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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for August, 2014

The Dixie Swim Club

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

The Dixie Swim Club
By Jessie Jones, Nicolas Hope and Jamie Wooten
Directed by Karen Casteel
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL

Sure, it’s a woman’s play about relationships and the evils of men, but it’s a funny show about relationships and the evils of men. On the last weekend of every August the survivors of a college swim team rally for their “No work, No men, No bras” weekend at the beach. We’ll be checking in on them every few years tonight, but we open with a good grounding in each of their individual quirks. Sheree (Melody Carson) is the hyper organized health food nut, she makes schedules and organic hors d’oeuvres that taste like lawn mulch. Lexie (Sallie Glaner) is the serial trophy wife, she changes husbands more often than cars and her bust line grows and shrinks with the tide. Dinah (Jacqueline Levine) is the hard driven, hard drinking lawyer – it’s not that she doesn’t like men, they just take one look at her and plead “no contest”. Meanwhile, Vernedette (Carol Palumbo) is the bad luck encrusted red neck; she tries her best to see her children on visiting days and keeps her old medical equipment since she’ll likely need it next month. Lastly there’s ex-nun Jeri (Jenn McGinnis), she left her vows for a life of hard luck and single mom hood, but she still holds faith in humanity.

While spats flare up and life winds down, there’s a gentle thread of humor in this story that keeps it from becoming whiny. Self-absorbed Lexie was my favorite, her goals and motives were the clearest of all and she always had an amazing outfit. A close second was the clumsy Vernadette; she, too, found some wonderful clothes (watch for the clown suit) but her faithfulness to her criminal offspring was touching. An old friend of mine had three of her five children in jail or rehab at the same time but her philosophy remained “Well, two of them worked out OK.” That’s the spirit one needs when life keeps hitting you upside the head with truck testacles. Ms. Levine’s Dinah was hardest to read, she had the all-absorbing career and nearly drowned in it; a medical crisis made her stop and smell the Novocain. Ms. Carson seems most grounded, while her cooking was well intentioned and inedible, her enthusiasm for being correct and on time counts for a lot. And the most complex arc went to Jeri; she kept her religious views if not her vows, and found the big scary world isn’t so bad after all. I only have one question about the story: how did they spend 33 years at a North Carolina beach in August and only have one hurricane?

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

The Letters

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

The Letters
By John W. Lowell
Directed by Blake Braswell
With Brian Brightman and Jennifer Christa Palmer
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL

If you’ve done nothing wrong, you still have something to fear, and in 1931 Moscow, that went double. Paranoia fills the air as the dream of a better Russia crumbles under the onslaught of Joseph Stalin and his successful attempt to wipe out any and all opposition. Tonight we peer into a microcosm of those purges, Anna (Palmer) is called up from her drudgery to the office of The Director (Brightman). As she pointedly points out you don’t get called up there for a pat on the head and warm “Job Well Done.” He chats amiably but with a not very subtle subtext of menace, and when he caches her in a minor lie he doubles down. Some letters in her office have gone missing and if released they pose a grave threat to The Director, the Bureau, and the entire Soviet empire. What could they contain? Just the semi-erotic personal letters of The Composer, a man discredited and presumably decomposing as they speak. The director holds nearly all the cards, including the ability to arrest, interrogate and murder without oversight. But Anna has one card, as The Director admits he’s not as smart as Anna and her staff, and it intimidates him. Can Anna leverage this one fact as save her skin?

Here we have a great example of a small cast in small space building a much larger sense of menace. Director Braswell ( a newcomer to the Mad Cow Stage) leads us through the mix of lies, deceptions, bravado and risk that was the daily life of any party apparatchik in those dark days. Mr. Brightman comports himself with a shaved head and military boots, he only needs a monocle to complete the German Field Marshal look. He alternates between charm and brutality and he’s surrounded by a semicircular desk that serves as citadel when attacked and forms the center of his creepy paranoid universe. Ms. Palmer shuffles and averts her eyes; in her frumpy skirt and sweater she’s a perfect candidate to teach poetry in a small private New England School. But there’s an inner toughness, and once she sees an angle she attacks fearlessly. After all, she will only have one chance to win, The Director needs little more than a common peccadillo to send you to hell. In today’s world of constant surveillance, here’s a reminder of what your freely elected state could do if its paranoia climbs too high.

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

Big In Winter Park

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

Big In Winter Park
With Sara Jones
Musical direction by Chris Leavy
August 10, 2014
Theater Downtown, Orlando FL

If you missed this personal little show at Fringe, well, you had your second chance for a second pass. Impish Sara Jones and Orlando’s hardest working musical director Chris Leavy celebrate song and the entertainment industry in this one night encore. Sara moved down here as a child and has bounced around the scene and worked the parks all the while charming and soothing us with her wonderful voice. Tonight’s show was more auto biographical than musical, songs were limited but included “Good Morning Star Shine (who can forget that classic chorus”Gliddy gloop gloopy – Nibby nobby nooby -La la la lo lo”) the Sondheim hoofer “Another Hundred People” as well as a very touching “You’ve Got a Friend.” Between the songs we hear about her career including works at Theatre Downtown and her role as the critically acclaimed “Nun #7” in UCF’s recent “Sound of Music.” Like any really heartbreaking cabaret this is a gripping mixture of desperation and defiance.

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

The History Boys

Saturday, August 9th, 2014

The History Boys
By Alan Bennett
Directed by Mark Edward Smith
Starring Peter Travis and Phillip Nolan
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL

There are two general approaches to education: The Montessori approach allows exploration and sets low goals but high standards, and the Catholic School approach raps your knuckles until catechism and multiplication tables are drilled into your DNA. Professor Hector (Nolan) prefers the first approach, and his students love him. They recite Alden, adore Byron, and take poetry and literature as the highest of the arts, paycheck be damned. But this isn’t enough for uptight headmaster (Tommy Keesling); he wants his students to go to Oxford and Cambridge, not to technical school in Sheffield and Bristol. To that end he brings in young Professor Irwin (Travis), Irwin drips deconstructionist tricks and schemes to get the boys noticed. This confuses some of the denser boys; they don’t see why a college should require more than skill at rugger. The professors battle, but there’s a deeper issue: Hector enjoys fondling the boys while riding them home on his scooter, and the boys aren’t really all that opposed to a friendly grope at 50 mph. When Hector’s hobby is revealed his career is on the line, but this is an English boarding school, and a little sexual misadventure is good for tempering the boy’s spirits.

Nolen is a ball of energy; I don’t think anyone in town can do as much on stage with righteous indignation in the face of obvious guilt. Travis is a bit dryer but sneakier, he injects an element of amorality into the exams the boys must pass. Stalin may have been a mass murder but if you can find something nice to say about him that will make you stand out, and once you’re in Cambridge, nobody will check back on your politics. Keesling spews venom and frustration, in a corporation he’d be the guy cheering for time and motion studies about bathroom breaks. Off on the side is a world weary Robin Olson as Mrs. Lintott, everyone burdens her with secrets yet her attempts to inject a feminist shade to exams just makes eyes roll. The boys are lively lot, some ethnic (A.J Nickell, Jeffery Todd Parrot), some abusive (Robert Johnson, Ryan Corbin Bathurst) and some surviving on good looks and a calm demeanor. Those are the ones that will survive in British business once they can wear the right tie (Adam Reilly, Matt Lipscomb). The two most interesting are Parrot as Posner, the slight Jewish boy who love to sing Christian hymns, and Mr. Johnson. As the sexually aggressive Daken, he understands sex as politics much better than Mrs. Lintott or any of the faculty and I vote him most likely to sleep his way to the top.

So should the sneaky and double faced get to the good jobs and education? Maybe, maybe not but it takes something more than skill and competence to make the climb, and little mentoring early on can do wonders. Even if you don’t use the Professor Irwin’s Book of Dirty Tricks, knowing about them can give you a leg up in identifying them in your co-workers. This is an acid and truthful look at human frailty and learning how to work the system layered with sexual politics and real people. Learn it well, young Jedi.

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

Company

Saturday, August 9th, 2014

Company
Music and Lyrics by Steven Sondheim
Book by George Furth
Directed by Justin J Scarlat
Starring Chris McCabe
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL

It may be Sondheim, but still it’s damn funny. Bobby (McCabe) drifts through life at the end of the 60’s as Psychologists hang on in popular culture and pot and free love come up fast. He’s happy enough and has a ton of friends and an active social life, but everyone agrees on his one fatal flaw – he lacks a wife. His friends are all paired up and offer just about any relation you could imagine: Joanne (Vicki Wicks) and Larry (Frank Siano) have been married so long they live in different dimension, Sarah (Tara Rewis) and Harry (Sam Waters) are recovering addicts and karate buffs, Amy (Jessa Dodds) and Paul (Ryan Karnemaat) married out of their religions and enjoy the apostasy, Jenny (Danielle Smith) and David (Jake Howard) are still in fresh throws of love, and Susana (Lucy Yarborough) and Peter (Kyle McDonald) are the older couple, happily divorced and starting to swing. Clearly Bobby has options and he’s dating three girls, so it’s not like he’s not interested: he’s just 30 years cautious.

Weak on plot but strong on character, most anyone will see themselves somewhere on this stage. With this tight cast, all the jokes work and the laughs range from steady to building. A few songs stand out in the clutter of Sondheim’s musical complexity; by far Ms. Wicks’ “Ladies Who Lunch” was the number to hang on for. “The Little Things You Do Together” and “Have I Got A Girl for You” punched up the first act, and “What Would We Do Without You?” founded the second act. But the song that feels most “Sondheimish” is “Another 100 People” by Marta (Jade Rivera). She’s one of Bobby’s girls and it’s lonely, plaintive and reflects the minutia of big city living in a way few other composers could accomplish.

Marriage has shifted a good bit since this was penned, but “Company’s” still a lively look at what really happens after the “I Do’s” become “No You Don’ts.” Like so many of the large musicals the cross the Breakthrough stage there’s not much set and lighting but very impressive voices. I’ve seen this show before a few times, but this was the one that really made me appreciate both the book and music.

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

Crimes of the Heart

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Crimes of the Heart
By Beth Henley
Directed by Fran Hilgenberg
Starring Natalie Reed, Vera Varlamov, and Sarah French
Theatre Downtown, Orlando, FL

There’s no better place for rot and decay than the Deep South, and that sums up the lives of the MaGrath sisters. Lenny (Reed) suffers from shrunken ovaries and shrunken self-confidence, no man would want here since she can’t provide children. Meg (Varlamov) went off to LA to sing; now she’s works at a dog food factory and lies about her record contract. Worst off is Babe (French), she shot her husband in the stomach. She was aiming higher, but that’s a thing about owning guns – if you don’t fire them occasionally, you can’t expect to use them accurately. The family is overshadowed by the past: Old Granddad is dying, and then there mom – she not only hung herself, she did in the cat as well. What did the cat ever do to her? The biggest problem is the shooting, Babe freely admits the act and it’s up to crusading lawyer Barnette Lloyd (Jeremiah Morris). He’s sweet on Babe, but be warned, if you get her off she’ll think she can shoot anyone any old time, and that might be you.

I think they were serving estrogen at the bar; this was certainly a girl’s night out. Lenny is every scared little girl who locks herself in a closet or a librarian job, the last thing she wants is rejection from a man. She’s also sad enough make her own birthday, sans cake, and hide it away when others arrive. Meg seems most in charge of herself, she openly flirts with Doc Porter (Frank Casado) even though she left him crippled in the wreckage of Hurricane Camille. I see Meg’s position as a woman destined to make a fine ex-wife. Babe seems a bit off in her head, there’s a touch of remorse but all boils down to “OK, I did it; I guess jail won’t be that bad.” Off on the side is cousin Chick Boyle (Brenan Arden Warner). Her job is trouble maker and with her sultry eyes and sharp tongue, she gets the best digs of the evening.

This is a show of secrets, each reveals as slowly as good story telling will allow. Babe is the center of the story, but we don’t realize that until all the side stories have come forward and been found less compelling. With death and loneliness as the stakes they pull you in to the world of gossip and sweet lemonade, only to return you to your world, less dramatic and less painful. Just think: Well at least my life’s not THAT bad.”

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

Backwards in High Heels

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Backwards in High Heels
By Lynnette Barkley and Christopher McGovern
Book and arrangements by Christopher McGovern
Directed and choreographed by Roy Alan
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Starring BambiEllen Fadoul and Tara Snyder
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park FL

I admit my world view of Ginger Rodgers (Fadoul) revolves around her black and white relation with Fred Astaire. Of course, she had a life before and after, and it’s much more layered and complex than expected. Her mother was an ex script girl and divorced, she moved to Texas to raise her daughter Virginia away from the Hollywood madness. But little Virginia not only hated her name and Texas, but she was dance obsessed and soon won a tour on the fabled Orpheum circuit and changed her name. Fame followed hard work, and as we hear repeatedly, “Beauty is an asset, but it’s not the whole cheese.” Rogers cranked out 20 successful movies before Fred Astaire showed up, but he was paid more. That pay discrepancy bugged her, and when the RKO contract expired, she was back on her own. Another string of successful movies followed, and she quickly won the academy award for a film everyone thought couldn’t be filmed. She sure showed them!

With a cast of mostly newcomers, this is a bouncy and energetic biopic set on stage. There’s tons of tap dancing and divorces, Ms. Rogers was fast on her feet but suffered from daddy issues all her life. Ms. Fadoul’s portrayal shows determination, dedication and the sort of hard headedness necessary to succeed in show business and fail in personal affairs. There’s clever stuff here, she even tap dances on the wall while lying in bed. Her best moments are the tap numbers (Tame These Feets, Fascinating Rhythm) but she can do a decent torch song when called upon (But When). As the mother Lela, Snyder seems both offended and thrilled by her daughter’s success, but keeps a still upper lip through it all. In the supporting cast the best performance belongs to Katrina Johnson, her Ethel Merman impression rattled the back wall. Daniel Longacre played Mr. Astaire, he seemed nice but inoffensive and when they danced it was clearly Ms. Fadoul in control. Towards the end of the show several celebrity impersonations popped up, Christoff Marse did a decent Jimmy Stewart and Jamie Lowe played Lew Ayers, one of Gingers hubbies and one of those big stars of the era that no one seems to recall anymore.

There’s tons of tap and s strong set of lyrics in this show, and the book is deeper and broader than most dance histories. Rodgers had a penchant for alcoholic and abusive men, but her real energy was pointed at the stage and at fame. You can’t win at everything, her marriages were disastrous and short, and there’s a sub text here that she would have liked children but never had the time to have them. Ginger Rogers was a wonderful star in her own right, but dang it, it was dancing with that overpaid guy that made her stick in our brains for the past half century.

For more information on Winter Park Playhouse, visit http://www.winterparkplayhouse.org/
The Winter Park Playhouse August 1-23, 2014