Do you want to write for Ink 19?

Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for March, 2014

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

Monday, March 31st, 2014

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
By Dale Wasserman
Based on a novel by Ken Kesey
Directed by Frank Hilgenberg
Starring Daniel Cooksley, Tim Bass and Marion Marsh
Theatre Downtown, Orlando FL

It seemed like such a good idea at the time: R. P. McMurphy (Cooksley) had a year and half to serve on the work farm and decided if they thought he was psycho he could spend his sentence in the comfy loony bin. But once he’s in there, two shocking facts confront him: Nurse Ratchet (Marsh) has more power than the criminal justice system, and unlike the other charming basket cases in his ward, he’s now committed indefinitely and at her discretion. His rebellion is subversive; he brings hope to his fellow inmates and total disaster down upon himself. The System HATES guys like R.P. McMurphy.

Let’s start with the impulsive McMurphy. Cooksley is looking better than ever in this role, he flirts, schemes and defrauds his cell mates and they love him like a long lost dog. Under nurse Ratchet’s thumb all is calm and sedated, but McMurphy not only entertains her charges, he gives them hope. The other inmates are carefully curated set of insanities: they range from the sexually ambiguous Dale Harding (Russell Trahan) to the catatonic Chief Bromden (Bass) to the Christ-like figure Ruckley (Mark Davids) who is crucified more often that the guy playing Jesus at “The Holy Land Experience.” Then there’s Cheswick (David Strauss) and Martini (Will Barbara) – Cheswick thinks too much and Martini invents people who aren’t there. Shaved-headed Scanlon (Derek Ormond) completes the suite – he’s just generic crazy but comes up with perfectly appropriate lines as needed. McMurphy even arranges an orgy for pathologically shy Billy Bibbit (Logan Curran). Chief Bromden is his toughest case, Bromden’s officially catatonic but in reality he’s just overly medicated and overly depressed. The Orderlies (Damany O Riley and Clarence Reynolds) torture him, and Ratchet doesn’t object so long as there are no marks. Her notional boss is Dr. Spivey (Joe L Smith), he’s not looking to rock the boat and as long as Ratchet keeps a lid on he can drink in peace and get paid for it.

Technically, the criminal justice system can’t torture you, but that’s not true of the medical justice system. Their tool kit ranged from a rainbow of pills ending in “zine” to electroshock to the dreaded lobotomy, or as one of the patients says “A frontal-lobe castration.” This story has its roots in the fading days of lobotomies and the rising era of drugs and social protest yet feels surprisingly fresh. McMurphy contains in him the ideals of a social zealot – he’s borderline, but know what buttons to push and when to push them, but more importantly is willing to go the distance. These guys usually die young, but we name parks and religions for them.

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

As You Like It

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

As You Like It
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Kathleen Lindsey-Moulds
Starring Domino Thomas, Ashleigh Ann Gardner, Veronica Kelly
Valencia College, Orlando FL

Damn, that one angry Orlando (Thomas) in the first act! This guy is ready to chew nails and spit out a shed, and he does a pretty decent job of wrestling tough guy Charles (Omar Velazquez) without hurting anyone in the audience. He’s been denied his inheritance and his brother Oliver (Jonathan M. Raffoul) tells him to take a powder. Across the valley fair Rosalind (Gardner) is best friends with Celia (Kelly) until Rosalind’s dad turns traitor to Celia’s dad Duke Frederick (John Segers). Now he’s turned both of them out on their own, and Rosalind dresses as a boy and takes to the woods as Ganymede while Celia tags along as he female companion. The pair hooks up with an anarchist hippie commune where Ganymede makes an impression on Orlando, he like everyone else in this oversized comedy can’t see her femininity but falls for her drag anyway.

The first few scenes are rather tenuous, as if the cast was off book but just barely. By the time we land in Arden Forest things are much smoother with Orlando and Rosalind flying high. By far the most accomplish performance comes from Robert Wright as Jaques, the angsty poet of the forest. The other outstanding performance comes from the jester Touchstone (Eric Fagan), he was over the top but under control, his mugging and sideways complaints were the funniest part of this comedy. I was impressed by rustic Phoebe (Yaritza Rivera), she “may not be for all markets” but tonight she sold herself with a smoldering sexuality. When Rosalind’s Ganymede reveal her true self, Phoebe looks a bit disappointed but resigned, her default hubby Silvius (Josh Woodbury) might be a fine man, he just needs a bit of styling mousse. And I congratulate John Segers; he provided the Shakespearean gravitas of the elder psychotic plot motivator. Listening to reason is not in his job description.

Tonight’s set echoes back to early Roman stages, there’s a gallery above and exceptionally small and high steps on the corners. A small fire is folded into the stage, and between the set and the costumes there was a lot of brown going on. Arden forest trees dropped from the ceiling, over all they were a cool device but badly blocked and one landed in front of me stage right; it carefully concealed Rosalind and Celia’s big scene. Musicians wandered thought the show to add a Renaissance atmosphere; their enthusiasm over ran their skill and they were less than inspiring. There’s some solid acting here, but it’s one of the weakest Valencia Shakespeare’s in recent memory.

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

Julius Caesar

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Julius Caesar
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Tina Packer
Starring Nigel Gore, Paul Bernardo, and Jason Asprey
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando FL

Pretend a new president sweeps into power. Somehow he’s completely destroyed Al-Qaeda, erased the national debt, and passed out a C-note to everyone, just because. The rabble wants to make him king but you don’t. Do you assassinate him preemptively, or do you trust The System to control the situation? John Wilkes Boothe tried the first option and failed, and Lincoln wasn’t even that popular at the time. The same situation presents itself to Cassius (Asprey). He’s not alone, after an easy conversation with Brutus (Bernardo) he’s managing a full-fledged conspiracy. Caesar (Gore) is trusting and confidant, and why not? The Senate keeps offering him the crown, and he keeps refusing it disingenuously, and more importantly he ignores the prophetic advice of a random street soothsayer. What could possibly go wrong? Caesar’s body isn’t even cold by intermission, and the second act is cloudier, with Brutus and conspirators now fighting a civil war with Caesar’s ghost as their tactical advisor. This IS a tragedy, and soon bodies are dropping, like…well, dead bodies in a Shakespearean tragedy.

It’s nearly impossible to not interact with this play; I first read it in sophomore English class. Thus, the question raised here is not what the story is, but how is it represented an on stage. Directors Packer takes a minimalist and highly stylized approach: with only seven actors doubling is handled with minimal costume changes done on stage. This allows the acting to stand out, it’s powerful and compelling. The first act is highlighted by Jim Ireland’s Casca, he’s blackly humorous, filling in back story with the intonations of a Jewish alte kaker. While Esau Pritchard as Antony’s “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” speech shined, his powerful physical presence came into its own in the second act emphasized by tactical lighting that left his words swirling in the air like venomous demons. Bernardo’s Brutus was surprisingly urbane, his high ideals were well intended, but he lets his political savvy slip and it costs him everything. Anne Hering supplies all the female roles, as Calpurnia she’s the only sane voice in Caesar’s life, but she’s easily dismissed by Casca as a mere woman. The sword play was nicely done, as were the numerous suicides under the guidance of Bill Warriner.

You’ve seen it before, and you’ll see it again, but this is a tight and elegant approach to one of Shakespeare’s most accessible stories. There’s old school modernism and more up to date modernisms, no actual blood appears yet the deaths are still striking and seemingly wasteful of human talent. The set (courtesy of Ryan McGettigan) is a few risers and some very cool ruined brickwork, unused actors stand up stage in little bays of red light and frayed XX, three steps and two risers are all we need to take us back to ancient Rome.

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

From The (Warped) Mind of Christopher Durang

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

From The (Warped) Mind of Christopher Durang
Selected Monologs and Short Plays
Directed by Wade Hare
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL

Short play festivals – a chance to explore marginal ideas that might not withstand a full 10 minutes of acting. Here are 14 little vignettes of life as Christopher Durang sees the world. We open with the surreal “Naomi in the Living Room.” Here middle aged Naomi (Lorraine Bouchard) has allocated every space in the house its special function: you live it he living room, bathe in the bathroom, and keep kitsch in the kitchen. Her son (Beejay Clinton) and his finance (Tara Rewis) drop by, and after a good bit of verbal torture, we learn that Ms. Rewis has TWO black and white polka dot dresses. Naomi (Lorraine Bouchard) declares she has a big personality and there’s no question, she chases her son (Beejay Clinton) and his new wife (Tara Rewis) from chair to couch to ground. It’s weird, but be glad you aren’t related.

Further on we find a fine performance by Paul H Braccioforte as “The Gym Teacher.” He’s not your slim, dedicated athlete or a the wussy ambiguous guy you talked about, he’s a bit overweight and more than a bit over tattooed and believes deodorant is for sissies. But his approach to gym class is refreshingly old school: his dodge ball is mixed sex shirts and skins, and without budget for medicine balls, he’s reverted to that old favorite: a bowling ball. If you can dodge the wrench…

In “Funeral Parlor” Arleen Radner has lost her hubby and as she meets the mourners a distant friend (Marty Radner) appears and suggest she try “keening”. It’s an old Irish tradition; you make a high pitched mournful sound and let the daemons out. Arleen is reluctant, but ultimate discover she has a talent for terrifying mourners and audience members equally. I’m not too keen on keening; just sing an old hymn when I go.

I think I’ve seen “The Hardy Boys and the Mystery of Where Babies Come From” at Fringe a long time ago. Two prepubescent boys try to uncover the titular mystery, and when investigation and speculation fail they run up against over sexed nurse Candice Hicks. She introduces them to the finer points of bondage and medical fantasies, and while the boys are still confused they both all agree: Medical Fantasies ARE the best.

Act Two takes us on a much more political and religious rant, in “Cardinal O’Connor” Kevin Hudson carefully explains the finer points of Catholic doctrine. You might be confused about how putting a plastic balloon on your privates offends God to the point of damning you to hell but it’s still OK to kill people, so long as you personally don’t agree with them. The Cardinal makes a strong argument, and drives it home with volume.

In the cute “1-900-Desperate” we return to those pre-internet days when had to get out remote sex via dial up. Tara hopes to meet the man of her dream for $40 in phone bills, but it’s not scuzzy BeeJay. And for some reason Arleen is on the chat hectoring the world about something or other. Tara is depressed, but maybe five year old Coletyn might just be worth waiting for. It’s’ a unique commentary on a now almost forgotten method of mating and dating, and one we should all be glad is gone.

The most disturbing pieces come near the end. In “Entertaining Mr. Helms” Mr. Braccioforte presides over an ultra-conservative family that holds Jesse Helms-like values more highly than Mr. Helms does himself. It’s a pointed political commentary, although it’s unlikely to be seen or influence those it’s aimed at. But “the Book of Leviticus Show” goes one step farther, here hillbillies Jim Cundiff and Tara experiment with on-line video. They want to help God save the world from sin and round up a few random sex offenders to offer as a sweet smelling sacrifice. God, as always, remains distant and silent. Sadly, this sort of thing still happens and while the point it taken, it’s more shocking than entertaining.

Despite the downer ending, these were odd and entertaining shorts that push boundaries in taste and modern culture. Durang doesn’t get done often enough these days, and it’s good to see a quirky show like this draw a solid audience.

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

33 Variations

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

33 Variations
By Moisés Kaufman
Directed by Aradhana Tiwari
Starring Peg O’Keef, Chris Gibson, Stephen Lima and Becky Eck
Beth Marshall Presents at the
Garden Theater in Winter Garden, FL

Katherine (O’Keef) is deathly ill, but she’s on one final misison. Far across the North Atlantic lays Bonn, repostiroy of the details of Ludwig van Beethoven’s (Gibson) works. Her daughter Clara (Eck) thinks she ought to stay home, but Katherine is adamant, research is more important than family in her last days. In Bonn she meets Gertie (Janine Papin) keeper of Beethoven’s remaining scribbles. Katherine has devoted her remaining hours to this pressing question: Are Beethoven’s “33 Variations” an elaborate mocking of his publisher Diabelli’s (Brett Carson) weak attempt at a waltz, or is Beethoven showing that in the most trivial works lies unimagined potential if only you are brilliant enough to write it all down?

There’s death and decay here, both Beethoven and Katerina are on their last legs. Beethoven is deeply in debt (as are all great 17th century artists) and while Katherine is solvent, not even Obamacare will save her now. O’Keef brilliantly portrays an accelerating decent into the last stage of Lou Gehrig’s disease as her daughter and her nurse Mike (Mike Deavan) attend to her. Mike dates Clara but medical ethics and a natural squeamishness about seeing your date’s mom naked slow things down. Eck’s Clara is torn between just letting mom do her thing vs. making her life easy in the end, and Gertie becomes fast friends with all of them even as Katherine’s research conclusions and attitude toward family shifts. Mirroring Katherine’s decline is that of Beethoven, his friend and de facto agent Schindler (Lima) also has a tough balancing act. Beethoven is fascinated by the variations, but his Funeral Mass and Ninth Symphonies are more profitable. Gibson bellows and stomps like and old man, he fires servants and then wonders why dinner is late. Lima is the diplomat, here soothing and there blustering, but always true to his maestro as he negotiates advances for paper and ink. He senses money is to be made whether the great one is dead or alive. Opposite him is the self-satisfied publisher Diabelli, it’s his little waltz that Beethoven is idolizing. Where else can a third rate dilatant find the sort of fame that has us remembering him 200 years hence?

Beethoven’s motives remain unclear and Katherine dies unpleasantly, but we are left with a well-constructed story that recalls “Amadeus” and “Wit” with equal clarity. While Beethoven’s motive remains cloudy, Kaufman’s maybe less so (plus he’s still around to argue with). We’ve heard there are only three or seven or 21 plots, yet writers still make “Boy meets girl, boy loses girl” films and plays and novels that make patrons happy. I see Kaufman doing the same here – he’s taken a chestnut of story about an Unappreciated-In-His-Own-Time genius and Tolstoyian Unhappy Family and made a new and moving story. New and novel a can be good, but we sitters-in-seats and discussers- in-bars-afterwarderes need stable reference points to keep us happy and Avant Garde is fine so long as the Avant is within spitting distance of the Old Garde. Incremental change moves us, radical change confuses us. Thanks to Mr. Kaufman and Ms. Tiwari and all the people presenting before us: We are moved, but not so far as to become lost.

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

Sisters of Swing: The Story of the Andrews Sisters

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

Sisters of Swing: The Story of the Andrews Sisters
Written by Beth Gilleland and Bob Beverage
Based on an idea by Ron Peluso
Musical Arrangement by Raymond Berg
Directed by Roy Alan
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park FL

It’s tough to come up with a more iconic musical act for the WW2 era than the Andrews Sisters. Three girls harmonizing with air raid proof hair styles and tight matching uniforms, they sang the innocent to mildly suggestive music that typified the era. While they had an amazing and profitable career stateside they spent much of the war on USO tours cheering the troops and selling bonds. We follow their musical career from Minnesota to the big time, their path driven by solid vocals hard work and a jealous but supportive from their Greek and Norwegian parents. Like all over night sensations, they spent years touring the vaudeville circuit, eventually working up to the Orpheum circuit where they were “discovered” and had a hit with a swinger version of a Yiddish chestnut “Bei Mir Bist Du Schon”. The rest, as they say, is musical theater.

Nearly every number is a trio with Patty (Heather Kopp) Maxine (Laura Hodos) and Laverne (Heather Alexander) and it hard to pick out any one song as greater or lesser than another. The big hits are all here from “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree” to “All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth” to the almost sexy “Rum and Coca Cola.” There’s a swirl of supporting characters surrounding the sisters, hardworking Josh Eleazer supported the girls with lightning fast costume changes and acted as Lou their manager (and Maxine’s husband,) Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and the draggy polka queen from the “Beer Barrel Polka”. Normally reserved Chris Leavy jumped in as arranger Vic Schon and even multi-instrumentalist Ned Wilkinson got a few lines.

It’s a lovely show, focused on the music but showing enough of the internal dynamics and struggles of the group so they appear human. Ms. Alexander has a strong resemblance to Lucille Ball in her reddish wig, and both Hodos and Kopp create strong personalities that make this a story about family rather than a static revival of the hits. Its old time music, but the Andrews Sisters are part of that American song book from an era where the blues were coming in to the main stream and while they were never rock and roll, it was a logical extension of their fast pace and bouncy tunes. No mater your musical preferences, it’s hard to imagine anyone not loving this well-constructed dramatic review.


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

Pluto

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

Pluto
By Steve Yockey
Directed by Mark Routhier
Starring Suzanne O’Donnell and Chris Metz
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre
Orlando, FL

Ever since Jean-Paul Sartre left the stage door to the underworld open, plays about the after death experience have been endemic. Beginning writers adore them but rarely execute them well enough to enter the popular corpus of drama. “Pluto” handles the task better than most but still suffers from one main issue: while you’d like one last heart-to-heart with your expired loved ones, that just ain’t way the universe is built.

Tonight we meet Elizabeth Miller (O’Donnell), she’s a single mom struggling to get her basement dwelling son Baily (Metz) through Community College. He hasn’t talked to anyone since a high school counseling session and even his childhood playmate Maxine (Jillian Gizzi) abandons him – she got hot, he got cooties. As they fuss over pop tarts and the difficulties of an introductory astronomy survey class, the clock is curiously stuck and there seems to be a cherry tree hanging from the ceiling. If that’s not enough symbolism the three headed dog Cerberus (played by the mono-skulled Heather Leonardi) guards the refrigerator and offers sage advice. She’s not so much Man’s Best Friend as the author’s voice as she calmly explains things to the cast only to froth random bits of orbital mechanics when the refrigerator starts vibrating. We guess a tragedy has occurred, the perpetrator is quickly implied and things perk up when Death (John Cannon) appears from the refrigerator in a diving suit. It’s surrealism with a tender heart that resolves everything yet leaves everything hanging unresolved.

The cast does the only thing possible; they accept the story and charge forward giving us an excellent presentation. O’Donnell has the harried mother role down pat, she cares and berates and does the best she can. Mr. Metz mopes around grousing about how hard his curriculum is and if he had only been quicker he could have been cramming for “Rocks for Jocks” instead. Metz reminds me of petulant Dave Thomas, the world’s not his fault but he’s acting like he’s bravely carrying on with the resolve that admits failure is always an option. Ms. Leonardi has relatively little to do, although she’s on stage as the audience enters she’s not posed, just paused. Things perk up enormously when Mr. Connon enters in his diving suit, the need for such a clumsy mode of fashion in the afterworld is not explained and it feels like a sight gag set out to relieve the tension of the main story. But he was reasonable and likeable and explained what we has already guessed, if he’s your guide to the afterworld things could be Judeo Christian worse. This is an odd story executed with the usual Shakes panache, but it’s a story that will challenge your suspension of disbelief and give you plenty to debate on the way home.

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