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by Carl F Gauze

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The Lion In Winter

Sunday, June 18th, 2017

The Lion In Winter
By James Goldman
Directed by Cynthia White
Starring Mark Brotherton and Kate Ingram
Theater UCF
Orlando, FL

Sure, it’s GOOD to be king, but if you don’t leave an eternal Dynasty, well, you might as well just go milk cows. Henry II (Brotheron) had that dream: make the newly acquired English lands an eternal kingdom. His resources include the Aquitaine, which is basically the middle of France from the English Channel to the Pyrenees Mountain, his estranged wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (Ingram) and three sons. Those sons are stereotypes if ever they crossed the boards: Richard (Daniel Romano) is a military tough guy with a lavender streak a mile wide, Geoffrey (Terrance Lee) is the sneaky Machiavellian one, and John (Shannon Burke) the favorite who is clearly incapable of arranging a urination contest in the Guinness factory. Off on the side Eleanor emits snarky comments and tries half-heartedly to influence the future, but honestly, when you’re stuck in a tower, the future isn’t bupkas. Henry is a consummate manipulator; if only his sons would sit down and agree to anything.

Ah, if only today’s politicians were as focused! Brotherton and Ingram fought like they’d been married for 40 years (They may have worked together for that long, that’s almost as useful.) Their three sons all felt a bit over the top: Romano seemed to be auditioning for a Sword and sandals epic, and his sword was never far from his hand. Lee came off as calculating to the point you could never trust him in an alliance, and young John bounced off the walls while raging against the adults. The French king Philip (Bobby Wojciechowski) stood tall and elegant, but seemed no match for this British family feud.

There’s plenty of action here, and plenty of fun lines: When Henry warns the French princess Alais (Kaley Pharr) has a knife, Eleanor implores: “Dear, We ALL have knives here!” This play is set just before the Shakespearean cycle – Bouncy John does eventually become king, as well as the subject of the Bard’s least produced play. It’s fast paced, it’s clear who is doing what to whom, and the language is plenty modern. It’s also set on a dark and moody set with just enough Christmas stuff up front to justify it as a holiday show if required. Henry wanted to create a dynasty, always a difficult task. He did create a country, and his family hung on for 300 years which isn’t all that bad given the rough material he had to work with. This feels like a Shakespeare piece but is infinitely more accessible, and it mixes history with fun and just the right amount of romance.

For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.ucftheatretickets.com

Next To Normal

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

Next To Normal
Book and Lyric by Brian Yorkey
Music by Tom Kitt
Directed by Julia Gagne
Musical Direction by Tim Hanes
Starring Janine Papin
Valencia College Theater
Orlando, FL

What makes a musical great? Beside catchy songs and snappy dialog, something has to get better in someone’s life. That’s not what we get tonight; rather we take a trip down the rabbit hole of mental illness and modern pill-based therapies that only seem to make the problem more expensive. Diana (Papin) loves supportive husband Dan (Phillip Edwards) as well as daughter Natalie (Franceska Mitchell) and a lost son Gabe (Hector Sanchez Jr.). Her crisis lies along the schizophrenia axis and dedicated doctor (Ryan Jordan Garcia) firmly believes that out there somewhere lies a golden land where pills balance poisons. Diana tries uppers and downers and side-waysers and upside-downsicles, but it all comes back to this: making her better only makes her feel worse. Hubby absorbs the stress, Natalie’s ready to flee the moment she can, and demonic Gabe haunts her through pills and hypnosis and electroshock. This kid is a persistent little McGuffin, isn’t he?

The story does resonate as we all know someone who is not completely on track. The set rocks with its jigsaw puzzle motif Autism made popular and the acting nails all the roles solidly. Papin mixes niceness with the edginess of those clinging on the edge of a cliff. Sanchez begins nice but by curtain he’s a vicious little kobold. And while a few notable songs appear (“It’s Gonna Be Good,” “Song of Forgetting,” “Super Boy and The Invisible Girl”) the sung-though dialog quickly became annoying. Tom Kitt’s rather tuneless music noodles along giving the actors a background to sing against, but not much of melody for us to remember. Maybe that’s intentional; Diana’s journey has a hopeless end point and the best she can hope for is the occasional good days scattered in the dusty clay of a condition where electroshock feels like a promising future.

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

Superior Donuts

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

Superior Donuts
By Tracy Letts
Directed by Pam Harbaugh
Starring Allan Whitehead and Sean Philippe
Theater On The Edge
Edgewood, FL

Hippies. Can’t believe they’re still around. Back in the Nixon era, Arthur Przybyszewski (pronounced “Przybyszewski”) (Whitehead) bailed for Canada to avoid the draft, a position I can’t say was wrong. Eventually he came home, rejected by his family and most of his ex-friends. A starving donut shop in a rough part of Chicago is his legacy, and a variable work ethic sets his income limits. He’s a good guy down deep; he feeds homeless Lady (Nelia Lake) and spars with his more ambitious Russian neighbor Max (Robb Maus). When we meet the man, someone has carefully trashed his shop, and ambitious hustler and writer Franco (Phillippe) arrives and takes over. He has the ideas Arthur can’t be bothered to consider, like longer open hours and an open mike night. He also has some debts to a tough guy, and that’s his downfall. Everyone has an angle, including police officer Randy (Ceveila Gazzara). She’d love to date an overweight hippie with access to pot and deep fried pastry.

It’s a slice of life on this stage, with everyone concealing a secret or a grudge. Whitehead is close to the ethnic good guys I knew from Milwaukee, and Franco is the bright, promising kid who knows how to climb out of a hole. Team him up with that Russian guy and they can take over Chicago. The two cops mostly serve as backstory, and while the tough guys (Zack Roundy and Marco Digeorge) motivate the story, they do not complete it. But they’re darn scary when they want to be.

Overall, this is an action packed show; fights and smashed crockery are everywhere. An oily glaze of stale donuts covers the floor, and even the coffee pot looks alike it could use a good vinegar soak. Taut, gripping and dangerous all describe this production, and like the previous performances I’ve witnessed in this space, the set (fabricated by Dan Cooksey) is move-set perfect. “Superior donuts” is not an easy show to watch, but it’s an easy show to love.


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

Animal Crackers

Sunday, June 4th, 2017

Animal Crackers
Music & Lyrics by Bert Kalmar & Harry Ruby
Book by George S. Kaufman & Marrie Ryskind
Directed by Ron Schneider
Musical Direction by Robin Jensen
Starring Jeffrey Todd Parrott, Chris Metz, and Adam Scharf
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL

Hurray for Captain Spalding! (Parrott) even if his timing is a little off. The Marx Brothers ruled the film comedy of the early talkie days. Their acts were honed by years of touring the Vaudeville circuit, and their gags still ring true as they spear the wealthy and pretentious. Captain Jeffery T. Spaulding just returned from Africa, and wealthy Mrs. Rittenhouse (Karel Wright) is fêting him in her mansion. Pompous painter M. Doucette (Matt Horohoe) brought along a value painting that is his only asset, and upstart John Parker (Adam Reilly) hopes to make a name for himself in the art world with his copy of the painting. Small time grafters Chico (Chris Metz) and Harpo (Adam Scharf) are here to entertain and steal whatever they can while all the young women (Heather Copp, and Margaret Cross) and are set on marrying whoever has the most cash.

The spirit of the film is still here with its parody of the rich and pretentious, the poor and pretentious and the gold diggers of either sex. Parrott’s Spaulding was good but not always on time with his gags. Opposite him we find the stolid Karel Wright as Mrs. Rittenhouse; she’s as good a Margret Dumont as I’ve ever seen. Both Chico and Harpo nail the physical comedy, although they are never convincing as the ethnic stereotypes of the original. Other excellent performers come from Mr. Horohoe as the scoop-hunting newsman Wally Winston and Brian Chambers as the butler Hives.

This IS a musical, and a small band sits off to stage left. “Hooray for Captain Spaulding/Hello I Must be Going” and “Show Me a Rose” prove Mr. Parrott can sing, and there’s a great chemistry on “Three Little Words” between Arabella (Copp) and Wally. There’s a few extra songs tossed in before intermission, my favorite was “Keep Your Undershirt On”. It is possible to blow the timing on a Marx Brothers show, but this performance makes it all work. True, the gags are nearly 100 years old, but star worship and the foibles of the rich never lose their sparkle.

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

Breakneck Julius Caesar

Sunday, June 4th, 2017

Breakneck Julius Caesar
Created by and featuring Tim Mooney
Based on a play by William Shakespeare
Dangerous Theater, Sanford, FL

Long, wordy, and bloody: three words that describe many of The Bard’s greatest works. But today, only the “Bloody” feature attracts people, and traveling classicist Tim Moony exploits that selling point in this zippy one man show. Julius Caesar was a war hero, and that counts in politics no matter what era you live in. While JC was well loved his popularity caused jealousy, and soon nearly every important man in Rome whose name began with the letter “C” teams up against him. Stabbing, speechifying and political disasters all pour forth like the dozen of bleeding wounds on Caesar’s body.

Mr. Mooney has perfected the abbreviated Shakespearean tragedy. Setting himself a one hour time limit, he handles multiple characters with subtle shifts in his all-powerful toga. Plot lines are compresses, motivation compared to modern politics, yet all the good speeches remain: “I come not to praise Caesar…,” “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…,” and the classic “Et tu, Brute?” All good stuff, and there’s plenty of crowd interaction as we yell “Huzza!” and other pithy quotes to speed the show along. This performance is highly recommended, especially for those involved in pushing Shakespeare into young minds. One teacher quipped “You did in one hour what it takes me five weeks to teach!” And best of all, there are no tests.

For more information on Dangerous Theatre, please visit DangerousTheatre.com/. Please note Dangerous Theatre operates in both Sanford, FL and Denver CO.

Track Tim Mooney’s wandering travels at timmooneyrep.com

Orlando Fringe Theater Festival 2017

Monday, May 15th, 2017

Orlando Fringe Theater Festival 2017
Various Locations
May 17 through May 29, 2017

I will not be covering any productions in this year’s Orlando Fringe Festival as there is a conflict with a production I am involved in. Show information and schedules are to be found at www.OrlandoFringe.org. See you there!

Murder for Two

Monday, May 15th, 2017

Murder for Two
Written by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair
Directed by Roy Alan
Musical Direction by Christopher Leavy
With Kevin Kelly and Michael Swickard
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park, FL

Kelly works hard to keep from laughing, forcing the yucks out into the audience. The script may be a bit stilted, but the sparks fly as Swickard seamlessly transitions from Dahlia Whitney (wife of the corpse) to Barrette Lewis (a ballet star always En Pointe) to suspicious yet slow talking doctor Dr. Griff. All have motive, means and opportunity, and the lead song “Protocol Says” sets up any restriction on Kelly’s policing actions. Swickard gets all the non police roles from the smart talking streetwise kids sprung loose from 1940s “Our Gang” short (A Lot Woise) to Barrette’s smart (So What If I Did?) to the big finish (Steppin’ Out Of The Shadows) from ex-wife Dahlia. Kelly and Swickard even accompany each other at the same time on the baby Grand. This is the sort of laugh riot WPPH loves, and when I went thought the receiving line at the end, the cast was still laughing at their own jokes. You’ll might not die laughing, but there could be serious contusions on your funny bone.

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

Into the Woods

Sunday, April 30th, 2017

Into the Woods
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Steve MacKinnon
Staring Justin DeLoach, Brance Cornelius, and Andrea Stack
The Garden Theater
Winter Garden, FL

I think they jiggled the stage direction from the last time I saw this show. Instead of a mystical medieval village, we begin the story in a library full of books. Our Narrator (DeLoach) sneaks in; it’s clear he doesn’t have a library card as this collection overwhelms him. The cast appears, acting around him, and we are off on Steve Sondheim’s most challenging work. A half dozen fairy tales interact with one another: The Baker (Cornelius) and his Wife (Stack) yearn for a child. Rapunzel (Aja Grooms) grooms her hair in a castle waiting for her prince (Connor Padilla) as Little Red Ridinghood (Sharon Yost) heads off to grannies house. Dim-witted Jack (Sage Starkey) trades a cow for magic beans, driving his mother (Candy Heller) to fairy tale distraction. There’s witch (Shannon Bilo) motivating the story, and a Mysterious Stranger (Stephen Pugh) explaining life to The Baker. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few threads here, but action leads to reactions, and the results of all these shenanigans is an unwelcome giant attack and a long dissertation on how we are responsible for our actions, even if we meant well.

That’s a big story to put into this small set, but it’s full of nooks and crannies and hyper dimensional storage space and it always feels intimate and never cluttered. DeLoach is a young man with a small voice; he seems pleasantly lost in the action. Ms. Heller is a strong presence even if she can’t get her boy to think clearly. The twin princes Padilla and Rob stack have a lot of bounce in their step, and Stack is a darn scary Wolf when needed. The principle agony arises between The Baker and his Wife. They are constantly full of remorse and finger pointing and raise the question: You THINK you want kids, but do you really?

With a drop dead set and over a dozen of the best voices in town, this is a spectacle worth the trip out west even if the music is challenging. A few tunes stood out: “Agony,” “Last Midnight,” and “It Takes Two” all have little checkmarks in my program but none really pop into mind. The one thing that does stick in my mind is the odd Mysterious Man. Mr. Pugh plays him as a surreal object, and he never seems completely human on this stage. He’s the one person that retains the ideal of a story with a happy ending in this stage filled with reality based results. More than any other musical, “Into the Woods” takes reality, shifts it into a dream world, and then drops the floor out from under the dreams leaving the actors in the same dilemmas we entered the theater with. It’s schadenfreude, with better dancing.

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

[miss]: An Uncompromising Woman

Friday, April 21st, 2017

[miss]: An Uncompromising Woman
By William Newkirk
Directed by Chuck Dent
Starring Nikki Darden Creston and Alma J. Hill
Playwrights Round Table
Presented at the Orlando Shakespeare Center
Orlando, FL

Disclaimer: I have been involved in the development and production of this play.
It’s tough to put science on stage without it turning into a lecture or a backdrop for a romance. Author Newkirk avoids either pitfall and delivers an excellent, in depth look at how scientific reality comes to be. In the post war era, women were presumed incapable of scientific rigor, but Dr. Frances Kelsey (Creston) accidently gets offered a PHD scholarship and a job at the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA is supposed to keep the pharmaceutical companies slightly honest, there’s a review process in place that doesn’t verify the claims made for new drugs, just that aren’t actually poisonous. In principle the review should dig deeper, but as we repeatedly hear from the drug guys Dr. Murray (Russell Trahan) and Dr. Pogge (Jeff Hole) “That’s how the game is played.” That pair work for Merrill, maker of tonight’s drug in question Kevadon. It seems a miracle: it’s a sedative that you can’t OD on, it suppresses morning sickness, and it even helps kids with poor school work. Dr. Kelsey’ issue concerns the paperwork; it just sounds like ad copy. With her low social standing (she specialized in rectal enema approvals) the Merrill guys have it in for her but she holds her ground. “Where are all the bad babies?” demands Dr. Murray in the show’s climax, and it IS a valid question. Those deformed feti hide behind slow reporting from overseas, and when the show ends, Dr. Kelsey wins an amazing victory. Not only is she vindicated for her stubbornness, she demonstrates that the scientific method really DOES produce important results that apply to all of us every day.

Leading this strong cast is Nikki Creston’s gently persistent scientist. Her path is guided by facts and educated hunches drawn from years of biochemical study. Her secretary, assistant and sounding board is Gertrude Helfer (Ms. Alma J. Hill.) She bucks up moral, does the grunt paper work, and probably was smart enough to do her own drug approvals. On the side of evil we have the normally nice Russel Trahan as the face of Merrill to Kelsey, and his even more evil side kick Jeff Hole. When things are really down for these guys, I think: “Trahan is going to put that telephone through his head!” He wields A REAL telephone, not one of these wussy iPad thingies. The human face of Merrill comes from Hayes Schardt. and Deena Flowers as the “Pill Girls.” Their job is pushing doctors to prescribe Merrill’s latest product. Flowers was fluffy and willing to follow orders while Shard felt more skeptical and ultimately felt the blow of her own uninformed actions.

This show hits on all cylinders: the plot is tight and tense, the science clear and relevant, and the heroine a true role model. The subtext here feels clear and timely: rules and agencies are not just created to vex profits and stifle innovation; they also protect the masses from the bad science by holding the pill producers to high technical standards. VERY hard to see this play; it’s selling out fast.

More information on Playwright’s Round Table may be found at http:\\www.ThePRT.com

Creation – Births of Mythology

Sunday, April 16th, 2017

Creation – Births of Mythology
Written, devised and directed by John DiDonna
Valencia College, Orlando FL

Where did this world come from? Where it is going? And why are we here? These are the classic questions of humanity, and throughout the ages we’ve made up answers, farfetched as they may be. “Creation” creator DiDonna uses his highly successful Phantasmagoria template to explore the various attempts mankind devised to answer these Big Questions. A tribe of indistinguishable and unnamed students flow though the space, ominous projections and oversized puppets tell the stories, all of which are presented as equally valid and equally poetic.

We begin with the ancient Greek stories; this is the longest and most confusing section with its endless lists of gods, demi-gods, semi-demi-gods, and so on down the staircase of Olympian privilege. Here the Titans battle and chain and unchain each other; only lowly Zeus is left to run the Peloponnesus after the divine wars end. Here the big two story tall puppet arise; they aren’t nimble but they dominate the room. Next the Hindu myths come forward; they are precise but their language mystical and obscure. Again, Gods battle Gods, whipsawing the earth and its populace. The dancing is more formal, and the again names go on for centuries. Next we find relief in the African creation story. Here a God creates and then accessorizes him until walks, sings, argues and dances up a storm. If only upgrades were that easy.

Next we track into the hot zone; the Biblical Creation and the fall of Adam ruffle some feathers. This reading comes directly from the King James Bible; and I noticed something I hadn’t before: Genesis 1:14 implicitly permits astrology: “Let there be lights in the firmament … and let them be for signs …” they missed that one back in bible study. Punch and Judy acted out Adam and Eve’s story and this actually encouraged two people to walk out. I suspect it’s wasn’t the puppetry per se, but rather Adam’s rather impressive equipage seemed out of line for Sunday school.

At this point we are over the hump. The Babylonia “Enuma Elis” and a rather short explanation for the big Bang theory brought us to an end of the evening. All these tales attempt to go back as far in time as we can conceive; but each ultimately runs up against the unanswerable “Yeah, but what was there before that?” And that will never be answered, but what we have are these myths as a feeble attempt at an answer. The essence of a myth isn’t whether it did or didn’t happen, but that it contains an essential truth for us to comfort ourselves with. Myths paper over the unfillable hole in our information.

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