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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for June, 2011

Rashomon

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

Rashomon
By Fay and Michael Kanin
Directed by Mike Marinaccio
Starring Roger Floyd, Ryan Gigliotti, and Selena Ayumi Bass
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL

Whenever my right wing friends start lecturing me on “truth” I think of good old Pontius Pilot – even Christ himself could not or would not answer “what is truth?” The trial of bandit Tajômaru (Floyd) supposedly reveled the truth, but in the aftermath three men meet under the Rashomon Gate in a rainstorm to discuss the results. The Woodcutter (Terrence Yip) found the body, and was called to testify along with a priest (Viet Nguyen) who met the murdered samurai (Gigliotti) and his wife just before the murder. And here’s the rub – while there’s no question about the body’s identity, the how and why of his demise depends on your point of view. The details are unimportant outside the story, but needless to say each storyteller casts themselves in the best light possible.

What is important is the presentation – three’s humor in this tale of murder and deceit, and some fine acting. The center revolves around Tajômaru and Mr. Floyd plays him with a rough roguish quality – he’s the bandit men fear and women love, and it has nothing to with thievery and murder. Gigliotti performs with a scowl worthy of a kabuki mask, and the Wife (Bass) is at least as conniving as Tajômaru even if she isn’t the swordsman he is. Backing them up on a simple yet impressive set (by William Elliot) we find a cynical and snarky Wigmaker (Tommy Keesling), the calm, pacific priest (Viet Nguyen) and the weaseley woodcutter. Each carves out a personal space – the Priest is sadden by his own loss of faith in humanity, the Wigmaker avoids losing his cynicism, and only the woodcutter reveals the truth of humanity – no one is pure, but some folks occasionally do the right thing even if it’s not required.

The parallels to the Anthony trial are obvious – we have a body, we have a story or seven, and we have a pathological obsession with answering the question Pilate asked. And just like him we are unlikely to ever have a satisfactory answer, but we will wake up tomorrow and find a new question to ask. And we probably won’t find that answer either, but as long as we aren’t the corpse in question, things will be good enough for us to soldier on through the day.

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

My Big Fat Life!

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

My Big Fat Life!
With Seandrea Earls
Spotlight Cabaret at Winter Park Playhouse
June 24, 2011
Winter Park, FL

Seating at these Spotlight Cabarets is often tight, so I arrived extra early to grab a good view. That’s one of the seats right up by Chris Leavy’s baby grand and if you aim correctly you can get the singer to sit on your lap during the second act. Ms. Earls returns to the Winter Park Playhouse, proudly announcing a significant weight loss and looking exceptional in a tight fuchsia ball gown singing “My Big Fat Life!” Earls’ story parallels many others; she grew up in a house filled with jazz and in a Catholic school filled with Ave Marias and Pater Nosters. At nine she sang on stage for an assembly, her blues influenced “Precious Lord” got the audience clapping, and she was hooked. With a large body and large voice opera loomed, but she was drawn to the blues and show tunes. We get a great sampling of her repertoire in this 90 minute show, much longer than the typical “New York Style Cabaret”. Tunes like “Night and Day”, “Living Without You” and “You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby” kept the audience clapping and cheering, and soon it was time her to sit on my laps and then dismiss us for more drinks.

We chat, we sip, we strut, and soon Ms. Earls returns in an amazing low cut gold sequined mini dress and regaled us with horror stories of the day jobs she held while seeking fame or at least steady employment in music. “I Might As Well Sing The Blues, I’m Dressed For It” caught my ear, and after she sang “Too Old for the Oldest Profession”, we achieved the pinnacle of the evening – “Fat Daddy.” This blues number celebrates love with larger men, and none of it involving the idea of “shade in the summer” or “warmth in the winter.” The two encores were even better; “One Moment in Time” was followed by a heart breaking “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess. This short run is over, but more exciting shows are on tap for the rest of the year. Guys sit up front, and gals don’t take any of this seriously, it’s only a singer in a sexy dress in an elegant room. Nothing to worry about, just move along, she’s just tipping the audience.

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

24 Hour Embrace (after Young Sun Han)

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

24 Hour Embrace (after Young Sun Han)
With Brian Feldman and Edward Feldman
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Orange Ave Gym, Orlando, Fl

It’s a hot, sweaty night in the Orange Avenue Gym. At 1 a.m., the gay bars up the street are hopping, Orange Avenue traffic flows in fits and starts, and the pugilists and gym rats who normally hang out here are fast asleep. Tonight is Father’s Day, the last of the major Guilt Holidays. Inside the hushed boxing ring, Brian Feldman and his father Edward are locked in an embrace such as fighters enter in moments of exhaustion. It’s a hushed, reverential atmosphere; no speaking in the ring is permitted, nor is spitting, hitting below the belt, or head butting. Thomas Thorspecken sketches quietly in one corner of the ring, blending in even when he’s the only spectator in the room. I’m not wearing socks, and must not enter the ring. It’s a fight club rule.

The Sign...there's always a Sign...

In the ring, sketching and hugging proceeds. There is no sound, save the air handler. Tisse Mallon shows me how to send a tweet on Brian’s phone, and tonight my bucket list shortens by two lines – I’ve twittered and I’ve been in a boxing gym. The set up volunteers are leaving and soon I’m the only person in the space beside the Feldman tag team. Unfamiliar with gym life, I examine a forest of punching bags, try on some gloves, and hit the speed ball. It hits back, leaving a mark. I take a swipe at the punching bag. It hurts. There are weights, some as heavy as a small Harley. I think back to the advice my motorcycle instructor gave me years ago: “Never buy a bike you can’t pick up.” These weights are out of my class.

Father and Son

After an hour of air conditioner hum and no visitors, a gym instructor lets himself in with a key. He’s a bit rough looking and has scattered gold teeth, but we soon fall to discussing art and theater and prize fighting and the subtext of all Feldman events – “What is he trying to prove?” I admit it’s open to interpretation – appreciation of his father while he is here to be appreciated, a metaphor of the resolution of the child parent struggle, raising awareness for…fatherhood? He shows me how to do a reverse leg scrunch, a skill I’ll never need. We discuss an upcoming tournament I might visit. He leaves, the train goes by, and I lock the door again. In the unlikely event someone knocks, I’d like to look them over before letting them in. Just being cautious.

There's always one guy who doesn't "get" it.

At three thirty I’m relieved by the next volunteer. I check back in twice more, once at noon and once around 7 pm. Crowds are light, but the video press showed up in force. Edward and Brian look tired, but I think they’ll make it. And isn’t that what life is about? Making it, or at least convincing yourself you can. The Feldmans have made it this far, which is more than some can say.

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

You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown
By Clark Gesner and Andrew Lippa
Directed by Keith Newhouse
Musical Direction by Erik Branch
Choreography by Michael Schroeder
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL

It’s tough to push the three panel gag structure from newsprint to the musical stage, but when you’re dealing with a franchise as strong as Charles Schultz’s “Peanuts” it’s worth giving the problem the old college try. In this fluffy family friendly musical, there are nice songs, more than a few laughs, and even a decent special effect. Plot is minimal: Charlie Brown (Justin Scarlat) can’t do anything right, he pines for the red haired girl yet can never make it over to talk to her, and all the rest of the gang bounces off his stolid depression as they live though the pressing crises of First Grade. Mixing solid pros with age appropriate newcomers, Director Newhouse pulls of a fun evening of gag-oriented humor and music. The best voice and acting on stage belongs to CB’s young sister Sally (Madison Zavitz) who sings rings round Schroeder (Jamaal Solomon) in “My New Philosophy”. Another favorite was Snoopy (Jimmy Moore) with his WW1 Flying Ace routine and obsession with food (“Supper Time”). While CB is often despised, he’s still captain of the baseball team and the ensemble “The Baseball Game” showed all these kids could be organized. I think Charles Shultz had issues with dominant women, beside Sally’s bossiness Lucy (candy Heller) pushes everyone around, including audience members sucked into her “How crabby am I?” survey. In the young acting camp the cutest kids were Mackendrick and Jason Zavitz playing double Woodstock birds and a pair of bunnies. Tonight’s special effect was simple but effective; CB finally gets his kite in the sky, at least for a few bars of “The Kite” via fish line and eye bolts. Simple and direct, this is one of those rare kid orient musicals that have something for the adults to grasp onto, and time flies past. All the kids up there drip cuteness, especially since they aren’t sitting behind me kicking my seat. .

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

Media

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

Media
Book and Lyric by Tod Kimbro
Music by Todd Kimbro and Jeff Forte
Directed by John DiDonna
Starring John DiDonna, Chris Prueitt, Elizabeth Dean and Mellissa Mason
Empty Spaces Theatre Co(llaboration) and Todd Kimbro
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando FL

This is what the Casey Anthony trial would look like if Tod Kimbro took the time to set it to music. Kimbro’s been writing interesting music and Generation X based theater for a decade or so, and I think he’s finally made the turn from ‘interesting” to “exciting.” In this complex yet accessible story, three family units wrestle with the aftermath of a stolen child. While it takes two hours to work through the details, we never drag or wander, partly due to the solid storytelling and partly due to the well crafted tunes that do what real show tunes must: they propel the characters, whisk over the exposition, and give you a tune or two to remember.

Albert Cutter (Prueitt) and his wife Patricia (Elizabeth Dean) live the D&D Ren Faire life, but cannot conceive. Red neck Bud George (DiDonna) and his intimidated wife Ashley (Mason) drop their three year old off at day care while they compete in a reality show. They win a cool million but lose the child when drunken artist (Adam McCabe) wanders in the wrong door on his way to an AA meeting. Little Chelsea (Mira Strauss) wander out and into the Cutter’s RV and a life of secrecy, constant motion and hair dye. But now that’s water under the bridge; Chelsea is now old enough to miss her baby pictures and challenge the stories she’s heard – were they lost in a fire, or a flash flood? Thanks to the internet the Cutters deception unwinds and there’s a semi happy resolution.

That’s a lot of plot to wend together, but songs like “In Vitro” and “Take Me Back to Believing” keep them all straight. There wasn’t a song listing but even without titles these are all complete songs that are integral to the plot, and Kimbro’s tendency to vamp over missing ideas is nowhere in evidence. Backing the show is a High-def video presentation from McCabe that made up for the minimal set – interlocking picture frames referred to the Artist at work, the ideal of family history as frozen images, and the theatrical experience of peering into another set of lives without a need to offer our stories in exchang. This is superb theater, and this show can go places.

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

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Music by Steven Sondheim
Book and Lyric by Burt Shrevelove and Larry Gelbart
Directed by Katrina Ploof
Starring Rick Stanley, Thomas Ouellette, Stephan Jones
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL

I think the couple sitting next to me was old enough to have owned slaves in early Rome. That’s where we meet conniving slave Pseudolus (Stanley) and his young master Hero (Michael Mucciolo.) Pseudolus wants his freedom; Hero wants the girl next door. True, Philia (Mellissa Davis) is apprenticed to local pimp Lycus (Tony Dietterick) and he’s taken a down payment on her virginity from vain Miles Gloriosus (Jones). With Hero’s dad Senex (Rod Cathey) and mom Domina (Gail Bartell) take vacation, Pseudolus grabs his opportunity which involves lots of door slamming and mistaken identity and dancing girls in skimpy underwear. It’s truly comedy tonight, and a great slapstick farce.

With a strong cast prancing around on an imperial set by Tommy Mangieri and Sam Hazell, there are plenty of laughs. Both Stanley and Ouellette are great comics, and they do a decent job of singing as well, with “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” the crowd favorite. Jone’s Miles Glorious was as self involved and fluffy as possible for a man in a Roman battle skirt, and even the romance between Mucciolo and Davis seemed sweetly plausible. “The Proteans” (Kevin Davis, Lori Engler and Patch Panzella) provided all the peripheral support, and bounced across the stage like improv artists high on Red Bull and non-specific amphetamines.

While this show was well executed and full of laughs, there were some slow spots where the pacing felt slightly off. True, it’s a trick to get a dozen people to hit a long series of split second entrances and cues, but from time to time I felt a laugh had slipped by and there was no time for a do-over. Despite this nit, watching Sondheim’s funniest show slide by was a glorious evening’s entertainment, and often the old jokes are still the best jokes.

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

Bathing In Bette

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

Bathing In Bette
Conceived, Written and Performed by Cassandra Hohn
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park Fl

My introduction to Bette Midler came from a 1970’s TV special. She opened the show in a sequined mermaid outfit with starfish on her boobs and operating a pair of those clacker balls that were all the rage. She announced “Some of you are saying ‘Who is that lunatic?’ But the rest are saying ‘Bring out the brownies!'” This got my attention.

A life time later, the Divine Miss M is rich and famous and insulated in her fame cocoon, and it’s up to the likes of Ms. Hohn to replicate her as best she can so we can all rub our noses on the windows of greatness. With the house backing band of Chris Leavy and Sam Forrest, Ms. Hohn turns her natural Great Plains charm and contralto into a riveting reconstruction of the hits you hope to hear. Near the open, she agonizes on stage about sing “Wind Beneath my Wings” as her mom had requested it for the funeral, so with set up its clear what the closer will be tonight.

Along the way, we hear some of Midler’s more obscure material but all the biggie. “Delta Dawn” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “When A Man Loves A Woman” draw you in, and the slickly conceived lighting changes give each song its own frame. Act one ends up with “Going To The Chapel of Love”. Dressed in an eight foot long train and looking for a male volunteer, she pulls her boy friend of seven years up on stage. For a guy involved in show business, he looked exceptionally uncomfortable, and I suspect it wasn’t the bright lights. As we lead into act two, Ms Hohn covers one of my favorites, Tom Lehrer’s “Poisoning Pigeons In The Park.” I’m not sure if Bette actually recorded that, but it’s a great sing a long number.

We get stories, we get anecdotes, and we get the hits, but this is clearly a tribute and not a mime of Midler’s material. Hohn is not exactly Midler’s physical type, but her voice is close enough to do justice to all those great victim torch numbers. No clackers, no mermaid suit and certainly no brownies, but as close to the real thing as I’m likely to witness.

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

Evil Dead: The Musical

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

Evil Dead: The Musical
Book and Lyric by George Reinblatt
Music by Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond, Mellissa Morris, and George Reinblatt
Directed by Steve MacKinnon
Starring George Zepf, Shannon Bilo-Zepf, Leontyne Carter, and Joshua Eads-Brown
Theatre Downtown, Orlando, FL

I’ll skip the obligatory “what could go wrong?” line and tell you this- wear old clothes if you’re sitting in the seats on the wall where you enter, and nothing serious will get stuck on you. Meanwhile, let’s join these five teens as they head up to the old abandoned cabin infested with borer beetles, beavers and Canderian demons. Ash (Zepf) is the calm headed one; he survives way longer than he should and gets to cut the head off his girl friend Linda (Bilo-Zepf). Scott (Adam DelMedico) spends the first act fondling Shelly’s (Genna Paige Kanago) behind and pointing out how much more action he’s getting than the others. We know that the teens having the most sex must die first, but that honor goes to unattached Cheryl (Carter.) Once she’s infected with demon spawn of the Necronomicon, all her acting occurs under the floor boards and through a trap door. I’m guessing she’s the symbolic hoo-hah about spanning this world and the demon planet, but I know this – the lighting effects were cool.

There’s some pee you pants funny stuff here, starting with opening number “Cabin In The Woods” sung from a car last used in “Grease.” Josh Eads-Brown appears in a scary three day beard as the kindly Redneck guide Good Old Reliable Jake, and there’s even a talking moose. Professor Annie (Jillian Gizzi) tries to fend off the demons, and when she fails she pours out her heart and arteries by singing “All The Men In My Life Keep Getting Killed.” Zepf is manically gleeful as he cuts off his hand and a few possessed heads while declaiming “It’s not as bad as it looks” with blood dripping off his shirt. Jake fires back: “How the hell can this NOT be as bad as it looks?” Its comedy gold.

Directorial duties are widely shared here; Steve MacKinnon who is better known for his musical work gets the top credit with Spenser Crosswell claiming musical direction and Amanda Warren choreography. Frank Hilgenberg and Tim DeBaun each did some direction as well, so this looks like a real team effort. The dialog rocks, the music campy and bubbly, and the comedic timing razor sharp. All that’s missing is a full kick line at the end and a hose down for the audience and crew. Even if you hate gore and horror, you’ll love this fearsome production.

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