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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for October, 2012

The Twilight Zone

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

The Twilight Zone
By Rod Sterling
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL

Don’t you need permission to do this stuff on stage? Tonight we experience four short plays by Rod Sterling, television master of all things sci-fi and horror. These scripts date back to the Golden Age of Television and freaked out my entire generation. No one has really replicated that terror on the small screen since, and out of respect to the author’s reputation for tricky endings I’ll be a little vague here on what exactly happens.

Opener “The Hitchhiker” (directed by Tabitha Rox) follows a young woman (Victoria Burns) as she heads west from NYC to sunny LA. Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge she sees a hitchhiker (John Segers) and nearly runs him over. But he reappears more and more often the closer she gets to Gallup, New Mexico until she panics and calls mom for help. When the story pays off, it managed to get a nice shiver down my cynical old back bone.

Director Tom Larkin tackles “One For The Angels.” Here pitchman Bill Horine lives alone and sells odds and ends on the street. He’s visited by Mr. Death (John Segers) and does one of those classic “duping the Devil” twists. Of course, supernatural powers have their ways and a young girl is held hostage until the world is back in balance. Bonus points: One of the funniest special effects staged in Breakthrough.

Mr. Segers doubles as our host; he’s a seriously creepy stand in for Sterling in his undertaker’s suit and dead pan radio voice. He also takes off his coat for “The Midnight Sun” (directed by Tara Corless). In this early metaphor for climate change, the world plummets toward the sun as Jennifer Rea and her land lady (Juli Goldstone) struggle to hang on in an overheated New York apartment building. John Segers appears drops in again as the Desperate But Decent Man With A Gun, all he wants is a drink of water and then he’s off. The Sterling twist here isn’t as strong here, but there’s a tension to the piece.

We close with “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” under the direction of Robert Cunha. Unlike the other pieces tonight this one is done script in hand by a large cast, it has more action than a radio play normally offers and it often feels chaotic. Here a neighborhood is cut off from power and telephone, and a young boy suggest this is just like a comic book he’s reading – the aliens are invading, and they’ve sent advance parties that have blended in perfectly. ‘Ha-ha” you think, but it’s the same psychology that worked so well in the H. G. Wells “War of the Worlds” panic. Here people take turns building suspicions of their neighbors; the hot potato goes around in a circle until someone is killed. Positives: action is well choreographed and the show moved quickly. Negatives: lots of yelling and over acting; this needs more build before people started yelling.

It’s nice to see a few non-zombie shows this pumpkin season; the house was packed and the thrills were family friendly. And you can buy treats in the lobby!

For more information, please visit http://www.breakthroughtheatre.com or look them up on Facebook.

Side Show

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Side Show
Book and Lyric by Bill Russell
Music by Harry Krieger
Directed and Choreographed by Earl D. Weaver
Starring Catie Pires-Fernandes, Deirdre Manning, and Joshian Morales
Theatre UCF, Orlando FL

Loved the cast, loved the set, loved the direction, hated the music. “Side Show” is a partly fictional retelling of the Hilton Sister’s story, they were one of the few co-joined twins born to survive to adulthood, and they spent their lives in show business. Daisy (Pires-Fernandes) wanted fame and fortune, Violet (Manning) wanted love and their ticket out of the carnie was the slick talent agent Terry (Morales) and his vocal coach sidekick Buddy (John DeLisa). The boys find the twins working a Ten- in-One with the Snake Lady and The Lizard Man and the Dog Boy and a flock of other colorful characters. The evil Boss (Justin Mousseau) isn’t eager for the twins to leave his control, but Buddy teaches them to sing. That and their deformity sells them to an America seeking sensationalized novelty, they were the Reality TV of the 1930’s with Terry their emcee. His combination of slick marketing and their basic talent made them the toast of fading vaudeville, and a controversial wedding at the Texas Centennial gets them movie gig with Todd Browning for his creep “Freaks.”

Tonight’s set is beautiful miniature circus ring with bleacher seats that place you in the side show tent. The twins made a believable pair, although sometimes their hips slipped a bit. The most impressive performance came from the girl’s only real friend Jake (Shonn McCloud). He led the ensemble with a rip roaring “The Devil You Know” and his was the voice I’ll remember. Both Terry and Buddy seemed too nice to be show promoters, but their reluctant romances seemed real enough. There were several stunning dance numbers (“We Share Everything” and “Rare Song Birds on Display”), Earl Weaver’s choreography was clever and snappy and the dances recalled some of Busby Berkley’s best excesses.

The plot held up until the last scene, that’s when Violet’s frantic flip flopping on who she would or wouldn’t marry stopped making sense; thankfully Mr. Brown saved the scene by announcing “Heck, I’ll marry you myself for this publicity.” Then there was the music. While a few songs stood out, most of the listed songs are a noodling underscore to what would have made much better spoken dialog. Strip that away and the “real” songs would have popped: “Tunnel of Love” and “Private Conversations” and “Feeling You’ve got to Hide” all are well crafted, but lost in the aural clutter.

Despite these flaws, it’s a performance worth catching; the Hilton Sister’s story is a classic show business tragedy. They were exploited by nearly everyone that touched them, and the conflicting searches for love and fame form a solid base for drama. And then there’s that wonderfully sordid subtext: How, exactly, does one handle wedding night etiquette with Siamese twins? It must be embarrassing for at least someone.

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

An Evening with Robert E. Lee & An Evening with Ulysses S. Grant

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

An Evening with Robert E. Lee
&
An Evening with Ulysses S. Grant
Written and performed by “Country Joe” Rosier
Presented by The Greater Orlando Civil War Round Table
October 26 and 27, 2012
Orlando Shakespeare Center, Orlando FL

Technically these are two separate tickets, but the stories are interleaved and a dual review helps with the “Compare and Contrast” dictum from English Class. I’ll start by observing these shows about the Civil War (a.k.a. The War of Northern Aggression) bring out a much different crowd than most shows at the Shakes. Hoop skirts and dashing uniforms with period authentic button color were present and the guy running the cigar box office wasn’t familiar with the term “will call”. But despite these minor irregularities, this was an audience that was rapt and attentive and could ask mind numbingly detailed questing during the talk back.

We begin with Robert E. Lee, his parents hung out with George Washington and he was one of the very few to depart West Point with zero demerits. Lee made a career as an engineer, which meant he built forts and bridges and earth works. In the Mexican American war he showed promise, and when the civil war broke out, he was torn but ultimate preferred loyalty to Virginia over loyalty to the larger concept of a United States. He fought with honor and poor logistics, hunger was a bigger challenge than the sometimes incompetent Unions forces he faced, although he appears to have botched a few critical military opportunities on his own. Ultimalty he was regarded as a loyal and worthy opponent, and resumed some friendships with opposing officers after the surrender.

The next evening we meet U.S. Grant, a man who struggled with bad business sense and alcoholism. He, too graduated West Point, fought in Mexico, and while his battle sense was better, he also knew how to move men and supplies thought the mud and desert, and this overcame any other deficiency in his character. He also believed in the union, and the only way to impress the Southerners was to bring the war to them, and that meant total war. The after math of that decision is still with us on many levels, he may have won but it was sullen victory.

Rosier looks enough like most 19th century portraiture to pass for most any Civil War figure shorter than Lincoln, and his well researched portrayals are riveting. He does waver a bit when working Lee’s northern Virginia accent, but his dramatic pauses make his performance feel like an improvised speech. He has maps on stage; they could have been used more effectively when describing troop movements and the strategic value of various battles. Both Lee and Grant are convincing and they state their positions and reaction very succinctly, although there seems a weird fascination with both Lee’s and Grant’s horses. Both sessions felt correct in length although the post presentation Q&A needs to offer an escape opportunity for those who don’t want to discuss how Grant got his dry cleaning done or why Lee did or didn’t attack an opposing army. What I found most informative was the role of the Mexican American War in setting up the Civil War, and how human and vulnerable these two soldiers were.

For more information on “Country Joe Rosier” visit http://www.JoeRosier.com

If you wish to find fellow Civil War enthusiasts, please visit http://www.gocwrt.com

Dame Edna

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

Dame Edna
Performed by Michael Walters
The Abbey, Orlando FL

What a cavernous room! The Abbey looks like it could hold 200; tonight only about 20 fans showed up and we scattered ourselves over the available space like oxygen molecules in a near vacuum. The house manager came out and got everyone to move up front; both Dame Edna and comedy in general work best with a compact crowd.

Dame Edna receives applause from an adoring crowd

Dame Edna is a very Australian lady, concerned with appearance and propriety and who dresses like a gift wrapped Elaine Stritch. The character originated with comedian Barry Humphries, and Mr. Walters has the license (or at least the permission) to perform the role in North America. I suspect if the two came together in the same room; the earth would be destroyed in a flash of pure anti-fashion. His show mixes singing and audience engagement with slightly risqué jokes. One gag in involved Dame Edna’s skills at pedomancy, that’s fortune telling with shoes, another talked about adopting a child “from that African country where Madonna shops.” Notionally, Dame Edna is the confidant of the Royal Family, her photo shopping skills could get her into almost any high end party. The real surprise of this evening is the ending; Mr. Walters in his other life is an astonishing singer and tonight as the show winds down he launches into a Carol Channing rendition of “Hello Dolly”. Then after a few bars he drops down a register and does the Louis Armstrong parts, and pretty soon he’s singing a duet with himself. Then he launches into the deepest basso “Old Man River” I’ve ever heard. This is ovation territory, folks, and I doubt the “other” Dame Edna could hit those lows. You missed a winner if you weren’t in those front seats.

More information on Dame Edna and Michael Walters may be found at http://www.michaelwaltersonstage.com/

and

http://www.dameednashow.com/

Other Abbey events will be announced at http://AbbeyOrlando.com

Spot Light Cabaret with Chris Leavy

Saturday, October 27th, 2012

Spot Light Cabaret with Chris Leavy
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
October 24, 2012
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park FL

Finally – Orlando’s hardest working piano player takes the lead in the intimate lobby of Winter Park Play House. They moved the piano for him; I’ll guess that was Heather Alexander’s idea as you would never hear a guy say “Honey, you’re right. The piano DID look better upstairs.” Leavy flashes a good bit of music theory tonight, he talks about making annotated tapes of “Funny Girl” and what he learned in Composition 102. This means he must have survived at least Composition 101 and that more than I’ll ever claim. Leavy’s big love is show tunes, he raps “Punk and funk are junk.” I’ll let that pass, I expect in a few decades you’ll go to some Philharmonic in the Park event and hear them redo the Ramones. The women will dress up and the men will fall asleep during the slow movement of “Sheena is a punk rocker.” But I digress.

Leavy opens with “Put Another Show Tune On” and then gives us one of his earliest compositions: “Everyone Lives in a Bubble.” It might have legs; the arrangement could stand some perking up, but let’s work with it. Then it’s off to Sondheim Central, he leads in with “Everyone Wants to Sound like Sondheim (But Me)”, then the obscurity “What More Do I Need?” “All Male Thanksgiving” and the double entendre laden “Entering Beverly” take us up to intermission, and when he returns, its heartstring pulling time. We hear “Moon River” and “Shadow of Your Smile” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” then a Marvin Hamish tribute, and an “Oh, yeah!” song. That’s one you instantly know the chorus, but can’t recall there is a verse. Tonight’s example: “As Time Goes By.” By now we’ve drunk our wine in little plastic cups, the baby sitter is getting expensive, and its encore time so we wrap up with “Lullaby of Broadway.” I have to admit a soft spot for that song; it’s got one of Busby Berkley’s biggest, most over the top tap dancing extravaganzas. Now THAT’S entertainment.

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

Urinetown the Musical

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Urinetown the Musical
Book and lyrics by Greg Kotis
Music and lyrics by Mark Hollman
Directed Julia Allardice Gagne
Musical Direction by Tim Hanes
Choreographed Lesley Brasseux Rodgers
Starring Melina Countryman, Brett p Carson, and Antonio Morillo
Valencia College Theatre, Orlando, FL

I’ve seen this self-referential fourth wall breaker a few times before, but never with these high production values. Yeah, the sound takes a few songs to settle down, that seems to be a trend in local theatre today but once that’s taken care of, the remaining show rocks. Water is scarce in the future, and the right to piddle is controlled by the megalomaniacal Caldwell B Cladwell (Carson) and his “Urine Good Company.” They finagle to raise the pee fee, and a riot soon breaks out lead by lowly Bobby Strong (Morillo). The revolt starts at Penelope Pennywise’s (Janine Papin) Public Convenience #9 and soon involves Caldwell’s daughter Hope (Countryman). Not only willing hostage, she’s the dreamer with the cash, and the plebs triumph and all is apparently well, UGC falls and urine is flowing like wine. Well, not very good wine, soon Earth’s limited water supple is brackish, silty and things are worse than before.

The set is astounding, and there’s a full orchestra down in the pit so you know this is a high class show. Carson looks the part of Caldwell, he’s a roll up of Scrooge McDuck, Uncle Pennybags and J.P. Morgan. Behind his desk is a huge portrait, I hope he gets to take it home. Commenting on the show we have Officer Lockstock (Tyler Robert Conrady) and Little Sally (Dorothy Christopher). She asks why we can’t discuss hydrology and irrigation, he points out a musical comedy has to stick to one big idea. And he’s not afraid of the rabble rioting either, after all narrators are immune to violence in stage. The love story between Hope and Bobby is tolerable, they don’t seem to have the chemistry real lovers need, but they do pull of some nice duets. I also give big points to Rodgers’ choreography, these were all huge dance numbers and the synchronization was Busby Berkley perfect and Bill Warriner’s fight direction kept everyone eyes and ears firmly attached.

“Urinetown” is an odd play, it ultimately takes the side of the evil industrialist and points out sometimes you have to ration scarce resources to keep things going. There’s a parallel here with new and old communism: once you rob the wealthy, nationalize everything profitable and load up the payroll with party insiders, you’ve pretty much blew your wad and the future isn’t going to get better. Urinetown encapsulates that 20th century lesson, and after you’ve applauded and ovated, you will have something to argue about all the way home. And isn’t that the best part of a show?

For more information on Valencia College Theatre, please visit http://valenciacollege.edu/artsandentertainment/theater/

Made Not Bought

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Made Not Bought
By Laura Donaldson and Peter Newman
Music by Ruthie King
Directed by Angelyn Rhode
Princess Theatre, Sanford FL

I think this is the true heart of Community Theatre – local stories, local talent, and a production that mixes brilliance and pathos with awkward moments of heartfelt writing. One hundred years ago Sanford was a Big Deal – ships came up the St. Johns River, the local Luxembourgian Celery supplied roughage to America, and sharecropping blacks bailed out of Georgia to move to the area. The racism wasn’t that different but the pay was better and you could shop your labor to the highest bidder.

I missed the first incarnation of this local history exercise, but this second take is worth the drive up I-4. There’s somewhere north of 40 people on stage, all are locals and none are professional actors. They stumble from time to time but their triumphs make this as personal a snap shot as you’ll find. After the open Laugh-In style sequence of celery jokes and corny humor, we experience a series of vignettes that capture a memory of era gone by. The strongest segments were the ones dealing explicitly with the demise of Jim Crow. In particular, there’s a scene of a share cropping family sneaking out of rural Georgia – in their clever foam core truck they run the Underground Railroad in reverse and escape to economic freedom further south. Did they get out and how did they do down here? Another powerful tale introduces a woman never learned to swim because the town fathers preferred to destroy both the black and white pools in town rather than allow blacks to swim with whites.

Other elements of the show were more whimsical: we meet a man who lived on nothing but fried baloney and Karo syrup, a woman who buys the old fire house complete with ghost, and tails of kids hanging out in the Celery Crate, dancing and playing board games in the back of city hall. That was hot stuff back then. Only one scene didn’t work, it was a montage of jokes about Cleveland. How that tied in defeated me, and it wasn’t very funny. But those are nits, Celery Soup is a great piece of folk lore and found material pulled into a cohesive whole complete with music by local composer Ruthie King. You can tell the kids how hot the vinyl seats were was when you were their age, or you can take them to this show and let them experience it themselves.

For tickets and other information please visit http://www.celerysoupsanford.com/

The Painter

Monday, October 15th, 2012

The Painter
Written by Roger Floyd
Directed by Paul Castaneda
Starring Roger Floyd
Greater Orlando Actors Theatre, Winter Park FL

This is a tough show, so let’s approach it systematically. First, what do we like? In the mythology of Jack the Ripper, very little is certain and speculation rules the roost. There are seven well accepted suspects, no fewer than five “canonical” victims, and a dozen plus possible perps. Writer Floyd picks Walter Sickert (Floyd) as his protagonist, this man was a painter, possibly impotent, and if nothing else a dramatic figure with a menacing beard and way with words. Along with him on stage we meet two of Jack’s victims, Catherine Eddows (Leesa Castaneda) and Anne Chapman (Krystal Gillette). Both are cloying and erotic, desperate and tatty, and as they take turns expounding and bleeding they find a way to taunt their murderer even in their deaths. Positives: a wildly romantic killer, a possible motive, and supporting actresses who mix fear and sexuality yet never actively resent Sickert for their demise. A solid basis, to be sure.

Now to the challenges. This is an extremely intense show, and it never gives the audience a break. As we descend into what might be Sickert’s madness, there are no glimpses of alternatives: this man is out to kill what he hates, and he relishes the task. But why now? What was his trigger? While searching for that, there are few milestones for the audience to measure the progress of the play, at some points as the cast was rubbing paint on each other I began to wonder “How will this wrap up? WILL this rap up? Is anything going to change in Mr. Sickert’s mind?” I never detected any change, he set out to murder, he murdered, and would have continued to murder had the time allowed. Thus, this show shocks, it shocks well, but leaves you with little but shock on the way out. More a tableaux than a drama, all the seasonal elements are there but I never find sympathy for the people. Bad things happened to amoral people, and that’s that.

For more information on Greater Orlando Actor’s Theatre, please visit http://http://www.goatgroup.com/

There are many Jack the Ripper sites on the web; this is a good starting point: http://www.jack-the-ripper.org/

Race

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

Race
By David Mamet
Directed by Thomas Ouellette
Starring Richard B Watson, Henry Brown
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando FL

After this intense hour, I don’t think it’s safe to talk to black people anymore. I never knew there were so many ways to offend, and God forbid you try friendly banter – it’s a mind field. Or so implies David Mamet, he is known for pushing some limits on stage. This little firecracker of a show takes a look at race relation in this postmodern century, and while lynching is down, lawsuits are up. Well-off Charlie Strickland (Jim Ireland) is shopping for lawyers to defend his high profile rape case. Now, he may have been giving her money, and they may have done it a few times before, but tonight something goes wrong, the check bounces, and the cry of “rape!” brings a sheaf of paper work from the maid, the cop, the floor manager of the hotel and a lead headline in the local kiss and tell tabloid. Strickland has already fired (or been fired) by the Jewish lawyer, but the firm of Lawson and Brown maybe a better match: Jack Lawson (Watson) is white and high pressure, Henry Brown (Cobb) is slightly black and adds credibility. After all, the accuser is black, so this firm offers a nice neat package tied up with apprentice Susan (Stella Heath). She’s both black and female, and conveniently the same dress size as the accuser. Lawson suggests dressing her in that red sequined smock and ripping it off in court, somehow she thinks this is a bit much. Is she tired of the White Man’s oppression, or does she just lack the blood thirsty streak this game takes?

There’s a lot more, of course and I will say I thought Mr. Watson was going to blow a gasket more than once. He’s intense and monomaniacal, just as the role requires and no matter what his politics, I’d have him defend me in a heartbeat. Mr. Cobb’s roll is more level and good counter balance to Lawson, and he’s a guy who comes up with a few good ideas on his own. As Susan, Ms. Heath is more subtle, she’s planning a longer campaign than the one that walked in the door, and I suspect she’ll make it somewhere, but not with these two guys. Ireland’s character is more ambivalent, maybe he wants a defense, but maybe he just wants the shame of redemption. That might included few years I the Crossbar Hilton, but he’s a big boy and if that what he wants he may have just walked in the right door for the wrong reason.

This show drips with brutal realism. While the black experience is the center of the show, Jews and Mexicans and just about any other noticeable minority get abused, but with no chance to defend. There’s a good bit of legal procedure in here, but if you watch TV it will all flow by effortlessly. Director Ouellette get s the best from this stellar cast, and if nothing else this should remind you – conductor your personal life to avoid dealing with the justice system. It’s a jungle on that stage as well.

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

Phantasmagoria III

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

Phantasmagoria III
Something Truly Wicked This Way Comes
Created and Directed by John DiDonna
Music by Todd Kimbro
Choreography by Mila Makarova
Fight Direction by Bill Warriner
Empty Spaces Theatre Co(llaboration)
Lowndes Shakespeare Center, Orlando FL

Buy your ticket, get a drink, and soon it’s time to climb back up that birth canal of creation into the cold, dark space of the dread “Patron’s Room”. Light towers reach high into the dome, a projection screen hung from the ceiling thankfully deadens the “echo of doom” and a sort of European clown act occupies the preshow minutes. People are tucked into seats and corners, it’s a sell out as Orlando theater audiences seek out more and more sublime thrills. Perhaps the Chain Saw Room at Universal is much too much, this is a more discreet and refined atmosphere of creepiness and gore-limited scares.

If you’ve been to a previous Phantasmagoria, all the elements are still in place – a cadaverous ringmaster (Chris Prueitt), impressive puppets with help from Jeff Ferree, Charley Smith and Ashley Byron) and an original sound track by local pianist Todd Kimbro. And of course there are stories; DiDonna samples the public domain for his material. Some of these date back to 18th century publications when horror was not so much entertainment as cautionary tales to children in a world of social upheaval and marauding armies. It’s a little hard to track who did what, most of the stories had a lead “speaker” and the ensemble echoed and backed and repeated their lines. Josh Geoghagan played the slightly insane Leon whose step mother was as wolf and his brothers and sisters were eaten alive by her. Apparently that’s how they roll in the Hartz Mountains, home of this story. Some humor mettles the fear, “Aaron Kelly’s Bones” takes a southern folk tale of a man too stubborn to stay in his grave and turn it into an extravaganza of boney puppets and flying, rotting flesh. It drew nervous laughs, and is a bit less gruesome than I imply. Even some H. P. Lovecraft makes into the evenings oratory, “The Beast in the Cave” mixes the fear of the dark with the fear of entrapment underground and leaves us with the horror of what we can unwittingly commit when we don’t have any of the facts.

The dancing between the stories is intimate and personal, some of the dancers are better known for their work with Voci and other local companies, here they fill the space to claustrophobia, and one must keep ones toes pulled in to avoid any embarrassment. The show is fine for older children, and a chance to slide a bit in to the fear we crave as the holidays begin. In the parking lot we discussed what is truly scary today, ghosts and goblins and zombies are demoted, true fear comes from an unexpected lump in the chest or a thick letter from the IRS.

Tickets and more information on Phantasmagoria III may be found at https://www.facebook.com/#!/events/433185886729107