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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for March, 2011

Charm

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Charm
By Kathleen Cahill
Directed by Pat Flick
Starring Katherine Michelle Tanner
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando FL

Sometimes the Transcendentalists remind me of the Surrealists – they make wild claims, argue them endlessly, and if you’re not clued into the subtleness of code words the argument might as well be in Cantonese. The Transcendentalists worried about God and Spirits and the rights of man and wove those ideas into popular novels. They avoided formal religion and Ouija boards and preferred to write endless books and tracts as a mediation and soporific, and while they were about a liberal as anyone could be in 1840’s America they didn’t allow girls into their club. At least not until Ralph Emerson (Eric Zivot) met Margret Fuller (Tanner) and invited her to join the editorial board of his magazine “The Dial.” Thoreau (Brandon Roberts) and Nathaniel Hawthorne (Walter Kmiec) were fine with this, but Orestes Brownson (Trent Fucci) was ready to write a strongly worded letter to The Times. Fuller loved the intellectual but sought the physical and as a rather plain and lumpy woman she was having trouble getting a man. Having sex was technically impossible without a marriage that had more paper work than a peace settlement, and while she almost made a connection with playboy Sam Ward (Avery Clark), it took a trip to the Italian revolution and an Italian count to get her pregnant.

While the Transcendentalist can be wordy, author Cahill keeps the rhetoric under control but explains Emerson, Thoreau and Hawthorn are without making us actually read them. Fuller is vulnerable and earnest and full of ideas that the world wasn’t ready for, but at least she got us talking. It’s her romantic longings and her effect on these men of letters that propel this story: Emerson plays the fatherly mentor, Thoreau the orginal ambiguous environmentalist, and Ward knows he can get a better deal in the long run, but is open about the next 5 minutes. Symbolically, Fuller is drawn to water, and passes through it several times in order to complete her quest. When she achieves happiness, it’s truly beautiful.

The staging mixes classical columns and shadowy forests, reminding us that the classic temples of ancient Greece are just the trunks of sacred ash trees. We get some quickie Latin lessons helpfully explained by a Card Girl (Kelli Rose Sleigh), and when Descartes (Clark) steps on stage as a statue, he looks bronzed and patina’d and just needed some Latin chiseled into his waistcoat. Overall, we surf over the surging sexuality lurking under the dusty tomes and endless subjunctives as the Transcendentalists talked about everything but what they were talking about. We all want sex, but in those days of budding New World intellectualism the topic was buried under debating points so carefully hedged that by the time you made a rebuttal, you forget why you cared. But tonight? Tonight we have Emerson, Thoreau, and Shakespeare – how could we be any more elegant and erudite?

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

Art

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Art
By Yasmina Reza
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Marian Mantovani
Random Magic Theatre presented at Sleuth’s Mystery Dinner Theatre
Orlando, FL

What would your best friend have to do to drive you away? Hit you? Steal you mate? Vote for the wrong politico? Cheer on the wrong team? In Paris, purchasing an expensive and incomprehensible painting is a start. Serge (Toby Pruett) has a nice medical practice and a no close family, so he can pop for a major piece of Modern Art. His engineer friend Marc (Greg Cartwright) doesn’t see the appeal of a large white canvas, and Yvan (Kenny Babel) doesn’t care either way, he’s getting married to the bride from hell so he can keep his low paying job selling stationary. As we grind thorough the arguments, Marc can’t seem to grasp modernism, while Serge recognizes that Marc “hasn’t done the apprenticeship” so it’s no wonder he’s a philistine. Yvan couldn’t care less; he has dueling step-mothers and can’t get the wedding invitation to his fiancés satisfaction. He has no time for art, there’s a guillotine waiting just outside.

While Marc’s arguments seem unreasonable, there’s a raw, class based humor in this Guy’s Play. Pruett is filled with bon homme and if it doesn’t sound like I’m sucking up, I thought the painting was actually kinda cool, but maybe not $200k cool. Babel has the best monolog, he flies on stage with his ass aflame and delivers 7 minutes of pure mother-in-law humor, while smug Cartwright eventually wears himself down and admits, well, maybe, if he could “help” the artist a bit, he, too can find meaning in a wall of white. Hey, look, it’s a man skiing down a hill in a snowstorm!

While the audience was small, the little theatre off the Sleuths gift shop was a perfect space for the show: it felt like a nice Parisian apartment near a trendy metro stop. A helpful guide in the program aided us with thumbnail post modern, feminist, rationalist, and a few other interpretations for the show. While there’s a strong European class element in the conflict and resolution, I see this as an examination of the limits of friendship, and how we negotiate socially acceptable behaviors amongst ourselves. Tonight’s negotiation ended happily, but that’s not always the case. Our lives are littered with old friends who drifted off somehow, and that’s why we must keep negotiating new ones – who can say what awful habits you and I picked up, and can’t shake?

For more information, please vist http://www.facebook.com/pages/Random-Magic-Theatre-Inc/150184488339106

Theatre Tailgate #2 at “Circle Mirror Transformation”

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Theatre Tailgate #2 at “Circle Mirror Transformation”
Brian Feldman Projects
March 18, 2011
105 S Magnolia Ave
Orlando, FL 32801

Spring is here, but the pollen hasn’t left yet. On a warm breezy evening, Brian Feldman brings out his cooler and set up shop in front of Mad Cow Theatre for tonight’s opening of “Circle Mirror Transformation,” an award winning play by up and coming writer Annie Baker. Feldman only does these tailgates for world and regional premiers, and it seems odd this is the first Orlando premier since last fall’s “The 39 Steps.” I had to pick up some camp chairs for the tailgate, my old Fringe one had fallen apart beyond repair. As we walked past the homeless and the sports bar patrons drinking beer and counting to sixteen, we found Orange Country arts administrator Terry Olson and local radio host Jeremy Seghers chatting with Feldman. The preshow camaraderie extended to cheering the arriving actors, and when one showed up for Mad Cows other show “Freud’s Last Session” we debated, but cheered anyway.

Brian Feldman scans the script for typos.

As people walked by they asked if we were protesting (no) or camping (no) or just blocking the sidewalk (yes). Feldman discussed potential future projects (off the record, he never knows what will pan out), Mr. Olson commented on his daughters upcoming class trip, and I tried to get Feldman’s Fringe plans so I could coordinate for my own upcoming project. Always the considerate host, Feldman brought some snacks to nosh on – Samosas, Pellegrino water complete with colorful bendy straws, and some odd looking sushi. Veggie puffs we passed around, early patrons tripped over us, and I wondered if the OPD would hassle us. Nothing awful happened, and soon we packed up, got out tickets, and saw the show. This is great fun if you don’t have to battle I-4 and grab dinner.

For more information on Brian Feldman Projects, please visit

Circle Mirror Transformation

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Circle Mirror Transformation
By Annie Baker
Directed by Mike Marinaccio
Mad Cow Theatre Company, Orlando FL

Sometimes the story is all in the subtext. And tonight, the story is completely embedded in the pauses between the subtext. I had a bit of a cheat; someone showed me the author’s notes for this play where pauses and beats were carefully categorized, timed and dissected for the benefit of the producing company. And there was some very fine pausing and beating by the cast of Mad Cow regulars. The top level action occurs in a small town acting class at the local community center. Marty (played by Marty Stonerock – how often does anyone play someone with their own first name?) runs the class with an optimistic and accepting hand. Her husband James (Mark Edward Smith) tags along to help fill out the class. Shultz (Jay T Becker) builds chairs, mourns for his lost marriage yet is willing to find another woman to control completely. His target is Theresa (Rebekah lane), an actual actress with time on her hands. Rounding out the crew is teen aged Lauren (Jolie Hart) who hopes to star in the local high school production of West Side Story. They all play acting games, and when they think they’re not acting, they play grown up power games. Shultz and Theresa have a whirlwind romance: They meet during Zip Zap Zog and split up before “When I Go To India.” Marty and James have a deeper rift, they used to have the hippie days to hold them together, but now even that seems inadequate to bond them as man and wife. And Lauren? She’s learning from masters – her future relations will give here the life experience to play a truly tragic diva.

This is not an easy piece to grasp while sitting through it. What’s not said is more important that what is, and the subtleties may elude you until the next morning. The main action revolves around acting warm ups and the sillier aspects of the profession, so these familiar with the stage will get more out of this than civilians. Its sneaky comedy, one that will nibble at your heals on the way home, and then piddle on your carpet. Take an actor along as a guide; they can explain why the “Counting to Ten” exercise is actually useful.

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

Freud’s Last Session

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Freud’s Last Session
By Mark St. Germain
Directed by Rick Stanley
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL

St. Augustine argues God exists because there can be truth greater than human reason. Pascal doubted, yet his knowledge of probability showed the cost of believing was less than the price of being wrong. And Monty Python slugged it out in a wresting ring, deciding God Exists two falls out of three. Freud and Lewis never examine these novel arguments, but slug it out between “I had a vision on the way to Oxford” vs. “So what’s with these Nazis?” The presentation was brilliant, even if I was never fired up to change my views on eternity.

In this fictitious dialog set on the eve of WW2, Sigmund Feud (Terry Wells) flees to England. Famous for the couch side interviews, he was a strident atheist and reflected the most modern intellectualism of the day. Lewis (Michael Lane) hung out with Tolkien and Dyson, knew his myths and histories, and survived the trenches of WW1 with a skeptical sheen on him that cracked one day on the train from London. In an instant he was converted back to the Christianity his mother taught him, and needed no human logic to defend himself or God.

The discussion is erudite and far reaching, although it explores no ideas you haven’t heard if you’re familiar with the faith vs. logic arguments. Lewis argues a sense of awe and an implicit morality that man often ignores, while Freud relies on brain structures and physics. As Poland falls and Freud’s jaw bleeds from the cancer, Lewis takes his leave. We have a polite discussion on the drive home, and if God exists, he smiles beneficently upon us. And if He doesn’t, the fundamental laws of quantum mechanics keep my transmission from falling out. Thus, there are still eternal questions I can’t answer but the world keeps spinning, and that is something.

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

August: Osage County

Monday, March 7th, 2011

August: Osage County
By Tracy Letts
Directed by Frank Hilgenberg
Starring Cira Larkin, Monica Travers, Marcie Schwalm, Katrina Tharin
Theatre Downtown, Orlando, FL

What if George and Martha really DID have a kid? Or how about a whole alcohol fueled, drug addled, sex crazed, incestuous family, with each member wielding equal amounts of vitriol, spite, and occasional southern charm? That would approach the evil vibes let loose in the Weston clan after Pater Familias Beverly (Pat Kelly) gives us an exposition download and then disappears mysteriously. His wife Violet (Larkin) buries the pain in a pill bottle as this extended and dissolute family comes together for one of those mega-hate fests modern playwrights gravitate toward.

The heavy lifting falls on Larkin’s shoulders, even when she’s babbling incoherently you can tell she’s not just vamping. Her late life goal is to point out how much she sacrificed for her ingrate daughters, what terrible women they grew up to be and how it’s all their own damn fault. Then she starts babbling on about “truth” which it the cue for the audience to hunker down behind their programs. Truth, after all, is what makes drama from real life. We all could spend a lifetime deluding our selves, but were Tracy Letts turned loose on us, and we’d be a pile of orange pulp in less than five minutes.

Acting as surrogate for the audience is the completely likable hired help Johanna (Natalie Reed). She’s the only one not on some evil trip and she coos “I really need the work.” Part of her assignment is dealing with the collapsing Aiken family with its Forrest Gumpy son Little Charles (Michael Ealy), some comes from the imploding marriage of the academic Fordhams and their pot smoking daughter (Leslie Penuel, Pete Penuel, and Sarah Andrew) and part comes from sympathy for Ivy’s (Travers) awkward love story. But the real creep is Karen’s (Schwalm) fiancé Steve (Dean Walkuski.) I’ve never wanted to pick up a 13 year old girl, but he showed me how it’s done.

Brutal yet fascinating, this show is long and keeps battering you just hard enough so you don’t pass out. Tim DeBaun’s set look pleasant enough, but we know the moral of all popular entertainment – those who look comfortable and respectable on the outside are seething cauldrons of misery on the inside.

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

Shout! The Mod Musical

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Shout! The Mod Musical
By Phillip George, David Lowenstein, Peter Charles Morris
Direction and Choreography by Roy Alan
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy

If you ignore the wars and race riots and just focus on the music, the sexual revolution and go-go boots, the 60s were a really cool decade. The pulse began in London where music from the Beatles and Petula Clark and Dusty Springfield invited us to shed our inhibitions, dress like peacocks, and enjoy life without the morals and stodgy conservatism that won the war. “Kids these days!” our folk told us, but now we can lean back and enjoy the nostalgia.

No names are assigned to our cast, just fashionable colors. It’s like the Power Rangers are leading the show, but with nicer secondary sexual characteristics. But they get back stories and life goals: Orange-tinted Heather Alexander takes the mommy track along with stuffy advice from the booming Gwendolyn Holms who hides behind a screen like the mighty OZ. Natalie Cordone lacks friends but hides a secret. Sarah Lee-Dobbs is the easy one and dresses like the aphrodisiac M&M. Yellow Candace Neal is secretly from Cincinnati, and Kate Zaloumes likes red and looks like Velma from Scooby Doo. The least fashionable in the mod, mod world, she takes the lead and is the first to turn hippy. Go Girl!

Musically, these are the power pop hits we loved before anyone called it power pop. “Don’t Sleep in the Subway,” “London Swings,” “Son of a Preacher Man” and “These Boots are Made for Walking” nearly get the crowd dancing, and the men in the audience gets the full WPPH treatment. Ms. Alexander sits on laps, Ms. Dobbs threatened more than a few wobbly marriages, and Ms. Cordone climes all the way to the back row to polish a pair of shiny heads. These guys should have slipped her a twenty for the favor.

On stage we find stalwarts Chris Leavy and Sam Forrest along with back up keyboardist Kevin Kelly. They sound close enough to the original AM mixes that you’ll think you on an oldies station, but without all the annoying compressors. I hate to use the term “feel good” but even with the darker turns in the second act, I felt great when stepped out of this theater. Guys – try and sit on the aisles and put your date in the second seat. It’s the polite thing to do, and if you’re lucky, well, you might get lucky.

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

The Diary of Anne Frank

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

The Diary of Anne Frank
Adapted by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett and Wendy Kesselman
Directed by Tanya Roller
Starring Jenny Ornstein
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park, FL

As the Nazis rose to power in Weimar Germany, some Jews were prescient enough to pack up and leave while they could, although many of them thought Dutch neutrality would protect them from the Panzers. The Frank family fell into that trap – the tolerance and middle class opportunity of Amsterdam held them too long, and they were lucky to hide in a tiny apartment over a factory, keeping still as mice for two years.

In this troubling adaptation of a girl’s diary that miraculously escaped, we move in to the claustrophobic worlds of the Franks and their cell mates the Van Daans. Otto Frank (Marty Radner) stays hopeful and positive while his wife Edith (Jackie Levine) becomes passive yet hardworking. Opposite them we see stuffy Mr. Van Daan (Kenneth Jardine) and his fastidious wife (Karen Edwards-Hill) who brings her own chamber pot to the war. Anne (Orenstein) flames with teen hormones, and sees the hiding as an adventure, not realizing that adventures often leave you cold, hungry and dead. She eventually falls in love with Peter Daan, a nice enough boy who has trouble with his French. Adding the dollop of stereotypical Judaism is David Strauss as latecomer Mr. Dussel, the dentist. He does his prayers while nudging and kvetching and worrying about his cat allergy. All form an uncomfortable detent as the days are filled with small victories and huge disappointments. When the Allies advance, the retreating Nazis destroy whatever they can, leaving only Otto left to mourn with us.

With the claustrophobia intensified by Breakthrough’s small space and lighting derived mostly form flashlights and small carbon filament hanging on stage, this show is a tear jerker as well as a character study of people in desperate straits with their options stagnating and finally evaporating. Orenstein makes precocious Anne, and is often strident; Edwards-Hill’s middle class pretentions form what comic counterpoint can exist in this space, while Mr. Daan seems to simply occupy her space. Supplies from the outside arrive via Miep (Marion Marsh) and death via the ushers. It’s a sadly moving story, shoehorned into a space that is much smaller psychologically than it is physically.

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