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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for January, 2014

Nicholas Nickleby (Part 1)

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Nicholas Nickleby (Part 1)
By Charles Dickens
Adapted by David Edgar
Directed by Jim Helsinger and Christopher Niess
Starring John P. Keller, Allison McLemore, and Jean Tafler
Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando FL

Just to give you a sense of scale, you can drive to Atlanta in the amount of time it takes to stage the two parts of this epic adaption of “Nicholas Nickleby.” As in any good Dickens story, there are dozens of great characters with delicious names, a sweeping scope and a wandering plot that takes you from an attic in Yorkshire to… well, I haven’t seen the second part yet. We might well end up in Zanzibar. But at the heart of this story is the desperation of Victorian England: the easy fall from respectable country gentry to workhouse reject, the brutality of boarding schools housing semi-abandoned children, and the immoral hard-heartedness of the newly wealthy. Scenes of brilliant comedy and heart wrenching desperation abound between exposition that struggles to remain exciting even as it keeps you connected to the hundred plus lives presented. This is surly a spectacle, and inside lurks three really solid one act plays.

The Nickleby’s story begins with his inept but gentle father (J.D. Sutton) who dies broke. Senior Nickleby’s brother Ralph (Greg Thornton) left years ago to take up usury and now owns a big chunk of London, he’s filthy rich but his heart is at least four or five sizes too small. In desperation Nicolas, his mother (Tafler) and his sister Kate (McLemore) head to London, the shining city of opportunity and the vicious Gomorrah of the unemployed refugees from a country side that no longer needs their daily labor. Ralph is unhappy when they show up, he agrees to help only on the condition they split up and live in most miserable conditions he can find. Nicholas is sent off to teach at a Yorkshire “boarding school”, Kate to a dodgy milliner’s shop, and Mom to an East End apartment so awful Ralph can find no tenants for it. Ralph does every evil villain thing short of rubbing his hands and laughing out loud.

Enough plot. We know this is a major undertaking on both sides of that invisible wall. If you are willing to make the commitment this show is worth seeing but it IS a commitment. Highlights include the brutal scene in Wackford Squeer’s (Richard B. Watson) school with him starving and whipping the boys mercilessly. Here we meet Smike (Stephen James Anthony), Nickleby’s sidekick for the rest of the evening; he looks like a cross between Gollum and “The Scream” after zombies eat half his leg. In Kate’s thread we visit the flamboyant Milner’s husband Mr. Mantalini (Quentin Earl Darrington). He was banned from the work room by his wife Madam Mantalini (Bridgette Hoover) lest he rape the employees. With time on his hands he puts her in debt and gambles it away, he eventually threatens suicide and flees up the mezzanine level where he demands a bottle of poison from the audience. I was fresh out, and I so hate to disappoint such a great performance. The best comedy came from Mr. Vincent Crummels (Philip Nolan) and his traveling overacting troupe. They can walk and chew scenery at the same time, and they adopt Nickleby and Smike. In an amazingly short time Nickleby translates a play, learns to act and stage fight and is a near instant hit in Portsmouth. How he’ll play in East Grimstead is uncertain, but it’s a good start to a career. Anne Hering is outstanding as the rag wrapped Mrs. Squeers and as Mrs. Crummels, she a utility wife with plenty of good lines. She stands out as Lady Caplulet in a rather fractured Shakespearean play within a play. Romeo and Juliet live happily-ever-after with Iago and Puck and I admit I needed someone to explain this unexpected final scene. The Victorians liked to make things better, and who really wants the young lovers to die?

Technically this is a tour de force. The set extend over the entire theater, seats have been removed and we can see all the way to the back wall of the house with its brick slum windows. A rickety and uneven looking cat walk hangs in the proscenium and a rotating stage speeds up the set changes plus it gives more motion to the walking scenes. Nearly every prop in the back room is on stage at one time or another and actors leave and enter though ever portal in the Margeson except the AC ducts. I can’t imagine the chaos back stage, and I’m pretty sure the unused lesser theatres are serving as dressing rooms. Plan your trip to this show carefully, there are a few other events running in Loch Haven and parking can be worse than Fringe. But do see this production if your bladder can handle it, it’s fun and scary and gripping, and it gives you theatrical bragging rights that are hard to come by anywhere else.

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

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
Conceived by Marsh Henderson and Gordon Greenberg
Book by Erik Jackson and Ben H Winters
Music by Neil Sedaka
Directed by Roy Alan
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park FL

Write enough pop tunes, and you, too can create a juke box musical. There was some doubt in the cheap seats tonight as to whether Neil Sedaka had really written all these pop tunes, but he did either by himself or with more obscure co-authors back in his Brill Building days. The story is stock: Marge (Candace Neal) gets dumped at the altar; her best friend Lois (Noel-Marie Matson) drags her to the Catskills to cheer her up. That was where the honeymoon was scheduled, but no matter – in a musical heartache can be flushed away with a hot tune and some audience interaction. The pair meets rising star Del Delmonico (Robert Buchanan) and his nerdy song writing brother Gabe (Bert Rodriguez). Del gets a wrong idea about Marge’s connections, they fall in and out of love, and we learn you can always find a pop song lyric that matches your emotional state when you’re young. Later in life you need the stronger stuff, if Sedaka is a sugar high for young love, country music is the whiskey of later life. There’s a subplot as well, Emcee and comedian Harvey Feldman (Frank Siano) turns down the volume on his sport coat long enough to fall for Este Simowitz (Lourelene Snedeker) the widowed owner of the resort and saves her from bankruptcy and makes sure everyone has a date tomorrow night.

From the perfect power pop ballad of “Breakin’ Up Is Hard to Do” to the doo-wop drenched “Oh Carol!” to the proto-disco “Love Will Keep Us Together”, this show is full of the hits of our youth. Liberties are taken with arrangements, songs are fractured and reassembled to fit around the dialog and if you are in the front row or aisle you may be subject to on stage humiliation. No matter, when the songs connect hey really nail you; Louis and Marge’s “Were the Boys Are” takes on a deeper emotional resonance than it did in the movie, and Marge’s “Solitaire” is the best “I Want” song of the show. Mr. Siano reprises “Breaking up Is Hard to Do” Hora Style while Rodriguez pairs with Neil for a very cute “Laughter in the Rain.” “Stairway to Heaven” is on the play list, but it’s not the Zeppelin cover I was hoping for. But like all WPPH events, this happy and positive collection of music. How can you tell? They not only ask you to mute your cell phone, but request you don’t sing along with the cast. If you do, you’ll annoy the rest of us and there will be a strongly worded letter sent to Equity with your name on it.

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

Table Manners

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Table Manners
By Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Dan Bright
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando Fl

The Brits are much more relaxed about adultery, at least on stage. In America you might get shot or at least divorced, but in the Alan Ayckbourn’s world of “The Norman Conquests” it’s a crisis ranking at or just below the panic level of a bad pot of tea. Annie (Ame Livingston) lives in the country and takes care of and unseen “mother.” It’s her cross to bear; her brother Reg (Thom Mesrobian) and sister Ruth (Jamie Middleton) stay as far away as possible. But she’s signed up for a dirty weekend (best euphemism EVER!) with Ruth’s hubby Norman (Simon Needham). Not knowing who her date is, Reg and his wife Sarah (Heather Lea Charles) agree to come down hoping it’s the rather thick headed veterinarian Tom (Tommy Keesling). Tom is the nicest guy around just so long as telling a joke or any sort of quick thinking isn’t required. Just who is going to sleep where and with whom and on what schedule is the open question, and it’s just a hair harder to resolve than the Coke vs Pepsi wars.

For a 40 year old drawing room comedy, this show is surprisingly fresh. Adultery is the McGuffin; the real problem is the unhappy marriage of Reg and Sarah, the potential of an unhappy relation between Annie and Tom, and the done and gone fight over having children between Ruth and Norman. Mr. Needham (the only actual Brit on stage) provide the hysterically histrionic arguments as to why his actions are defensible, but his bitter wife Ruth (Jamie Middleton) sells them to us with the emotional distance of the queen on parade crossed with the intimate bloodletting of a ferret legging contest. After hearing them verbally trade rocket propelled grenades across the breakfast table you’ll agree to any terms if they end the violence. And remember kids: agree to the number of kids BEFORE you set up the wedding register. Feisty Annie and Tom actually look like a promising couple; the negative excitement of the country seems a perfect backdrop for them to brew parsnip and carrot wine and avoid the drudgery of naming their cat. And while Reg and Sarah aren’t exactly happy, they are the most salvable with Reg’s joviality in the face of insult and deprivation taking him far. Pay attention to the set changes, the guy cleaning up the spilt cereal is hoot.

This show is part of an Ayckbourn trilogy “The Norman Conquests”; in it Ayckbourn has carefully arranged this story into three scripts with each set in a different room. It would be fun to see them all together, but you’ll have to settle on this single sample point for now. If your’ already married, this is a pocket mirror of something your lived through, and if your single this is fair warning to what “Worse” means.

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

The Laramie Project

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

The Laramie Project
By Moises Kaufman and The Tectonic Theater Project
Directed by Stephen Halpin
Baggy Pants Theater Company
Presenting at the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre
Orlando, FL

Laramie’s civic model claims to be “live and let live” unless you are weak and different and get into cars with strangers. Then you are a candidate for a world class whipping. That’s what happened to Matthew Shepard, he ended up tied to a fence in the middle of nowhere after leaving a bar with two rednecks in a pickup truck. This perennial favorite explores the aftermath of the murder through a series of interviews with other Laramie residents – friends, acquaintances, family and his murders. Presented in a swirling intersection of nonlinear monologs we come to understand Matthew, the men who killed him and the effect the events had on this otherwise hard scrabble western town.

Other questions are implied: Was Shepard’s death over dramatized? Was it a media feeding frenzy because he was a gay man in the most macho city in the west? After all, the show points out a highway patrol officer died that same day with almost no notice. Answers are implied but not stated and that what moves this show into heart wrenching territory. Police officers know they can die at any time, and we have the thought they knew that when they signed up. Shepard may have taken risks, but no one thought those risks were worthy of a death worse than that most Mafioso expect.

The flyer says “interactive”, this means audience members are recruited to read some of the lesser parts or wave protest signs. I can’t say this helped or hindered and otherwise excellent and moving production, but I always see including the audience as risky, especially if you’re not going for laughs. While there was some nervously laughter tonight, this is a deadly serious drama and by showing us the heart rending self-examination the Laramie residents went through we can reflect on our own prejudices. The after show talk back featured a professor from UCF but the talk back was more of a lecture tending toward generalities with the audience response bemoaning: “Why can’t we all just get along?” I can’t say why or why not but our track record stands: Humans as groups are pretty poor on that count.

For more information on Baggy Pants Theatre, please visit http://www.baggypantstheater.com

The Feldman Dynamic

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

The Feldman Dynamic
10th Anniversary
Created by Brian Feldman
January 21, 2014
JCC, Maitland, FL

Oy. Ten years of watching Brian Feldman…existing. I’ve watched him celebrate Hanukkah twice, sleep on Orange Avenue for 2 days, jump off of ladders, fight his father, dodge stuffed animals, sell root beer and I even helped him sell his comic books. Once sold me a copy of the script to one of my own shows. Chutzpah, he’s got. When Feldman left Orlando it was for art, one of his ongoing projects runs along the lines of NOT performing at the Orlando Fringe Festival for 40 years. That’s art so sublime most people wouldn’t think of it as even BEING art.

Brian Feldman. Performance Artist.

Brian Feldman. Performance Artist.

Tonight a small yet distant crowd gathered to watch a reprise of the show pushed him off the dock, even if it didn’t put him on the map. The premise is so simple you’d think “THAT’S a show?” but it was funny, sometimes dramatic, and always intimate. His rehearsal process was more akin to growing up than learning lines, and the food, well it was all cholesterol free, gluten free, texture free, vegan free, and for all I know flavor free. Actually news was announced: Feldman lost his job for falling asleep at 2 a.m. and while he’s mostly OK with unemployment, his father Ed wants him to at least write a strongly worded letter. Feldman reassured his mother “I just don’t want you thinking I’m moving back.” They moved on.

Adrienne, Marilyn, Edward, and Brian.

Adrienne, Marilyn, Edward, and Brian.

Beyond that revelation, Local DJ and semi famous hipster Dave Plotkin took pictures and broke the forth wall of this show. Ed Feldman broke the second wall when he had to run back to the emergency health food cooler and get more vegan butter. I assailed the first wall and opened a bottle of cider for them with my ever present pocket screw driver. Even the third wall took blows as Thomas Thorspecken bravely sketched from behind a large panel.

Adoring fans rush the stage.

Adoring fans rush the stage.

So “What does all this mean?” It means….existence. The Feldman family’s life goes on with its series of minor triumphs and losses, its major detours, and the communal consumption of guilt free food. A few people pay to watch, but frankly most of us were on the guest list.

I noticed you weren’t there.

They had left overs. You could have taken something home.

For more information on Brian Feldman Projects, please visit

The Best of Broadway 1975-1984

Sunday, January 19th, 2014

The Best of Broadway 1975-1984
Directed by Wade Hair
Musical Direction by Justin J. Scarlat
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL

When a program begins with the line: “A Salute to Andrew Lloyd Webber” you know you’ve stumbled into the heart of musical theatre geekdom. This is the most recent in Breakthrough’s “Best of Broadway” series, with producer Wade Hair picking a stack of his favorite tunes from an arbitrary 10 year time span of Broadway history. This collection is laden with some of the major hits of the era: “Chicago,” “Cats,” “Annie,” and “La Cage aux Folles” all come from this decade. With “Annie” in the lineup, there’s a large collection of small children, some of whom don’t look old enough to be out of car seats. But they held up well and the medley of “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” “Maybe” and an impressive “Tomorrow” sung by newcomer Anastasia Sims-Chin were crowd pleasers. My favorite numbers were sung by Mr. Hair, his “I Am What I Am” nearly stopped the show. The “Chicago” set was well chosen, although it’s hard to thinks a tune from that hit that wouldn’t make a good entertainment: Jamaal Solomon covered “”All I Care About” and Krystal Gillette handled “All That Jazz” with aplomb and some aspirin from United Drug. There were also a good selection of some little heard songs from lesser shows, Lorraine Bouchard sang “Just a Housewife” from “Working” and the show “Ballroom” gave us a heart breaking “Fifty Percent” sung by Jennifer Thibodeau. Material from “Sweeney Todd,” “Gosdpell” and “Chorus Line” filled the card, and with 19 people on stage, there was some interesting choreography. All in all it was a well chose and well executed show.

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

Leveling Up

Sunday, January 19th, 2014

Leveling Up
By Deborah Zoe Laufer
Directed by Mark Routhier
UCF Conservatory Theater, Orlando FL

They say kids spend too much time playing video games, but don’t realize it’s a viable career opportunity today. Look at Ian (Patrick Sylvester) – he gets paid to “level up” rich people who don’t have enough time to game. He’s even created some high priced, high powered virtual weapons even if his dopey best friend Zander (Patrick Mounce) sells them for far below market prices. Zander’s no good with money but is a natural salesman, and he has an actual live three dimensional girlfriend Jeannie (Gracie Winchester). How did he score this coup? By talking to her as Ian and Chuck (Vincent Hannam) stared awkwardly at their shoes when they all met at Radio Shack. (I think Chuck still had his Free Battery Card). Now the NSA is after Ian, they want him to fly drones out of their secret bunker in the Nevada desert. Meanwhile Zander gets involved in a dubious pyramid scheme and Chuck is semi-successfully hitting on Jeanne. This precarious pile of personalities is propped up in insomnia and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and is about to topple. Ian isn’t a real warrior, he can lay wastes to entire digital civilizations but breaks down when the bullets are real and the corpses are “collateral damage” with real families to mourn them. Is a paycheck worth the hassle of losing one’s sanity?

In this little hermitic world, Ian is the notional adult; he brings in money, pays the rent and provides the high-power gamming consoles from his tournament winnings. Mr. Sylvester plays the roll with an exasperated anger, and I see his reaction to Zanders foolishness akin to dad glaring at you for a bad report card. Mounce is more flighty, he attacks when he has an angle but runs away when trouble flairs and he levels down to mom’s basement. If you think about it, he’s a sort of a mole man who might shrivel if the sun ever struck his pale skin. The calm center here is Hannam, he’s genial, does just enough to get by, and sees a low grade opportunity with Jeanne. She resists, but just enough keep her real world honor even if she’s sinned digitally. She’s the one who gets off the addiction, and as the show wraps up, she leads Ian and Chuck up that long stairway to the light.

There’s a not terribly subtle theme here, and that’s the line between reality and fantasy whether its digital warfare, sleazy business “opportunities” or why we think we are in love. The gaming world is an anodyne to the real one, you get as many do overs as you want, the gratification is quick but doesn’t last, and death doesn’t hurt or persist. But reality always lurks on the edge of perception, and you are never that far from real blood, painful death and total bankruptcy. Cheat on your boyfriend out here, and he’ll leave. No do overs here.

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

Clybourne Park

Sunday, January 19th, 2014

Clybourne Park
By Bruce Norris
Directed by Frank Hilgenberg
Starring Pete Penuel, Leslie Penuel and Dan Cooksley
Theatre Downtown, Orlando FL

If this house could tell stories… Well, in the land of theatre houses DO tell stories, although typical through third party narration. This mid-century modern charmer is convenient to downtown Chicago and far from the pastoral suburbs, but it’s got some pretty bad memories for brooding Russ (Pete Penuel) and his bubbly wife Bev (Leslie Penuel). They not only lost a son, but they also lost their sense of community when that community rejected their son. Now the city growing and as the “Race Problem” creeping out of the central city. Russ stiffs his sanctimonious neighbors by selling to a black family, and the cycle of block busting and red lining begins to work out from The Loop to Skokie.

This story plays out in two chapters, one in the pre-civil rights era and one on modern times. There are parallels in the social situation as well at the story line, and ironic cast doubling is mandatory. Dan (Peter Penuel) is a strong yet stiff man, he has a boiling point and when he reached it he’s not afraid to tell Pastor Jim (Logan Currant) to screw himself. In the second act he’s more comic; he’s the guy out in the back digging up his own past to lay drainage to a koi pond. Loquacious Karl (Cooksley) maintains his voice as he goes from over bearing racist in act one to an under underwhelming racist in act two. The black couple (Gabby Brown and Robert Wright) undergoes the classic transformation that we know from television; they begin as low paid menials then morph into opportunist snappy comic characters who almost blend in with white society.

The first act accurately captures the fear and santimonium of the white flight I recall from my distant youth: “Blacks prefer to live with other blacks, community is based on uniformity, and housing prices will drop.” But Karl sets up a brilliant joke when discussing sports preferences, “I don’t see any ski Negros” is a subtle set up to what must be the funniest joke in the second act, and that’s were all the humor pays off. Writer Norris even slips in a few astonishingly racist jokes, but there no disclaimer of “it’s all in good fun”; he acknowledges this is a biting satire on race and gentrification and how uneasy it is for anyone to get along.

For more information on Theatre Downtown, please visit http://www.theatredowntown.net

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
By Edward Albee
Directed by Nicholas Murphy
Starring Frank Jakes and Angel Allen
Cornerstone Theatre Company
Presenting at the Orlando Shakespeare Center, Orlando FL

Scandal always sells, but “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf” is as responsible as anything for leading American entertainment in to the realm of professional presentations of your families’ dirty laundry. The Kardashians have little beyond liposuction to better the bitter battle between George (Jakes) and Martha (Allen). And Fox offers no better audience than Nick (Chaz Kriven) and Honey (Janea Riha) who are trapped in a post faculty party party in New Carthage, New England. Failure and alcohol perfume the air, and Martha’s open attempt at seduction of Nick is largely ignored, and for good reason – with a blood alcohol content north of 3.0, he’s lucky to be breathing, never mind screwing. Thing start bad and end worse, and the take away is no one here is any good at sex, marriage, work or ambition. But if they gave awards for raw alcohol consumption (who really needs ice?) these people would be a hat trick.

George takes a while to warm up in this performance: in act one he feels flat but by act two he’s flying. Martha is more constant and more bitter, she can turn the charm on and off like a light switch and when she launches a frontal assault on Nick, she’s amazingly sexy. Nick, on the other hand is mostly underplayed, he feels flat for most of show with only one or two bursts of energy until the seduction scene where he finally becomes involved in the story. He’s also the only one who really seems drunk; there is no slurred speech and nary has a stumble anywhere else on stage. Honey had the charming innocent of an alcoholic earning her first merit badges on “Hiding the Bottles” and “Not Getting Pregnant.” There were some odd lighting shifts than came out of nowhere, nothing drastic but the occasional fades were noticeable and occasionally actors missed their light. I’ll assign these to opening night gremlins and also mention this was a rare production of any play with a running clock on stage. What popped most off all are the literary references: The Punic Wars and the Green Eyes of Jealousy were prominent, and not soon to be forgotten. This is an American Classic, and like America it is brutal and self-centered with George and Martha fighting a war that can’t be won and would have no value if it was.

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