Wise
Mad Cow Theater, Orlando FL

Interested in Shakespeare? Willing to plunge into 90 minutes of iambic pentameter and medieval Gaelic politics? This might not be an idea entry port, but it’s a powerful one. Using three actors and some essential editing, this Macbeth hit the high points of the story, although the glue that binds is pasted rather thin in some areas. Here’s a Cliff Notes outline: Macbeth kicks butt in the war, and is rewarded by the king. The king drops by Macbeth’s castle on a business trip, and Lady Macbeth suggests an easy power grab – slip some rufies in his wine and strike in the middle of the night. Mr. Macbeth agrees, but immediately smells disaster. With a body in the guest room, calmer heads guess at the double cross and rally English assistance. Using 9th century camouflage they attack Macbeth whose strategy degrades to reading his horoscope. A postive spin on the mumbo-jumbo isn’t enough and gets what he deserves: a beheading and a cursed piece of theatre. Got that? There will be a test.

I admire this production, the shear scope of learning lines and keeping 35 voiced actors separate could only be pulled off by skilled and spirited actors like Wise, Ball, and Sapp. Bruun’s direction keeps all this confusion ordered, and we will miss him as he leaves Mad Cow after a century of productions. Everyone gets to play Macbeth – Bell as the victorious thane led astray by his social climber wife, Sapp as the statesman caught in his own personal Watergate, and Wise as the cornered rat whose psychic advisors trick him with their Delphic double talk. Each actor had shining moments, and when not shining they lent their full support to the star of the moment. Bell did his best work as the familiar with the Frankenstein lighting, and his hair deserved it own credit in the program. Wise played the best Macbeth, her bluster and physically diminutive size captured the desperation of a pretender trapped and about to be unpretended. Sapp had many shining moments, but he carried Banquo’s soul better than any I’ve seen in my 5 previous Macbeth’s.

I’m not sure who did the editing on this script, but the essential were left in place – the dagger of the mind, the irremovable spot, bubbling pots and screwed courage, and at 95 minutes this was a triathlon that pushed the limits of the cast and audience. I liked this production, but I’ll offer some advice: this is a Macbeth for the professional theater goer, and likely to leave the neophyte lost and confused. At a minimum, scan the wiki before you commit to the rapidly disappearing tickets. The program is NOT going to guide you on this spirit journey.

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