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by Carl F Gauze

Archive for September, 2010

The Chimes

Monday, September 27th, 2010

The Chimes
By Kevin Christopher Snipes
Directed by David Lee
Starring Mark Brotherton, Bob Dolan, Ian Kramer, and Kevin Alonso
UCF Conservatory Theatre, Orlando FL

What’s the point of higher education – adding more facts to your quiver, or learning about loyalty, bravery, and how to out maneuver a totalitarian regime? As war looms in 1939 loyalty out values deconstructing “To Be or Not To Be?” Young Nick Ross (Kramer) is running out of boarding schools. Exeter booted him, he’s too young for the Marines, so he’s packed away to Bennington where all the wealthy, artistic and hard to control kids end up. Not all is bleak; he immediately falls in with The Chimes, a cell of the Shakespeare geeks. They haven’t just read all the Histories, they can recite them line for line on cue. Forty years forward, and older yet wiser Nick (Brotherton) is back on campus to find some relic of lost youth. He falls in with the older and more alcoholic Gordon McAllister (Dolan) who has ditched his old nickname and now has a respectable job and a wife he keeps in a file cabinet somewhere. Back in ’39, Bennington casts its annual Shakespeare, and this time it’s Merchant of Venice. The boys are having an amazingly hard time learning their lines until headmaster Barrow (Tom Nowicki) appears to give direction that the comic relief drama teacher Carlyle (Trevin Cooper) misses – Shylock is a Jew, so portray him as an orangutan or be sent to the Russian Front. Marcus (Zachary Layner) rebels, young Nick follows his lead but fails, and after the makeup sex everything spins out of control. Even the last days of the Fuehrer Bunker weren’t so melodramatic.

Sure, everything seems really important when you’re in high school; that why parents adore boarding school – you’re out of the house and they can just pay someone to deal with your hormones. That Petri dish of childhood is the cradle of this recent graduate of the Playfest process, and this reprise of “The Chimes” mixes some seasoned Equity actors with some very promising UCF students. Tom Nowicki as headmaster Barrow chilled me, and while there was certainly Nazi sympathy in the US in a 1939, his subversive portrayal was particularly evil. The lost pair of lonely old men (Brotherton and Dolan) hope to find enough friends to attend their funerals yet still seems stuck in their salad days and they never did get the hang of dealing with women. Professor Carlyle filled the comic relief slot and he was as despised by his fellows as Young McAllister was by his. The younger actors were dominate by Vivian, his Oscar Wilde-like deliver was almost-but-not-quite-too precocious for a student of his years, but we all hoped he would show us his pet lobster. Despite their rock solid portrayal of students seeking their way in life, neither Neil nor Marcus were convincing as a couple, but I give high marks to Young McAllister as the put-upon fat kid who only blinked once but lives with that guilt for the rest of his career.

Adolescence holds no attraction for me, but it’s a fetish for some. In “The Chimes,” we see the past as a mix of pleasure and pain, but pain that can deflect the rest of your life. Memories are nasty business, but we all have them and sometimes they are all we have. We applaud loyalty, but only to the point it reinforces our agenda. These boys all aimed for loyalty, but it wasn’t enough to keep them alive through the war or stable through adult life. You are up there on that stage somewhere. Be brave, point to yourself. Its dark, no one will see you.

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

Dead Man’s Cell Phone

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Dead Man’s Cell Phone
By Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Paul Luby
Starring Garlen Sarai Maxson
Seminole State College, Lake Mary, FL

I hate cell phones, and now they can bother you even in the grave. Sitting in a café, Jean (Maxson) finds Gordon’s (Ian White) cell phone nearly as annoying as I do. But he’s dead, he died quietly waiting for a bowl of Lobster Bisque so Jean decides to fall in love with him. She answers his cell phone and gradually becomes involved in his life and family. He’s not a pleasant man, he’s disliked by his wife, mistress, mother, brother and for all we know Mother Teresa. But Jean loves him, dead and all, and makes up a back story for him that seems to satisfy everyone from The Other Woman (Amy Blaker) to his cranky Mom (Amanda Stafford) to his emotionally distant wife Hermia (Skyller Armenta). Eventually Jean dopes out his real job, gets in over her head, and joins him in that special part of the stage with the deep red lighting.

Part absurdist comedy, part commentary on intrusive technology, this play succeeds in annoying us with incessant cell phone tones while using them to push the story forward. As Jean finds love with a live guy, she like so many has an even deeper romance with instant pervasive communications. As she insists, “If it’s ringing, it must be answered” and even in the face of a marriage proposal, she intones “I’m on the phone” even though it’s a complete stranger on the other end. There seem to be a few lost jokes in this production, and it didn’t really click until the second act where Ruhl finally doled out some action. Blaker and Maxson did some decent stage fighting, and the Ice Capades sequence was great fun. Armeta’s cranky wife was the best acting on stage but White’s Gordon seems flat and Mrs. Gottlieb more strident than needed. Jonathan Ferrare as Dwight was low keyed, but seemed like a genuinely nice guy. The set was spare, the lighting by Richard Harmon was terribly clever and his umbrella montages an unexpected treat. Yes, there was a “turn of your cell phone speech” at the beginning, and yes, many of the students kept theirs on and texted throughout the show. At least the guy in front of me kept the lights down low, but the three scared cell phone free spaces (Church, Theatre, and John) are no longer inviolate. Just keep me out of the conversation. Your life doesn’t interest me in the least.

For more information on the Seminole State College Theater program, please visit http://www.seminolestate.edu/arts/theatre/boxoffice.htm

ColORLANDO

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

ColORLANDO
Featuring Thomas Thorspecken
Sonesta Hotel (near Lake Ivanhoe and I-4)
September 23, 2010
Orlando FL

Of all nights to not have a working camera, this was the worst. Thomas Thorspecken, Orlando’s most prolific ink and watercolor artist held a mural installation at the Sonesta Hotel on Lake Ivanhoe, right next to the sadly neglected art deco WDBO building. While the WDBO building is growing an urban jungle on its roof, the 1990 era Sonesta tower is renovated and sparkling. The building began life as a Radisson, went through a few marquees over the years, but remains an elegant lodging option in today’s highly volatile hotel market. The Sonesta hopes to become the local Arty Hotel, and they are off to a good start. Besides housing the Global Peace Film Festival artists, it’s celebrating its new art work with one of the poshest events I’ve attended in Orlando.

The party opens with free parking, a distinct treat in downtown Orlando’s auto-hostile environment. A golf cart circulated in the garage offering rides to the front door, but I opted for the redneck Stairmaster and hiked down the fire exit. In the lobby the hotel manger and a group of factotii in their best ironed shirts greeted the guests and pointed out the bar and other features as Thomas Thorspecken directed the painting of his mural on a 6 by 20 piece of canvas. The ink outlines were preprinted, and well dressed guests juggled paintbrushes and wine glasses and colored inside his lines. The lobby was crowed, but up a flight the next whiskey bar was open, and had no line. Time to grab a drink and explore the place with the handy map someone pressed on me.

The official reason for tonight is some fund raising for the Downtown Arts District, an oddly shaped area that lassoes Mad Cow Theater and a number of art galleries. Raffle tickets for a three night cruise on the Nile we on sale by a Nefertiti look alike, along with a silent auction of art and vacation packages to various odd corners of America. To my left was a ball room, to my right the Seafood room. Here cheese cubes and crackers were a distraction, but on the far end they were serving mussels, octopus salad, and caviar. To get there, you had to walk past a mountain of champagne and a wicked barrage of bubbles. Apparently Lawrence Welk haunts this hotel.

Across the hall a DJ made people do silly things as the alcohol flowed more freely. Vodka and whipped cream shots competed with carving stations providing roast beast, pork, and turkey. There was even a vegetarian bar – this is a hotel that knows how to appeal to starving artists. More floors of entertainment awaited, so I took some back stairs up to the gaming floor. Here a very nice Gene Simmons offered to let me play Guitar Hero with him. Next door Elvis and Marylin offered ice cream sundaes, gummi bears, and peanut butter and banana sandwiches on real Wonder Bread. I didn’t actually see anyone eat one so I checked out the Mystery Massage room where disconnected arms in white gloves gave your back a work over. Later, on the 14th floor concierge level the view was great, the cookies crispy, and someone even offered to play chess with me. Russians – they’re everywhere these days.

Food, booze, art, and entertainment and no story arc, what more could a writer want? Downstairs the mural was nearly complete, and I put a few dollops of paint on rooftop air conditioners before climbing back up to my car. It appears the Sonesta is headed toward becoming the local arty hot spot and I’m hoping they’ll tuck a round table in the barroom and let writers hold court on a regular basis. Oh, booze boy! Another G&T, please. And light on the lime if you will. Too much lime upset the gin.

More Sonesta information is at http://www.sonesta.com

For more information on The Downtown Arts District, visit http://www.orlandoslice.com/

Orlando Improv Festival

Monday, September 20th, 2010

Orlando Improv Festival
Presented by TheDailyCity.com
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park FL

Click here for schedules: http://orlandoimprovfestival1.blogspot.com/

Streaming Video at www.pjandfriends.com

Sunday, 9-19-2010 Day 0

I’ve been playing phone tag with Producer Mark Baratelli; he’s been furiously making posters, filling swag bags, and folding programs. He claims the process is un-photogenic, but I’m trying to get a behind the scenes look at producing a one man festival. It takes until Sunday dinner time to catch him, but by now the exciting world of paper cuts and scotch tape is replaced by a burning need to unload carloads of beer, Smart Water, and Fuze. I’m not sure what sort of molecules go into Fuze, but it’s always around when there are theater people. Technicians are preparing to stream the show live, and I’ll be posting that address soon. Mark seems flustered, but focused, and he has no idea if there are any presales. A discussion erupts over the happy hour; it will stop at 5 sharp. Todd Long has a special buzzer. Drink early, boys and girls.

Supplies are laid in.

More to follow…

Monday, 9-20-2010 Day 1I began to suspect his might be a hot when I tried to park. Normally it’s no more than a block’s walk to WPPH, even for a sellout Fred Astaire impersonator. But I’m three blocks away, and maybe should have walked. Monday isn’t a big theatre night, but the lobby is full, with a high percentage of regulars. Thomas Thorspecken sketches; I get my pass, and sit down in the theater. Brian Feldman sits next to me; he’s tweeting and laughing while I type in the dark. Curse that spell check! On stage “Offsides” appears, it looks like a collection of Sak alums and regulars, and they charge into a long form game called “Fast Facts.” If you don’t know the difference between long and short form, Short From demands a steady stream of audience suggestions, Long Form takes a very few at the beginning, and then fills half an hour with meandering story lines. Audience reaction is positive, particularly for an early show. God, sand, and the Dollar General store pull laughs and no one is fidgeting.

Early Bird specials, before the big rush.

Back in the lobby, the crowd has grown. A set for Dog Powered Robot appears, that’s was the unexpected hit of this spring’s Fringe. Feldman tells me this is the weirdest festival he’s attended, which is really saying a lot. The next group us is “Bears vs. Wizard,” another set of Sak Alums filling in for a missing Atlanta Group. They’re doing a scene re-exploration number. Audience reaction is muted, but more people flow in. I move back to the last row, behind the streaming camera, but people still crawl over me. I can’t get a live connection any more. Time to cycle power…

OK, back on the air. The sketch is picking up, they’ve done some gender swapping with the cast and finding more laughs in this domestic dramady, and now folding chairs are flying. I think they’ve found their groove.

I head to the lobby and a massive traffic jam. The bar is mobbed, the men’s room has a line, and improv artists discuss technique while blocking fire exits. “NO BLOCKING!” floats across my field of view. Here’s a problem – no food. There are snacks, but getting anything to eat requires ditching a show and heading to Cup ‘O Soul or the Fish place three doors down. I opt for cashews; we’ll see how my resolve holds. Next up is local group “Is the Seat Taken?” lead by Jay Hopkins and David (I’m from New Zealand) Charles. These guys vie for title of “The Second Best Improviser in Orlando” as they take off in an imaginary bus, rolling through jokes in a long form skit that has an impossibly complicated set up. There’s chemistry tonight between these guys, “hetro-normative” and “chocolate covered bacon” pull big laughs, and a Thomas Jefferson remark even bigger ones. Now I’m really hungry, and another beer is out of the question. I hit the street.

OK, the food problem is fixed, Mr. Baratelli convinced Cup ‘O Soul to stay open late, and I snagged a sandwich at the expense of most of the “Boston Improv” show. Gales of laughter poured out of the theatre, and I snuck in and sat next to a girl with enormous cameras. Boston Improv was wrapping up a funny and well received set up about toilets that transport people to London. Sorry I missed part of it.

I think I’m good for on more show, and “Droll Academy” is up with two guys doing scenes based on audience relationship problems, followed by some pick up songs about samba and groceries. These guys are funny, but I’m saturating on comedy and the A/C is kicking in. Time to retreat to the lobby as Seattle based “You Are Here” takes the stage.

Producer Baratelli and Assistant Producer Ed Shepp are beginning to dissect the show as WPPH responsible Adult in Charge Todd Allan Long hauls beer out of a store room. Beer was the most popular drink tonight, either because is a buck cheaper, or because it’s harder to spill than wine in an open cup. The crows have been steady and responsive, and the only disappointment is zero sales of the cute little Improv Bunnies offered at $20. Most ticket sales came immediately before the show and right after the Sentinel announced it. We all discuss publicity and streaming video, and soon it’s time for the Midnight Improv Slam, free to whoever can stay awake. That’s not me, I’m done for tonight.

Tuesday, 9-21-2010 Day 2

OK, I’m back, found parking quickly, and the “Early Show” is up first. They’re doing a long form based on the suggestion “surf.” I picked up a solid internet, and my camera gave up the ghost, so things should go quicker. The show starts out a bit slow, but picks up when a young man at Chick-fil-A starts saying “No” and has to come in to work on Sunday. We’re all feeling energized.

There’s a comedy club feel to the festival. Unlike most theater, texting and tweeting are encouraged, late comers sneak in, and occasionally someone sneaks out to take a call. Attendance is still strong, and the bar is nearly out of Newcastle brown ale. I know since I’m killing the second last one. Now that the food process is better defined, I skipped the first part of “The Arm” from Atlanta, but scuttle butt has it that “Island Time” is the show to catch, and it’s nearly sold out. As a side note, dinner cost me $6.66. That’s the third time I’ve paid that amount in the last month. 

OK, I’m back, found parking quickly, and the “Early Show” is up first. They’re doing a long form based on the suggestion “surf.” I picked up a solid internet, and my camera gave up the ghost, so things should go quicker. The show starts out a bit slow, but picks up when a young man at Chick-fil-A starts saying “No” and has to come in to work on Sunday. We’re all feeling energized.

There’s a comedy club feel to the festival. Unlike most theater, texting and tweeting are encouraged, late comers sneak in, and occasionally someone sneaks out to take a call. Attendance is still strong, and the bar is nearly out of Newcastle brown ale. I know since I’m killing the second last one. Now that the food process is better defined, I skipped the first part of “The Arm” from Atlanta, but scuttle butt has it that “Island Time” is the show to catch, and it’s nearly sold out. As a side note, dinner cost me $6.66. That’s the third time I’ve paid that amount in the last month.

OK, back to Island Time. We’re showing hands if we have empty seats nearby. A video guy is getting crowd reaction shots, and a loose wave begins.”Island Time” are local, and used to work at Pleasure Island at The Mouse. They’ve got a piano and a drum machine, their humor uses parody improv songs – “Ghost Riders in the Sky”, “The Itchy Blues,” and some opera cross in this well executed, well received show. The guy sitting next to me kept his hand up for most of the show, and eventually they showed him some mercy and took his suggestion. Island Time seemed to have some issues with the stage lights – they must be the sort of people that wear sunglasses at night. There also one of the few groups to focus on Short Form improv, a nice switch up for the long from which has dominated the past 48 hours.

Austin’s “Some Like It” is a husband and wife duo doing a Film Noir / Screwball Comedy. They were puling laughs, but I had snuck out for a brewski and Orlando Live was filming the show, and then doing an interview with Baratelli. He’s got a flair for storytelling and flaming, and claims to have invented Improv three months ago, and he then demonstrates the “Dog Powered Robot” set. Stand behind it and make like Godzilla, and have your friend take a picture. Voila, you’re ravaging Tokyo.

The Newcastle Brown is gone, and I’m up for one more show – the one called “Phone Book” from Sarasota. 

 

OK, back to Island Time. We’re showing hands if we have empty seats nearby. A video guy is getting crowd reaction shots, and a loose wave begins.”Island Time” are local, and used to work at Pleasure Island at The Mouse. They’ve got a piano and a drum machine, their humor uses parody improv songs – “Ghost Riders in the Sky”, “The Itchy Blues,” and some opera cross in this well executed, well received show. The guy sitting next to me kept his hand up for most of the show, and eventually they showed him some mercy and took his suggestion. Island Time seemed to have some issues with the stage lights – they must be the sort of people that wear sunglasses at night. There also one of the few groups to focus on Short Form improv, a nice switch up for the long from which has dominated the past 48 hours.

Austin’s “Some Like It” is a husband and wife duo doing a Film Noir / Screwball Comedy. They were pulling laughs, but I had snuck out for a brewski and Orlando Live was filming the show, and then doing an interview with Baratelli. He’s got a flair for storytelling and flaming, and claims to have invented Improv three months ago. He then demonstrates the “Dog Powered Robot” set. Stand behind it and make like Godzilla, and have your friend take a picture. Voila, you’re ravaging Tokyo.

The Newcastle Brown is gone, and I’m up for one more show – this one is called “Phone Book” from Sarasota. The energy level is lower, and their best bit come from Satan judging a private fashion show, followed by a slightly awkward moment asking an audience member if they love Satan or Jesus. Kind of a personal question, if you ask me. By now I’m fading, and Improv OD is kicking in, so I fold my laptop and steal out the back door. It’s been a fun show.

So here’s an overall assessment: this was a smashing success with great audiences, good to excellent comedy, wonderful digs, convenient and reasonably priced bar and a convenient and classy location. Weak points include some confusion over who was on stage or up next, early start times on school nights, and confusion over food options. These are nits, and the WPPH location has about half a dozen decent restaurants within walking distance. I’m looking forward to next year’s Improv Fest, and I’ll try to check out some of these groups in their home digs as travel allows. Great job, Mark, you’re a pillar of the Orlando Arts community. 

Austin’s “Some Like It” is a husband and wife duo doing a Film Noir / Screwball Comedy. They were pulling laughs, but I had snuck out for a brewski and Orlando Live was filming the show, and then doing an interview with Baratelli. He’s got a flair for storytelling and flaming, and claims to have invented Improv three months ago. He then demonstrates the “Dog Powered Robot” set. Stand behind it and make like Godzilla, and have your friend take a picture. Voila, you’re ravaging Tokyo.

 

The Newcastle Brown is gone, and I’m up for one more show – this one is called “Phone Book” from Sarasota. The energy level is lower, and their best bit come from Satan judging a private fashion show, followed by a slightly awkward moment asking an audience member if they love Satan or Jesus. Kind of a personal question, if you ask me. By now I’m fading, and Improv OD is kicking in, so I fold my laptop and steal out the back door. It’s been a fun show.

 

So here’s an overall assessment: this was a smashing success with great audiences, good to excellent comedy, wonderful digs, convenient and reasonably priced bar and a convenient and classy location. Weak points include some confusion over who was on stage or up next, early start times on school nights, and confusion over food options. These are nits, and the WPPH location has about half a dozen decent restaurants within walking distance. I’m looking forward to next year’s Improv Fest, and I’ll try to check out some of these groups in their home digs as travel allows. Great job, Mark, you’re a pillar of the Orlando Arts community.

The Crucible

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

The Crucible
By Arthur Miller
Directed by Frank Hilgenberg
Starring Jamie Kline, Dean Walkuski, Jack Cassidy, Hilty Brown, and Kristen Collins
Theatre Downtown, Orlando FL

A left to the gut. A right to the jaw. A knee to the groin, and a whisky bottle to the brain box, but you’re still not out of the first act. Arthur’s Miller’s brutal history of false accusations and the failure of justice leaves no victors, only survivors. In puritan Massachusetts, witchcraft was as real as healthcare reform, and once accused, your choices were immediate confession, or torture until you confessed. After all, you really can’t call in Satan’s HR guy to verify your employment to the Dark Lord. Everyone agreed that “A devil cannot overcome a minister” membership in the local church was no defense. It all began when some young girls were caught dancing in the night by Rev Parris (Walkuski) who panics over his reputation. He’s not terribly popular and has what is regarded as too good a deal for a preacher, and his daughter and her friends were caught hanging out with a suspicious Barbadian Tituba (Dominique Williams). She’s black, has a funny accent, and she knows foreign words, so she’s obviously the root of the problem. People start murmuring “witchcraft” and recall stillborns and prickling sensations and constipation and once enough people have heard the phrase, it becomes received wisdom. Someone must pay. Soon accusation fly against Parris’s servant Abigail (Bowen), any number of women named “Goody” and even reclusive John Procter (Kline) and his wife Elizabeth (Collins) are in the dock. Not everyone is convinced Lucifer is the problem, but this is a great time to clear up personal grudges, grab some land, and make your reputation as “hard on sin.”

Enough history. Director Hilgenberg has pulled this large cast together and put up a killer show. (Two people were hospitalized during rehearsal.) As John Procter, Kline shows the hard work, skepticism and distrust of imposed authority that would mark the American frontier for the next two centuries. Collins is meek but persuasive and willing to forgive John’s sins, but she, too is raked over the coals but willing to risk her own pain for his. On the accusatory side, James Cassidy plays the Deputy Governor and Chief Judge Danforth. With an imposing stage presence and ability to stare down anyone who would question his job title, he’s as good a straw man for arbitrary authority. Smaller roles were equally well filled by the likes of John Kelly as the elderly Giles Corey begging for sanity in an insane world, Williams exuberant Tituba, and a pompous Rob DelMedico as assistant judge Hawthorn.

“The Crucible” is a tough play to act, and a tough play to watch. By intermission I was exhausted, and stunned by the time the bows came. Seen as a metaphor for the HUAC hearings of the 1950s, this play is constant reminder about how paranoia and mass hysteria can overtake reasonable people and make them monsters of good intentions. While the Communists and Satanist have faded to quaintly humorous threats, we stand ready to turn against any other group that provides a diffuse threat that we can’t fix with a few UAV raids. Sit though this evening of madness, and you won’t have to waste your time with any of the upcoming candidate’s debates. You will see how they’re trying to lead us, but it’s not too late to shout “baloney!” Someone needs to do it.

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

Theatre Tailgate #1 – “The 39 Steps”

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

Theatre Tailgate #1 – “The 39 Steps”
Conceived and proofread by Brian Feldman
Brian Feldman Projects
September 19, 2010
Parking lot of the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre

I tailgated once at a Milwaukee Brewers game and vaguely remember the 5th and 6th innings – something about hitting a ball and running in circles. Tailgating is the rage today, at least for big sporting events – it gives the fans something to do, spreads out traffic flow, and you have a change for a better meal than the $10 hot dog available in the stands. Theater normally doesn’t operate that way, we typically dine at elegant restaurants on caviar and endangered fish, our limousines drop us at the door and wait discreetly behind the loading dock, and we enjoy elegant cocktails at the bar, poured by a man in a white tuxedo while a chanteuse in a low cut dress freshens up the complementary macadamia nuts. But that’s not life in the parking lot.

Tailgating, Feldman Style

Feldman has picked up a folding tent like the ones you see at art festivals, and plopped it down just outside the shady part of the Shakespeare parking lot. In the background, a British-sounding voice narrates the novel version of John Buchan’s novel “The 39 Steps.” A few friends gather. Terry Olson and his wife drop by, and a lively discussion of present and future events flows. Thomas Thorspecken unveils a new mural later this week, someone who has already seen “The 39 Steps” reveals the cliffhanger ending, and a Lynx driver asks if the theatre is open so he can drop off his elderly charge. Hummus and mini pitas are passed around, and bottled water is consumed openly. Where are the vegan hot dogs, the face paint, the portable TV’s with endless preshow commentary? That lies in the future – Theatre Tailgating is a still a weak challenger to Fringe Beer Tent Hanging Out or Cast Party Debauchery, but it has a future. Today was a small start, but this could be the Next Big Thing: Look for future tail gates at Mad Cow and other local venues. Bring your own chair, something to eat and some friendly gossip. And if you don’t have face paint, an old T-shirt from a previous production will do for now.

For more information on Brian Feldman Projects, please visit
http://www.brianfeldman.com/

The 39 Steps

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

The 39 Steps
Adapted by Patrick Barlow from John Buchan’s novelization of Alfred Hitchcock’s film.
Directed by Jim Helsinger
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando Fl

Hitchcock was light on humor but strong on suspense, but this show turns his plot on its head and recaptures every joke His Rotundity missed. It’s 1935 London, a city filled with ennui and pre-war intrigue. A bored Richard Hannay (Spencer Plachy) heads to the theatre where he meets a mysterious woman (Deanna Gibson) with a German accent and a butcher knife in her back. Now on the run, he flees toward Scotland attempting to stop a critical defense secret from falling into Nazi hands. Blocked at every turn by the comedy team of Brad DePlanche and Brandon Roberts he saves the free world and nearly falls in love with the revived and re-wigged Pamela (Ms Gibson, again).

It’s an exciting chase down the spiral stairs in this wild, whacky slapstick comedy. There might be a moment or two when the cast slipped and made us worry about Hannay’s safety or Pamela’s sex life, but I can’t clearly recall. Instead, the sight gags piled on top of one another – DePlanche and Roberts as the sinister trench-coated agents flawless changing costume on stage to become elderly Scottish innkeepers, a high speed chase across the top of a train played out on some foot lockers with Hannay furiously wagging his coat to mime wind, Pamela and Hannay attempting to cross a style while handcuffed together, Roberts fighting with a tassel on his Chinese fez – all screamers, all done with effortless grace and a huge bath of sweat under the costumes. Some jokes require knowledge of “Dial M For Murder” or “The Birds” but they fly by so fast only the film buffs need to take in extra gulps of air to survive.

Orlando Shakes usually goes for more thoughtful, building comedies, but here director Helsinger has put on the baggy pants, loaded up the pie cart and let fly. DePlanche and Roberts should require some sort of special license to appear in stage together, and Gibson and Hannay might actually have a romantic chemistry if we weren’t laughing so hard. Even the windows got laughs tonight – don’t miss it even if you’re in the middle of childbirth.

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

The Sugar Bean Sisters

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

The Sugar Bean Sisters
By Nathan Sanders
Directed by Joshua Eads-Brown
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL

We used to make fun of Arkies and Okies and West Virginia hillbillies, but that’s not PC anymore so now we pick on Floridians. Faye Clementine Nettles (Sylvia Viles-Vicchiullo) and Willie May Nettles (Laurel Clark) live in a shack down in a cane field around behind Okeechobee County. Not much goes on beyond alien landings and flying cat attacks so when the Mormon missionaries knocked the sister’s mysticism and sense of morality convinced them to buy the special underwear. But not everything here is palmettos and cream: Willie bemoans her baldness and lack of sex appeal as Faye makes sandwiches for the Martians. Their sorrows are long lived; years ago their little sister was et by a gator and daddy was hanged for selling bad cane syrup. This setting of sweaty domesticity is upset when tarted up Videllia Sparks (Rochelle Curbow-Wheeler) shows up with a tale of a shining white man who changed her tires when she thought she was lost. She too has a dark secret, and while Willie is off with Bishop Crumley (Jim Cundiff) Videllia and Faye hook up with the Reptile Woman (Kris Wiley) to bake a coral snake surprise. Someone is going to go to the Celestial Kingdom tonight, and not the one that sells mouse ears.

In this timing driven story, motivations are unclear and seem as slithery as the snakes Reptile Woman carries in her shoulder bag. The humor is mostly set up and knock down, and Wiley’s Reptile Woman nearly steals the show. Her curtain speech could show more established theatres a thing or two, and her creepy manner gives her laughs off of innocuous lines like “she was eaten by a gobbly creature.” Miss Sparks was a close second with her bird leggings and dangerously low cut blouse; her descriptions of dancing accidents at the Evil People’s Lounge brought serious gales of laughter, the two hyphenated sisters felt more cartoonish, and their lines seemed mostly barked at one another. It took Cundiff’s uber nice bishop to rein them in, he didn’t get many laughs but showed us that nice people exist even is a town where the alligators are conducting religious pogroms. This is a silly comedy with a really cool set, even if they story has more holes in it than the Nettles screen door you will laugh when the smoke doesn’t get in your eyes.

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

Company

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Company
By Steven Sondheim and George Furth
Directed by Frank McLain
Musical Direction by Robin Jensen
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL

Robert (Shawn Kilgore) isn’t exactly a Confirmed Bachelor, but his married friends are a little worried. He dates heavily, proclaims matrimony as life’s highest calling, but once he gets to third or fourth base, things stall. He’s 35 already, so what’s he waiting for? Maybe it’s all the unhappily married friends surrounding him that are pulling the choke. Harry (Michael Colavolpe) and Sarah (Kate O’Neal) both fight addictions but use martial arts as a marital aid, Peter (Christopher Norton) and Susan (Rebekah Lane) signed up for a friendly divorce, and Joanne (Elizabeth Murff) has a Mrs. Robinson complex and is not going to waste Robert’s time discussing plastics. Even his girl friends are getting fed up – April (Mellissa Careccia) is shallow and compliant, but as a stewardess she has options. Kathy (Emily Bramblett) went proactive and signed up for a bridal registry while Riot Grrrl Marta (Heather Lea Charles) attempts the false pregnancy route. The world is screaming “You do! You do!” but now Robert is so spooked by commitment he’s afraid of opening a letter from Columbia House.

It’s Sondheim and we expect dark, complex emotions but they come with bouncy music. “The Little Things You Do Together” and “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” were nearly sing alongs, and Ms. Murff put some real bite and desperation into “Ladies Who Lunch.” Director McClain has taken a notoriously dark story and fluffed it into a positive twist and turned a challenging book into a confident, coherent, and completely enjoyable evening. Lyrics and motifs float in and out, echoes of “Into the Woods” chorography dominate the first act, and here the dark subtext in any and all relations seem more a mutual game of dozens rather than a swan dive into guaranteed misery. (Robert) looks like a young Mel Brooks but pulls you into his fear and fascination with heterosexual commitment – he wants the ring and the tax deduction, but is unsure of which dark alley will mug him. The singing ranges from excellent to great; the acting comfortable and sincere. Of all Robert’s dalliance, Marta felt like the most promising – her tight torn jeans and 1960’s hair enhanced her emotional appeal even as her New Yorkaphilia painted the bleakest future. Punk was generation away, but we knew that Marta had “Marky Ramone Groupie” tattooed on her ass before David Bowie airbrushed his first facial stripe. We leave Robert where we found him: the envy of his male friends, a tempting project for his female friends and a lost soul adrift on the sea of life. As with all marriages, your mileage may differ.

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

Thomas Thorspecken Sketches the Audience

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

Thomas Thorspecken Sketches the Audience
Created by Play The Moment Productions, Analog Artist Digital World and Brian Feldman Projects
Concept by Brian Feldman
Starring Thomas Thorspecken
September 5, 2010
Lowndes Shakespeare Center, Orlando, FL

Rain is imminent on this muggy September evening, and the show’s star is nervous. How many people will attend this inverted theatrical experience? Inside the Goldman Theater, the atmosphere strikes me as a bit like a pleasant funeral – Thorspecken is dressed in a sedate suit, melancholy oboe music hides behind the arras, and a crowd of two dozen mingles and jokes. Theatre people are wearing the mandatory black, and cameras flash as everyone attempts to document the one single image that will freeze this collective evening. Brian Feldman kvetches he’s been up for 48 hours straight, Orange County arts maven Terry Olson asks technical questions about his iPhone, and the tattooed dude in the kilt considers doing laps throughout the evening to mess with the artist. Classic sketches by Thorspecken litter the walls, some carefully lit by a single blue white Cree High Efficiency Light Emitting Diode. Cheap wine drives a lighthearted attitude. No one is sure what to expect

Wait. Sorry. You don’t know what’s happening, do you? Thomas Thorspecken is “The Analog Artist in a Digital World.” For the past few years he’s attended a vast assemblage of art, theater and festival events, and carefully documented “The Moment” in ink and water colors. Tonight he sketches a paying audience in real time with an overhead camera and a projector so we can watch the process. On one hand, this should be dead easy for TT; but he’s not usually in the spot light and I rarely have anyone watch me write.

How to describe TT’s style? It’s quick and loose with fine details and broad swaths of color. Like any sketch, details are multileveled: sometimes you can read a gum wrapper, other times foreground faces are mere smudges. His sketches reside in five by eight notebooks – the gutter between pages is always present, sort of like the staple in a centerfold’s navel. His sketches are naïve and profound, capturing unplanned moments as well as the most transient experiences. In other words, you can smell the sweat.

With stage cans pouring light on him, he wears a baseball cap to keep from being blinded, and a camera man valiantly tracks his work from 3 feet above. The start is slow, a dull number 2 pencil makes some landmarks for him to sketch against. The audience fidgets and the sort of low conversations you hear before the eulogy skips across the room. Shutters click, and Feldman pans a camcorder across the room, eventually focusing on the exact subject TT is jotting down. It’s a perfect universe of narcissism, we watch ourselves on TV and in a faux courtroom documentary.

Barely visible lead lines are fixed firmly with a fine-tipped Sharpie as he starts in the center and works outward. A pen is dropped and replaced, and a woman exclaims “make me a hexagon!” It’s clear some people will fall off the page. Some wise guys move around, aiming to be in the picture twice. Eventually colors come out, and the drawing is nearly done. I consider asking Feldman if he wants to proof this review, but what’s the use? He won’t let any typos slip by. Art – consider it made.


For more information on Brian Feldman Projects, please visit http://www.brianfeldman.com/

To see the result of this performance please visit http://thorspecken.blogspot.com/