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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for October, 2014

“Moonlight Magic” with Carol Stein

Friday, October 31st, 2014

“Moonlight Magic” with Carol Stein
Spotlight Cabaret
October 29, 2014
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park FL

Part piano recital, part Mr. Science lecture, part kid friendly comedy show; Carol Stein puts up one of the most eclectic cabarets in town. Her voice is husky and mature, and she’s mastered the art of playing, singing, and joking all at the same time. With Halloween around the corner, the theme is moon influenced music including the obvious: “Shine on Harvest Moon” (the first “moon” song recoded in the U S of A!), “Moon River,” “Carolina Moon,” ” Oh, You Crazy Moon,” “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” and dozens more. When not singing and giving the de rigueur personal biography she told jokes and quizzed us on moon facts. Best joke: “How does the man in the moon get his hair cut? He gets it eclipsed.” Take the time to groan properly. The quizzes were more rewarding, you could win a Moon Pie for knowing how fast the moon travels (2200 miles per hours) or how far away it is (243 thousand miles, give or take) or whether it was made of green cheese or Gouda (Neither, nor was this an actual question). Like all WPPH cabarets, this was intimate and funny and you could hang out after to get autographs or hugs or carmel apple Snickers minis. Costumes are optional, in this play house everyone wears a costume daily.

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

West Side Story

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

West Side Story
Book by Arthur Laurents
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Choreographed by Eric Yow
Directed by Julia Gagne
Starring Kyle Wait and Anneliese Moon
Valencia College Arts and Entertainment Theatre, Orlando FL

If there’s a defining moment in American Musical Theatre, it’s this work by Laurent, Bernstein and Sondheim. They re-imagined Romeo and Juliet as two lovers separated by the ethnic tensions of post war New York; Juliet hails from Puerto Rican, Romeo owes allegiance to Italy, and all feel the heel of the mighty money making Poles. We know “Love Conquers All” but of course it doesn’t, even on a musical stage complete with dancing, knife fights and clothes lines full of wash that rise and fall along with the emotions. And while the singing sometime sounds too reserved, the dancing always jumps over the top, making the choreography feels as exciting as Opening Night, 1957.

Two tribes battle over a weed strewn neighborhood: the Sharks in gleaming red flock to greased back and dangerous Bernardo (Zeshan Khan), the Jets follow the lead of blue jeaned Riff (Vinnie La Vigna). Bernardo has a sister Maria (Moon); she’s just about at Quinceañera. The big dance in Neutral Territory frames her hormonal debut, and it allows the Jets to approach the Sharks about a rumble. Why fight? Because the stakes are so low, and the opportunities so rare. Riff talks clean cut Tony (Wait) into joining their party; soon he’s dancing with Maria and everyone else is ready to dance with shivs. Fighters dance and lover’s love, and it’s one of the fastest romances on stage, from meeting to consummation to death in just under two acts.

Both Tony and Maria were seriously in love, and like all lovers they aren’t the most interesting people to watch even as they unite in “One Hand, One Heart” and “Tonight.” Riff’s side man Action (Nathaniel Stiger) pops out even with his few lines, as does Anybodys (Fabiola Urbinia) as the too-young-to-fight-but-old-enough-to-spy tomboy. In the macho world of high school gangland, she’s the one woman they trust with a shiv. Anita (Jade Rivera) is Bernardo’s wife, she approves of the fighting because she believes it relatively harmless and it fires up Bernardo’s passion. The adults crossing the stage are powerful yet clueless: Officer Krupke bends like rubber; he’s more clown than a cop, while his boss Schrank (Mike Acevedo) tries to keep the peace but only succeeds in giving the dancers a breathing break.

The pip of this production is the dance; every move stayed in sync and recreates the wild abandon of the old fashion Modern Dance ethos. Eric Yow did the work here; he must have drilled these kids for hours to get them to throw themselves to the edge, stop short, and never ever slip a break. I realize there are people out there who don’t like this show for any number of reasons, but this Valencia production just might change your heart. It’s the freshest take on a chestnut to be found this season.

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

Kiss of the Spider Woman

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

Kiss of the Spider Woman
Book by Terrance McNally
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Directed by Mark Brotherton
Choreography by John Rudell
Starring Kyle Wilkinson, Andrew Connors, and Abby Jaros
Theatre UCF, Orlando FL

It’s amazing the level of production values you can find in a South American political prison. Sometime in the desperate terrors of Pinochet and Allende and those other high minded murders a weak and unsuccessful political prisoner falls into their trap. Valentin (Connors) breathes fire and wants to die for his cause, although he was hoping for more publicity. They toss him in a cell with sexual offender Molina (Wilkinson); he’s doing 8 years for doing a boy in a public rest room. Molina admits cowardice and tolerates the abuse; in exchange the guards allow him movie posters and lunch from his mom. He obsesses over Aurora (Jaros), a movie star whom he worshiped until her role as Spider Woman traumatized him. The evil warden wants information on Valentin’s group, and will do a deal if Molina sells out his cell mate. Can we squeeze in one last over the top dance number before Molina has to decide his friend’s fate?

While the story speaks to a beautiful if unlikely friendship, you have to love the dance numbers. Choreographer Rudell pushed this brutal story to high levels of camp with dancing prisoners, floating hallucinations, and Jaros’ smoldering 1920s sexuality. Numbers like “Where You Are” and “Morphine Tango” fall into the camp of classic Fosse style over extravagance, and the stark prison bars form a mute canvas for the dancer’s dreams. Meanwhile, Connors plays a convincing revolutionary; good looking and intense, he’s just the sort of man who could end up on an ironic tee-shirt. Wilkinson fusses with his red scarf and pink throw, and while his sexuality offends Valentin, Valentin’s real confusion revolves around the film fantasies. How can you dance when people are dying? Yes, the regime is brutal, but if you can’t defeat it, the only course left is to distract yourself until the next beating is scheduled.

This musical differs drastically from the film, that’s where you will discover a much more political angle on the story of men surviving brutality. Here we have a fluffy dance parfait covering a serious story, but then it IS a musical and musicals are about fantasy, the bigger the better. If Dialectical Materialism excites you this show might offend your political sensibilities, but if it’s jarring beauty anchored in murky misery that calls to you, this is a dream come to life.

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

Best of Enemies

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

Best of Enemies
By Mark St. Germain
Directed by Mark Routhier
Starring Avis-Marie Barnes and Richard B. Watson
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando, FL

If nothing else, this show will increase your vocabulary of racial epitaphs enormously. It’s 1971 in Durham, NC and the Old South is as strong as ever. Blacks hate whites, whites hate blacks, and the difference between this period and 200 years ago is limited to the invention of the telephone and Mason jars replacing stoneware for moonshine storage. Activist Bill Riddick (Corey Allen) invades with pamphlets and high ideals, he’s a brave man who seeks out the motor behind the local KKK. That’s tobacco chewing C.P. Ellis (Watson), gas station owner and son of a mill worker. When not pumping gas he’s keeping his town safe from unions and commies and uppity blacks in his spiffy red KKK drag, and that’s a full time job. C. P.’s counterpart is Ann “Rough House” Atwater (Barnes); she’s a fiery church lady and has about as much hate as C. P. does. Riddick figures if he can get these two together and they don’t kill each other, there might be an inch or two of progress.

So many “Issues” plays lean towards turgid sermonizing, but this sprightly civil rights drama never falls down that trapdoor. Barnes is surprisingly funny; while she never has any actual laugh lines her timing is piercing when delivering her little asides. Watson is bubbling with energy and looks like his head might explode from all the blacks around him. He also has an amazing ability to project with a chaw in his cheek, and he never once dribbles tobacco juice. The urbane Allen is always in control, he seems almost super human and perhaps even immortal. His confidence browbeats C. P. and Ann into sitting at the same table, then talking to each other, and even changing their attitudes. While these three all achieve something they concede as a positive, C. P.’s wife Mary (Anna Carol) remains the truly tragic woman. You sense she won’t make it through the evening, but before she goes she takes a major step in converting C. P. from a total redneck peckerwood to semi reasonable adult – she buries his gun and deprives him of his last refuge of power.

This is a very modern play, full of tiny scenes, exposition delivered by telephone and no intermission. Just as society has shifted, so have our theatrical tastes but not the results. But St. Germain and Director Routhier exploit these modernisms without the show feeling choppy or dislocated or like a movie shoehorned on stage. The set is minimal, pictures of KKK events cover the back and what few props are needed appear and vanish quickly leaving time for us to study the harsh and provocative language. In one scene Reddick spews out a seemingly endless litany of every term imaginable from “Ofay”‘ and “Jigaboo” to “Niglet” and “Mayonnaise.” That’s the strategy here – put everything on the table, call it what it is, and move on. If only the world at large could reconcile as peacefully as desegregation did in the South…

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

Killer Joe

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

Killer Joe
By Tracy Letts
Directed by Frank Hilgenberg
Starring Daniel Cooksley and Frank Casado
Theatre Downtown, Orlando FL

If you can imagine “Arsenic and Old Lace” with more bullets and more nudity, you might get the theme of this brutally black comedy. Chris (Casado) in in hock to his dealer for 2 ounces of blow his momma used up, and the bad guys are after him. He needs $6000 to save his musty hide, and his daddy Ansel (Jason Skinner) hasn’t ever seen that much money in his entire life. But Ansel’s ex has a life insurance policy, and that might be an answer. They believe the policy pays to Chris’s virginal sister Dottie (Ashley Wilson), so they make a deal with local assassin Joe Cooper (Cooksley). Being short on cash is a slight problem, but he graciously takes Dottie as a retainer. Soon blood and body parts fly and its redneck party time. And along the way, there’s plenty of language, inappropriate for all-ages situations, and even the Full Frontal nudity we’ve been warned about.

With Theatre Downtown’s lease on their venerable old packing house of a home expiring, it’s time for one big blow out production that pushes taste and morality to the limits. Cooksley is creepy intense as the good cop and bad cop rolled into one. Casado and Skinner form a real life Bevis and Butthead pairing, they know what they want but have very poor risk / reward judgment skills. Sure, they have brains but that’s not the organ they rely on for most judgment calls. Ansel’s second wife Sharla (Vera Varlamov) is hot and bothersome, and when Cooksley has his way with her, well, you’ll never look at fried chicken the same way ever again. And then there’s little Dottie; she’s not exactly simple but Ms. Wilson portrays her as a wise and sincere commentator on everything she’s not supposed to see. In the big blow-’em-up ending, she may be the only cool head on stage.

It’s sexy, it’s outrageous, and it’s one of the most riveting shows to cross this stage. True, Theatre Downtown’s final show will be that chestnut “Christmas Carol,” but by all means see this show: it’s the sort of work Frank Hilgenberg does best when all the stops are removed. But be warned, this is material you won’t find on HBO.

Theatre Downtown will be relocating to a new location after its next production. There will be a benefit event for the move November 15th. For more information on the benefit and to keep up with Theatre Downtown’s move, please visit http://www.theatredowntown.net

Phantasmagoria V: Death Comes For All

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

Phantasmagoria V: Death Comes For All
Created, Written and Directed by John DiDonna
Co-Direction by Kevin G. Becker and Seth Kubersky
Additional Direction Alea Figueroa
Choreography by Mila Makarova
Additional Choreography Serafina Schiano
Fight Direction by Bill Warriner
Empty Spaces Theatre presenting at the Orlando Shakespeare Center

“Phantasmagoria” always had a strong circus element, and this is the circusiest of the series. Tonight you can get cotton candy as a concession, and you might luck into an after-event including fire eating and belly dancing. There’s also a stronger season to season story line, even if the mantra of the story tellers is “Once a story is selected it must be told, and once it’s started, it must be finished.” So does that allow for multiyear plot lines? That would be telling.

This year’s ghost stories travels farther afield than ever before; Norwegian and Hindi tales are included, all enhanced and interspersed with elaborate dance numbers. Story highlights include “The Tale of the Churel”; here a tender and loving woman is spurned by her brothers, then raped and killed by them. Their complaint is never explained to us or to her, but she returns as a demon with a carved mask and a hellish mouth. H. P. Lovecraft makes an appearance; but we are not up to Cthulhu level scares yet (maybe next time.) This vengeful tale of house cats and gypsies is rather chilling, and might make you think twice about posting anymore cat memes. Next there’s a children’s tales raised to Halloween Horror Nights level in “The Spider and the Fly”; this tale scans as a psycho killer picking his vain victim at a disco and making her disappear. Norse “The Midnight Mass of the Dead” is another inexplicable ghost story; it evokes the chill of Norwegian Christmas and the deeper chill of entering the realm of the undead. Worse, these are the undead stuck in transit: “Too good for hell, but not good enough for heaven.” Looks like Minnesota is their next stop.

On the dance side of the spectrum, the most involving number was a duet on a suspended ring between Mila Makarova and her daughter Gina. I’ve watched Gina grow up on stage; she and her mother are a crisp and touching pair, and if they had some real altitude, this should have been a show stopper. Another highlight was the chaotic “Waltz of the Murderers” following Dickens’ “Captain Murderer.” It nicely expands the mayhem of the story to mayhem of movement. Lastly I’d like to mention an elaborate three way sword fight that wraps up the show: with 4 swords and everyone changing targets blow to blow, it’s the most confusing fight I’ve ever seen, but if you are close enough you might need to duck, even in the second row. This year’s Phantasmagoria is every bit as enjoyable as the previous, it’s a Halloween thrill of words and lights and puppets without the trite zombie shuffle or the Ed Wood cheese.

For more information on Empty Spaces Theater Company, visit http://www.emptyspacestheatre.org

The Legend of Sleepy H llow

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

The Legend of Sleepy H llow
Adapted from a story by Washington Irving
Directed by Wade Hair
Starring Nic Jewell, Kelly McPherson, and Nathan Jones
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park, FL

While it wasn’t exactly a dark and stormy night, it was creepy enough. Two hundred years ago Tarrytown was out in the wilds, and Sleepy Hollow was more a clearing in the woods than a suburb. The town has called a new teacher, Ichabod Crane (Jewell), and like all educators he’s not paid much, has to sleep in the school house, and by the way could he teach some of those newfangled Connecticut hymns to the tuneless church ladies? The American Revolution is a fresh memory, inn keeper Peter Vedder (Larry Stallings) regales us with how he deflected a musket ball with his sabre. But while Crane’s salary is low, there’s the charming Katrina Van Tassel (McPherson); she’s attractive and attentive, but she also stand to inherit all of daddy’s money: There’s lots of it, and no other heirs. But his real challenge is brutish Brom Bones (Jones); he’s tough, he’s local and he’s got muscle. The foppish Crane can quote French poetry all day long, but he’s gonna get his heine kicked, possibly by some of Cotton Mather’s Satanic demons.

Jewell’s perfumed Crane is the star here, his foppish manners and fluent French mark him as someone who has no business on the frontier. The children respect him, but the consensus of the parents is a frontier gruff “We don’t need no book larnin’ round these parts.” Go, America! Education probably wouldn’t help, but at least hardnosed Hans Van Ripper (Thomas Ramsey) made the effort. McPherson’s feminine charms are obvious, yet she only sees Crane as a flirtation; she knows her future lies with Brom Bones. While Mr. Jones has a boyish face, he has a man’s jealousy over a woman and stuff like that often leads to war. And war is coming, with his wingmen Nicholas (Eric Callovi) and Christian (Armond Aponte) he’s invincible and can even ignore his father. Eileen Antonescu plays the grandmother with an ear piece; she great for those times when a plot point needs repeating.

Beside the missing “O” in the title of the show, my only complaint is it tends to be screechy. The children on stage are actual children (not stage children) and when they let go, its eardrum piercing painful. But besides that, this is a pleasant tale of self-deception and the joys of excluding superior outsiders from a closed community. Crane is mightily abused: unappreciated for doing what he was hired, deceived by the only eligible girl in town, and driven away by sheer meanness. No treats for him, only tricks.

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

I Am 50 Million

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

I Am 50 Million
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL

Is there room for “Improv” in “Self Improvement”? Yup, there is, just drop the “Self” and chop off a few letters at the end. The “I Am 50 Million” troupe is back at Breakthrough. Tonight there are six adults and four youngsters with a family friendly show that’s upbeat, funny, and might shave 3 strokes of your golf game and place you in the upper quartile of your fellow employees at review time. While the crowd seems a bit partisan, most of the games worked out well. “Half-Life” built a story and sped it up like a Cinemax late night movie on a VCR. I love the title of “Timmy In The Well,” it’s a version of telephone that relies on physical motion rather than words; here “Albert Einstein at Miami Beach” turned into “Frankenstein’s Monster drop kicking a kitty.” (Not and actual cat, what do you think this is?) And a melodrama featuring audience catch phases peaks with a mention of “Flaming Hamburgers of Doom.” I think that’s a new restaurant in Winter Park. Along the way we meet some promising pre-teen improvers; one little girl bossed everyone around on stage and complained if the action was slow, another young man didn’t hit very many jokes but when he did connect, you could see his thrill. This troupe is bad about giving out names but does a bang up job being funny; I hear they may be back soon so keep a nonspecific body part open.

For more information on I Am 50 Million please visit http://www.iam50million.com/ or look them up on Facebook.

The Who’s Tommy

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

The Who’s Tommy
Music and Lyrics by Pete Townshend
Book by Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff
Additional Music and Lyrics by John Entwistle and Keith Moon
Directed by Donald Rupe
Musical Direction by Heather Langs
Starring Wesley Slade, Heather Kopp, and Arthur Rowan
Choreographed by Christine Caviness
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL

It’s not the Kurt Russell movie, and it’s not The Who’s album, but it’s still a damn fine piece of musical theatre. Assuming you didn’t grow up with a draft card, I’ll summarize the story: At the beginning of WW2, Captain Walker (Arthur Rowan) and Mrs. Walker (Heather Kopp) marry, she bears him a child while he’s shot down and presumed dead. After an appropriate time, Tommy Walker (Slade) pops out and mom takes up with another man. When the good Captain reappears, Tommy is traumatized and becomes deaf, dumb and blind. Despite abuse from friends and relatives he’s a whiz at pinball and becomes a pop sensation. The Walkers seek a cure but not even the acid laced Gypsy (Valerie Witherspoon) can help. The only promise is narcissism; Tommy stares at himself until there’ a breakthrough. After that it’s a short trip to fawning followers, rough hangers on and the sort of burn out tabloids love.

There’s no trace of mutant Christian symbolism, no beans and soap suds fantasy sequence, no oily summer camp shenanigans, but what we do have is a surprisingly moving story embellished with excellent video overlay. Mr. Slade even looks like Rodger Daltrey; at the open the cast lifts him in the air and recreates a scene from the gatefold of the original vinyl release. Mrs. Walker is both tragic as the mother of a misfit boy and a survivor of war horrors plus she has a clear and vital voice (What About the Boy? /Christmas/Go to the Mirror). Captain Walker is a present force in Tommy’s later childhood and a pleasant tenor (Do You Think It’s Alright?/ I Believe My Own Eyes.) Cousin Kevin (Jake Mullen) reminded me of Kevin Bacon in Animal House, here he had a polished viciousness as he tortures the pre-teen Tommy (Jared Warren). Creepy Uncle Ernie (Juan Cantú) has the decency to close the curtains as he abuses Tommy but his alcoholism progresses until he’s only useful as Tommy’s camp greeter. The only weak song was the balladic “Acid Queen” by Gypsy, it’s not that it’s badly sung, but it has a country ballad feel that jars with tonight’s classic rock atmosphere.

The sound was surprisingly full for a three piece group; the band hid backstage and we never saw them but they took The Who’s wild antics and tamed them down to Musical Theatre professionalism. There were some new baffles over the audience; I suspect they helped the sound besides adding atmosphere. Only a few rock operas exist, (the other chestnut being Jesus Christ Superstar) but the histrionics of rock and roll are a perfect match to the over the top drama of opera. And so what if the messianic life style of a 1970’s pop star is now a feel good family reunion? The music still rocks and the story still rolls.

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

The Trayvon Martin Project (Part 1)

Saturday, October 4th, 2014

The Trayvon Martin Project (Part 1)
Beth Marshall Presents
In conjunction with Valencia College and Penguin Point Productions
Presented at Valencia College, Orlando FL

“Why can’t we all just get along?” That question first appears sometime around the New Testament, and over the centuries Blacks, Jews, Armenians, Native Americans and countless others have been enslaved, mistreated and abused by whatever neighboring group was a bit stronger. The shooting of Trayvon Martin by an armed and dangerous Neighborhood Watch patrolman is just another in a series of random acts of violence, but it made headlines for any number of reasons ranging from the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law to George Zimmerman’s ethnicity. To explore the murky questions surrounding this high profile murder Beth Marshall Productions has commissioned a group of short plays based on the event and thereby touched our hearts and bothered our souls.

Bracketing the evening is John DiDonna reenacting a Sanford version of “Our Town” (by James Brendlinger, directed by Beth Marshall.) Sanford’s the buckle of Florida’s Lynching Belt, and like many southern towns it’s stratified, closed to outsiders and used to doing its own thing its own way. DiDonna’s monologue starts with dry facts and historical figures and ends with bodies and blood. Then it’s on to Steve Schneider’s “The Items” (dir. Paul Castaneda); he takes us to a Congressional Hearing. The debate is whether or not to allow the sales of certain “Items” that may be offensive. Testimony on either side is rather thin, but the performance of Barry White as Senator Herbert is superbly funny; in the talk back he even calls himself “Senator Foghorn Leghorn.” “Something To Do” (by Rob Winn Anderson, dir. Beth Marshall) is the toughest to read; here kids are hanging out (presumably in Sanford) and hoping for some excitement. This comes when an opportunity to brick someone to within an inch of his life appears in the lobby. Jarringly, the brutal brick is wielded by Viet-Dung Nguyen, a scary reversal from his more ethereal performances of mysticism and Coming to America. We wrap up the first act with the family drama “Endangered Species” (by Dennis Neal, Dir. Paul Castaneda). Here Barry White and Michael Sapp are two fathers; they complain about life and hope to teach their children to keep alive on the streets. Trayvon (Kerry Alce) and Jordan (Stelson Telfort) are cocky yet confident, but we already know the Chekhovian ending to this family drama.

Act Two opens with “Worthless” (by Paris Crayton III, dir. John Didonna). We follow confused Darius (Stelson Telfort) as he struggles with the existential dilemma of Being Black In America. His psychologist (Becky Eck) wants him to talk, his mother wants him to be safe, and his girlfriend (Gabi Hockensmith) just wants to make out. His life might be normal if he just managed his fear and carefully planned his travels, but he wants more. We close with “ISMS” (by Janine Klein, dir. Beth Marshall). Here we come closest to George Zimmerman’s (Stephen Lima) view of the events. His viewpoint is important but minimized, I see it as necessary to complete the story but it’s the one facet we will likely never hear: only he knows what really happened that night and it’s clearly not in his interest to change his already wobbly story. Thus we can only surmise the worst.

It’s the Talk Back that’s the real center of this performance; the audience was slow to start but once they got rolling there were few who did not comment. The crowd this evening was mostly parents and relatives of the actors; they told their own stories of discriminations, fear and regret. One woman claimed she was moving to Thailand, another broke down in tears over her similar experiences in WW2, and a man from Louisiana retold how he has spent most of his life living separate from whites. The general consensus was America was spiraling out of control, and only doom, despair and deep, dark agony lie ahead. But events like this show there is potential to talk and heal and work for a better America. But that’s not what the media wants to sell us, and what other source of information do we have?

For more information on Beth Marshall Presents visit http://bethmarshallpresents.wordpress.com/

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