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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for October, 2010

Noises Off

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Noises Off
By Michael Frayn
Directed by Jay Hopkins
A Jester Theatre Company production
Winter Garden Theatre, Winter Garden

It’s best to leave serious comedy to the professionals and Noises Off is a pretty serious comedy. I’ve seen productions that have ranged from sublime to Turkish prison painful, and I’m so happy to report this is the funniest on record. Under the well timed direction of Jay Hopkins, this “Play in a Play” play hits every gag, pulls laughs out of every pratfall, and gets down into the tricky work of making occasional shrugs, stares and double takes yield an additional rich harvest of laughs. This show is hitting on all eight cylinders.

The inner play is a doddering door slammer of a farce funded Doty Otlye (Marty Stonerock) It’s her last attempt to “put something by” before old age kills her career, and the show is a shambles – the cast is barely off book, the opening night party is less than 24 hours away, and lust, alcoholism and contact lenses provide backstage drama much more interesting than what’s in front of the curtain. Director Lloyd Dallas (Hopkins) speaks with the voice of God from the balcony and helps Freddy Fellows (Keith Smith) find motivation in his cardboard box. Dotty can’t keep track of the sardines, and the multiple on stage romances are all shifted one over from where the cast is actually bedding down. The old school actor Sheldon Mowbray (Don Fowler) is more interested in his next drink than hitting his mark. In other words, it’s like Fringe but with better sets.

It’s hard to point a finger and not aim it at someone with a brilliant performance. Jason Horn plays Garry Lejune, focusing all his nearly grown-up energy at falling down stairs and tossing an axe at his romantic competitor. Fowler looks like a street person while emoting with the profundity and projection of a man whose career predates electronic amplification. The quiet guy here is notional technical director and all-around stand-in Tim Allgood (Tyler Cravens) He’s the sleep deprived man who makes all the wrong announcements and keeps the cast from killing each other. Marty Stonerock is pleasantly batty and misses the couch when she plops down, Poppy Norton-Taylor (Becky Eck) is mostly on the verge of well deserved tears, and Lloyd Dallas might be the voice of authority, but he much better as the two timing love interest.

Comedy is timing, timing and more timing, and here it all falls in place. There’s a little innuendo and a little language, but this is funny, funny, and more funny. Go see it with someone who can take a joke.

For a complete listing of events at The Garden Theatre in Winter garden, please visit http://gardentheatre.org

The Insanity of Mary Girard

Friday, October 29th, 2010

The Insanity of Mary Girard
By Lanie Robertson
Directed by Seth Lindsey
Starring Vicki Burns
Breakthrough Theater, Winter Park, Fl

Say what you will about Obama Care, medicine was much more brutal in post revolutionary Philadelphia. A diagnosis of insanity only required a husband’s say-so, and institutionalization was the only real option beyond bloodletting, cold baths, and public exhibition. Mary Girard (Burns) showed up at the doctor’s office expecting a check up and instead found herself in the loony bin and immediately taunted by four Furies. Her symptoms? Inability to birth a child by her husband, impregnation by another man, and fading beauty that her husband (Scott Mills) no longer preferred. He liked serving girls, young ones best of all, and in her hallucinations the next “housekeeper” (Katy Polimeno) explains how to keep a man in 1799. The advice isn’t all bad, just gratingly sexist by today’s feelings. Back then a woman was in it for the social status and nice furniture, not for any sort of emotional fulfillment.

As descents into insanity go, this one was typically brutal and strident. The furies (Jennifer Bennett, Mackenzie Filson, Eliza Stevens, Rachel West) screeched and flew, finishing each other’s sentences as they hectored Mary and buffeted the audience. Mary’s descent was well played; she clung to a strand of denial until the last. Her imagined mother Mrs. Lum (Karen Edward-Hill) was stern, disapproving and gray, and the closest thing Mary had to an ally was the warder Mr. Phillips (Jim Cundiff). Convinced she was sane and just suffering from a passing case of the Vapors, he was the one truly evil man in the show, but it’s Mary that suffers for his sin. It’s a night in the nut house, creepy and claustrophobic but a nice peek into a place you will hopefully never see in this life.

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

Carousel

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Carousel
By Rogers and Hammerstein
Directed by Julia Gagne
Starring Paul Hambidge, Beatrice Roberts, Karlyn Koebe and John Clayton
Musical Direction by Tim Hanes and Alan Gerber
Choreography by Lesley Brasseux-Rodgers
Valencia Character Company, Valencia State College, Orlando FL

I loved the show, but hated the script. Late in 19th century Maine, industry and morality push young women in to mill jobs with paternalistic bosses. Dating is strictly controlled, but Julie (Roberts) and Carrie (Koebe) get some time to visit the local fair where Carousel Barker Billy Bigelow (Hambidge) seduces young Julie. It’s a tame seduction; they marry before much untoward occurs. She’s naive and he’s abusive and there’s a baby on the way by Scene Three. Carrie is fussier; she snags pompous and prosperous Enoch Snow (Clayton) who has money and exceptionally productive sperm. If only slacker Billy could get his old job back, Julie could eat, but he’s too proud to return even after his ex-boss Mrs. Mullin (Leontyne Carter) begs him. His sleazy buddy Jigger (Travis Eaton) has a better idea – knock off the mill payroll while the town is out having a clam bake. Things go badly, but thanks to Broadway Theology Billy gets a second chance if he “does something especially good” for someone. This pretty much amounts to whispering “Believe in yourself” into his daughter’s ear at high school graduation. Normally, the Valedictorian does that, but in a small town everyone pitches in.

While the payoff might be small, the production is huge. The scenery and lighting (Kristen Abel and Sonia Pasqual) are stunning – large trees and a New England granite ledge drop from the fly loft, a working carousel and a full midway open the show, and a Down East fishing dock appears, lacking only a gift shop to complete the experience. The musical numbers are excellent as well; this show hosts “June is Busting Out All Over”, “You Never Walk Alone,” and “A Real Nice Clambake.” Billy starts out tentative but by the time he sings “Soliloquy” he shows a fine voice and great presence. Robert’s Julie and Koebe’s Carrie take well to this score and Nettie Fowler (Carol Sissom) belts out the lead in “June” with gusto. Billy and Julie take care of the exposition early with “If I Loved You,” but when Billy sings it post mortem, it takes on new meaning.

Where this show stalls is in the dance and ballet numbers. While I enjoyed the opening carnival set, after a while I started thinking “Is anything interesting going to happen?” There are several large dance productions, and while they were well choreographed (by Lesley Brasseux-Rodgers) and cleverly staged they seemed to be spectacle for spectacles sake, seemed over long. With a dark and difficult story line these excursions kept the show from building to a thrilling climax, and the odd scenes in heaven felt added to give the story a feel good ending. It’s a long pull up to Maine, and I recommend you bring a coat. It’s mighty chilly up there.

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

The Rocky Horror Show

Monday, October 25th, 2010

The Rocky Horror Show
By Richard O’Brien
Directed by Steve MacKinnon
Choreography by Spencer Morrow
Musical Direction by Spencer Croswell
Starring Adam McCabe, Dave Sierra, Alexa Langella, Jeremy Segers
Theatre Downtown, Orlando Fla

Somehow this cheesy little sci-fi parody has become a touchstone of our generation. It’s almost impossible to see this show once, most people recount double digit viewings of the film and the stage version is a holiday classic – this is at least my fourth experience of a live RHPS. The story differences between stage and screen are insignificant, but the core of the story is 1957 paranoia – outsiders in exotic garb take over The American Way of Life. They’ve infiltrated and scheme to have sex with all of us. Here’s the worst part: We’ll ENJOY it.

So did I enjoy it? Of course. The cast is largely newcomers, with a few “Rich Weirdoes” alums in the mix. (“Rich Weirdoes” does a long running shadow play at the film version down at Universal City Walk) The straight stooges Brad (Sierra) and Janet (Langella) seems a perfect Young Republican couple – while he has a warm nerd charm she’s a great screamer and looks stunning in her Sears’ foundation garments. Riff Raff (Seghers) shaved his head and even if he had to cheat on a few high notes, he carried the bitterness of someone who was passed over for a promotion by some less competent but more flamboyant. Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter (McCabe) sang well through a self satisfied smirk. He let you know his promotion was at the expense of a more qualified and but less flamboyant competitor. Veteran TDT director Tim DeBaun narrated and Stephen Pugh rolled onstage as Dr. Evert Scott, a dedicated hunter of commie and camisoles and arch nemesis of the Transylvanians. Give him a decade or two and he might make the classic “Pointy Haired Boss from Hell.”

While this production had great voices and clever staging, it flew along so fast it seemed like lines were missing McKinnon’s’ direction made the most of the available stage resources: the overture was done to clips of classic B&W Sci-fi, as originally intended. The “Time Warp” filled the stage with pelvic thrusts, and Eddie (Dorothy Massey) ripped on “Hot Patootie.” In the second act we saw Brad Majors sing “Once in a While’, a nice ballad that didn’t make the film version. Audience accusation of Brad as an “asshole” seemed mean spirited; he’s just a geek hoping for some hetro thrills. While we were given a plastic bag with a playing card and toilet paper and a lecture about water pistols and Minute Rice, the audience was well behaved and never really heckled the cast. Even when Frank ‘N’ Furter asked “whatever happened to Fay Wray?” no one offered up the obvious “She went ape shit!” We’re all now older and disappointingly wiser, and this might be your last chance to relive my childhood. In a few years Riff Raff will be carving the roast beef at a 4 pm matinee and the Transylvanians will offer you the cheese cake or the sorbet. It may not be shocking, but Fishnets and an Android seem like a suitable compromise.

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

Pump Boys and Dinettes

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Pump Boys and Dinettes
By John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel and Jim Wann
Directed and Choreographed by Roy Alan
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Winter Park Playhouse
Winter Park FL

Who ever thought they’d allow mud bogging and fish cleaning on stage in this bastion of tiled elegance? Sure, it’s a collection of songs with a gauze thin covering of plot, but country? Western? Zydeco and “My Woman Done Left Me and Took My Blue Tick Hound blues? Sloppy grammar? Go figger. Preshow speechifier Mark Edwards even tried to pull off a Texas drawl. He didn’t get any farther south than Battery Park, but at least he knows there some is empty space way down south of Broadway.

So there’s this premise: We’re stuck in a small town gas station and dinner trapped somewhere between highway 57 and 1957. Its run by good looking Jon (Joshua A Eleazer) and his buddies, including L. M. (Leavy) on piano and accordion, serious bass player Eddie (Rick Richolson) and the always natty Jackson (Ken Tibeau). The diner is helmed by sisters Rhetta Cupp (Candace Neal) and Prudie Cupp (Heather Alexander). There’s a split between Jim and Rhetta, something to do with a fishing trip and a missed date, so we watch them make up while the band plays a heady mix of Gospel, blues, R&B, and all that po’ folks music that ambiguous men in tuxedos turn in to real show tunes. Plus, Chris Leavy gets an actual speaking role.

How’s the music? Great, if you’re willing to down a PBR and drop a line without any bait. “Tips” “Serve Yourself” by Prudie and Rhetta are dark and bluesy, and “No Holds barred” is a zippy line dance number. L. M. does his best Brucie Springsteen with “Highway 57,” and the rockabilly “Mona” has Jackson ripping through his collection of guitars while Chris Leavy gets his red converse up on the ivories. He’s aiming for Buddy Holly but I hope he doesn’t hurt himself. “Vacation” could be Etta James on speed, and there’s a touch of Cajun spices on “Farmer Tan.” You won’t meet Dolly or Willy here, but you won’t smell the still or the ganja patch either. It’s a big change up in music for this troupe, but they do it justice in that lower 40 of Winter Park. And the romance? Of course, what would you expect here, a messy divorce?

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

Phantasmagoria

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Phantasmagoria
Conceived, Written and Directed by John DiDonna
Choreography by Yezzi
Empty Spaces Theatre Company and Orlando Puppet Festival
At The Lowndes Shakespeare Center, Orlando, Fl

Lost in a dream, lost in someone else’s head – that’s how I felt after the exquisite and extravagant mix of dance, theatre, and puppetry. The room is packed, and three fossilized women are trapped in clay urns left over from last year’s Becket Fest. A thunderstorm is brewing on a projection screen – the clouds are low and ominous, yet their only movement comes from the ventilation system blowing air across the screen. Familiar dancers appear – you’ve seen them with Emotions and Voci and any number of entertainments featuring impossibly thin and flexible women. Skulls fly past in tatters, the clay women are free, and we enter one of the most clever puppet shows in Orlando’s relatively short puppeting history. Clever and a bit sick, it’s Punch and Judy is a Grand Guignol complete with Velcro genitals and spurting blood. We relive The Fall of Man and Vlad the Impaler and note that impaling puppets is much easier then impaling people. Puppets are wonderful, you can do ANYTHING with them, and no one complains. As lackeys wipe the blood off this Shakespearean carpet, gradually more elaborate mechanisms grace our view. Gregor Samsa (Chris Pruett) wakes to find himself late for a train and turned in to a cockroach, a Victorian Penny Dreadful fills the room with more adjectives than Fox News and women dance as ravens with their arms in tortuous positions as actors emote “Nevermore!” Finally, a 16 foot high Frankenstein appears, operated by three puppeteers, his bones from Home Depot, his muscles from Merle Norman, and his heart filled with free thinking Romantics and spare static electricity. Despised by his maker, he can’t even get a date which is a common problem for anyone in the technical trades. Every time I see a DiDonna Production, I think “I never knew he could do that.” It’s just friggin’ amazing.

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

The Somewhat True Tale of Robin Hood

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

The Somewhat True Tale of Robin Hood
By Mary Lynn Dobson
Directed by Larry Stallings
Starring Alex Carroll, Marcie Schwalm, David Goldstone, and Marty Radner
Center Players at the JCC, Maitland Fla.

Once upon a time in that Marxist Leninist paradise called Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood (Carroll) runs a wealth redistribution racket. One day, he grabbing the chest of Maid Marian (Schwalm) for redistribution it to the unseen but heavily taxed poor. True, the chest was the one full of jewels, but the effect on the Prince (Radner) was immediate: no diamond encrusted weather vane for him. But that’s a minor setback, his real game is parleying a little know aspect of English common law into a grab for the throne. He just needs to get one more vote, and Maid Marian is his target demographic and her marriage to the evil Sherriff of Nottingham (Goldstone) his campaign strategy. All he needs is an archery tournament, a few frames of bowling and a narrative device like Townsman David Strauss.

This Robin Hood is a broad comedy with little respect for the fourth wall, or even the second or third wall. It’s aimed at a younger audience, but the author kept the adults in mind and there are plenty of jokes, even if they didn’t all connect in the dress rehearsal I saw. Townsman Strauss did a great job playing himself as Carroll huzzah’d his way through a voyage of self aggrandization. Ms. Schwalm got the best jokes and the best curses, wishing everyone a dermatological nightmare ranging from scabies to uncomfortable genital itching. Her Lady-In-Waiting (Amy Schwartz) is one of the best screamers in town: people on stage knowingly plugged their ears while the audience pushed their chairs back a foot or two every time she let one go. Rader’s prince frothed impotently, but the Goldstone as the Sherriff seemed flat as the bad guy and never seemed to click into the on-stage silliness. The set for this show was impressive, local artist and scenic maven Bonnie Sprung gave the show four large, rotating columns with psychedelic forests and Cinderella castle interiors. The cast simply danced them around to change scenes, and most of the time they came out in the correct orientation. Fun and frothy, this is a show that you can take the kids to and not worry about fidgeting yourself.

For more information on the Center Players, visit Http://OrlandoJCC.org/

The Turn of the Screw

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

The Turn of the Screw
Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher
From the novel by Henry James
Directed by Anne Hering
With Suzanne O’Donnell and Eric Hissom
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando FL

There’s either something supernatural going on here, or we’ve got some clever kids with serious separation anxiety. Little Miles and Flora lost their parents, and are now the wards of their uncle (Hissom) in far off London. He hires a governess (O’Donnell) for them on two conditions – she is totally responsible for the children, and she must never contact him about them. Off she goes to gothicly dark Ely House and at first things go well – Flora is friendly but refuses to speak, but soon the housekeeper makes ominous statements and Miles appears, sent down from boarding schools for “unspeakable acts.” Exactly what isn’t to be spoken of is never clear, but Miles is sneaky, manipulative, and until he’s old enough to stand for the House of Commons, he’ll satisfy himself with torturing The Governess. There’s a dark past in this house with murder, suicide and unauthorized hanky-panky driving people to dark visions, potential hallucinations, and an exorcisms. All that’s lacking is a spinning head with spewing green pea soup vomit.

In her bustle and black brocade, O’Donnell sails forth like a ship on stormy waters, rolling from joy to despair and back to sheer fright as Miles tortures her. He demands to be sent back to school, and her best course of action would be to agree, and pick a school in Australia. Hissom pops between characters with the studied experience of an old pro – his Miles entraps your gaze, his Housekeeper wobbles physically and emotionally, and as the Distant Uncle, he’s knowledgeable enough to stay the heck out of evil Essex. They act on a set blacker than Beth Marshall’s old garage, and sparingly lit by Eric Haugen’s minimal collection of pin spots and clever backlighting through the largest pieces of Victorian lace I’ve ever seen. It’s moody, atmospheric, and just smoky enough to spread the light without making the customers cough.

So did the butler do it? That’s left intentionally unsolved, sort of like the name of the murderer in a Sleuths’ show. But I have a theory; it’s based on the repeated use of the word “seduction” and Mile’s offhand remark about where babies are made. I’ll whisper it in your ear some day, but if I’m wrong you can build a case for anything from Satanic possession to female hysteria to ergot in the rye croutons. It’s lonely in Essex and there’s not a lot of social checks and balances in the grand house, so anything is possible. And that’s the essence of horror – paint the shadows, and let them do the talking. They positively scream on this stage.

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

Spotlight Cabaret with Robby Piggott

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Spotlight Cabaret with Robby Piggott
Musical direction by Chris Leavy
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park FL

There’s a particular intimacy in cabaret, especially when the main man on stage is suffering from Facebook grade laryngitis. Mr. Piggott sent Facebook updates warning he might not perform due to voice problems. But he’s a trooper and with a jug of tea and whiskey he stood in the small clear space in front of the piano in the always elegant lobby of the Winter Park Playhouse. This was Piggott’s first cabaret, and his selection of music initially left musical director Chris Leavy at a loss: “People want to hear the standards!” was his advice. Piggott responded with a medley of 20 or so one liners ranging from “Touch-a-Touch-a-Touch Me” to “Oklahoma” to one of those endless Sondheim songs I can never place. Thus satisfying the traditionalist is happy he was free to break out into new ground. There was a theme here, he covered missionary songs sung in Hawaiian to “starlight Express” numbers in German, and gave us the cooks tour of his life and how musical theatre brought him happiness and reasonably regular employment. Despite his limited belting power, Piggott covered some great material I’ve never heard – “Contemporary Musical Theater Song” from “Mock Your World”, “The Vigil” from an obscure follow-on to “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” and “Way Ahead of my Time” from “Ug, the Caveman Musical” all were wonderful. It shows that while people are slapping “…! The Musical” on everything from Pokémon to canned goods, occasionally a great show tune can pop out of the morass. Piggott’s selection of songs, boyish charm, and sincere delivery make up for any medical conditions, and I hope to see him return with fewer medial issues in the near future.

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

[ title of the show ]

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

[ title of the show ]
Book by Hunter Bell
Music & Lyrics by Jeff Bowen
Directed and Choreographed by Kenny Howard and Michael Wanzie
Musical Direction and accompaniment by John B. deHaas
Footlights Theatre, Orlando, FL

If you watch those old movies about Broadway, musicals come from tuxedoed men sitting around a piano peeling off hit tunes and engaging storylines while sipping champagne and plotting a victory cruise to Europe. In my humble experience, the writing process is much closer to the agony of Jeff (Rob Lott) and Hunter (Kevin Kelly). They notice a call for scripts with a short fuse, plunge into depression over the story line, and finally decide to go all post modern and write a musical about two guys writing a musical. They draft some female friends (Robyn Kelly and Melissa Mason), and soon enough, they have a hit Off Broadway, and then its one small step to the real big time: Orlando’s Footlights Theatre.

Every flaw and success in this show’ script is gleefully pointed out more quickly and accurately by Bell & Bowen than I ever could. They call their own show “Self Referential Bullshit,” but it’s the funniest self referential bullshit that I’ve ever heard. The songs are clever, scenes that go one to long abruptly stop with the comment “This scene is too long,” and there’s even a moral at the end: If you collaborate, figure out who owns what before you go too far. Success may destroy your friendships.

I admit missing most of the pop culture references, but there’s plenty of laughter for the out dated. Every song seems to sound vaguely show tune familiar, with highlights like “Monkeys and Playbills” the broke-and-must-pay-the rent driven “Part Of It All” and the touching “A Way Back To Then” which highlighted Melissa Mason played Susan, the actual actor forced to strip on stage (boy, was THAT in the wrong venue). Robin Kelly, with her rubbery face and underrated voice led the writer’s block lament “Die Vampire Die.” The boys were in nearly every song, Kelly with his maniacal grin and Lott with his boyish charm, and even though they weren’t miked on opening night, they seemed to fill the room with sweet sound.

Writers writing about writing can easily head into the commode of self-indulgent self congratulation, but this show keeps one foot stuck though the fourth wall. It shows that a deep inner subtext or uplifting social commentary isn’t as important as engaging songs, funny lines and a story that feels coherent if not earth shattering. It also shows that the Footlights is capable of entertaining without wigs and falsies, packing a house and getting a standing ovation. A few more shows like this, and they can start bringing in the buses from The Villages. Nice work, Mr. Wanzie and Mr. Howard!

For more information on the Footlights Theater, please visit http://www.theparlimenthouse.com or http://www.Wanzie.com