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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for September, 2015

Reefer Madness

Monday, September 28th, 2015

Reefer Madness
Book, Music and Lyric by Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney
Directed by Missy Barnes
Musical Direction by Jamey Ray
Starring Bailey DeVoe, Taylor Wright and MiKayla Phillips
Annie Russell Theatre at Rollins College
Winter Park, FL

We all just assumed pot would be legal by 1980. Boy, were we wrong about that. The fear-mongering of J. Edgar Hoover and William Hearst only amplified during the Reagan years, and its only now that the brainwashed generation is passing away that legalization is becoming reality. So let’s make fun of the bad times through the vehicle of biting musical theatre. A stuffy Lecturer (DeVoe) stands on her Bully Pulpit stage left; she reads screeds and implicitly obeys authority and provides some quick cover for all the scene changes this TV influenced show demands. With her help we follow the story of clean cut Jimmy (Wright) and his sweetheart Mary Lane (Phillips) as they fall into a den of pot demons run by brutal Jack (Casey Casteel) and his moll Mae (Selia Aponte). Jimmy gets hooked in a song or two and teams up with wild eyed Ralph (Daniel Martinez) to rob the poor box and steal mom’s fur coat to feed his habit. This must be diet pot he’s smoking; he never seems to get the munchies. When joyriding in Mary “Jane” Lane’s cardboard car with bleached blond Sally (Lena Barker) he wipes out an old pedestrian. Even buff Jesus (Carlos Pereyo) can’t or won’t save him; and pretty soon we have a pile of dead bodies and big blow out ending. Yeah! Narcotics! Yeah! Gratuitous murder!

Technically, marijuana is a hypnotic, not a narcotic; but technical details don’t make for great musical theatre. I liked Jimmy and Mary as a couple; he was a full two stair steps higher than her and he gets this wonderful line: “I’m good at basket ball, but best sport is baseball!” While he never makes it to first base with Mary he gets a bases-loaded homer with Sally proving the point: “If you want action, go where the action is.” Casteel’s Jack was sharp and totally film noir evil; he kissed for profit. But like any good professional he truly loves his work and beating up Mae never feels like a chore for him. While Barker’s Sally was a great slut and Martinez’s Ralph a hyperactive demon with Princess Lea hair it’s Mr. Parejo’s Jesus that stole the show. His gold lamé shorts and oiled pecks made his superior attitude shine and his angelic chorus clearly had reasons to be cheerful.

With a live orchestra (conducted by Jamey Ray) and a simple but versatile set (courtesy of Molly Finnegan) this was a bright and colorful performance. It’s bigger than life and bigger than the propaganda that it mocks, and a cautionary tale. We are inundated by carefully crafted misinformation from every angle, and most of it sounds SO convincing. That’s doublely true when it something your primed to agree with. And I admit, I am primed to like this story. What does that say about me?

For more information on the Annie Russell Theatre at Rollins College, please visit http://www.rollins.edu/annierussell/current_season/index.html

La Cage Aux Folles

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

La Cage Aux Folles
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Directed and choreographed by Rob Winn Anderson
Starring Brian Minyard, Matthew Arter and Joshua Kolb
Garden Theatre, Winter Garden, FL

One drag queen in a show is a handful; six must be a truckload. This story started life as a 1973 French stage play, then became a 1978 French film, and ultimately morphed back to the musical stage in 1983. While the theme of “gay domestic” lacks the original wallop, this musical is a great palette to do everything splashy a stage can hold. It even opens with a fabulous and spirited kick line; I’ve seen shows end on less. The plot is a classic comedy of errors and mistaken cues and glitter: Georges (Minyard) and Albin “Stage named: Zsa Zsa” (Arter) run a night club with a drag revue. They’ve been at it for years but a new wave of conservatism in politics threatens to shut it down. Locally, Georges’ son Jean-Michel (Kolb) announces his imminent wedding to Anne (Laura Miller). What’s the problem? Her daddy is spear heading the anti-TV drive and she needs his approval to wed. Hilarity ensues as Georges and Albin negotiate a truce: Georges wants to hide Albin and Albin is offended; he feels his years of mothering are been ignored for the sake of political expediency. They are, and that makes for a surprisingly engaging story.

“La Cage” passed my Great Musical test; I hummed “The Best of Time” all the way home. Other toe tappers include “A Little More Mascara” and of course the anthem, “I Am What I Am.” Mr. Minyard was very elegant in his purple crushed velvet dinner jacket and Mr. Arter is at ease on stage and able to belt even without a microphone. The outfits all sparkled; you might want to bring some clip-on shades if you have a seat close to the stage. Mr. Kolb was pleasant but his role was more plot than flash; it was Rob Ward as the snarky Jacob who stole scenes and did his entire Pepe act just without the orange mohawk. Other excellent support came from Janine Papin and Keith Smith; they shines as the conservative Dindon couple. The choreography was snappy and in sync, and even without a plot this would be an excellent show. If you get the chance, look up at the nude carved angels hovering over the proscenium. Set designer Tommy Mangieri put them there.

The house was full on the Saturday night I attended, and there was something pretty amazing at intermission: the men’s room line stretched to the stairs and there was no line for the ladies room. Even at a football game there’s a ladies room line, but not here. Winter Garden can be a bit conservative and this show in the space was a risk; but a risk that pays off. Glamour, glitz, great singing, and even a great plot: this a top notch experience. Get out to see it, but guys – use the facilities early.

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

Man’s Dominion

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

Man’s Dominion
By David Castro
Directed by Dennis Neal
Starring Tim Powell
Pachyderm productions
Presented at Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando, FL

Just how geechee red neck do you have to be to lynch a circus animal? About East Tennessee geechee; back in 1916 The War was just a bad dream and slavery hadn’t died and wasn’t likely to anytime soon. The circus came to town and there Mary the Elephant intentionally killed her novice handler. The town demands vengeance and justice be damned. That’s for those liberal Jews and Yankees up North, not for the children of a loving and vengeful God living here in the hills. But there’s a minor technical point – elephants are large and heavy and no one has enough rope to tie a proper thirteen loop hangman’s knot. It’s beyond the resources of the Baptist church to take care of this problem; only the coal mines and railroads have the technology and spite to do the job properly.

Writer Castro has turned this rather bizarre event in redneck history into the best one-person multi-character tale in circulation and, believe me, I’ve sat through my share of these popular Fringe shows. The story rolls along on alliteration and clearly voiced action and we hear backstories and battle tales and just about any contemporary opinion affected by the tragedy up to and including Mary herself. This was Dennis Neal’s first directorial project; he’s done an excellent job of pulling distinct voices out of actor Powell. Powell was raised in the south as a fundamentalist so he not only grasps the story but nails the hill country voices as well. This is a powerful and compelling drama. It has a splendor and dignity that never feels forced. Catch it if you can; when’s the last time you had an elephant’s view of life on the road?

For more information please visit www.pachydermprod.com or www.mansdominion.com.

The Divine Sister

Saturday, September 26th, 2015

The Divine Sister
By Charles Busch
Directed by Kate Ingram
Starring Kody Grassett, Brianna Joseph and Alexandra Voelmle
UCF Conservatory Theater, Orlando FL

There’s something inherently funny about a drag nun, but when you add a nicely convolved comedy around one, it becomes…really fun. You thought I would say “divine,” didn’t you? Good old St. Veronica’s Catholic school in Pittsburg is crumbing. You may recall St. V, she’s patron to laundromats and photographers but building maintenance is not her thing. Mother Superior (Grassett) is cruising for cash and dealing with the school’s wrestling coach, Sister Acacius, (Joseph) as postulant Agnes (Voelmle) has visions and heals the sick by laying on hands. Those two are bad enough, but the best hope for cash is atheist Jew Mrs. Levinson (Madelyn James); but she’s just not all that sympathetic until the deep secrets of the past unravel. The man that pulls the string is her friend Jeremy (Mike Nilsson); he’s an-ex newsman in the style of a hardboiled 1940’s flick and what passes for a romantic lead in the wacky world of Charles Busch.

So is this funny, or just offensive? Both, naturally. Busch’s most famous title is “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom”; a title which no one has ever topped. Grassett is more than just funny, he’s a physical clown and pulls off some pretty good Charlie’s Angels drop-and-roll maneuvers. He’s airy and cerebral like a saint but can get off some comic timing when it’s called for. Little Ms. Voelmle is angelic, she can even pull off a maraschino cherry stigmata with enough charm to not get her knuckles rapped. My favorite was the Ms. Joseph’s wrestling coach. She felt least nun-like of all; tough and no nonsense and the sort of side kick you need in the battle trenches of God. Lastly I’ll mention the evil double agent Sister Walburga (Ashely Turner). She looks pretty good in a vinyl cat suit and almost has the German accent down; her lesbian jokes worked best of all and she was the one actor they trusted with a fake gun.

Director Ingram pulled more than a few sight gags off of the elaborate rotating set designed by Bert Scott; it’s a monstrous expressionist Cathedral door compete with gargoyles (too bad they didn’t look like Mel Brooks). There’s a stack of non church approved language and situtions here, so if you’re easily offended slip back next week for “The Understudy.” But if your knuckles still sting from grade school and you’ll never join the Knights of Columbus this is a gang buster comedy about faith and how to betray it.

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

As Is

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

As Is
By William Hoffman
Directed by Wade Hair
Starring Anthony Marando and Marcus Davila
The Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL

Serious topic, serious action here in this classic play from the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Rich (Marando) and Saul (Davila) were lovers but fade to “just friends.” One feels ill and the other really IS ill. Their lives are embedded in swinging cruise happy New York City circa 1985 where “Fidelity” is just the name of a big bank. As their relation ebbs and flows it’s soon clear that this is a tragedy of operatic proportions; you know immediately that the star will die. It’s the details that keep you fascinated, and surrounding our unhappy couple we find friends and family. Friends are sympathetic as the smell of death hangs over the scene; it’s the family that crumbles. Rich’s brother (Kevin Hudson) over acts comically in his precautions while his friend Lily Maggie Hartman) just wishes the whole thing would quietly slip away. A burnt out nun (Eileen Antonescu) watches over the action patiently, she only comes out at the beginning and end of the acts to comment on the action. While the people passing away under her hospice care are sinners her largest slice of sympathy is kept for self-consumption. Around the main cast are four multi-role actors (Frank P. Piccione, Todd H. Latoski, Grace Trotta, and Ryan Karnemaat). They add depth and veracity to the city, the social circles, and the angsts ridden zeitgeist of the play. Despite the downer vibe this remains a relatively positive play for the era. AIDS-based works that followed often look to place blame on authority as they lecture against cruel, cruel fate. This story focuses more on the personal loss and the heartbreak; recall one death is a tragedy, and all the others together are just statistics.

For more information, please visit http://www.breakthroughtheatre.com or look them up on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Breakthrough-Theatre-of-Winter-Park/

The Understudy

Monday, September 21st, 2015

The Understudy
By Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Mark Brotherton
UCF Conservatory Theatre, Orlando, FL

If you want a bit of Kafka in your life, try attending a college theater presentation on Big Game Day. It’s the complete “Abusive Authority with No Recourse to Logic” experience. The McGuffin here is the presentation of a previously unknown Kafka play on Broadway; financed by some big time action movie stars with only one name like “Bruce” or “Jake”. You can estimate who they might be but no matter; the premise is good enough to make you wish Kafka had actually written an action film. Unknown Harry (Colton Butcher) passed an audition to understudy for Jake (Terry Farley); Jake most recently made $2.3 million for yelling “Get in the truck!” three times. Everyone knows Harry will never get on stage; the Jersey busses are full of tourists demanding stars and to hell with plot. Harry and Jake start out on a bad foot; Harry thinks movie actors are overpaid and have no talent, and Jake thinks understudies, are well, mere understudies who will never take the stage. They fight, they emote and they have common female issues with stage manager Roxanna (Helena Whittaker). But once they finally get to work, Jake quickly finds Harry is actually good and can teach him more than a few things. Now there’s just that ex-girl friend stage manger to motivate away.

This is the sort of internal mediation that theatre people love. The Kafka scene is a replica of each actor’s individual experience. You may think you’re goad, and maybe you are, but there’s always someone telling you otherwise. Butcher emits that just-on-the-edge craziness that may be channeled anywhere so long as he “feels” it while Farley’s Jake is arrogant and smooth, he’s just a step above craft table dining and can almost feel the promotion to his own trailer. He just can’t carry the show on his own, marquee-wise. Neglected Ms. Whittaker has the lowest status of all as well as the hardest job: she has to get people to do what they should but don’t, not until they “feel” ready to. I pity the stage manger, but I also don’t believe that they shouldn’t carry firearms. Looming over this dark action is a gorgeous set: a distorted cathedral and a double action revolving stage overshadow the actors and fill the small room. This black box set would be the envy of much larger companies. Noticeable in the program is a bit of Meta from director Brotherton as well, each actor has an understudy. I hope they all get some stage time, but I’m not holding my breath.

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

Women Doing Hamlet

Monday, September 21st, 2015

Women Doing Hamlet
By William Missouri Downs
Directed by David McElroy
Starring Chloe McElroy
Southern Winds Theatre
Presenting at The Venue, Orlando FL

Can a girl play “Hamlet”? It happens more often than you might guess; Sarah Bernhardt and Frances de la Tour have done it, so there. But male or female this is a notoriously difficult role; over a thousand lines of dialog, unclear motivation, and all those weird Elizabethan words make this a Sisyphean task. Young Jessica (McElroy) auditioned for Ophelia but got Hammy instead; now everyone is telling her she’s either too young or too blonde or something. Why she doesn’t just sit down the director and ask him “why?” is unclear, but between lectures from a haughty English professor (Courtney Bahr), her phone obsessed teen daughter (Danielle Miller) and a pompous acting coach (Marylin McGinnis) she’s whipsawed from joy to despair every French scene or so. Things get more complicated when she’s offered a renewal of a daytime TV contract and we achieve the ultimate actor’s dilemmas: Take the money and buy a mansion, or struggle on in unpaid community theater feeling abused by everyone. I know what I would do.

Production values are bare bones but the show is gripping; if nothing else you’ll pick up a few back story bits on Hammy and the entire Elizabethan theater experience. Ms. McElroy’s Hamlet seems breezy and joyous when the role seems to call for brooding despair; and as to the meta-ness of a girl cast into a confused female role she’s much better; her blonde hair and swinging demeanor acts as a stalking-horse for her own internal angst. Ms. McGinnis’ coaching plays off of Jessica very nicely; classes are $50 and hour for Level 1 (“I’ll build you up.”) and $100 for Level 2 (“I’ll tell you the truth”) but what is needed here would be the $150 Level 3 (“I’ll play it FOR you”). The other supports are entertaining as well: the Professor in the ragamuffin coat brings back English lit bombast and Ms. Miller’s snotty teen brought the modern world right smack dab in the middle of the stage; “these kids are all going to hell!” arguments that have enliven family dinners for centuries. Overall fun show, and best enjoyed by those who have a few Hamlets under their own belt.

For more information on Southern Winds please visit www.SouthernWindsTheatre.com

More information on events at The Venue resides at http://TheVenueOrlando.com/

Red Light Cabaret

Sunday, September 20th, 2015

Red Light Cabaret
Hosted by Sylvia
September 19, 2015
Breakthrough theatre, Winter Park FL

There’s this weird mix of hedonism and Christianity at Breakthrough Theatre. Some nights you can cry through “Children’s Letters to God;” other nights you’ll see Domino the Jell-O Shot Boy working the crowd in a pair of gold colored slingshot shorts. When he’s done the crowd is up for some burlesque artist stripping down to Orange County Approved pasties while singing show tunes. “Red Light” started as a successful semi-nude Fringe show; now it’s an ongoing cabaret but a bit milder. The music is recorded but the singing is live; none of that Drag Joint lip syncing here. And these singers are pro’s; you’ve seen them in “Legitimate” musicals all over town. The faux 1920’s flapper number “Let’s Be Bad” opens the show with a stage full of dancers and then we plow through classics from “Cabaret” and “Chicago” and “Rocky Horror.” Costume changes are frequent and onerous; in the quiet moment’s hot hostess Sylvia “No Last Names, Please” collects dirty words for a Mad Lib based on a major national retailer. Once the Jell-O shots were gone (Ann Hair always makes the best treats!) we stepped down to Barefoot wine, but the energy remained high until it was time to head home.

This event occurs roughly once a month. It might be past your bed time, but you should reconsider.

For more information, please visit http://www.breakthroughtheatre.com or look them up on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Breakthrough-Theatre-of-Winter-Park/

The Marvelous Wonderettes

Saturday, September 19th, 2015

The Marvelous Wonderettes
By George Bean
Direction and Choreography by Roy Alan
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park FL

High School is the most important thing in the world until almost anything else happens in life. Its prom night 1958 in Generic High, Small Town USA. The entertainment is local; four great singers in matching dresses take the stage to sing the hits of the day and ride the hormone roller coaster. One moment they’re hugging and swearing “BFF,” the next they are only a few props away from West Side Story. Needy Betty Jean (Kate Zaloumes) has a line on a guy but vindictive Cindy Lou (Caitlin Doak) chases him, just because she can. And that’s what counts as a conflict here. It’s simple but timeless and we’ve all been on one side of it or another. Buffering this acid / base reaction we find ditzy but sweet Suzy (Lindsay Nantz) and the somewhat geeky Missy (Sandia Ahlers), who try to keep the show on the road to graduation. Act Two arrives ten year later; here the action is less silly and more serious: pregnancy, abandonment, May/December marriage and go-go boots make this act not only more adult but gives us a stronger story.

But it’s not all growing up and growing cynical, there’s lots of great music here. Ms. Doak croons “Allegheny Moon” while Ms. Zaloumes fishes a foam moon over here head; later she sings “Lipstick on Your Collar” while her rival is off stage getting lipstick on her own collar. Ms. Nantz wins the crown as we go out of the first act with “Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me” while Ms. Ahler’s “Secret Love” gives here something to croon about in the first act. Act Two gives each singer several fine solo moments; “You Don’t Own Me,” “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Maybe I Know” standout here. The set is sexually charged as well; the first act has suggestive hearts on the back wall and strategically attached to the mike stands and if you’re a guy in the front row you risk a trip up on stage. It’s not fair to trivialize the teen angst the girls sing about, but in each case bigger problems are looming in life. Enjoy these special hours with these girls while you can; life back then now looks simpler when just getting a prom date was the CNN crisis of the day.


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

Life On The Wicked Stage

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

Life On The Wicked Stage
With Laura Hodos
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Spotlight Cabaret Series
September 16, 2015
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park FL

It’s an “All Jerome Kern Night” tonight as Winter Park fave Laura Hodos returns to the Playhouse lobby for another brilliant cabaret. Kern wrote almost as many songs as Johnny Mercer; but while the songs rocked many ended up in forgotten musicals like “The Girl from Utah” or “Oh, Lady! Lady!!” (Note the artistic use of progressive punctuation as a graphic element in the poster). The shows are gone but the music remains; Hodos presents tunes like “A Fine Romance” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” with charm and pizzazz along with small doses of historical information on Kern’s career. It’s like a TED talk but with better accompaniment. There are great obscurities here tonight as well: “My Husband’s First Wife” rings out as does the the silly “Cleopatterer.” You may know Kern’s biggest hit was “Showboat”, and tonight Hodos takes a humorous cut at “Old Man River” with Leavy doing his best to talker out of it. We wrapped up with the de rigueur encore and tonight that’s a short yet inspirational talk about Hodos’ “Fearless” bracelet and then a touching rendition of “Look for the Silver Lining.” It’s a great show, and now if Winter Park residents could just PARK so they only take up one spot we could get more bar patrons into the enlarged WPPH lobby…

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