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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for April, 2012

The Way of the Cards

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

The Way of the Cards
Written and Directed by Aradhana Tiwari
Play the Moment
Presented at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, Orlando FL

It’s not only the variable income and constant threat of bankruptcy that makes a gambling household unhappy, it’s the total obsession with game playing that shifts the focus away from trusting, stable family life. “Sass” Arlington (Kate Ingram) used to be the “First Lady of the Vegas Strip” but now she’s holed up in a fetid river town playing for small stakes with the tourists and red necks on a “boat” moored to the shore. Her youngest son Lucky (Gabe Patrick) want to be a card mechanic while he older son Tip (Anthony Pyatt Jr.) sullenly eats his cereal and acts as narrator and explains Texas Hold ‘Em to the poker illiterate such as I. Sass is especially hard on her daughter Tally (Olivia Richardson), she keeps telling her “after all I’ve done for you…” which that mostly seems to not having aborted her back when Sass was a hot hand at The Mirage. This week looks particularly rough, the power got cut off and the cornflakes are running low but Sass hits one big hand and now she off to Vegas, and she’s NOT taking messages. Disaster awaits this family, it knows to strike when you feel most triumphant.

It’s hard to tell what hold this family together, they yell at each other constantly and we never see a close or loving moment. Tally is 18 and leaving home seems a perfectly reasonable option even if that strands mom and the boys on a sand bar. Ingram is suitably spacey and obsessed, she brooks no lip from anyone but has enough planning skills to but candles in anticipation of a black out. Pyatt does his best smoldering anger stuff here, he has one scene where Zanna Paulson’s lighting brings up one eyebrow, and that eyebrow is perfect.

There’s merit in the analogy between cards and life, some people can plan and anticipate and bluff better than others, but there’s always an element of unknown. The Arlington’s all seem capable of dealing with that luck/chance/statistic aspect of life, but they seem less capable of focusing on home and heart, and they tend to score everything in terms of winning and losing and how many chips they have in front of them. That’s not enough, at least as I see it, there needs to be something less calculating to make for happiness. It’s not clear the Arlington’s are ready for that yet, but I wouldn’t want to sit across a green felt with any of them.

For more information on Play The Moment, visit http://playthemoment.com

Baby

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

Baby
Book by Sybille Pearson, Lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. Music by David Shire
Directed by Roy Alan
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Starring Sage Starkey, Kathryn Nash, Heather Alexander, and Bryan Minyard
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park FL

It’s hard not to be in favor of motherhood: if it wasn’t from mom, where would you be right now? In this sometimes touching, sometimes hard-to-hear musical comedy three couples begin down the road to real adulthood and planning for someone else’s future. Lizzie (Nash) and Danny (Starkey) cohabitate in a dorm room and now something has slipped or someone miscounted and the countdown begins. Interestingly, she’s the one avoiding commitment; Danny is picking out china patterns and working how he’s going to pay for all this since he dropped “Science” to major in “Unemployability Studies.” Maybe punk rock drummer is a viable career, so he heads off to New Orleans and minor college radio fame. Across town Arlene (Alexander) and Alan (Minyard) are ready to down size after raising and shipping three kids, but an “Oops” baby looms and their shaky marriage turns into a fault line. Then there’s Pam (Natalie Cordone) and Nick (Shawn Kilgore): they want kids but she exercises to infertility while he shoots blanks so they try reading Herman Melville as foreplay. Maybe they should just give up and become the young childless couple that shows up at the theatre every weekend.

While the Maltby and Shire’s music can be a challenge, these are all real people in real crises and we are not in a typical heartwarming musical. Mr. Kilgore has the best voice; his duet “At Night She Comes Home To Me” with Mr. Starkly was particularly nice. Mr. Starkey began weak; he didn’t hit his full power until near the end of Act 1 with “I Chose Right.” The tension between Alan and Arleen was odd but it gave Ms. Alexander a rare dramatic role. I didn’t quite get why they were having marital problems other than they had lost focus when all their kids left but I did like how they summed it up with “And What If We Had Loved Like That”. Supporting the 6 singers were some great comic actors, Candace Neal, Tim Pappas and Kate Zaloumes all added to the chorus and ensemble numbers, and when not singing they became all those people you meet every day and then forget to write songs for. If this was a grand opera, they might be called spear carriers, but spear carriers with great pipes. The big issue with the show was a bad sound leak from next door. A competing cabaret at Master Class Academy had some shit kickin’ country tunes lined up with all the really quiet personal numbers, and while the show soldiered on I wanted to pound on the wall (as if that ever helps). There may be a time and place for country music, It just didn’t occur tonight.

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

The Music Man

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

The Music Man
By Meredith Willson
Directed by Claude Smith III
Starring Dustin Cunningham and Carrie Prieto
Garden Theatre, Winter Garden FL

As the house lights came up and the actors scurried back stage, a woman setting next to me said: “Not half bad!” No, not half bad or even an eight bad, rather this was one of the most elaborate and successful community theatre shows I’ve come across. Meredith Willson’s musical about a traveling con artist and his love for a small town librarian offers a safe story, solid music, and the change for 60 or so local actors to get in costume, get on stage, and get some well deserved applause. Heck, they even had TWO follow spots to keep it all Broadway looking.

Let’s review: Harold Hill (Cunningham) rolls into River City Iowa with the intention of selling his nonexistent marching band expertise to the rubes. He takes their money, deliver instruments and uniforms and in advertently gets this stubborn and insular community to take a new look at its skills and dreams. A coronet and a uniform gets young Winthrop Paroo (Jared Wilson) over his lisp, he advocates the towns marginal skills in Greek (non belly) dancing and gets the mayor’s wife (Beryl Rochatka) to stand up to her blow hard hubby (Jim Morris), and even Marian’s mother (Judith Gill) has hopes her daughter will get a little action out by the foot bridge. With harld Hills charms, Marian might even consider DANCING some day.

There’s a lot going on stage and a lot to like. The sets and lighting are magic, even if it looks like they cleaned out Lowes to build the massive and imposing sets (designed by Claude Smith III). Sometimes it takes a while for the crew to place everything, but an eight piece band keeps us entertained while the men and women in black do their thing. Cunningham’s Hill is a bit out of shape and his doughy body conceals his snake-sharp black heart even as his charm oozes out with his sweat. Ms. Prieto finds her way into that growing heart, and along the belts out some opeartic high notes on “My White Knight” and “Till There’s Was You.” She nearly cracked my plastic wine glass. The Barber Shop Boys (Roy Copeland, Matt Heim, George Green, and Jason Luker) seemed like ringers and I’m happy to report they get their own solo on the chestnut “Lida Rose”. I’ll also give top points to the choreography by Tami Uhrig, the dance numbers were well conceived, well executed and showed no signs of having to hide anyone in the back rows to cover up for weak skills.

This show was sold out and had seemed like a few dozen children in the audience. No fear, the show was completely engaging, not many peopel texted, and al lthis shows that The Garden is hitting on all cylinders producing high quality shows for its suburban audience and filling seats at the same time. A few more stalls in the ladies room might be necessary, but you can have worse problems than that. Get your butt out there and take the kids, the parking is free and there’s a growing collection of eateries within a block or two of the theatre. This old citrus town is happening.

For more information on The Garden Theatre, please visit www.gardentheatre.org

Song\1

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Song\1
By Doug Aitken
Hirsh horn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Washington, DC

I escape a faceless building full of PowerPoint slides and mission statements and head out on a cool spring evening to find some environmental art on the National Mall in Washington. Lacking map or GPS I navigate by memory and a baleful Jupiter and find parking across from the Smithsonian Castle. The Castle is under renovation and next to it sits what might charitably called a “Mid Century Brutalist” art museum. Ring shaped and squatting on precast concrete legs, the Hirshhorn looks like an evil mother ship from the planets Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. On the ground it marshals abstract sculptures by Calder, Lichtenstein and Snelson and prepares to invade the Capitol Building. I half expect a metallic voice to demand: “Take Me To Your Leader.”

But the attraction tonight is not the pompous self-important architecture of another generation, but a genuinely moving application of the building’s exterior by an artist of our generation. Doug Aitken has deployed his own myrmidons, an armada of refrigerator-sized projectors rings the building and constantly serenades it with multiple version of “I Only Have Eyes For You.” Way up on the wall factory workers lips sync, someone who looks like a cross between Neil Young and Alice Cooper croons, lights flow and tape machines rewind. Sometimes the music drifts toward break beats, then crosses back to Indie pop and eventually slides into Vegas pop, then easy listening. Around the building people sit in awe. On the north side a couple shares a pizza on a cheap date as brigade of Segways rolls past. Elderly people are bundled up and sit next to tourists snapping flash photos. Across the street to the south a bevy of six year olds sit on the Department of Transportation sign and groove along to the song as a guard walks his slow beat. On the west side trees intercept the images, obscuring them and interfering with their own light show while I flee across the street to the Air and Space Museum. Ahead of me the projections look like vintage drive in movie, behind me hang full sized drones armed with high tech missiles. If this is a hostile invasion, I think we earthlings have it under control.

Information on Song \ 1 and the Hirshhorn may be found at http://hirshhorn.si.edu/exhibitions/view.asp?key=21&subkey=518</a>

Songs in the Key of “Me”

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Songs in the Key of “Me”
With Kevin Kelly
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Spotlight Cabaret at Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park FL

Kevin Kelly might not have the biggest range in town but he’s self effacing and claims to be the “Helen Reddy of Orlando Musical Theatre”. Strong words, but he’s able to back them up: he opens with a Tom Lehrer number “I Hold Your Hand in Mine”. It’s sweet, it’s Victorian, and it’s actually kind of creepy if you listen to the last stanza. Kelly wears a backstage black t-shirt with a spangly “ME” ironed right on the front, this shows his innate frugality as the letters can be peeled off after the show and the shirt repurposed. Smart move in these tight times, and he quickly moves on to the Judy Garland Number “Friendly Star” from Summer Stock, “Corner of the Sky” from “Pippin” and a Maltby and Shire Number “I don’t remember”.

Like a number of cabaret singers I know, Kelly grew up in a strictly religious household. Records had to be vetted by mom for inappropriate lyrics, even Barry Manilow got recused with scotch tape on his overly sensuous tracks. This didn’t stop the musically fanatic Kelly, he carefully PEELED THE TAPE OFF! Take that, Censorious Mom! And we get to hear exactly what mom didn’t approve of, apparently Mr. Manilow was singing about a failing marriage. Mr. Manilow was NOT “Thinking About The Children.”

With a stalwart Chris Leavy backing him, Kelly was confident and at ease, kept the crowd on his side and closed with a “Rent” number. Acting surprised, he got an ovations and sang the slow ballad “On My Way Back to You” to close the show, and then hung out with those of us who didn’t have a bed time looming. Like all the Spotlight Cabarets, this was fun and fluffy and a low brain power way to spend a weekend. But if you’ll pardon me know, I have to go deconstructs an avant garde community theater production of “Hamlet.”

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

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Jeremy Seghers
Starring Anthony Pyatt JR, Marion Marsh, Landon Price, Brett Carson
In the Wings Productions
Studio Theatre, Orlando FL

We’ve all been here. Your uncle murders dad, marries mom and bluffs down some Norwegian poseur with a fakey French name. Life is all so unfair, and what can you do? You’re just a college student on a budget and your knife isn’t very big and you’re breaking up with your girlfriend and the only way to ditch those student loans is invade England or let that Norwegian guy use your country to sneak into Poland and hope he doesn’t hang around. Well, there are some options: you can philosophize, write moody poetry, and practice your construction tool dueling skills. You never know when these skills might come in handy.

While this classic clocks in at an Elizabethan butt numbing three hours, it’s one of best “Hamlet’s” I’ve seen. Someone mentioned this is a first folio version, and it seems to have lots more lines than I recall. Yeah, the set is minimal and there’s an attempt to set a time and place with inconsistent Southern Accents and class divisive costuming, but the performances and casting are outstanding. Anthony Pyatt Jr. is a slick and vital hamlet, and he never wavers when playing this supposed wavery charter. He has a particular gleam in his eye during the final fight sequence, and rather than use the standard rapiers he and Laertes (Steven C Fox) slug it out with pick axes. Yow. Landon Price plays an apologetic King Claudius; he seems to almost care about Hamlet even as he schemes to politely have him offed in a far away land. His consort Gertrude (Marsh) is elegant and you almost want to believe she’s innocent of any shenanigans even if she has some trouble with her high heels. Other outstanding actors include Brett Carson as a rather comic Polonius, Holly Frost as the flighty Ophelia, and Bruce Ryan Costella as a very intellectual and cringing Horatio.

The set was some minimal risers even with its wobbly back wall and crashing candles. All this gave a potent graveyard scene, and the overall production took some innovative and unexpected turns. The scene in Gertrude’s room was brutal and scary, the famous soliloquy had an on stage audience, and you could almost smell Larry Stallings’s Ghostly graveyard suit as he spirited around the stage. Best of all, a Pinteresqe leak in the air conditioning added a modernist tinge to this classic, and there was another show ready to go up as we left – “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged).” A few folks with iron butts were sticking around for another 90 minutes of iambic action, but I was fading fast and felt I had gotten full use out of my overpriced parking ticket. If this company could get some decent seating, they could give that other better known company a run for its money.

For more information, please visit http://www.facebook.com/pages/In-the-Wings-Productions/176913645667120

Mountain Rose – The Ballad of Rose Anna McCoy

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

Mountain Rose – The Ballad of Rose Anna McCoy
By Stephen DeWoody
Directed by Julia Allardice Gagne
Starring Samantha Ann Schwartz and Nick Lougheed
Valencia Character Company
Orlando, Fl

There’s a heaping helping of country exposition up on this stage of beautifully carved log cabin walls, a full sized tree and a few vintage double wedding ring quilts. The backdrop is historically accurate and the focus is on the ill fated love story between sultry eyed Johnse Hatfield (Lougheed) and Rose Anna McCoy (Schwartz). You may have heard the names – the Hatfield / McCoy feud is the most famous private war in American history and a constant story touch stone from movies to cartoons. Johnse and Rose Anna fell in lust despite the feud and he boldly offered to marry her. He likely did so knowing neither parent would approve, he’s a womanizer and a decent sized jerk and one slap short of the classic abusive boyfriend. Rose Ann’s motives are more obscure, maybe she’s looking for adventure or romance or a change of scenery. No matter, neither Devil Anse Hatfield (Jesse Millican) nor his beard will allow the marriage, and Old Ran’l McCoy (Sean Michael Drake) is equally uncooperative. While marriage is a no go, Devil Anse allows them to shack up in the loft and soon Johnse moves on to Anna’s cousin Nancy McCoy (Kailee Akins) when the inevitable pregnancy occurs. Rejected by both families, Rose Anna descends to fallen woman status and moves in with her Aunt Betty (Amy K. Cuccaro). When we’re not involved in this soap opera there are various shootings, kidnappings and house burnings by the men folk and lots of homely advice by the women folk.

I hate to say anything is “too accurate” but author DeWoody does give us more back story than we need to understand the complicated relation between Johnse and Rose Anna’s families. All of the first scene and most of the second is exposition, and there’s still fill in by the Balladeer (Stephen Nettles). The attraction between independent and independent minded Rose Anna and predatory Johnse is intriguing and unexplained: both children act against the express wishes of their parents and upbringing, but why? Johnse makes sense as a horny kid with no moral compass, and Rose Anna might just be a thrill seeker, but those topics are left unexplored in favor of worrying us with warrants and bushwhacking and scary looking gunplay. Both Johnse and Rose Anna were well acted, and I enjoyed the monolog Old Ran’l (Sean Michael Drake) gave us in the last act. Aunt Betty’s bubbly cheerfulness and mother Hatfield (Paige Roberts) dour acceptance played well , but there were plenty of minor characters who entered, said their few lines, and left. This show sprawls when it should focus, and while I have some sympathy for Rose Anna everyone else feels arbitrary and there because the author wanted them, not because the story needed them.

For more information on Valencia Character Company, please visit http://valenciacollege.edu/artsandentertainment/Theater/

Pillowlando MMXII

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

Pillowlando MMXII
Lake Highland Park, Orlando FL
April 7, 2012

With Orlando’s Pillowlando organizer gone off to better things, I was curious as to who would take the feathery helm of the silliest in town. I arrived half an hour early only to find a nearly empty park. Three guys tossed Frisbee upside down and four others played some weird game on a small trampoline that looked like inverted volleyball. Weird, but not what I was hoping for. Eventually a car pulled up behind me containing a guy in an orange hard hat and matching moustache. Some young women appeared, a woman played with her daughter, but Nary a pillow was to be seen. But eventually a guy in a Kung Fu Panda outfit rolled up, and things suddenly seem more pillow fight promising.

Why can't we all get along? Because this is more FUN!

Today is International Pillow fight day with massive combats planned from Amsterdam to Zurich, and while this might be one of the smaller battles, it’s ours. Last year about 200 people showed up downtown across from City Hall but now the event I moving north like many other Orlando Art events. Lake Highland Park is a grassy slope hidden away between Mills and Orange and one of the best places to watch Downtown fireworks without getting a ticket or hassled.

Panda Leader One vs Catfish Man.

About 70 people showed up on this cool, breezy day and the cloak of Pillow Fighting responsibly is now held by “Tony,” otherwise known as Panda Leader 1. He has the best costume, neck bells, and one of those Japanese Tourist locator flags. And as the 5 o’clock hour strikes he races around us, encouraging people to form alliances. The Orange crew was a rallying point for some; some fighters seemed to be dating, and other groups seemed to have a single pillow among them and took turns. Family groups were popular, Pillowlando is great way for little kids to wale on mom and dad and little sister without repercussions.

Relaxing at the pillow fight.

The fight begins. People fight and then spin out to watch as camera men and iPhone holders document the padded violence. Late comers straggle in, including a team of guys with Yellow Circles on their shirts and weapons. The battle ebbs and flows, Panda Leader even takes a short nap. Then a lone fighter enters, wielding the biggest catfish I’ve ever seen. He’s gunning for Panda Leader, and the crowd converges as these heroes battle until the cat fish breaks free and a little kid runs into collect a souvenir. It’s a draw, the warriors hug, and the lesser fighters go back to beating mercilessly on people they’ve never met. We are one.

The Final Pillow Toss

A brutal half hour passes, a pillow breaks, spilling pillow guts on the central Florida “grass”. Other pillows cower under humans, but now everyone makes up and the combatants lined up for a group photo. One last Herculean group toss and these weapons of mass napping fly into the air, and we retreat to strategize for next year’s kerfuffle. There – I finally got “Kerfuffle” into a blog post.

This pillow won't land until MMXIII.

Keep your eyes on http://www.pillowfightday.com/ for the next Pillowlando.

The Last Five Years

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

The Last Five Years
By Jason Brown
Directed by Wade Hair
Musical Direction by Justin Scarlat
Starring Rob Guest Jr. and Erynn Hair
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park, FL

Sex – it always seems like a good idea at the time, but sometimes the novelty fades when you both grow up. Jamie (Guest) is an up and coming writer, Cathy (Hair) is an actress with summer stock potential. Their romance is told both forward and backward with Jamie’s thread progressing from infatuation into marriage to break up while Cathy begins at misery and backtracks to euphoria. Jamie is obsessed with getting a goyish girlfriend and Cathy wants out of small town Ohio and you sense they might have issues when you notice there’s only one song they really share. The issues are basic: Jamie is all about Jamie; Cathy is all about true love and martyring herself to an emotionally distant guy. I sympathize with the characters, but if they asked me out for drinks I’d fake a kidney stone.

Erynn Hair has all the good songs, and has the better voice to deliver them with. “A Summer in Ohio”, “Goodbye Until Tomorrow” and “Climbing Up Hill” all resonate well in Breakthrough’s intimate space, and Jamie’s big numbers “Shiksa Goddess” and “Nobody Needs to Know” are good but not as memorable. He projects well enough but his teeth are in some sort of grimace and he seems uncomfortable being such cad to his wife and girlfriend. I was unimpressed with the backing music; the six piece band called out in the script was replaced with a single prerecorded piano. It wasn’t so much the stripped down sound that bothered me, but there are long passages where a single plink plink plink keeps up the beat while the actors sing though to the bridge. If there’s an uncanny valley of musical arrangement, the folks at Musical Theatre International found it. While this show seems to get a production every other year it’s justifiably a perennial favorite and the gimmick for this run is a different cast each weekend. Future casts include Sarah Ross and Justin Nickerson, Krystal Gillette and Sage Starkey and Jolie Hart and Adam McCabe. Your mileage may vary.

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

Flight of the Earls

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

Flight of the Earls
By Christopher Humble
Directed by John DiDonna
Starring Stephen Lima, Chris Prueitt, Marty Stonerock and Becky Eck
Lima/Stonerock Productions, The Empty Spaces Theatre Co(llaboration), DiDonna Productions
The Lowndes Shakespeare Center, Orlando FL

Really, the only way to win a war is with overwhelming force. Otherwise, you’re stuck negotiating or taking pot shots at each other until your great-great-grandchildren forget what the original issues was in the first. That’s the situation in Northern Ireland, and the brothers Michael (Lima) and Ian Earl (Prueitt) are kingpins of the Irish Republican Army. They smuggle weapons and bribe jailers and build nail bombs when they aren’t fixing trucks or digging secret underground bunkers. Ian is the slightly more ruthless one; he’s ready to send unsuspecting relatives off to blow up a random bus stop while Michael struggles against the love of a good but deluded woman. That would be peace loving Bridgette, (Eck) she wants them to move to America and away from the war but Michael exclaims sarcastically: “That’s a fine thing, to be an Irishman in America!” I checked a week or two ago, I think he’d have plenty of company at that bar near Rollins. Things are tense but under control until missing brother Keith (John Bateman) appears, he’s more qualified to be cannon fodder than a cover revolutionary and he blows everyone’s cover. Body parts are about to fly.

The blood and violence isn’t nicely hidden behind the arras in this gut wrenching show. Here’s an example: mother Kate (Stonerock) brings the war in County Tyrone into her dining room – she’s 110% Irish and not afraid to shoot anyone. She also gives this neutronium heavy show a bit of levity; she got through most of a bottle of whiskey “One Small One” at a time and bemoans “This family used to drink together” when dinner plans fall through. Becky Eck is what passes for a calm center, she’s strong and principled and as rugged as her sensible wool skirt. While Pruitt is cold hearted and blood thirsty, Lima takes the prize for intensity – no one does intense like Stephen Lima. Under DiDonna’s direction he carefully balances his demonic visage, bloody beliefs and somehow still keeps you believing he really does love Bridgette.

While Tommy Mangieri’s set doesn’t actually smell of Bushmill’s or peat smoke, it looks homey and ancient and just the sort of place people in the kitchen can hear critical plot points going on in the dining room. Just as you would expect, this show pulls no punches as it plows through the trade people make between family loyalty and deeply held causes. The difference between nail bombing a police station or driving a vest full of explosives into a NATO convoy is simply one of time and place. There’s an element of desperation, and maybe negotiations can’t begin until all the hot heads have finished killing themselves.

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