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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for November, 2016

Grimmly Ever After

Sunday, November 20th, 2016

Grimmly Ever After
Directed by Frank Siano
Written by Nishaa Carson and Cristyn Schroder
Musical Direction by Nishaa Carson
Choreography by Mariah Woessner
Central Florida Vocal Arts
Presented at the Lowndes Shakespeare Theatre
Orlando, FL

The fine mélange of singers that form the Central Florida Vocal Arts group has had some good success with their “Choose Your Own Adventure” opera productions, and tonight they morphed the concept into a “Choose Your Own Grimm’s Fairy Tale.” While the singing is still as good, the story here is more tortured, perhaps because it tries to cover more ground than the material supports. Our hosts are the Grimm brothers Wilhelm and Jacob (Kyle Stone and Justin Morrison). Wilhelm twirls his mustache, Jacob plays with his quill and they keep the audience on board with their antics. The story starts with the tale of Rumpelstiltskin (played by the elegant Caila Carter). Here Gretchen (Danielle Smith) is tossed into a room full of straw; her sleazy father who is nowhere to be seen lies to King Avid (Ben Ludwig) insisting she can spin straw into gold. Clearly, they both have a poor grasp of sub-atomic physics. We then jump over to Hansel and Gretel (Erin Stillson and Noelle Sundrene); as you recall they were hungry to the point of starvation and get a sugar rush from a ginger bread house run by and evil queen (Rachel Carreras) who later does Snow White (Fabiola Riviera) wrong by freezing her for the crime of good looks.

If all that sounds confusing and arbitrary, it is. There are plenty of exceptional vocals: “Who Will Buy My Sweet Red Roses” by Ms. Carreras, “I Do Anything For You” by Jonatan Rodriguez, and a tune from Don Giovani I can’t name due to my poor to non-existent Italian. But where we fall apart is the story line. Audience cheers motivate story continuity, but it’s a blind shot from our side of the curtain. The singers are challenged but the audience remains confused. Even the director told me he hadn’t heard all possible paths sung through. Go for the music, but plug your ears for the motivation.

For more information on Central Florida Vocal Arts please visit www.centralfloridavocalarts.com/

Pygmalion

Saturday, November 19th, 2016

Pygmalion
By George Bernard Shaw
Directed by J. Berry Lewis
Starring Piper Patterson, Karl Lengel, and Mark Lanier
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL

You can’t GET the part unless you look and SOUND the part. Professor Harry Higgins (Lengel) takes low class Brits and makes them sound high class; that’s a task particularly useful in a land where you can hear a new accent every pub. One night he’s out “collecting” accents and he meets another language nerd, Colonel Pickering (Lanier). The pair slums at the flower market, and they take turns demeaning the poor and differently accented. Their unfettered guyness piles higher and higher, and soon they get proud but honest Eliza Doolittle (Patterson) as an experiment: can they pass her off as a Duchess at the Ambassador’s ball?

You’ve probably seen this done as a movie; the dialog here makes you feel like those familiar big numbers are about to burst forth, only you’re told “Sorry, old sport. This isn’t a musical.” But even without Lerner and Lowe “Pygmalion” remains an entertaining and a wicked commentary on the British class system. While Higgins and Pickering represent the High Class Fop Party, pretty Eliza and her Socialist father Alfred (Bobby Bell) represent the Proles. Lanier’s Colonel is quiet and reserved and actually rather polite; he’s a solid contrast to Lengel’s Higgins as a complete frat boy ass. Lengel drives the laughs; he’s the bad boy suffering from cash toxicity and unhindered by polite society. Only his disapproving mother (Shami J. McCormick) can exert any control over him. Ms. Patterson’s flower girl begins charming and cheeky; she ends up humiliated and beaten down by Higgins and even kindly Mr. Pickering. As we all know, no good deed goes unrewarded. Only the housemaid Mrs. Peirce (Karel K. Wright) puts in a good word for Eliza, and here the entire subtext for this story boils down to “these two guys must be abusing this girl.” Of course they are, but not the way society thinks. Tonight’s show stealer is Bobby Bell. He has the commie cred, as well as the Trotsky hat to berate the wealthy. His speeches are moving and funny, particularly after his ship comes in to the tune of 300,000 Pounds Sterling a year. Back then he could have purchased all of Ohio with that coin.

Sets are elegant, as always, and the set changes are handles by unnamed but well dressed servants. Clever quips fly like Twitter messages; my favorite has Higgins bragging about his “Miltonic Mind.” Shaw’s fluid wit survives intact in this popular script; his Irish roots stand him well as a man of letters and compassion. He also writes some demonically funny material, and the mad Cow team does its typical wonders to put it on stage. Here’s a real classic about class warfare, delivered with a ton of class.

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

The Life

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

The Life
Book by David Newman, Ira Gasman and Cy Coleman
Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by Ira Gasman
Starring Yara J. Williams, Damany Riley, and YaDonna Russell
Directed by Angela Cotto
Musical Direction by Angelyn Rhode
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL

There’s a bipolar air to little Breakthrough Theater. One night you have cute kids singing about Jesus, then you come back the next and its all hookers and blow everywhere. That dissonance comes from “The Life,” one of the edgiest and most exciting shows to cross this stage. What we have here is a full blown musical about prostitution in 1980’s New York. Queen (Williams) has a dream and a man Fleetwood (Riley). She’s hooking just to save up money to get out of “The Life” but as fast as she makes it, he put it up his nose for safe keeping. Fleetwood’s pimp buddy and our narrator JoJo (Zachary Smith) advises him to add another girl to his one-horse stable, and he picks up cute yet ambitions Mary (Niashia Aviles). She’s just off the bus from a broken home in Duluth and after about five minutes of Fleetwood’s convincing she’s walking the streets. Mary’s not only good at making money with her money maker, soon she gets a job offer to do porn in LA. Talk about a break! But Memphis (Austin Humphrey), the biggest, meanest of the pimps takes her from Fleetwood and sells her into sex film success with clean cut Lou (Andy Waldinger). Queen tries to leave her man, but to paraphrase another film: “I wish I knew how to quit you, Fleetwood.” This being a play about morals, now everyone either takes a bow, sings a blowout closer, or dies.

Great singing, rough action and some wonderful characters make this show fly. Both Ms. Williams and Ms. Russell have great gospel voices, and they come together at the very end for the heart breaking “My Friend.” Mr. Riley is tall and gaunt; he’s the thinnest person on stage and while he has the junkie look, he too can belt a tune like his swan song with Queen “We Gotta Go.” Other great voices show up as Ms. Aviles teams with Mr. Riley on “Easy Money” and most all of the cast piles on for “Someday Is for Suckers.” On the acting front, Mr. Humphry did excellent work intimidating the cast and audience, and Nick Jewel did good work as the gay and rhyming bartender Lacy.

Sets are minimal and the cast is large, but this is a top notch production that stretches Breakthrough’s comfort zone. I highly recommend it. But know it is not for squeamish or easily offended; it puts a human face on a large segment of the people despised by the good and righteous. So pack your switch blade if you have one and if you don’t, JoJo will sell you one at intermission. Just go around on back, by the railroad tracks.

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/

Upton Abbey

Sunday, November 13th, 2016

Upton Abbey
Created and Directed by David Charles
Annie Russel Theatre
Winter Park, FL

Maybe Improv Comedy doesn’t need to be funny, but it helps if you can hear it. David Charles certainly knows improv, and the long running “Upton Abbey” offers a certain PBS stuffiness that demands ridicule, but this longish attempt at lampoon fails on the trident of too few laughs, too much furniture movement, and a noodling live sound track that did nothing for the story other than drown out the un-miked actors.

We begin on an elegant stage artfully composed of multiple levels, a few faux art deco curves, and some widows indicating upstairs elegance or down stairs proletariat, depending on their state. We begin by pulling a few random names of characters; these nameplates go on the side of the stage but to what end is unclear. Mr. Charles leads as the stooped butler Percival; he enforces downstairs discipline including church going. The servants debate Irish Catholics not serving in the war. The Irish may be funny, the church may be funny, and war may be funny, but for some reason not all three at the same time.

Upstairs we see the wealthy and morally bankrupt. There’s a romance and an unhappy marriage and some mild alcoholism and some trench warfare heroism but the story is hard to follow. Scenes change but the cast seems to speak in circles, hoping to corner a usable gag. Perhaps the furniture is moved because the gags have rolled under it; or perhaps because the red velvet chairs are funnier than the couch. I kept hoping to hear some of the audience contributed trigger lines from the preshow fishbowl; maybe that would have help move things forward. As it is, the actual PBS “Downton Abbey” offers more humor than this dud.

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

Cloud 9

Sunday, November 13th, 2016

Cloud 9
By Caryl Churchill
Directed by Julia Listengarten
Starring Andy Hansen, John Michael McDonald and Helena Whittaker
Theatre UCF, Orlando, FL

“How much sex can you get? And how can you use it to make everyone around you unhappy?” might be the central theme of the surreal 1979 Brechtian script by British playwright Caryl Churchill. We begin in darkest Africa circa Queen Victoria. Clive (Hansen) moved his cross gender cast family to Africa. He needs help subduing this brutal continent; ongoing tribal wars are interfering with British industrial capability. His wife Betty (McDonald) looks pretty in pink and won’t say “poop” with a mouthful. She raises the children, purposeful ignores reality and longs for any sort of company. One night two visitors arrive: his horny old explorer buddy Harry (Austin Davis) and the Widow Mrs. Saunders (Victoria Gluchoski.) Harry is willing to shag anything as is the Mrs. but she just knows she needs proper spanking for her sins. After everyone does everyone else, we move to the modern day and while everything is now LGBT polyamorous friendly, we have the same exact situation: everyone is doing it, but no one enjoys it. But at least they’ve all come around on saying “poop.”

It takes a strong team of actors to conquer this jungle, and they are led by the multi-functional Mr. Hansen. In his kakis and pith helmet he’s charming, two faced and everything an officer and a gentleman should be in the field: loyal, in command and always ready for hot, sweaty action. In the modern world he’s a 4 year-old running amok in the playground and climbing Morgan Burhoe’s oddly sculpted set. In Act Two Mr. McDonald has the most beautiful hair but in act one he’s as close as a guy can get to a rather flat chested Victorian ideal woman. While everyone gets a good gag regularly, Whittaker’s young Edward bubbles with energy in Act One and then totally moms out in Act Two. The most interesting role falls to Joshua; he begins as a tormented Gunga Din character who swear off his family and race but is never accepted by his new keepers. But by curtain, he’s the one who feels best adjusted. He’s totally into the cruising life, and of the moderns the only one who seems completely comfortable. There are certainly more interpretations of this story than I’ve come up with; make your own and lets argue. I hear they make a mean gin and tonic out in the jungle.

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

A Marvelous Party – The Noel Coward Celebration

Sunday, November 13th, 2016

A Marvelous Party – The Noel Coward Celebration
Words and Music by Noel Coward
Devised by David Ira Goldstein, Mark Anders and Patricia Wilcox
Directed by Steven Flaa
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Winter Park Playhouse
Winter Park, FL

If this show were anymore British, we’d park on the wrong side of the street and drink warm beer. Noel Coward was a true polymath of the entertainment world; he wrote, sang, composed, acted and for all I know painted floors. Tonight we take a look back at his wonder filled career; each line of dialog and every song on this stage comes directly from his pen. And the songs have such quaint titles: “London is a Bit of All Right,” “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” and my favorite: “What Ho! Mrs. Brisket.” Try saying that last one with different words emphasized – its fun!

Coward operated in the middle of the 20th century; his material spans the Big War and all its travails but captures and informs of our strongest impressions of the stiff upper lip class. There’s a sad, gloomy ballad “Matelot” sung by the elegant new comer Larry Alexander, Roy Alan soft shoes his way around stage pinnacling “If Love Were All” and Laura Hodos has thrown off her recent political efforts to give us the extended show girl number “The Coconut Girl.” When she’s not forging nations, she’s a great dance hall floozie. Later we tour “The Stately Homes of England,” then we lament “Why Do the Wrong People Travel?” and try to whistle our way past “Bad Times Are Just Around the Corner.” Things may be gloomy and cold out on Orange Avenue, but inside we can experience an evening of tweed, good pipe tobacco and flappers, all for one small admission.


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

American Buffalo

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

American Buffalo
By David Mamet
Directed by Pam Harbaugh
Theater On The Edge
Edgewood, FL

I’m not sure where these guys have been hiding, but this little theater popped a bases loaded homer with David Mamet’s pause-filled classic America Buffalo. It’s a true guy story set in a seedy junk shop in an even seedier part of Chicago. Donny Dubrow (Allan Whitehead) sold a rare coin by accident. He seems uninformed for a junk dealer but there you have it: a well-dressed guy rolls in, negotiates a price of $90, and now Donny wants that coin back. He’d settle for any other trinkets the rich dude may have lying about. Donny has help, but it’s not too useful. There’s Bobby (Zack Roundy) a skin popper who can’t seem to get anything right. His other assistant is the speedy and jittery Teach (Marco DiGeorge); they hang out and figure a plan to do the “shot” and aim to cut Bobby out. But in the end Donny’s criminal skills rank right along with his numismatic skills.

The set is cluttered and authentic, all it’s missing is the now forbidden stench of old cigarettes. The cast is on edge all evening. DiGeorge fingers never stop moving; he’s the perfect example of a speed freak who’s been running too long without any sleep. Mr. Roundy captures the crooked innocence of a slow witted and not very likeable junkie. He still shows us a soft baby face, but there’s not much in his eyes or his future. Mr. Whitehead plays the mother hen in this roost of loser demons; he might be the only adult on stage but his temper is short and planning not very long range. He’s an opportunist yet lacks the ability to create usable opportunities. This keeps him in a spot he’ll never break free from, but then he wouldn’t know what to do if he did get a break.

While smoke is lacking there’s plenty of testosterone here, and director Harbaugh channels it with the skill of someone who’s known men like this a little too long and a little too often. We are not here to learn a lesson or improve our ways, but we do pick up some tricks on cheating at cards and knowing what our stock for sale is really worth. It’s an impressive outing for this small, difficult to locate theater; plan to arrive early as they have yet to pop for a searchlight or a blinking marquee. But do go if you can; it’s a superb effort by a troupe I hope to see again soon.


For more information on Theatre on the Edge, please visit http://theaterontheedge.org/ or http://facebook.com/TheaterOnEdge