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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for December, 2012

August Osage County

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

August Osage County
By Tracy Letts
Directed by Bobbie Bell
Starring Peg O’Keefe, Elizabeth Dean
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL

If you average out George and Martha and Mommy Dearest, you’ll end up in the middle of Oklahoma smack dab in the emotional tornado of the Weston family. “Dysfunctional” is overused these days, but here’s a family that specializes in alcoholism, pedophilia, incest, drug dealing, drug abuse, and maybe some occasional tax fraud. Author Letts forgot homosexuality and voting Republican, but this show is already a butt-numbing three hours and you have to save some material for next time. Daddy Weston (Joe Reed) opens with a monolog on T. S. Elliot’s personal and emotional woes, and then drops off the face of the earth to get some peace and quiet. His dear drugged out wife Violet (O’Keefe) decides this is the perfect time to “talk some truth” to her reunited family, and while everyone believes they’ve hid their sins Violet knows all, tells all and pisses off all. The centripetal force of her anger spins these lost children off to the edges of the continent save oldest daughter Barbara Fordham (Dean); she remains in the baking prairie heat to pick up where her mother’s anger left off.

Three acts, three hours and if not for the bitter and delicious humor O’Keefe and her cast finds in this desperate material it would be intolerable. To remind you you’re in the heat of the Oklahoma summer the thermostat is set just high enough to keep my date uncomfortable and remind us we are here to sweat it out with the Westons. The program gives a handy family tree, we see that Barbara’s husband Bill (Stephan Jones) is a failed writer and professor with a taste for undergraduate snatch, her sister Ivy (Jenna Kirk) wears a lesbian hairdo but has a secret boy friend, and younger sister Karen (Ame Livingston) is about to marry three-time-loser and pot head Steve (Tommy Keesling). Everyone on stage has their own agenda and they pursue them all with maniacal abandon, never stopping to think about the others. Young Jean Fordham (Tianna Stevens) smokes pot with her dad, “Little” Charlie Aiken (Nicholas Parsons) look sad and is belittled endlessly by his redneck mom Mattie Fae (Robin Olson) while his dad (Riley Clermont) defends him. Over all of this insanity we find one calm center, Native American housekeeper Johnna (Gaia Nair). She listens patiently, cooks and cleans, and hangs around to perform final purification ceremony.

Why this play? Why now? While I’ve always hated those questions, they seem relevant to this production. Perhaps this show is a ticket to the side show, letting us looking into another family’s misery and congratulating ourselves we are so much better behaved. Maybe it’s a catalog of coping strategies – denial, divorces, death, decampment all are options and I think we’ve each tried one or two of along the way. Or maybe its Letts way of saying Reality TV has nothing playwrights haven’t been dealing with for a century, and what’s the Big Deal? This a challenging show and not to be approached lightly, but it’s also a show that reflects us all along with our own lame self justifications. Just stay hydrated, and don’t be afraid to do some stretching exercises during one of the many intermissions.

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

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
By Barbara Robinson
Directed by Tara Corless
Starring Juli Goldstone, Tim Wiley, Sydney Adams-Farley
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL

First rule of kid-heavy community theatre – there’s no way to get twenty kids on or off stage without a “herd of cattle” sound effect. And if they’re all under high school age, you have to go with whatever happens: if they get their lines out, you can’t really pick on the delivery. It’s the Holiday Pageant season and the overachieving school maven Mrs. Armstrong (Jaimz Dillman) busts a leg leaving the brutal details of the Nativity stage show to unprepared Grace (Goldstone) and her reluctant hubby Bob (Tim Wiley). Normally this project would be a breeze, but someone told the demonic Herdman Clan about the free desserts at church. They descend on the casting call like Egyptians after a revolution and steal all the sexy roles: rapper babe Imogene (Gabriella Rivera) cops Mother Mary’s roll, Satanic little Gladys (Maia Goldstone) is the anti-Angel of the Lord while smirking Ralph (Max Gold stone) hijacked the role of hapless Joseph. Grace is unable to control the Herdman kids; they’re singularly unversed in Christian doctrine, child care or The Method. You’re ready to strangle them by intermission, but they redeem themselves in the final act: Imogene gets some insight in to the whole motherhood process, puts on her symbolically blue head scarf, and saves the evening despite the fire in the kitchen, the cigars in the girl’s room, and the touch football game they all play with the baby Jesus.

The Herdman troupe really felt evil, I grew up around a similar large family of thugs at school and I’m sympathetic to the central conceit of the story. There was a whole bunch of gloating on stage, all the kids were clearly having fun even as the Herdmans stripped little Dawson during “Little Drummer Boy”. I’m pretty sure Ms. Armstrong was having us on with her flattish “Merry Little Christmas,” and Max Goldstone seemed too happy to be truly evil. But despite the flaws, this was a genuinely moving piece, offering up the hope that the season can really transform the curmudgeonly and brutal.

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

A Christmas Survival Guide

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

A Christmas Survival Guide
By James Hindman and Ray Roderick
Directed by Kevin Smith
Musical Direction by John Mason
The Garden Theatre, Winter Garden Florida

I think this might be the Golden Moment of year end entertainment: Just enough tradition to stay grounded, but enough wink, wink, nudge, nudge realism to avoid the icky sappy egg-noggy hangover so much Christmas theatre defaults to. As a loose bracketing device, the golden voiced Dr. Ted (Wayne Weinburg) writes the helpful “Christmas Survival Guide” to help the stressed and over decorated stumble through the season without cirrhosis or a divorce papers. He reads passages when the show turns a corner, then gracefully slips back stage for a quick hand of gin rummy. The old school part of the show is a sampling of public domain classics (“We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” ” Oh Holy Night,” “Silent Night”) and a much larger helping of original material done in every up-beat style from boogie-woogie to Elvis. No, they don’t do dub step, this audience is more Lawrence Whelk than Skrillex and they need to sell tickets so they can shop.

Caroline Drage gets us rolling with “All Those Christmas Clichés.” If there’s a dopy seasonal element of the holiday, she’s down with it. Later she teams up with Alex Mrazek as a couple planning their first Holidays; she wants quiet with family, he’s a party animal with a Yoda tree topper. Yoda was cute, lets Google him…by Vader, there he is! A steal at $50 plus shipping… Mrazek closes the first half with a decent Elvis imitation, “Santa Claus Is back in Town” and may even have entered the building. Ms Drage has another outstanding solo with “Surabaya Santa,” maybe Old Nick DES sleep around. And Brecht for Christmas? That IS a new angle. Local bombshell Sara Lee Dobbs shows off with “The Christmas Party / I’d Like to Hitch a Ride with Santa”, later she returns with the wistful “Little Girl Blue.” Amy Martin Cole is a new talent new to me; she does some of the motherly rolls but shines on the cynical “Twelve Steps of Christmas”. She and Ms. Dobbs jump in a sleigh with Kevin Kelly and go dashing through the snow to the emergency room, but there’s cookies and warm IV bottles when they arrive. There’s even a touch of “Charlie Brown Holiday Special” as pianist Mason riffs off the Vince Guaraldi classic. “Christmas Survival Guide” is fun, upbeat and spiffy way to spend an evening between shopping, wrapping, and purging.

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

Zombie Town: A Documentary Play

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

Zombie Town: A Documentary Play
By Tim Bauer
Directed by Jim Helsinger
Theatre UCF, Orlando FL

1943 – Zombies introduced as a low budget metaphor for communism. 1959 – Zombies gave an excellent excuse for making out in a drive in. 1985 – With no need for motivation or character development Zombies become the go-to guys in the horror film revival. 2011 – Post modern Zombies become as ironic as tiny fedoras and dial cell phones and get produced by a Shakespeare Festival. It’s an arc, but a weak one.

Author Tim Bauer disassembles the Zombieverse trope by trope in the style of “The Laramie Project.” Dinky Harwood, Texas suffered through an attack of the undead, and the pain continues when a San Francisco Theatre Collective descends to document the events. As they interview the mayor and Toyota dealer, the local barkeep, an accountant and red neck rocker, we begin to see into the loneliness and desolation of small town living – few opportunities, little to do, but a unity in the face of disaster that cable TV fawns over. Done in ensemble style, it’s hard to pin actors to roles, but each stands distinct as an archetype with their own unique view to the killings. Rocker Guy isn’t too bright but was at ground zero with Slutty Girlfriend and Gets Killed First Girl. Stuffy Accountant is the brains of the defense, while Crooked Capitalist Mayor aims for a cover up but Conspiracy Nerd exposed him. That leaves an Ironic Commentator behind the bar, Local Lush in front of it and a whole ensemble of Angst Arty Types to tie it all together.

You’ll pick out favorites, and if you’re not a Zombie Fan (and my date repeated assured me she was not) you’ll still have a bundle of gruesome laughs. There is some fake blood and a few stray body parts, but most of this show is darkly intellectual and viciously ironic. Personally, I don’t think there’s much left to mine the vein of Zombies as scary, Zombies as metaphors are tired, and funny Zombies may be the only valid entertainment function those poor brainless corpses can prove for society. This show is running way later in the season than it should, but it beats Christmas Carol for entertainment value hands down.

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

Drip

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

Drip
Created by Jessica Mariko
8747 International Dr. Suite 102
Orlando, Fl

Maybe they ought to call this show “Grit”, there’s more sand than water flying around in this odd little space behind the South I-Drive Denny’s. “Drip” has bounced around the local scene for a while, I ran into them at the Orlando Fringe a few years back; the show was a respectable hit with Jessica Mariko and her dancers rolling around in paint. Over the years the show has evolved, and now she’s reformulated it to aim for the tourist dollar.

It’s a bit intimidating; you have to sign a waiver upon entry disavowing Drip from liability if you are hit with paint, water, or “flying objects.” It’s a sort of EULA, no one can read what they the release says in the dark, but the risk of injury is relatively light. Inside the space there’s a landing strip wide bar offering a few trendy brews and the dye colored beer I stopped drinking after one particularly brutal St Patrick’s Day. Here they offer even more colors if you want to practice your Technicolor yawn. As we mill around chatting with the Usual Suspects, rock music pounds and we are assigned a personal side of the main space. The show is “interactive”, you’re encouraged to interfere with the dancers but old habits are hard to break as we delve into the story. It’s sort of “boy meets girl, boy looses girl, girl throws sand at him and then takes a shower to wash the grit off her soul.” Behinds the story is a drone metal band and a smoke machine, they are loud and if nothing else it keeps the audience from chatting during the show.

Inside the main show space a wooden frame with clear plastic contains the dancers as they drain sand on themselves from dungarees hung from the ceiling. The threats of paint spatter aren’t zero, but the paint seems watered down. If you keep to the back you should be OK although dressing down is encouraged. After the sand is deployed, there’s a strobe light enhanced break up and angry packing scene, then a tarp is pulled over the sand and the water starts. The wronged woman walks in the rain, splashes around in a urine colored tank of water, and finds closure. Or so I assume.

The marketability of conceptual art to the tourist crowd is questionable, but for the aggressively arty local scene this show has potential. Having paint flung at me while I’m working is low on my list, but this show is unlike anything I’ve seen, including Drip’s previous productions. The space has enormous potential although it has the charm of a back alley warehouse, but if they can exploit the funky vibe and not actually hit anyone with a flying objects, this could be the” must be seen at” hipster hangout. Just don’t make me drink beer colored like Orange Fanta.

For more information please visit http://www.ilovedrip.com/. And wear dark washable clothing and shoes with good grip.

The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s Production of “A Christmas Carol”

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s Production of “A Christmas Carol”
By David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin Jr.
Directed by Matt Pfeiffer
Starring Karel K. Wright and Anne Hering
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando FL

High up stage right hangs a Union Jack, facing it stage left is an oil portrait of Her Nibs, the QE 2. In between lies a faithful replica of a church basement hall complete with faux asbestos tiles where we find Americans doing British comedy. Or a parody of British comedy, the gag is this is a community theatre with a track record of disaster about to tackle the oldest holiday chestnut on the fire. That which is bad, is intentional.

Preshow we have Mrs. Reece (Wright) chatting up the audience and reminding me of Dame Edna. She’s pleasantly loud and tweedy with matching plaid purse and jacket as she screens the audience for Act Two victims. Her cast is stuck in traffic, she vamps back stage with the Stage manger Gordon (Paul Romero) and debates how to amuse the punters until the cast arrives. As she’s recruiting audience member the real cast flusters in. Lead Scrooge Thelma (Hering) wears a stunning turquoise vintage number, Cratchity Mercedes (Suzanne O’Donnell) minces across stage with a bad back and a neck brace and it’s up to pleasant Felicity (Kelly Kilgore) to keep a stiff upper lip and play all the other Dickensians. The show is a planned flight into terrain, disastrous but silly as double entendres and props topples along with sight gags like Gordon’s permanent shirt-tail-out-the-fly and third wall breaking monologs from Ms. Reece. The highlight of the set was the vertical bed Scrooge occupies between ghosties; it’s an exceptionally exaggerated cheat that you just want to buy into.

What wasn’t in Farndale was a reason to like or hate anyone on stage, Individual performances were fine, Ms. Herring came across as the “real” actress of the company, bravely trouping along despite the unprofessionalism of her fellow townswomen. Everyone had a shtick – Gordon’s accent wavered between South Midlands and South Appalachia, Mercedes’ plucky acting through the pain, Felicity’s verve in her vaudeville coat and tails. Some back stage conflict would have helped – a love triangle, some bad blood here or there, but instead everyone rolled with the punches, reset the props, and did a decent job of “improving” though the missed cues. Things would have been tighter without the intermission, and the audience charades segment really dragged. Even putting an embarrassed patron in a dress could have been cut – The British Holiday pantomime is traditionally full of drag, but this guy looked really uncomfortable. Beyond that, the set by Bob Phillips was beautiful, the gags worked, and the story of redemption via indigestion was still enough to keep the purists happy. It’s the season of light entertainment and heavy drinking, but keep your expectations low.

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