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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for October, 2011

The Pajama Game

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

The Pajama Game
Book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell
Music and Lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross
Directed and choreographed by Earl Weaver
Musical direction by Chris Endsley
Starring Jason Nettle and Jessie Booth
UCF Conservatory Theater, Orlando FL

Let’s say Bob Fosse was leading the garment workers union, and he had an unnatural obsession with Argyle and Mondrian. That’s what your see at this well constructed revival of the 1954 Tony winner “The Pajama Game,” an unlikely mixture of romance, union action and high energy dance. Sid Sorokin (Nettle) is on the front lines of the Sleep-Tite PJ Factory: below him are the hourly laborers turning out hideously loud sleepwear for the color blind, above him is the sort of inflexible and slightly crooked management that got our automotive, metalworking and electronics industries shipped over to Asia. The Big Boss Mr. Hasler (Jay Pastucha) is genuinely unlikable, and Grievance Committee leader Babe Williams (Booth) is a hot post war Rosie the Riveter type. Sid falls for her and slips and into a brutal struggle to raise wages by $0.075 per hour. There’s an element of free love floating around this shop and the big annual company picnic there’s enough sex to embarrass Betty Page. Even union President Prez (Parker Slaybaugh) gets lucky with winsome Mea (Laura Adams) and the shop’s drunken Time and Motion expert Hines (Justin Mousseau) demonstrates his knife throwing skills. What could possibly go wrong?

Very little, actually. Hines’ microphone made him tinny and hard to hear, but everyone else came though five by five. The theme of this show was motion – Sid Sorokin looked like he was made of rubber, Prez did some amazing hand flips and punched himself out, and when nothing else was happening, there was as full blown dance arrangement. The Steam Heat Number has almost nothing to do with the plot, but black bowlers and Jazz hands made it one of the best parts of the show featuring Ms. Adams in front of Daniel Longacre and Andrew Connors. Other highlights are Sid’s “A New Town is A Blue Town” and “Hey There” and the big production number “Once A Year Day featured everyone dressed in the most amazingly tacky sun dresses and shorts.

This is a Big Musical from the glory days of Big Musicals, and this production does justice to the music, characters and story, and the entire show was a joy. Everything was bigger than life, except the main character who must decide between the woman he loves and the job he needs. When pushed to a hard decision, Sid does what he needs to do and then goes one step further and roots out the cause of the show’s central conflict. This is theater the way God and Bob Fosse intended it to be.

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

I’m Not Here To Take Naps: Tales of a Preschool Perfectionist

Saturday, October 29th, 2011

I’m Not Here To Take Naps: Tales of a Preschool Perfectionist
A Cabaret Starring Natalie Cordoned
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Additional Material by Todd Allan Long, Kevin Kelly, and Roy Alan
October 27, 2011
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park FL

Tonight we sampled two flavors of Natalie Cordone – the cute anime girls with a back pack and a teddy bear, and the sultry seductress in an electric green gown that matches a necktie I bought decades ago at Woolworths. Ms. Cordone is a go-getter; she announced the title of the show to her preschool teacher way back when she was trying out for her first Sugar Plum fairy role. Begin early, audition often, and give up any sort of social life – that how the gifted and obsessive begin. Her opening number was a bit unsettling, I find Maurice Chevalier’s “Thank Heaven For Little Girls” a bit creepy these days, but I suppose it was innocent enough a generation ago. But after her Nutcracker story we hear “I Feel Pretty” as Chris Leavy vamps behind her and she dishes more dirt on her early days, then its “Anything You can Do I Can Do Better” from “Annie Get Your Gun.” Natalie’s competitive and after slapping down Mr. Leavy she takes on the bartender, the box office, and a random guy from a show rehearsing in the back. You can’t out sing her, you can’t out dance her, and don’t even think about playing bridge with her.

Intermission? Of course, we all need a drink even now and again, and Ms. Cordone needs a new dress for the adult material – “Let Me Entertain You,” “It Had To Be You”, “If I Were A Bell”” and just to prove a point, she sings Sondheim and makes it comprehensible. There are more stories and more anecdotes including the fact that Charlie Chaplin wrote “Smile Though Your Heart Is Broken.” Good stuff, and we’re on to the big blowout, leave ’em wanting more closer “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” I may now know more about her background than is healthy, but she can sell herself on stage. Rumor has it there will be one more show in November; you know what link to click to see if that’s true.

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

The Mystery of Irma Vep: A Preview of a Penny Dreadful

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

The Mystery of Irma Vep: A Preview of a Penny Dreadful
By Charles Ludlam
Starring Joshua Eads-Brown and Doug Bowser
October 31, 2011
Footlights Theatre, Orlando FL

Pardon me, I’m having déjà vu all over again, and I haven’t even seen this show yet. Except I have, about 2 years ago in a little-visited theatre on the tacky side of town. Yes it’s a remount of the Two Man / Cast of Thousands dragged out Catherine and Heathcliff in Withered Heights Halloween Camp Extravaganza “Irma Vep.” The title is a thinly veiled anagram, and the cast is the same but has changed the punctuation on their names. The show has moved up from Tourist Town but rather in the always Fabulous, always Over Air Conditioned Footlights Theater at … well, you used to read the Sentinel. OK, it’s at the P-house, and that gives it at least two legs up – a bigger, more enthusiastic audience and much stiffer drinks at the bar. Doug Ba’aser (or Bowser, he’s the taller, more burly one) and Joshua Eads-Brown (the cuter, more vulnerable one) are reprising their 2009 performance which impressed me greatly. (see the first self referential link below). Is it funny? It was last time. Is it scary? Come ON people, Halloween is now nothing more than an overdone self-indulgent excuse to get shit faced drunk while acting out a secret Rule 34 fantasy that involves anime characters, organic salad dressing and an elderly Pit Bull. I’ll be the guy dressed as a hack writer, and you’ll be impersonating a supporting mook from Area 88. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Area_88 Monday is your last chance to see this performance, and to hell with those rug rat trick or treaters. Leave a 2 pound bag of whatever is cheapest at Publix on the front step and let’s party!

Previous, more coherent comments on this show may be found at
http://blogs.ink19.com/archikulture/2009/10/25/the-mystery-of-irma-vep-a-penny-dreadful/


Tickets and other minutia such as pricing and times are to be savored at WANZIE.COM/boxoffice or (shudder! Quiver!) http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=273154609371981

And don’t even BEGIN to waste your time on Google Crop Circles.

Phantasmagoria II

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

Phantasmagoria II
Created and Directed by John DiDonna
Additional Direction by Seth Kubersky, Kevin Becker, and Chris Prueitt
Choreography by Nicole Yezzi, Mila Makarova, Chris Pruitt
Empty Spaces Theatre at The Orlando Shakespeare Festival

As the last light faded on Samantha O’Hare she breathily announced “LIFE…” and my auto complete function spelled out “Don’t talk to me about life.” And then she said something else completely different. But beyond that personal flaw, I found this to be one of the most intentionally theatrical pieces I’ve seen since last year, and a great creep out that never resorts to the Halloween Horror Nights Zombie Blood Splatter Jump At You While Dinking A $7 Beer tropes.

As a writer, DiDonna takes some classic and sometimes obscure horror writing and distills it down to short, action oriented scenes that depend on puppetry and lighting to make them intriguing, if not actually chilling. If there a single strength I can point to, it’s his knowledge of what the different story telling styles require and offer technically – novels and short stories may have pages of internal monolog, puppets have operators and wispy clothes and disconcerting movements. With Chris Prueitt acting as an informal Major Domo, dozens of dancers and actors arise, and we commit to the main conceit of the show – once a story is chosen it must be told, if begun, it must be completed. The Masque of the Red Death offers us the release of quick acting plague, briefly painful and then mercifully quick. Yuni Onna pushes a man to the edge of frozen death and binds him to never telling a tale, even to the one who told it to him. Lewis Carroll’s Phantasmagoria shows that bureaucracy and detailed paper work extends to the afterlife, and Each Uisge explains why I will never ride on a horse. Bantu vengeance and Victorian obsession with youth and beauty leads us to the Jabberwocky, a nonsense poem made horrible with a giant head and a sinuous body and shiny sharp cutting edges, all barely held in check by fight coordinate Bill Warriner,

I’m happy to report that not one drop of real red blood spilled tonight, although gallons of real sweat saturated the steam punk themed costumes and a young violist brought us back to the piano bashing video Art of Noise gave us a life time ago. Yes, Halloween Horror Nights are here again and for those of us who prefer the intellectual side of fright, this is the show to freak with.

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

The Drowsy Chaperone

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

The Drowsy Chaperone
Book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar
Music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison
Directed by Bob Brandenburg
Musical Direction by Lulu Picart
Starring Steven Lane, Michelle Knight, Chris Burns, Andrea Stack
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando, FL

“Dear God” we pray as the lights go down “Please don’t let this suck too much.” Implicit in this invocation is request for a well chosen script, lines completely memorized and clearly interpreted, an interesting set and no iPhones in the vicinity. We join the Man In The Chair (Lane) as he drags out an old soundtrack LP, put sit on the Crosley record player, and enjoins us to listen to the pre show pops and scratches – it’s a time machine to 1920’s piece of fluff that has fascinated him since his mother gave him the sound track. We join his reminisces as he helpfully points out the nearly invisible plot: “it’s bad luck for the groom Robert Martin to see the Bride Janet Van De Graff on their wedding day.” And what more do we need with ditzy aunts and creepy gangsters and an alcoholic chaperone to fill in the action between songs?

Most of those old shows don’t really hold up, and where Drowsy excels is in applying a bit of deconstruction to the process, editing out the slow spots and mocking the particularly egregious badness. This just leaves some very well constructed songs including “As We Stumble Along” by the woozy boozy Drowsy Chaperone (Knight), the slapstick “Toledo Surprise” from the Gangsters (Jamie Lowe and Ashland Thomas) and the Producer Feldzieg (Billy Flanigan), “An Accident Waiting to Happen” by the happy couple (Burns and Stack) and the ridiculously funny “I Am Adolpho” from Adolpho (David Bracamonte) and the Chaperone. All of these ghosts flow from the closet center stage, and while Man In Chair declaims he hates when theaters break the fourth wall, that’s all he is – a device that waits for us to sit down waves at us preshow, and find himself trapped in the theater even as we leave.

Part old time hoofer number, part modern self-referential comedy, there’s bales of laughs here from endless spit takes to suggestive names (Percy Hyman) to blindfold roller-skating. A small band lurks backstage, Music Director Lulu Picart’s head float behind the bar as a sort of surreal side show to the main event. There’s even a big blowout number lead by Trix, The Aviatrix (Seandrea Earls) as the cast recreates her crashed airship out of spinning umbrellas and feather boas as they parody a big “Flying Down to Rio” number even Fred Astaire would be embarrassed to admit he was in.

This is the year of Double Productions, and another version of this show opens soon. I can’t say anything about the competion yet, but if you pick this pricey ticket you will get all the entertainment value you paid for.

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

God of Carnage

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

God of Carnage
By Yamuna Reza
Directed by Mark Routhier
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando FL

Children obsess us and then destroy us, but in the meanwhile they can paper over some pretty serious problems in our personal relations. A school yard fight broke out, teeth were knocked loose, and now the offended parties’ parents are looking for an eye ball’s worth of revenge. Perhaps a peace conference might help – espresso and Clafoutis and 10 years old vintage rum as peace offerings, and heartfelt “I’m sorry’s” by everyone who offended an Earth Goddess or CNN or Fox. But while Veronica (Anne Hering) is serving food and her husband Michael (Mark Ferrera) is regaling us with plumbing fixture stories, high power lawyer Alan (Rus Blackwell) is screaming on his cell phone and his wife Annette (Suzanne O’Donnell) is politely vomiting on priceless art books. Yes, Virginia, George and Martha are back to life, and this time they really do have little demon spawn.

Yes, I hate these people. They are overpaid and overbearing and over here, but watching them self-destruct is a joy. While there are obviously parallels with Albee’s famous show here we have more modern concerns, a little less alcohol, but an equally open ended resolve. Blackwell is nervous and abrupt and a school yard fight is beneath him, he’s defending Congolese war criminals at The Hague and a $150 million dollar year drug that makes old people walk into walls. His wife Annette is vacuous and her main skill is being nice in the face of insult but she also pukes on the front row patrons with grace and aplomb and nary a hint of the nasty pukey odor that can make the rest of us join in. On the other end of the couch have a more mismatched couple. Veronica may have beaten off the demon of alcohol but it’s been replaced with demon of saving the world one starvation at a time, and perhaps a book with nice pictures will make the people in Darfur sleep easier tonight. Her husband Michael might be described as “earthy,” he hates small animals and knows how to pull Alan’s chain. Sometimes the couples group together, sometimes its men vs. women, and sometimes it’s a Texas Cage Tag Team Wrestling match. But however you line up the players, it’s loud, vicious and funny.

Just so you know these are angry people, designer Robbin Watts hangs shards of glass in the air, lights them with bloody red gels and even arranges for gore to drip out of the armor plating on the walls. For respite, happy 1980’s pop songs seem through the lobby as if “Walking on Sunshine” would make up for the verbal blood and guts splatter on stage. Do we care about our children? Sure, but they need to sort some things out themselves and so what if they start a gang? Maybe that will give them the organizational skills to start a company, and maybe the pain of getting a tooth knocked out will drive them into Law School or PETA. But whatever evil befalls the children, it will revisit itself on the adults many times over. That what the God of Carnage promised us somewhere back in the Old Testament: “I got yer eyeball right here – come get it back, if you think you can.”

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

Looking for Normal

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Looking for Normal
By Jane Anderson
Directed by Tom Larkin
Staring Cira Larkin and Tim Bass
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL

Its one thing when you husband leaves for another woman, another when he leaves for another man, but it’s downright awkward when he swears he loves you but wants a sex change. After two kids and nearly paying off a mortgage Roy (Bass) and Irma (Larkin) drop by Reverend Exposition (Larry Stallings) for a little marriage tune up. She’s menopausal, he’s a Cultivator Inspector for John Deer, and you can guess his secret. I’ve rarely seen anyone so unsuited for that transition as Roy and the weird thing he’s not even bi-curious. That would be too simple, people today understand even if they don’t approve. Irma throws him out, his boss (Jim Huber) fears for his safety, and his roadie son Wayne (Justin Scarlat) debates coming home for the holidays vs. disowning his dad. Only Roy’s proto-lesbian daughter Patty Ann (Tianna Stevens) is excited: now she can wear his old clothes and they can paint each other’s nails. By intermission, everyone has reached the depth of hell and the audience is in mortal fear of another icky sex lecture from Patty Ann. Only Roy Senior (Bill Horine) is unaffected, he can hide behind senility. Thank you, Beta Amyloid!

This story has deeply touching moments as well as a few crunchily uncomfortable ones. Larry Stalling plays very Larry Stallings-like man of God and he gives a surprisingly decent sermon complete with torturous biblical logic. Cira Larkin’s scorned woman made me think she had actual ground truth on the topic and Mr. Bass is one of the few people who makes Michael Wanzie seem attractive in drag. While he was weakly motivated, his performance was sincere and convincing. Supporting this magical misery tour we have a very funny Mr. Horine as the Cranky Old Guy and Karen Edwards Hill in a flammable wig as his longsuffering wife. The interesting role went to Katrina Tharin as Roy’s dream bisexual grandmother Ruth. She left her husband and son in Ohio to fight in WW1, faked her own death, and lived the demimonde lifestyle of inter-war Paris. Her slick suit and oily delivery made her hover on that knife’s edge between attraction and repulsion as playwright Anderson asks us to consider whether Roy’s strange compulsion is hereditary, or was it driven by some lack of proper firmness in his parenting?

When we weren’t debating nature vs. nurture or how a husky transgender Midwestern Lutheran can learn to shop for clothes properly while tearing apart his family, we see a steady stream of furniture and dishes slide across the stage. I felt genuine sympathy for Roy and Irma and all the people they loved and devastated, but a spare stage and quicker scene changes would have woven at tighter viewing experience.

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

Ruthless

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

Ruthless
By Joel Paley and Marvin Laird
Directed and Choreographed by Roy Alan
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Starring Kevin Kelly, Heather Alexander, and Jasmine Forsberg
Winter Park Play House, Winter Park FL

Somewhere between the Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s bustier and Joan Crawford’s ghost is the rancid heart of Sylvia St. Croix (Kelley). She barges into the peaceable life of Judy (Alexander) and her stage struck daughter Tina Denmark (Forsberg) and disrupts all Judy’s well intentioned parenting strategies. Sure, Tina can sing a dance a bit, but her real strength lies in a brutal ability to back stab her way to mediocrity. Like Harry Potter needs a stint in Hogwarts to sharpen his native talents, St. Croix is ready to train Tina on the fine points of making the headline on Entertainment tonight. No treachery is too Shakespearian – class mates are thrown under the bus and her drama teacher is blackmailed, and out of this machinations Judy comes to a horrible realization: She, too is talented, and by the second act she morphs from June Cleaver into Norma Desmond. Is there a happy ending? Depends on whether you get your love and affection from a fickle public, or if you just own a cat.

Darker than your average WPPH feel goodness, “Ruthless” throws all the worst elements of Hollywood into a blender and pours out a margarita of misery for the Demarks. Kevin Kelly never had so much fun in drag, and his audience vamping was a scream. Alexander offers a comic version of a 50’s house frau at first, but comes into her own when she’s zombified by fame. As for Miss Forsberg, I’ll just say I hope she doesn’t turn into a real life Tina lest a director or lighting designer drop something heavy on her during a solo. Supporting this emotional suicide pact is an over top Cami Miller as Lita Encore the critic with a flamethrower pen and a subdued Janine Klein as the grade schoolmarm and the reporter from “Thespian Today”.

All this dancing and vamping takes place on what is clearly the most elaborate set Tommy Mangieri has ever built for this space, the costumes look spectacular, and where would we be without Chris Leavy’s piano and Sam Waters on percussion? We’d be humming to ourselves thought great songs like “Born to Entertain” and “I Hate Musicals”, that’s where. Is there a moral? I’m sure there’s one in there somewhere, but when everyone has a heart two sizes too small it’s hard to recall. I’d go for the bloodshed and advise my children to aim for a job in Iowa.

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

Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music
By Lee Blessing
Directed by Christopher Niess
Starring Jesse Hinton, Kelly Kilgore, Patrick Sylvester
UCF Conservatory Theatre, Orlando FL

Love sure looks like fun when you can’t get it, but when you find it, it can turn on you in a heartbeat. Bar owner and ex-biker Jim Stools (Sylvester) struggles to start his pickup truck so he can flee his girlfriend Eve’s (Kilgore) rebellious teen age son Jay Bob (Jeffery Peacock). Eve made Jim pave the parking lot, kick out his biker buddies and hire a dance band and now he’s not convinced this make his life any better. Women love to fix up old houses and young men, and now instead if a nightly knife fight he’s selling cheap beer to nice people dancing to good country music. That’s Eves idea: give the place a nice name, and that’s what it will become Jim’s slow witted ditch digging friend customer Roy Manual (Hinton) is hot for Eve’s niece Catherine Empanger, and begs Jim to ask her out for him. While author Blessing is pretty blunt with everyone’s last name in this show, you’ll just have to translate that one on line for yourself.

As stories go, this one is a straightforward contrast of the innocence and promise of a first date with the realities of a baggage laden post-divorce relationship. Jim’s incipient but prudent violence words well against Roy’s innocent lust, Eve’s enthusiasm reflects her happiness at escaping a bad marriage, and Catherine (Kayli Keppel) has an innocent joy, even if her childhood dreams have been shattered by an embarrassing mental condition. But Jay Bob is overplayed to the point the audience shows a bit too much glee when he almost dies.

On stage we have one of the more elaborate and impressive sets I’ve seen in a black box – an actual truck is there for the cast to beat on, a revolving set captures the exact paint tone of a clap board house left to weather in the sun and rain of southwest Houston, and a gorgeous mural of a telephone pole against a twilight sky fill-in in an otherwise awkward space to the upper left of the second act. This isn’t a complicated play, but it’s a positive one with the message that there’s someone out there who will always put up with you, and no matter who it is, it won’t be easy for either of you. That’s why I recommend keeping a lock on the fire arms and never sharpen a kitchen knife.

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