Number 49: 2005 Fall Colors Edition

Number 49: 2005 Fall Colors Edition

Back to work. Everyone is doing something interesting. Be there.

Mother of All Enemies
By Paul Zaloom
Orlando Puppet Festival
Mad Cow Theater, Orlando, FL

There’s nothing like the idea of puppet show with sex to draw the fringes of Orlando’s arty set to downtown. The folks of Mad Cow add another line item to Orlando’s Roster of Festival with the unexpected Puppet Festival, and one of the featured performers is renowned artist Paul Zaloom. I can’t say I’m familiar with everything he’s done, but tonight he presents a shadow puppet show in a Turkish style known as “Karagoz.” Mr. Karagoz was a real man of the 14th century, captured in a comic form in this far eastern puppet show. He wears a fez, and tonight reflects Mr. Zaloom’s alter identity. Karagoz runs afoul of the laws in Syria, gets tossed in jail, and discovers he has a magic Butt Fart Genie who grants him 6 wishes. Apparently, Butt Fart Genies run under a different set of rules than bottle or lamp genies, but no matter. Using these wishes, Karagoz travels around the world, commenting on the Middle East, terrorism, America and the relations between them all.

The puppetry is crisp, if beset by the occasional technical glitch and self-referential repair. Black cardboard figures are maneuvered with a few sticks, and while the facial expressions are fixed, the humor comes from the manipulator. The story drags now and again and suffers from a diffuse focus, although the use of Karagoz’s penis as an antimissile was very entertaining. Bracketing the puppetry are some comments by Mr. Zaloom, first about the aging yet conservative Dayton biker set, and then about the intrusive technology of surveillance in America. As someone once said, “Paranoia in the defense of extremism is no vice.”

If nothing else, you can learn a bit about this traditional puppetry, get a good look at some shadow genitalia, and laugh at some Buddhist Quaker Unitarian jokes. I’m hard pressed to come up with a good Buddhist joke, so this was a rare opportunity. But the clear highlight was the puppet Butt Fart Genie – that alone is worth the trip.

For more information on the Orlando Puppet Festival, please visit www.orlandopuppetfestival.com

And for more information on Mad Cow, please visit www.madcowtheatre.com /

Jesus Christ, Superstar
By Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice
Directed by Don Hopkins Jr.
Starring Nathan Jesse, Ward Ferguson, Ashley Drake Teicher, Joshua Eleazer
Impact Theatricals at The Orlando Rep

Ok, we all know what the fundamental problem is – “Superstar” presents no real chance of a surprise ending. Jesus of Nazareth (Jesse) rises from obscurity to pop star status, and he’s naturly surrounded by those with their own agendas. Judas (Ferguson) is closest to Him and sees the wave of popularity crashing badly. Peter (Gianocarlo Damiani) wants political salvation and finds afterlife stuff is hard to grasp. Mary Magdalene (Teicher) is the ultimate groupie, wiping His brow and hoping He’ll pop the question some day soon. Proactive Judas does a deal with the toady high priest set, immediately regrets it, and hangs himself, yet comes back for the big blow out number at the end. And Jesus finds more fame after death than Elvis.

With a 20 piece orchestra, stunning voices, and a creepy Goth leather fetish set, this show ought to kick Satan’s butt, but the preview show I caught suffered from some serious technical issues – broken or badly mixed microphones, an orchestra that didn’t always match the action, and a shaky spotlight guy. Still, there’s a gem lurking there, because when the mikes worked, I was deeply impressed by Christ, Mary, Judas, and Herod. While a perverse 60 hertz hum covered the set, Mary got the best treatment from the wiring, with a tight, moving rendition of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”. However, the highlight of the performance was Ashland Thomas as Herod, dressed in a molting purple cape and looking just about this close to Dr. Frank N Furter. It was very entertaining, and the sound held for him.

The Story of Jesus is always popular and controversial, and “Superstar” is probably the most accessible of the genre, and certainly the most humable. From that wiry little guitar line opening “Heaven on their Minds” to the memorable “Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication”, I regard this as the best of Weber’s work. While this production opened weak, the raw material is there, and the problems are all fixable.

For more information on Impact Theatricals, please visit www.impacttheatricals.com

The War of the Worlds
By H. G. Wells and Howard Koch
Directed by Christian Kelty
Club Swank Players
Club Swank, Orlando, FL

Sixty eight years after the classic Martian invasion, Mars is as close to the earth as it ever gets, and “War of the Worlds” still creeps me out. We find little radio drama these days, but at one time it rules the American mind, and it’s still a form that can takes listeners far, far away, quicker and cheaper than any movie or TV show. Wells conceived this item as a Halloween stunt, and until you listen to it, you will have no idea how well it works. What begins as a supposed broadcast of hotel ballroom piano music quickly shifts into a dramatic interplay of mysterious cylinders, bravado filled news casters, and a scientist put on the spot to explain the inexplicable. As Well’s cast described the horrible attack, most Americans missed the quick disclaimer and took to the streets, panicked and fleeing as Well’s crew mercilessly distorted time and expanded space.

Tonight, we know better than to wrap our heads in wet towels as we watch the reports flow in from reporter Carl Phillips (Shawn Agner) as he interviews respected scientist Dr. Pierson (John Palmer).Things go from bad to worse, and eventually the Continental Network is handed over to the government by a coughing, soon-to-die announcer (Peni Lotoza) Now only Dr. Pierson is left, and he wanders from Grover’s Mills to New York, only to find the invaders dead from a bacterial infection.

The Swank players are nearly as compelling as the original, and the flow from radio trivia to total disaster to a long monologue proceeds effortlessly. Weird little items flow by as the Martians approach the earth at nearly the speed of light, and in 30 minutes the invaders land, deploy, and devastate the east coast. While the script is original, there are a few ads for local performances and Swank itself, and the cast looks the part in dark clothes and period hairstyles. A few stumbled lines marred the performance, but there were great live sound effects, and a subtle reverb on the radio announcer.

Club Swank aspires to be the drinking salon of theatrical folks, and has tackled progressively more challenging material. “War of the Worlds” takes us on a technically complex journey, yet never loses the connection with a casually listening audience. And it STILL creeps me out.

For more cool Club Swank events www.clubswankorlando.com

Wit
By Margaret Edson
Directed by Chris Jorie
Starring Jan Wikstrom, Jim Howard, Richard Width, Darby Ballard
Orlando Theater Project and UCF Conservatory Theater
Presented at the Orlando Repertory Theater, Orlando, FL

“Wit” concerns itself with life and death, and how one maintains self identity when everything that makes you YOU drips away. Tonight’s performance went a bit farther, with the loss of some large blocks of dialog by the lead. We open with Dr. Vivian Bearing (Wikstrom) rolling on stage, hanging onto an IV rack like a gleeful child with a shopping cart. The plot’s no surprise when she reveal she has 2 hours to live, and will be gone by the curtain. It’s late stage ovarian cancer, and she accepts a slow, painful death via experimental chemotherapy. Enamored of facts, she sees the importance of pushing the frontiers of knowledge, both in medicine and in English Letters. She’s treated by chief researcher Dr. Kelekian (Howard) and his zero-bedside-manners assistant, Dr. Posen (Width). Neither has much time for her, except to collect data, so her only friend becomes chief nurse Susie Monahan (Ballard). As Dr. Bearing fades, we relive her career as a strict lecturer, and come to find fascination in the detail’s of John Dunne, 16th century poet.

While there was an embarrassing silence, this is a script that is so strong that we recovered most of “Wit’s” emotional impact by the death scene. Howard’s’ Kelekian is nice, and Width is animated and chatty as he explains why being nice to patients is a waste of his time. The most sympathy flows from Ballard’s nurse Susie, who genuinely cares for her patients, and is the only person who offers any real solace or advice. Wikstom’s Bearing is a bit strident, but that’s in line with a woman who teaches the toughest English class on campus.

“Wit” reminds us we are only here temporarily, and all our efforts and exertions ultimate mean nothing to us in the end, but along the way we can perhaps influence the outer world to the better.

For more information on Orlando Theater Project, please visit www.otp.cc

Cabaret
With Heather Alexander, Laura Hodos, Mark Taylor, Jason Wetzel
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park, Florida

There’s a place in this town for unstructured musical silliness. WPPH takes another shot at an informal cabaret, complete with a non stop bar. Our polite Central Florida audience kept to their seats and applauded politely without bothering the bartender too much. Maybe we weren’t thirsty, or more likely the lot of us were just entranced at the crew ran through a mixed set of show tunes, some standard, some just about as obscure as possible.

What struck me as the best number came from Mark Taylor, who rang the steel support members with his powerful “To Dream the Impossible Dream.” Yeah, you’ve heard it a dozen times, and maybe you heard it outside last night. He sang a little German number as well. “Haben Sie Gehort” was much sillier, but still, he was loud AND good.

Ms. Alexander and Ms Hodos did a cute number “Friends” to open. I’m pretty sure that’s the title, but there wasn’t a program, so I have to guess a bit here. Later on, after complaining about not being “Rich, Famous and Powerful,” Ms Alexander sang the touching “Now is the Best of Times”. I think that might be true. After all, this is the ONLY time we have.

Mr. Wetzel played a mean piano, and we got a nice version of his love song “I’m Dumping You.” Somehow, it reminds me of the OOPS guys, but in a much nicer way. If nothing else, it got us up and drinking, and that’s the important thing – alcohol makes the deluge of cardboard bricks Taylor and Hodos endured during “One Brick at a Time” much softer. This cabaret was a 2 night only event, but they bring it back every few months. Buy a drink and hang out, its enormous fun.

For more information on Winter Park Playhouse, visit www.winterparkplayhouse.org

Arms and the Man
By George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Thomas Ouellette
Starring Tim Williams, Lauren Orkus, Sarah Hankins, Darren Bridgett
Orlando Shakespeare Festival, Orlando FL

Young, naïve Raina (Orkus) finds a cavalry charge quite romantic. She lives far away in Bulgarian luxury, with no idea of the details. But when incoherent men run through her town, and one climbs the water pipe, slipping his sword under her bed, war takes on a whole new light. Captain Bluntschli (Williams) works for the losing Serbs, and as a Swiss Mercenary he plans on getting paid, not getting shot. He shocks Raina’s with a different view of valor and cowardice – her fiancé Major Saranoff (Bridget) lead a stupid charge into a machine gun company. He’s only alive because the Serbs sent the wrong cartridges, and Bluntschli just barely escaped himself from the crazed horsemen. When Saranoff reappears, he makes a pass at the serving girl Louka (Hankins), but is still ticked off when he learns about Bluntschli’s interest in Raina, and offers a duel. Bluntschli get s to pick the weapon, and he IS a natural with a machine gun, so that pretty much wraps up THAT disagreement.

“Arms and the Man” is a post World War I anti-war statement, played like a Marx Brothers movie. Besides the obvious deflation of patriotism and the uselessness of carrying bullets when food is more useful, the fanny pinching and sexual innuendo make this a light hearted view of the problem. Tim Williams’s sword play made the first two rows duck, but he plays the prefect leading man for Raina to take home to momma. Bridgett’s Saranoff moves around in a Groucho like crouch, which wears a bit thin – is he instinctively ducking bullets, or is it some sort of old war wound? While Raina is clean faced and idealistic, she clashes with the saucy servant Louka, who adopts independent action over the suck-up family retainer role her father (Don Seay) prefers. In a more conventional comedic role, we find the imperious father of the bride Major Petkoff (Kristian Truelsen.) He brings his considerable skills of timing and double entendre to the role, and while he flirts mercilessly with Louka, he’s really beholden to his wife Catherine (Joanna Olsen).

Funny and a little sexy, “Arms” provides a solid evening’s entertianment that has just enough anti-war action to make you feel good, but not so much you want to go stand on a street corner with a floppy cardboards sign. Wars come and peace goes, and the glamour of both shines brightest for the non-participants. I suggest you try to avoid battles, I hear they are loud and dusty; but try not to be too offended when people kill each other. They seem to like doing so; it’s the second or third oldest profession in the world.

For more information on UCF-Shakespeare, visit
www.shakespearefest.org

An Experiment With An Air Pump
By Shelagh Stephenson
Directed by Julia Allardice Gagne
Starring Kathleen Lindsay, Thomas Armstrong, Stacey Mackin
Valenecia Character Compnay
Valencia East Campus, Orlando Fl.

As long as Knowledge brings Change, people will fell threatened by Knowledge. In 1799, grave robbery for anatomical dissections was the norm, and people regarded it with disgust. Today we tear apart the DNA of cells to similar ends. That seems to be the central thesis of this rambling piece, although you might not guess it until the second act. Loosely based on an 18th century painting, “Air Pump” introduces us to the people involved in pushing human knowledge forward. In 1799 radically hairy Joseph Fenwick (Uri Kaweblum) swears anachronistically at a world failing to see his enlightened point of view. In the process he abandons his wife Susannah (Ava Tunstall), alienates his daughters (McKenna Pratt and Darling Murray), and confounds his crippled house maid Isobel (Stacey Mackin). A parallel story shadows in modern day, as biochemist Ellen (Lindsey) debates a high paying but morally ambiguous job her unemployed husband Tom (Gilbert Jallad) mistrusts. He spends his stage time with the wordy electrician Phil (Mike Mitchell) who believes everything on the cover of the tabloids, and distrusts the real scientist in the room.

Both stories are linked by the same ancient building. What was a hot bed of radicalism today is threatened with conversion to a conference center for Swedes. On a clever minimalist set, Director Gagne works though the awkward dialog as best possible, and leaves us with two strong remembrances – Phil, the electrician who seems more interested in crack pot theories than wiring, and Young Thomas Armstrong (Marshall Chaney), who makes out with Isobel’s hump and leads the audience to a flutters of nervous laughter.

I found the story hard to connect with. Nearly everyone has a thick Scots accent, and while those are done well enough, no one was able to project into the vast space of the Fine Arts Theater. I often strained to hear what was said as Mr. Stephenson takes us on a journey reminiscent of Stoppard’s Arcadia. Dialog often drills home the obvious, but obscures the unclear. A conclusive position, right or wrong, never appears, and religious arguments seem curiously underplayed, particularly in the 1799 sections. Clearly people can agonize over the course of change, but they can also agonize over accepting money to improve the lot of their fellows. People make decisions, but in “Air Pump,” there is no judgment of their actions, only acceptance. Dr. Fenwick states “One set of prejudices is as bad as another”, but a few prejudices going into a drama is better than none at all.

For more information on Valencia Character Company, please visit valenciacc.edu/theater

Margo Veil: An Entertainment
By Len Jenkins
Directed by David Lee
UCF Black Box Theater, Orlando, FL

Somewhere between Surrealism and the Avant-Garde lies the story of Margo Veil (Sara Barnes), a young actress on the rise. Fleeing rural Iowa she makes New York and grabs the lead in a play that closes in a day. In some respects, this is a career, but the press is harsh and some people just don’t take that well. Her agent (Todd Davis) offers here a gig escorting a corpse back to the Midwest which solves two problems – it puts cash in hand, and gets her out of the big city. The trip goes well enough, although she descends into and increasingly nightmarish world and accidentally murders The fat Man in the Bad Suit (Davis again – he really nails the role) Fleeing the police, she picks up a boyfriend of sorts (Ben Hope), and spends the rest of the show jumping into different bodies in a weird machine stashed in a truck stop massage parlor. Sex and race matter not, but after awhile the itching becomes unbearable, and she returns to her original “shell”, only slightly the worse for the journey.

And that’s about as coherent as this gets. A mind boggling number of people flow on and off stage, all perfectly choreographed to a secret agenda controlled by director Lee. One is tempted to call the whole experience cubist, with shards of image glinting off the theater smoke and minimal stage surrounded by fun house mirrors and surmounted by a toy train. Margo seems swept along by events, never able to modulate them or explain what they mean or why she’s embroiled in them. Dozens of current and dated cultural references fly by, aided by a helpful links page in the program. We don’t have internet access on stage, but I looked up ziggurats and obelisks and steno pool and found myself broadened. This singing is good (if a bit gospel), the timing sharp and crisp, and the whole event wonderfully cryptic, yet completely entertaining.

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

Anything Goes
Book by P. G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton
Music and Lyric by Cole Porter
Directed by Bobbie Bell
Starring Holly Heller, Corey Volence, Daira Delvecchio
Seminole Community Theater, Lake Mary, FL

The thirst for publicity is a two way street. Some people can’t live without the public eye, and the public has the good taste to demand an ever increasing flow of trivial and scandal about the well known and well to do. So, nothing’s really changed in the past century, which makes this Cole Porter classic as fresh today as it was when the Depression raged and prohibition was still a fresh hangover. Porter’s musical takes a ship full of wealthy yet unfamous folks from New York to England, and nothing prevents them from singing at the drop of a contrived romance. The love story revolves around young stock broker Billy (Volence) and his semi-fiancée Hope (Delvecchio), her real fiancé Sir Evelyn (Ryan Cimino), and nightclub singer turned evangelist Reno (Heller). Billy sneaks on board with the ticket belonging to a notorious mobster, and he accidentally assists a lesser mobster evade capture. That sets up an uninteresting romance peppered with great songs, with Heller’s Reno getting the biggest rise from the audience.

With a mix of students and local professionals, the show is a bit uneven. Fortunately, the big numbers work, and “You’re the Top” by Billy and Reno sets us off on a good foot. Reno’s “Anything Goes” connects as the first act blow out, and Moonface (Derek Ormond) pulls all the silliness out of his big number “Be Like the Blue Bird”. The awkward “Heaven Hop” didn’t fair as well, although it’s a weird number under the best of circumstances. Both Heller and Delvecchio have excellent singing skills, and held up their parts of the duets. Cimino’s Lord Evelyn was perhaps a bit too foppish, and the dance numbers, while technically correct, lack a real energy. Still, the set is cool, the staging works well, and Doug Sinning and His Hepcats up there on the top deck provide a solid backing for this classic.

For more information on the Seminole Community College Theater program, please visit www.scc-fl.edu/arts/theatre

Poe
Written By The Organic Theater Company
Directed by Frank Hilgenberg
Starring John DiDonna
Theater Downtown, Orlando, Fl

Somewhere between reality and fantasy lies the demimonde of fever dreams – dreams so real that you can’t tell them from reality, and so scary you may die before you wake. Today we call these as alien abductions, and in the past people took them as demonic or divine interventions. In the days of Victoria Regina, they were seen perhaps a bit differently, and seem to drive the inspiration of Edgar Allan Poe and his laudanum drenched contemporaries. The era is, after all, the eternal well of the creepy and macabre and more adaptations derive from this fetid mind than any other author.

Baltimore has claimed Poe as a native son, although he spent little time there, and got beat up for his trouble. No one knows what happened the last days of his life, yet Organic Theater takes this unpromising premise and whips up a deranged yet engaging dream world from his most significant works. Nearly a one man show, veteran actor and director John DiDonna takes us from a plausible arrival to a morbid death, and along the way gives just enough of the key stories to keep the English Majors happy, yet never boring us with the often extended details of his stories.

Backed by a ensemble cast of dancers and actors, he build brick walls around a doomed wine coinsures (Joe Comino), marries his notoriously underage cousin (Susan Woodbury), and argues with his evil step father (Jim Bruner). Transitions are heightened by dream-like lighting, weird sounds, and the flowing movements of night spirits. Despite the energy and motion required, DiDonna never falters, never takes a drink, and never leaves the stage, not even when he ultimately passes from this world of worry to the Valhalla of English letters. More than a seasonal novelty piece, “Poe” takes you on a journey into a mind that may never have really existed, but demands attention none the less. Whether you read the originals, or just scanned Cliff Notes, this journey is not to be missed.

For more information, please visit www.theatredowntown.net

The Fantasticks
By Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt
Directed by Pat Braillard
Staring Steven Lane, Robert Berliner, Karla Sue Schultz
Ghost Light Productions as Studio Theater, Orlando, FL

Velvet voices on a cardboard stage – that’s the best way to sum up this low tech, highly skilled production of America’s sometimes most favorite musical. On a set intended to be as cartoonish and ‘stagy’ as possible, Matt (Berliner) falls in love with the girl next door, Louisa (Schultz). Hormones played a part, as did the clever manipulation of parents Hucklebee (Juliann Snyder) and Bellamy (Cara L Moccia). Hopeless romantics, they arrange for Louisa’s kidnap by narrator and itinerant rapist El Gallo (Lane). This allows Matt to save the girl and end the pseudo feud that parents put up to manipulate their children. After intermission, Matt and Louisa are settled in, and immediate can’t stand each other, so he takes to the road as El Gallo romances and abandons Louisa. Not until they both mature can the two find compatibility beyond raging lust.

Simple as the plot sounds, the characters are even simpler, with little depth written into their lines. What this show stands and fall on is the music and the implementation of the persona, and the crucial pivot is the opening Ballad “Try To Remember”. With Steven Lane’s commanding voice, this song takes wings and you can forgive almost any plot weaknesses with this suave el Gallo hanging around. Director Braillard takes a few liberties with the score, dropping the silly “Plant a Radish, Get a radish” number, and reducing “Curious Paradox” to the very few lines it deserves. What’s left gets ravishing treatment, with Matt and Louisa’s voices a beautiful pairing. When not singing, the two can make googoo eyes to the point of embarrassing the audience, yet when their relation sours, they effortlessly slide from adoration to abhorrence.

Love without maturity is like condoms without sex – they look funny and mysterious and you want to try them on, but there’s really no point. It takes some seasoning for a couple to get beyond the lust and settling for 30 years of car payments and hanging drapes. But when you get their, it’s nice to remember the earlier times, they will never come again.

For more information, please visit www.ghostlightonstage.com

Proposals
By Neil Simon
Directed by Arlen Bensen
Starring Amanda Stephen, Toby S. Pruett, Dana Galter
UCF Conservatory Theater, Orlando, FL

Neil Simon digs deeper than his usual failing relationship stories and takes a look at death tonight. In “Proposals”, we meet Burt Hines (Pruett), a man with 8 TV stores, 2 heart attacks and a failed marriage. A summer cabin in the Pocono’s shared with his daughter Josie (Galter) and family retainer Clemma (Stephen) cheers him up. Ex-wife Annie (Lisa Bryant) even drops by to show off jewelry and try a reconnection with Josie, and this makes him even happier. Josie is looking for a husband, and has an unusually fertile field to plough. Kenny (Matt DePasquale) is a top law student, a bit prissy but good looking and loving. Last year’s beau Ray (Michael Navarro) still hangs around working the pro shop and writing a novel, and tough junior mafioso Vinnie Bavasi (Sandy Shenkman) pops in, just to give her another personality type to consider. As we examine this man’s life, Clemma drifts between a spirit narrator and a hardworking woman who loves her employers, and primarily severs to pass out the good advice we all need but rarely want to hear. In the end Josie loses daddy, regains mommy, and gets a guy, and not the worst one in the lot.

In this complex and well crafted story, we get a small slice of the well to do New York life style of the 60’s. All the stereotypes are present, even if Burt’s Judaism is confined to an off hand remark by Clemma. All the questions really revolve around Josie and her potential relations, and while she’s a bit wooden, Galter proves a good central pivot to the action. Pruett’s Burt seems much happier than he might be, but this is a comedy and we can’t have the dead guy bring us down. The most notable performance comes from Shenkman’s Vinnie. He’s so over the top, speaking bad English and telling tales of gun play and clothing, you’re almost disappointed when he reveals a softer side as a budding jewelry designer. But, it’s Clemma who holds the heart of the story. She’s outside of the black class struggle, describing herself with “I was a negro at the time…” Her life revolves around the Hines’, and even when her runaway hubby Lewis (Michael Baugh) reappears, she accepts him, but only if he doesn’t mess up her work schedule. A good employer is hard to find, but a philandering husband, well, they’re dime-a-dozen.

Burt Hines knows the end is near, and finds joy in any sort of reconciliation in the scatter shot group he calls family. He’s clearly in the peaceful stage of accepting death, and while cigarettes may have ended his time early, they, too are his friends and he’s not abandoning them anytime soon. There are deep issues of “what are we doing here” to talk about, and easier ones like “I don’t see what she sees in him” to grease the discussion, but this is a solid presentation of a lesser know piece by one of America’s most prolific playwrights.

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

Urinetown
By Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis
Directed by Alan Bruun
Starring Eric Pinder, James Mosser, Ashley Blake Fischer
Mad Cow Theater, Orlando, FL

Has musical theater become so self-referential that it can no longer reflect society, but only itself? We come very close to that point in this weird little musical that began life as a Fringe Show in New York. In a harsh future world, the paternalistic private entity Urine Goodhands Corporation (UGC) controls the world’s restrooms, and if you pee, you pay. Take a leak on the lawn, or point Percy at the pavement, and officers Lockstock (Pinder) and Barrel (Brett Carson) stand ready to haul you off to Urinetown, a mysterious punishment from which no one returns. In the land of the lowest, people scramble for money to make their daily evacuations. Bobby Strong (Mosser) watches his daddy get hauled off, and revolts against the evil that Caldwell B Caldwell (Ron Schneider) manifests through UGC. Sure, UGC is evil, but in a good way – they allocate scarce resources like Adam Smith would, even though the populace would prefer a more Keynesian approach. Caldwell’s daughter Hope (Fischer) is particularly split, torn by a loyalty to dad and vacationing in Rio, and Bobby who spouts revolutionary slogans and promulgates a pro-peeing manifesto.

Mad Cow crams a record 16 actors and 3 musicians on mysteriously stained stage and pulls of a brillaint piece of cutting edge theater. The cast is full of local stalwarts, and despite some very complicated dance numbers, no one on or off stage gets trampled. The acid Pinder explains what must occur for the musical to progress, and why excessive exposition or symbolism will make the audience fail to return from intermission. A dirty and waiflike Little Sally (Sarah French) wonders why we can’t have a HAPPY musical, and not be exploited by that evil Caldwell, who looks as much like Uncle Pennybags as any man can. Hope Caldwell not only warbles some good tunes, but she defends herself admirably with curly hair and ample bosom. Mosser’s Bobby Strong is bit pale looking, but the Poor People collectively sing better than they look, yet look like they should smell much worse than they do.

While “Urinetown” is a satirical fable about corporate greed and environmental awareness, the text accurately captures the messy details of the real world battles. Right and wrong are not determined by bumper stickers, but by complex interacting physics that have cause and effect more complicated then anyone can capture in a sound bite. While UGC executives work in a self-serving manner, they inadvertently allow the maximum number of people to use the limited resources in the most efficient manner possible. Revolution brings the freedom to urinate anywhere, anytime, but ultimately fewer people get to survive. Grim? Heck no, this is one of the slyest, funniest, cleanest productions in town, and you’ll even think twice about using the rest room at intermission.

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

Twelfth Night
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Patrick Flick
Starring Mindy Anders, Eric Zivot, Anne Hering, Michael Daly
Orlando UCF Shakespeare Center, Orlando, Fl

Ambiguity and androgyny are the key words in this modernization of Shakespeare’s least confusing comedy. Wealthy Viola (Christine Whitley) is shipwrecked and separated from her nearly identical twin brother Sebastian (Christopher Kale Jones). They both wash up in Illyria, which looks suspiciously like 1920’s Hollywood, complete with palm trees and a stunning, smog enhanced sunset. Violas best course is to get a job working for the lovesick nightclub owner Duke Orsino (Andrew Oswald), so she puts on a sailor suit and callers herself Cesario. Orsino courts the distant Olivia (Anders), but is not immune to Cesario’s lithe charms. Olivia will have nothing to do with Orsino, but she, too fancies Cesario, and the more I think about this, the more appropriate the Hollywood setting seems. As the courting proceeds, the comic supporting charters Toby Belch (Daly), Andrew Aguecheek (Brandon Roberts) and Fabian (Michael Gill) cook up a plan to trick Olivia’s steward Malvolio (Zivot) into believing she loves him.

The story is good, but the casting is great. Each holds both Shakespearian side and a Hollywood side, and they all seem at ease in both worlds. My favorite was Feste (Andrew Schulman), normally a secondary charter. Here Schulman waddles around in a Charlie Chaplin shtick, singing some decent songs by local hipster Michael Andrew, and serving as a framing device by opening each act as a patron in a movie house. Mindy Andrews as Olivia transitioned between Elizabethan frail and a Hollywood vamp as she leaves her extended mourning depression and discovers her latent sexuality. Daly’s W.C. Fields inspired Sir Toby finds a wonderful chemistry with gangly fool Andrew Aguecheek (Brandon Roberts). Roberts presents a great physical presence, amplified by the ridiculous plus fours and glasses he sports. Malvolio comes across as an uptight midlevel exectuitve, sandwiched between his status as major domo to a rich woman, and a compulsive need to be CORRECT. You KNOW he’s going to be made the fool, it’s the heart of the story.

Director Flick assembels a great cast, sets it on a typiclaly brillaint set, and makes brilliant entertianment. This how ought to run 12 weeks.

For more information on UCF-Shakespeare, visit
www.shakespearefest.org

Orabelle’s Wheelbarrow
By Sheri Reynolds
Directed by Lani Harris
Starring Josie Deamus, Aqueelah Roberson, Paula Rossman
Women Playwrights’ Initiative at Orlando Rep, Tupperware Stage, Orlando, Fl

Some people carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, but Orabelle (Deamus) limits herself to just the broken promises. There are plenty to go around, some intentionally made and broken, others implicit and ruptured by the contradictions of life. For example, her daughter Rubie (Roberson) promised to stay in town and open a flower shop with best friend Lenora, but race and sexuality drove her into the wild world. Sleazy doublewide dealer Jack Flanagan (Tom Sexton) promised the moon to Gwendolyn (Pam Bauman) in exchange for her land, but put her new trailer on the lowest point of the red clay, saving the good ground for his migrant workers. Most pathetic, Little Pug (Sam Waters) never actully promised his dog her wouldn’t shoot him, but it came to that one day. All in all it’s a Southern White Trash-O-Rama, ridiculous and heart breaking at the same time.

While the script and direction still feel rough, there’s plenty of skill on stage. Deamus’ Orabelle presents a world wise yet slightly mysterious persona. She’s not a judge or jury, but merely points out that any decision, right or wrong, has consequence, and you WILL live them out. Paula Rossman looks so sad and tired, trapped between mind numbing poverty and her overbearing sister, the completely vitriolic Pam Bauman. Gwendolyn gets the absolute best speech, berating Leona and Little Pug as bastards and shit asses. It’s technically true, but the words hurt more than she can hope. If nothing else, the speech helps her get what she wants. Only Rubie has any real claim to sanity and peace. Her life is determined by those who think them selves her betters, yet are if anything substantially lest intelligent, motivated, or sympathetic. It’s victim hood, but a bright positive victim hood.

Reynolds spins a tale half in a real world and half in a fantasy demimonde, turning the facets of commitment and self interest like a shiny piece of tinfoil. While there a few slow spots here and there, the story gives a full 3 dimensional feel to everyone on stage, including the dog you never see. Like any good play, it makes you think harder on the drive home than in your seat, a quality I highly encourage.

For more information on Women Playwrights’ Initiative, please visit www.WomenPlaywrights.com

Let’s Face The Music – A Tribute to Fred Astaire
Concept and Choreography by Roy Alan
Musical Arrangement by Jason Wetzel
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park Florida

Here’s a bit of bravado, attempting to capture the moves of America’s best dancer on Winter Parks’ most claustrophobic stage. WPPH’s impresario Roy Alan conceives and executes a loving tribute to Fred Astaire, that rubbery guy in a tux and tails whose dancing defines elegance. The story is a bio pic, told from the viewpoint of his first partner and loving sister, Adele (Laura Ann Hodos). The pair grew up in vaudeville, and made a ton of money through the 20’s and into the depression. Adele got married, and Fred kept dancing, ultimately making over 40 films.

It’s tough to match Astaire’s flowing moves on a large sound stage, but Mr. Alan did well in the space available. The dance numbers were pared down, but the essence remains in Mr. Alan’s’ energetic and skillful moves. Both the older Fred and his younger self (Cameron Bartell) sing and dance, and narration is supplied by the married Adele Cavendish and a younger Adele (Stephanie Aardema) Old Fred did a few numbers with the all around Female Lead Stand In (Heather-Dawn Sipler), but what filled the evening was mostly tap. While I’d like to have seen the ensemble numbers with dozens of synchronized sailors, this was still an impressive show.

Jason Wetzel provided the music, and there was good selection of hits and standards (“Cheek to Cheek”, “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off”,), as well as a few more obscure pieces like “I Love Louisa” or “The Whichness of Whatness” which featured the young Fred and Adele. A backdrop of video showed old pictures and posters, reminding one of that great 60’s craze, the Multimedia Show.

There’s just enough factual matter here to count as educational, but the main show is Alan bouncing around in a tuxedo. His supporting cast makes him look good, and the whole thing is a pile of fun.

For more information on Winter Park Playhouse, visit www.winterparkplayhouse.org

Gumshoe Rendezvous
By Elliott Byerrum
Directed by Jay Hopkins
Jester Theater presented at Studio Theater, Orlando, Fla.

Here’s a great example of a strong comedic actors overcoming a weak script to put laughs on the table. Fading private eye Buzz (William Warriner) gave up chasing cheating husbands to tech gumshoeing at the community college level. His most enthusiastic student Irene (Elena Day) wants private lessons in night surveillance, and is not above speaking bad French to get the job. While Buzz doesn’t think a girl can do the job, he eventually relents and takes her along. While love in nowhere in sight, she’s not bad at sleuthing and they end up business partners by the second act. A routine Date Background Check for the push over Herbie (Jason Horne) reveals his girlfriend is the notorious black widow Lilah (Natalie Cordone). Can Irene save the guys from their own stupidity, or will Lilah’s tight red dress with the evil floral pattern take both men to their graves?

While every body got some pretty bad lines, the crew plunges ahead. It seems like every plot point is hammered home 3 or 4 times, until we were ready to shout “Yes – we GET it.” Irene alternates between a believably assertive student and a spirit possessed with the worst French accent in Central Florida. Somehow the linguistic shenanigans made her a better shamus, and I’ll give Ms. Day credit – no matter how bad her lines were written, she smiled when she spoke them with verve and energy. Jason Horne got most of my sympathy – he had woman troubles, and wore a Killer Bee suit for the whole second act. Ms. Cordone didn’t appear until the last half of the second act, and then chased Irene with a thermos of poison and a house plant. Okey-dokey, that makes sense…

I liked everyone on stage, but just wished they had better crafted material to work with. Under Jay Hopkins direction they smoothed over the plot issues, chased each other around, and made light of the situation. There were genuinely funny moments, like Lilah locked behind a door under a spot complaining about how dark the closet was. But we never found out about Buzz’s tattoo, and you hoped Irene might get a date. If nothing else, this shows Jester’s ability to make laughs out of nothing, but if they could find a better script, they ought to produce it.

For more information on Jester Theater Company, please visit www.jestertheater.com

The Oldest Profession
Written by Paula Vogel
Directed by Douglas E Houston
Theater Downtown, Orlando Fla.

So where do old prostitutes end up? More than a few make it into management, like Madam Mea (Pat Barker). She’s kept her stable of girls together from the early days in Storeyville, bringing them to NYC when New Orleans cleaned itself up. The years haven’t been kind to them or their clientele, but the work is steady and a certain camaraderie infuses the women and the johns, even when money is tight. Watching over them is a patron saint of sorts, the incarnation of happy memories of earlier times, the Angle of Story Vile (Penny Lotoza.) As the Reagan years unfold, costs go up, clients become fewer, and each woman leaves this harsh world to climb that brightly lighted stairway to Hooker Heaven. Eventually only kind hearted Vera (Joan Gay) remains, living on the street and gently starving to death. When she expires, the old world is gone, replaced by the drug addled alley girls and STD. It’s a fall from grace, mimicing “Titus Andronicus,” but with sex replacing the cannibalism.

“Oldest Profession” is funny and fluffy entertainment, brought to life through clearly defined women and their storng positve roles. Mae is the queen of the old guard, feisty and defensive, and bound by the traditions and mores of a wanton woman with pride. Hot on her heels is the proactive and capitalistic Ursula (Gloria Duggan). When Ursula inherits the business, she applies modern management methods, wringing efficiency from ever more obsolescent capital equipment. Lillian (Sara Benz Phillips) is the most lady-like, a Southern Belle who would be as much at home in a diplomatic reception as in a 3-way. Edna (Genie Lindberg) and Vera aren’t that bright, but both enjoy the time they spend with clients, and realize what role they fulfill in men’s life, even when the sex itself becomes a distant memory.

While the first act is riddled with out of date NYC references, there are a steady stream of genuine laughs generated deep in the heart of an audience that huddles in the cool recess of the theater. After we dash out for refreshment though the Central Florida humidity, we come back to an increasingly human and fulfilling story of camaraderie, caring, and even more laughs. Sure, we all end up old, wrinkly, and eventually deceased, but if you have enough fun on the way, it’s the best you can hope for.

For more information, please visit www.theatredowntown.net

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