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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for August, 2013

Time Stands Still

Saturday, August 31st, 2013

Time Stands Still
By Donald Margulies
Directed by Nicholas Murphy
Starring Angel Allen and Owen Robertson
Cornerstone Theatre Company
Presented at Lowndes Shakespeare Center, Orlando FL

Some are addicted to gambling or drugs or American Idol, but Sarah (Allen) and James (Robertson) find addiction in the thrill of war photography and the documentation of starving refugees. There’s no shortage of either and a steady market for their work product so they travel. She takes the pictures, he writes the words but when a roadside bomb kills Sarah’s “fixer” in Iraq and breaks her leg it’s up to James to get her home to America. He wants to settle down and review old horror movies but she’s still up for helping magazines sell consumer goods as people cluck their tongues over world atrocities. Their editor Richard (Frank Jakes) has picked up a ditzy girlfriend Mandy (Anna McClintock). She’s half his age but prefers fluffy kitties and catered events and is easily impregnated. So what’s more important – living the American dream or letting or reminding us it doesn’t apply to most of the world?

As “issues” plays go, this one is more interesting than most. James recognizes he’s hooked on the thrill of living on the edge and putting oneself “in harm’s way” and realizes he needs to stop as we consider the morality of taking pictures while not helping those in need, debate whether reported violence is cathartic or desensitizing or both at the same time, and can we focus on the bright side of life while profiting from the dark? Ultimately he sums it all up with this pithy quote: “Fuck the oppressed.” He also has a hilarious rant about the well-to-do attending depressing plays about refugees to make themselves feel good – I’m pretty sure I saw the exact piece he’s taking about in this exact space a few years back. Mr. Jakes was the most energizing of the players, I felt he was about to come out into the crowd and sell us a time share. Ms. Allen was bitter and hard, two characteristics I feel are essential for war correspondent while her roommate had a softer side and was willing to quit while he was still alive. Ms. McClintock’s youth bride showed a nice transform from air head to super mom, and this entire tussle was set on another glorious Cornerstone set. A complete apartment filled the Santos Denton stage (The Blue Venue for you locals) and they even built a little TARDIS-like enclosure around the sound booth. This is the sort of play you need to debate on the way home, so a date is essential unless you are both about to hop off to Syria for the weekend.

For more information on Cornerstone Theatre Company please visit http://www.cornerstonetheatrecompany.com/

Dead Certain

Saturday, August 31st, 2013

Dead Certain
By Marcus Lloyd
Directed by Laura Dewey
Starring Tabitha Rox and Logan Curran
Thriller Theatre presenting at Breakthrough Theatre
Winter Park, FL

Take notes, you’ll need them to get through the second act. I’ll start with the bad news; this is possibly Thriller Theatre’s last performance, maybe for a long time. They’re going out strong with this tight, engaging two person show. Elizabeth (Rox) is paralyzed from the waist down and rides around in a wheel chair named “Wanda.” Her condition came from a taxi cab crash years ago and she blames her favorite West End star Michael (Curran) who came out late and didn’t give her an autograph. The delay made her miss her train and have to take a cab, and while Michael is a jerk blaming him is a serious stretch of causal logic. Now Michael is washed up (although he still has an agent) and Elizabeth offers him “A Large Sum” to read her play. And this is where it gets weird both on stage and in the seats: it’s completely unclear if we are seeing a reading, a play about a reading, or a reading of a play about a reading of a play about…well, as Elizabeth announces under a thunder crash “I have special powers.”

Ms. Rox offers a genuinely creepy aristocrat as she stalks Michael with her wheel chair and ultra-precise diction and dialog. Mr. Curran is a convincing drink, in the second act is slurred speech and clumsily steps. He mixes bravado and desperation; he must need the money very badly as any sane person in his situation would have bailed somewhere mid-way through the first act. Lloyd’s script is a bit supernatural, it’s not plausible but with cast playing it straight it turns into an excellent creep fest with sympathetic players and a gripping ending. You’ll need to catch this quick, it’s one weekend only.

Thriller Theatre is on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/events/406395182815578/

Lizzie Borden – A New Musical

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

Lizzie Borden – A New Musical
Book and Lyrics by Michael Wanzie
Music by Rich Charron
Directed by Kenny Howard
Musical Direction by John DeHaas
Starring Andrea Canny, Rebecca Fisher, Frank McClain
Wanzie Presents and Theatre Downtown, Orlando FL

Last year Casey Anthony got all the press but she’s destined for obscurity: no one has written a jump rope ditty about her yet. But Lizzie Borden is still on our minds, she “gave her mother 40 whacks” and THAT’S a line for Double Dutching. Lizzie (Canny) grew up in the mill town of Fall River in the late 1800’s with her penny pinching dad Andrew (McLain) and her older sister Emma (Fischer). Her real mom Sarah (Darby Ballard) died early on and Andrew eventually married Abbey (Lori McCaskill) more as a house maid than for any romantic reason. Andrew was wealthy yet the household was divided over who gets the inheritance and who mistrusts who and getting along nicely was not an option. While Andrew lives, Emma ineffectively locks her bedroom door and Lizzie shops for prussic acid. Who knew that cyanide was the best way to clean a sealskin cape? When the murders occurred, Lizzy was tried but acquitted and just like in the Anthony case the evidence was weak, testimony conflicted, and the whole case tried in the press to no one’s satisfaction.

Bracketed by syndicated newspaperman Joseph Howard (Justin Mousseau) this tale of an unhappy family does an excellent job of creating multiple suspects each with means, motivation and opportunity. Emma may have snuck back from vacation to do it, Lizzie found the bodies but conveniently missed the carnage, there’s a discarded bastard child William (David Dorman) and any number of dissatisfied customers of Andrew’s banking and business endeavors. After the trail we see Lizzie and Emma moving to a nicer house with indoor plumbing, but they too, fall apart over Lizzie’s relation with dissolute actress Nance O’Neil (Blue). This part of the show is much less interesting – once the trial is over the drama is spent and the denouement goes on far too long. Charron’s music is powerful and imposing and the truly memorable song is O’Neil’s “My Secret Song.” Other noteworthy music included “Lady in the Window” and the scene setting “Fall River”. The supporting cast was excellent, I give high marks to both Joe Swanberg and his mutton chops as well the touching suicide by Mr. Dorman.

There’s serious entertainment value here: a well-crafted story, nicely integrated music and a strong cast who deals well with the fluid story telling style. This show is a major triumph for Mr. Wanzie as a writer, he steps away from the broad drag based material he’s famous for and shows he can tackle a complex historical drama, get the facts correct and never fall into the lecture mode. This show is selling out; don’t wait to go see it.

For more information on Theatre Downtown, please visit http://www.theatredowntown.net and to see what’s up with Wanzie Presents see http://www.Wanzie.com

Rent

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

Rent
By Jonathon Larson
Directed by Derek Critzer
Musical Direction by Beth Atkins
Choreography by Derek Critzer and Cassidy Tompkins
Starring Aaron Vanderyacht, Tony Flaherty, and Gabriella Whiting
Clandestine Arts presenting at The Lowndes Shakespeare Center, Orlando FL

Interesting artistic choice – three Equity actors, and two of them end up in the chorus…hmmm… This show seems to get done every week, I know of one other running locally and have heard rumors of a third so I’ll assume everyone know most of the plot: Mark (Vanderyacht) is slumming in Alphabet City until he makes it as a film maker while his flat mate Roger (Flaherty) writes songs the would drive Brian Eno to desperation. I’m sympathetic to his medical condition, but he’s not much of a songwriter. Their friends are all street people, artists and hookers, everyone is taking drugs, starving to death, “finding themselves,” fighting AIDS or squeegeeing cars for beer money. It’s La Bohème, but sung in English.

Clandestine Arts put up a respectable production, the cast is well chosen and a live trio lurks under the set which beats the pre-recorded tracks. Vanderyacht has a smirky quality that lets you know he’s just hanging out for the atmosphere and he might run home to Scarsdale for a decent meal and a hot shower at any time. Flaherty is sullen and has some serious sound issues; I often had trouble hearing him. Mimi had the nicest voice of any of the principles, I loved her “Out Tonight” I hope to see her again soon on stage. The two equity folks (Jarvis Derrell and Injoy Fountain) had short solos in “Season of Love” that were gorgeous but I wish they had been given bigger roles in this aria-laden show. Maureen (Lindsay Lavin) had Mr. Vanderyacht’s smirk, she also got the best line of the evening when here girlfriend Joanne (Elaina Walton) questioned her fidelity: “There will always be women in rubber flirty with me.” Amen to that.

Director Critzer put this story on a well-conceived set that looked like it had been shoplifted from Lowes. Two levels, rickety ladders and a cinder block Stairway to Heaven made you feel like you were alphabet city, even if you couldn’t smell the stale urine. While Rent is closing in on Christmas Carol as one of the most overdone shows in the American Repertory there were solid performances all around and the live band was a nice touch. Clandestine Arts is based over in Tampa, and it’s good to see some cross I-4 corridor artistic interchange, there’s clearly some talent over in the Bay area and I’m glad they fought the traffic to visit us.

More information on Clandestine Arts may be found at www.clandestine-arts.com

Death of a Salesman

Monday, August 5th, 2013

Death of a Salesman
By Arthur Miller
Directed by Timothy Williams
Starring Eric Zivot, Daniel Cooksley, Matt Horohoe and Robin Olson
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL

Willy Loman (Zivot) isn’t evil; he’s just been drinking his own bathwater for so long he’s believes his own baloney. In his world “Well Liked” trumps “Employable Skill” and he’s “Well Liked” even if he’s punched out a few clients on sales calls. Willy’s triumphs are self-delusion but a pleasant lie even as his frontal lobes rot out and his career falls in the flusher. Wife Linda (Olson) remains loyal but his boys are a different story: Hap (Cooksley) philanders while stuck clerking on a loading dock and faded jock Biff (Horohoe) bums like Jack Kerouac but has yet to write even The Mediocre American Post Card. Biff’s kleptomania cost him every job he’s ever had and minimum wage is a Holy Grail he’ll never achieve. The boys are home for a visit and thing disintegrate as Willy insults or abuses everyone who loves him. The bad advice he gave his boys comes home to roost: he taught them “Bow To No One” and that’s exactly who wants them – no one. Willy’s only asset is a life insurance policy and if it pays off it’s his only possible positive legacy.

The talk back I attended agreed director Williams made Willy’s story clearer than any previous production any of us had seen. I agree whole heartedly, the complex net of flashbacks and paralleled visions made sense even as the demon of dementia whip saws us through Willy’s story. Willy’s older brother Charley (Mark Edward Smith) left home early; he “entered the jungle at 17 and came out at 24, rich.” If only Willy woulda, coulda, shoulda joined him. We also meet The Woman (Becky Eck), she was Willy’s Boston sleep over companion until Biff caught them boinking when he flunked out of high school. His image of dad was ruined, as was his life. I find Biff the sadder of the two, Willy could believe in his own lies but not Biff, he actually had everything but good advice and walked away, stunned. Zivot’s Willy exuded a slight Grouch Marx aura, he’s got the witty patter and snappy comebacks and without the humor he’s a jerk and it shows. Ms. Olson’ Linda spits fire when she throws her own children out of the house; she’s a mother but before that loyal to her man, and his inflated ego and buys into his personal fantasy. This unhappy family shows its uniquely dirty underwear on a set that appears claustrophobic and flammable, prison bars of plaster lathe defines semitransparent walls and the family negotiates a maze of stairs every scene change. Scenic charge Lisa Buck makes us feel as constricted and hopeless as Willy.

The issues here are layered and interlocked: the failure of the American Dream, the failure of Willy as a father and his boys as sons, the harsh underbelly of American business, the loyalty of post war love and the whole social contract are torn apart and found wanting. If anything, these topics are even more brutal today as that dream downsizes and outsources. Any thought of permanent and responsible employer is just that – a Dream for every American. How’s that going for you these days?

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

Cabaret

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Cabaret
By John Kander and Fred Ebb
Directed by Justin Scarlat
Choreographed by Ryan Skrocki
Starring Matty Hixon, Dorothy Massey and Zachary Tranter
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park Fl

So there I was, sitting alone in my room thinking: “Why not go to zee cabaret?” So I went. The girls were beautiful. The orchestra was beautiful. Heck, even the audience was beautiful. And the show itself? Generally good, with a few rough spots. This story could happen to any of us – Sally Bowles (Massey) left home to sing in a dive Berlin club and sleep with whatever abuse men she can find. Cliff Bradshaw (Tranter) bums around Europe trying to overcome writer’s block and a penchant for ambiguous trysts in London clubs. He meet’s Ernst Ludwig, (James Cougar Canfield) an up and coming Nazi looking for pigeons to courier suitcases from Paris. Their tough-as-nails landlady Fräulein Schneider’s (Nolarae Stein) encamps them all in her house of declining repute while they hang out at the Kit Kat Club with the Emcee (Hixon). When Sally gets pregnant again, her choices are flee with Cliff or trust the Weimar government to protect her as she sings a big blow out closer. You know the rest.

My favorite actor hands down was Canfield; he was fawning and scary and had more stage presence than anyone else. Ms. Massy was a surprisingly strong singer as well as a flighty airhead, and when it was time for here to belt, belting occurred. Tranter’s Cliff reminded me of Kevin Bacon in Animal House, he was an inoffensive guy stuck in a tough place trying to do the right thing. Marty Radner was touching as the Jewish fiancé of Fraulein Schneider, and Brain Rewis was a hulking presence as he attempted to furtively leave his date with Frau Kost (Tara Rewis). The Kit Kat Girls were all from a local burlesque troupe and they knew what they were about when it came to suggestive wiggling. Less successful was Hixon’s Emcee, he didn’t always project and never felt jaded or smirky enough although I did enjoy his drag version of “I Don’t Care Much”. The staging suffered from an overload of prop movement, the set was effective enough but there we long periods of moving doors and setting up the bed / bar. This is a good “Cabaret” but not a great one, with well delivered music and actors willing to drink raw eggs every performance.

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

Forever Plaid

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Forever Plaid
By Stuart Ross, and James Raitt
Directed by Steven Flaa
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park, FL

While watching the plaid tuxedos made my brain hurt, the rest of the show was a hoot. Four geeky guys sing harmony, and they were pummeled by a bus full of Catholic virgins in 1964. They never made that gig at the Holiday in by the airport but tonight they get one last chance to perform their big show in the great hereafter. There’s Kevin Kelly as Frankie, the mostly sane one, Nick Rishall is Jinx, the short guy with the bloody nose, Michael Swickard is the balding guy out in front, and Todd Allen Long never get the choreography right. Nothing is bad here, and the big numbers are Jinx leading “Cry”, the group belting “Not Much” and the macho work medley “16 Tons/ Chain Gang.” Like all harmony groups, there’s sharp choreography although it’s played for laughs in the first act, in one number it looked like they were attempting to form the “Big W” from “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” The second act was shorter and more theatrical; it featured a very funny parody of the old “Ed Sullivan Show.” Some of us old guys remember Topo Gigio and Señor Wences and exactly WHY playing Lady of Spain on an accordion is funny, but I suspect anyone not on the AARP hot list will miss the gags. An audience member got on stage to help platy “Heart and Soul”, and even Mr. Leavy got a spotlight entrance. Could the Plaids have made it big if they had made that gig in 1964? Maybe, but you should catch thee them live today, or at least sometime in the next three weeks.

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