Number 50: 2005 / 2006 Annual Transition Edition

Number 50: 2005 / 2006 Annual Transition Edition

I have about enough of storms, wars, and uncertainly. I’m so anxious to see 2006, I’ll even see all the Christmas Carol productions.

Humble Boy
By Charlotte Jones
Directed by Denise Gillman
Staring Jeff Lindberg, Robin Olson, and Marty Stonerock
Mad Cow Theater, Orlando Fla.

Slap a little theoretical physics on a love story, and you hit the 21st century’s theatrical hot button. With a notional basis in String Theory, Humble Boy is a richly symbolic love story between a brilliant but lost young man and his mother. Unhappy Felix Humble (Lindberg) seeks the Holy Grail of a Grand Unified Theory of Everything, but he’s taken a few months off to wrap up his fathers estate. Dad died leaving wife Flora (Olson) with a nice garden, a hive of bees, and her long time side lover, the seedy drunk George Pye (Stephan Jones.) There’s no love between George and Felix, but Felix got it on with George’s daughter Rosie (Heather Leonardi) so we get a nice complication of lust and blood feud and beekeeping.

Humble Boy careens between comedy and pathos every 2 minutes or so. Robin Olson looks like she just escaped from an episode of Absolutely Fabulous, while Lingberg overplays Felix so well you still laugh. Stephen Jones turns his pompous arrogance into a deadly scary demon along the way, but the highlight is Marty Stonerock saying grace while simultaneously disavowing any relation with any sort of deity, Christian or otherwise. Alan Sincic appears as the mysterious gardener-philosopher and keeper of the metaphorical bees buzzing about, and Heather Leonardi excels with her sexy tomboy look.

Bit by bit mankind unravels the mysteries of the universe, and bit by bit we unravel our parent and selves. Felix reveals himself as the soft intellectual, fit for love but not life. His opposite is the brutish George Pye, class conscious and acting only on raw animal emotion. Are intellectual pursuits really more important that making a living? His daughter Rosie nearly balances the question; she’s sexy and motherly, loyal and instructive. The real pivot is Flora, who needs to select either a faded promise from the past or a grueling one leading to future. Not bad for a play with the only Myxamtosis joke I’ve ever heard. Not to worry if you took the soft science option, this is more fun than a barrel full of neutrinos.

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

Two Trains Running
By August Wilson
Directed by Rus Blackwell
Staring Dennis Neal, Marci Stringer, Tory Kittles
Peoples Theatre at Seminole Community College

It’s Pittsburg, 1969, and like many large cities the downtown was dieing. Urban renew was the cry, and all those destitute little businesses had to go. Memphis (Neal) runs a diner that used have lines of customers, but now barely feeds a few charity cases. The only real economic activities left are running numbers and the funeral home. Wolf (Kevin Rushing) sells people a chance at success in this life, and West (JR Tarver) sends them along to the next. He’s the one with the real bucks. Into this struggle falls Sterling (Kittles), just out of jail and debating whether he ought to go back. Memphis’s cook Risa (Stringer) catches his eye, even though she has her own issues and Wolf wouldn’t mind her in bed either. While Risa and Sterling and Wolf dance around love, Memphis and West try to optimize the amount of money they pull out of the city for their property.

It’s busy on stage, with diner acting as the local civic center and hosting more wheeling and dealing than city hall. Neal’s Memphis sputters and complains, giving Memphis a heart that bubbles up even when he tries to hide it. Sterling is the most optimists, and Kittles gives him a fast talking, jiving energy that makes you want to like him, even if you wouldn’t lend him your car. Stringer gets the most sympathy – you want her to have a good man, even though the choices aren’t that promising. Joe Reed plays Holloway, a man with ready advice at hand and a stutter to tell it in. Together, these people bring back a slice of city life not so far gone none of us recall it.

Like all stories, there’s a world before the curtain comes up and one afterwards. Desires may be met, but only with compromise. Each person has to eat and sleep, and it’s a precarious struggle to make that happen every day. Sterling talks big about black solidarity, but that only sounds good because he has nothing. West and Memphis battle over property and who can best manipulate city hall, and they don’t need that fiction, they have something worth fighting over. And whether you stay or move, you need a personal struggle to get you out of bed every morning.

For more information on People’s Theater, please visit www.peoplestheatre.org

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

The Good Woman of Setzuan
By Bertolt Brecht
Directed by Julia Listengarten
UCF Conservatory Theater, Orlando, Fla.

Diogenes spent his life looking for a good person. Christ and St. Paul pretty much wrote off the idea such a person exists. Brecht is even more negative, he shows how a good person will be eaten up and spat out by the world. Its famine time in the remote province of Setzuan, and the Gods (Chantry Banks, Dawn Pryor, Shawn Rice) are out cruising for goodness. It’s rare, and the water seller Wang (Joseph Kemper) guides them to the house of Shen Te (Rita Coleman), the local hooker. Turning aside a regular customer, she hosts the gods, and they reward her with enough cash to open a small shop. Little good it does her, as the leeches crawl forth, and only by creating a tough, no nonsense alter ego Shui Ta can she save herself. A steady man would help, and she has a choice – ner’-do-well Sun (Jesse Lenoir) or boring old Shu Fu (Ed Davis). Will this make the world a better place? Brecht doubts it, and ultimately the only real good you can assure is to act in your won self interest.

The names are a bit confusing, and no one on stage is actully oriental, but the production transcends that easily. Coleman covers both the tender romantic role and the kick butt boss, and her love interest Lenoir projects the boyish charm all true rogue lovers need to do their job. In supporting roles, Daniel Reyes sparkled whenever he got one of his few precious lines, and the Gods mastered there rock star poses, and while they could bestow boon, they still had feet of clay, and occasionally got clobbered in a bar fight.

Brecht’s view of society is distinctly dark, and he sees little right or good in society or his fellow man. I won’t dispute his comment that good deeds are a road to ruin, but not every self interested action is necessarily evil. Shui Ta built a factory, and while that made him wealthy, he gave useful work to others who would otherwise whine and steal their way through life. This isn’t the easiest play in the book to decode, but an entertaining and thought provoking production about how we all interact when times are tight. And times are ALWAYS tight.

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

The Imaginary Invalid
By J.B. Molière
Adapted by
Directed by Jim Helsinger
Starring Phillip Nolan, Kate Ingram, Jean Tafler, Melissa Mason
Orlando Shakespeare Festival, Orlando Fla.

You’re not really a doctor until you can write a real prescription. The pros exploit this fact with hypochondriac Argan (Nolan) who suffers from every malady in the book, yet seeks even newer ailments. Thankfully, he has a robust constitution, or he wouldn’t survive the treatments. This self absorption allows his wife Beline (Ingram) to scheme for his money with her lawyer and lover Bonnefoy (Tim Williams). Part of the scheme involves either sending ditzy daughter Angelique (Mason) off to a convent, or marrying her to the disgusting runt Thomas (Dan Graul). Of course, there’s the much more attractive Cleante (Carl Wallnau) moping around, and it’s up to clever maid servant Toinette (Tafler) to save Angelique from this Shakespearian tragedy of a marriage. Good thing Argan has practice in fatal illnesses, his ability to lie dead and cold stands him well in uncovering the schemes that surround him like germs.

It’s always a bright morning in the Argan house hold, courtesy of scenic designer Bob Phillips and his crack team. Some of Molière’s rough edge has faded over the century, but the central theme of crooked or incompetent doctors and lawyers carries though. The physical comedy never dies, and Director Helsing works with the brillaint Nolan to milk this story for everything its worth. Each actor has a shtick, and each does it perfectly. Nolen looks innocent, Tafler berates, Mason flutters, Williams sashays like a gay musketeer. The team of Diaphorus (Carl Wallnau) and Thomas are rendered in fine detail, with matching hair, pecker noses, and glasses. Wallnau has amazingly scrawny legs, and they must have lopped 15 inches off Graul’s legs to get him that short.

Molière’s acid arises from setting a tableau and letting it run as real life does. No one really changes, but they don’t need to, it’s a farce and the stereotypes are true to form and will never change. It’s laughs for laugh’s sake, and even if you know who’s going to marry who as soon as the names are mentioned, that’s not the point. Bow down before this show, salute it, and then watch it find its way over, under, and around you.

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

Ladies of Lake Eola 2: After the Prom
By Michael Wanzie
Directed by Kenny Howard
Footlights Theater, Orlando, Fla.

Thank God for sequels. I was just worried to death what would happen to these chunky drag queens after the last show, what with Jackson (Miss Sammy) leaving his June Cleaver persona aside to tak Ruby (Tommy Wooten) to the prom she missed 30 years ago. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, no problem, there’s a ten minute retrospective of the prequel. I won’t say that it makes much sense, either, but it gets you in the spirit of the show, and that’s all you really need.

We open with Ruby ass-over-tea kettle on the new couch, with Opal (Doug) and Pearl (Wanzie) arguing over who should get ice for the morning’s first round of Jack Daniels. It’s a win – win argument as every one kvetches over ex husbands and abusive fathers and whether Jackson will ever reappear, or if we’ll only see Jun Cleaver for the rest of the show. Personally, I prefer June; she has much better songs and arrangements than Jackson. This semi-stability spirals out of control when a letter announces a mysterious half sister will appear in the next few minutes. It seem abusive daddy was himself abused not only by his daddy, but by his girlfriend on the side. Now, THAT’S kinky. The new sister Onyx (Darcel Stevens) arrives, pours herself a joint, and eventually Opal figures out It’s not just Onyx, but black onyx. Fair enough, but Pearl reveals that daddy was interned in a dumpster.

There’s a little more going on here than the flaming drag and Yiffy jokes. There’s a thematic element (damaged goods), a central character that changes (Miss Sammy), and some serious reflection on what it means to be family. There’s also more stepping out of frame than usual, whether from cast adlib or general silliness. I think there’s a serious drama lurking back stage; maybe it will show up in the presumable unwritten Eola III, or another show shivering in the ice cold Footlights Theater.

For more information on the Footlights Theater, please visit www.theparlimenthouse.com or www.Wanzie.com

Launch 2006
Playwrights Round Table
Presented at Theater Downtown, Orlando, Fla.

The end of the year is always weird – first there’s the sugar high of Xmas Carol and Nut Cracker, followed by a hangover hibernation until the tax forms arrive. Eventually someone bravely sticks their head out of the rehearsal studio, and a fresh season opens.

The opening salvo in the 2006 theater year comes from 7 family themes shots from Playwrights Round Table. “The Baby Journal’ (written and directed by David McElroy) takes a young couple (Jennifer Gannon and Tyler Craven) from post-conception validation to an unexpectedly fertile delivery. The emphasis is on Cute, and while a bit idealistic, it never convinced me to go out and seek spawn of my own. Gannon seemed cranky enough to be pregnant, but Cravens seemed a bit disconnected, as if he really wasn’t going to change any diapers anytime soon.

“The Locker” (written by Rob Anderson and directed by Jamie Cline) finds the social unacceptable Stu (Kane Prestenback) shoved in a locker for the crime of being uncool. True, he designed the hip-hop prom theme, but that’s not enough to get him on the football team. Things could be worse as blonde cutie Donna (Kyrssie Woelfel) cuts class to free him and they end up making out. It’s not a tense piece, but the message is positive – even the nerdy can get some eventually.

It’s not really fair to make fun of the Attention Deficit Disordered, but they’ll forget the slight in a few minutes. Stephen Miller’s “The Seven Second Itch” (directed by Nicole Carson) finds a young couple (Ashland Thomas and Kimberly Lufkin) attempting to establish a common ground for a relation that might last until they both get home. Jittery and funny, this takes us around and around with the audience knowing much more than either player does, including their names. Is there anything shiny around here? Let me play with it.

Leading up to intermission is the serious drama “The Tenth One” (written by Tom and Susan Farrell, directed by Avis-Marie Barnes.) Maurice (Valensky Sylvain) beat the odds and made to grad school, narrowly missing the hard time most of his class mates ended up doing. He’s discovers his father, the unfriendly C4 (Joseph Pinckney), and hopes to build a thesis on the dissolution of family out of this hand dealt them. Gravel voiced Pinckney slowly warms to him, and reveals scary similarities and the genesis of his nickname. Maurice shows more mixed empathy than dear old dad deserves, but by curtain, you know both have found what they were missing all along.

My favorite piece was Joseph Reed Hayes gentle “West Farms” (directed by Ashland Thomas.) Willy (Eric Kurizky) grew up poor and neglected, and transferred his affections to his older brother Danny (John Hill). Danny aimed for fame in the ring, but wasn’t good enough, and after a round of cheap booze ended up flying through the imaginary window of a strip club. The story is well wrought, and Kurizsky’s presentation warms with support from the hard punching Danny and the creepy trainer Rickets (Derek Ormond.) Dreams fade, but we all find a time and place to live, even if we change busses occasionally.

Larry Stalling delivers another very clever concept with “Campbellville”, which address the question “Do statues get lonely?” Stallings stands frozen footed as Joshua Campbell, civic leader and grey bronze ghost. He fights birds and loneliness as he loses one friend (Josh Geoghagan) and gains another (Marcie Schwalm.) It’s not a deep story, but it is touching and funny, and shows friends are where you find them, even in the afterlife.

Wrapping up the evening is “Twenty Bucks” (written by John Goring and directed by Key Howard). Key Howard plays a character I find resonance with, the unavailable expert. High up on the mountain he makes a living collecting money by telling the obvious to the simple. Brett Carson arrives first, and for his Andrew Jackson he gets the news he’ll eventually die. A rock climber (Kim Burke) stumbles along, and refuses to pay his toll. A very cool rock star (Rob Ward) tries to talk himself out of suicide, and a well endowed goddess (Xiomara Ortiz) hopes for some physical pleasure. None of these really gets what they seek, but sometimes the journey itself is enough. The truth lies where we fear it most – there really is no answer. Howard is suitably Jewish crotchety, and the seekers are naïve enough to be any of us. So what is the real secret of life? Pay up, and don’t expect much beyond that.

The shows flow by at a pleasant pace, tied together with famous quote reported by artistic director Chuck Dent. He did omit the one I live by – You can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your family.

For more information on Playwrite’s Round Table, visit
www.playwrightsroundtable.org

The Nutcracker
By Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Direction and Choreography by Vasile Petrutiu
Starring Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky
Central Florida Ballet at The Linda Chapin Auditorium
Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, Fla.

Halfway through the first act, the little boy sitting next to me asked his father “Why isn’t there any talking?” A reasonable question for the youth of America, as ballet is a bit subtle when it comes to story telling. A glance through the program notes will repay the effort many times over with dance more than anywhere else.

Tonight it’s Christmas Eve in the Stahlbaum house. With the biggest tree, the biggest party, and the coolest friends, there’s plenty to be happy about. Adding to the joy is Papa Drosselmeyer (Vladimir Bykov), magician and toymaker. After some close up magic, he passes out gifts, including a wonderful nutcracker for Maria (Joann Schmidt) which bratty brother Fritz (Hunter Finnegan) promptly breaks. No matter, Drosselmeyer waves a magic hanky, and restores him. The party fades, the folks go to bed, and Maria falls asleep on the couch with her wonderful toy. The Ambien kicks in, the tree grows, an army of mice invade, and Mr. Nutcracker rises to defend Maria. That’s enough plot, and now we can get to the good stuff – the Land of Sweets and its crack international dance team, lead by the Sugar Plum Fairy (Dvorovenko) and her Cavalier (Beloserkovsky).

With snow falling in fits and starts, the duo of Dvorovenko and Beloserkovsky performed a polished, precise and cool tour through the fantasy world of Maria’s dreams. Their dancing unfolds brilliantly against the jewel bright sets, and even the residual smoke of first act pyrotechnics fails to dim their performance. That didn’t happen until the Pas de Deux near the end of the second act, where for some strange reason the action stopped cold several times, dissipating the energy carefully built up in the first 3/4 of the show. The dance wasn’t the issue, which lay somewhere back stage.

Technical problems aside, Cavalier and Sugar Plum balanced the inherent anarchy of this holiday staple. I never got a good head count of the prepubescent dancers, but this IS the show everyone debuts in. There were no explicit kiddy crises, and I was impressed by young Finnegan’s Fritz. The more season performers did there jobs extremely well. Bykov’s Drosselmeyer flowed mysteriously in his two toned cape, popping off Downtown Disney magic and igniting the occasional firework. The Arabian Dance sequence went particularly well, with Christye Balfanz performing a beautiful acrobatic act which drew a nice round of applause. The Russian Dance started with a small stumble, but Adam Brenner and Evan Autio redeemed themselves with a clean, high stepping set of Cossack move that the audience loved.

Sets were colorful flats, leaving plenty of room for the 40 or so dancers to plié around the stage. The lighting began as subtle and effective but later became lost in the smoke effects as they overpowered the air conditioning, making the second act seem a bit murky. The show was well received by young and old, and the cast stuck around for an extensive curtain call, pulling a reserved ovation out of the audience. Like many large productions, this show only runs three performances. That’s a shame, as there’s real entertainment value up there, if only they fix a few technical quirks.

For more information on Central Florida Ballet, please visit www.centralfloridaballet.com

Every Christmas Story Ever Told
By Michael Carlton, John Alverez, and Jim Fitzgerald
Directed by Jim Helsinger
Orlando UCF Shakespeare Festival, Orlando Fla.

In popular culture, the phrase “Much Loved” really is code speak for “Done to death”. That pretty much covers everything from Dickens to Dr. Seuss this time each year, and “Every Christmas Story Ever Told” ties all this used wrapping paper in to a neat bundle, integrating It’s A Wonderful Life, Charlie Brown, Kwanzaa, and a few dozen other into an entertaining slapstick routine. We open with a deadly serious Eric Hissom about to foist another lecture on the history of Marley’s ghosts, only to be interrupted by Philip Nolan dropping his chains and insisting on doing ANYTHING else this season. Impish Tim Williams joins the fray, filling us in on Christmas traditions around the worlds, some of which sound suspiciously like human rights violations. It’s a mad dash though the plastic snow, with props and comedy sprayed about the stage.

You need a Christmas list of cultural references required to get the humor, but an entire industry spent my life time and longer preparing the audience ready for the jokes. Once in a while we get some local angle, like a local theater company homesteading Christmas Carol until July (I actully know they won’t run it past Easter). Hissom takes a few serious looking prat falls, and presumably his stage fighting skills will keep him out of braces and casts until the show has its run. Nolan projects a childlike quality, which means he runs around pretending to be that Norelco razor we all dread getting for the holidays. If there’s anything resembles a calm center, it’s Tim Williams, who looks like he ought to have a spinning electrified bowtie to complete his ensemble. It’s a prop heavy show, and by the end of the first act junk and confetti and broken toys cover the stage like your living room on Christmas afternoon. Yes, this IS the essence of the holiday.

With a guaranteed to sell seasonal hook, this is a show that’s basically family friendly except for the occasional naughty word slipping out. The first act runs rather long, and the second act is a bit short even with the padding of the ensemble carol “We Three Reindeer of Jolly Silver Bells are a-Caroling” at the very end. It’s funny, but has a stapled on feel. Other than this timing issue, things run smoothly on the multilevel set, and even the audience humiliation segments work well. While ECSET is a change of pace from the usual holiday fare, there’s enough grounding to keep the traditionalist happy, and give the curmudgeons something to laugh at. Oh, yeah, that would be me.

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

Greater Tuna
By Joe Sears, Jason Williams and Ed Howard
Directed by Anitra Pritchard
With Jay Hopkins and Jason Horne
Jester Theater, Orlando Fl

It’s easy to make fun of small town America, and it resonates well with us in Orlando. After all, we’re still a booster driven town with opposing one way streets defining our downtown and a plethora of civic monument named after people no one remembers. Tuna is the 3rd smallest town in Texas, so only two actors are available to play the 20 odd (and I do mean odd) denizens. Jay Hopkins takes the larger, full figured roles and Jason Horne fills the more svelte ones.

Bracketing the action is the local 275 daytime-only kerosene powered radio station OKKK. Thurston Wheelis (Hopkins) and Arles Struvie (Horne) keep the locals up to date on the farm reports, weather reports, and local gossip, and even remember to flip on the transmitter power from time to time. The smaller the town, the juicier the gossip, either because not much is really happening, or ANYTHING that happens affects everyone else.

I can’t fit it all in, but some of the high points are Petey Fisk (Horne) attempting to give away a Chihuahua / Rat Terrier cross named Yippy, Aunt Pearl Burras (Hopkins) who accidentally poisons her husband’s best bird dog, and evil Stanley Bumiller (Horne) who finally extracts vengeance for his reform school years by killing a man just to watch him die wearing a one piece blue Dale Evans swim suit. I don’t want to check personally, but I suspect there a web site for that out there somewhere.

There’s silliness on many levels from bad cross dressing to book banning politics, and all of it comes across strongly with these two experienced funny boys. Hopkins dialing a rotary phone is nearly as funny as Horne in a flammable nylon dress and pill box hat. And poor little Yippy? He finds a home, and thank goodness it’s not in my area code. “Greater Tuna” is a pleasant reprieve from the sappy holiday offerings we’ve come to expect, and even dealing with the down town parking shouldn’t put you off. And if Tuna had our parking problems and we had their gossip, both cities might be better off.

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

As Bees in Honey Drown
By Douglas Carter Beane
Directed by Jamie Rocco
Starring Sam Brown, Joshua Chase Gold
UCF Conservatory Theatre Black Box, Orlando, Fla.

Isn’t the ultimate art found in achieving fame without real accomplishment? That made Oscar Wilde the first real modern celebrity, and now forms the basis of an industry larger than telecommunication. Evan Wyler (Gold) wrote a novel and got a hot photo in a glossy mag, and that was enough to attract scam artist Alexa Vere de Vere (Brown). She’s a small industry unto herself, scamming up and coming proto-celebs, one a week, matinees on Wednesdays. Her scheme is a modified pigeon drop, and she clocks Wyler for $15 k and his wobbly homo heart. Somewhere around intermission he discovers there’s a whole Stiffed By Alexa club, and he hunts down her first boyfriend and mentor Mike (Kevin Blackwelder). An elaborate revenge fails, and Evan discovers some sense of stability with Mike. For some reason it takes Wyler till the last scene to figure the best revenge is selling his own story, and we walk out thinking “What took so long? He’s supposed to be the hot shot writer.”

“Bees” takes us on a surprising journey, populated by colorful people with drop dead repartee. While Gold’s Wyler never seems all that gay, he does convey a sense of naivety and awe at where he’s gotten himself. Sam Brown occasionally rushes her lines, but she really looks the part of a faked up con artist. You sense she’s got something up her sleeve when she first appears; still you fall for her as does Wyler. Supporting the central story we find Blackwelder playing a sympathetic Mike and the violent Heavy Metal guitarist Skunk. Creed Bowlen plays a number of arty types, but his rendition of the semi-evil record executive Kaden is spot on.

There’s a strong message here – art is not about what you can do or not, but about what you can convince other people you can do. That’s the whole philosophy behind television and Hollywood and Modern Art – the wealth goes not to the best and brightest, but to those with the shiniest brass balls. And THAT explains quite a lot.

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

Canadian Alliance of Fringe Festivals Conference
Hosted by the Parliament House, Orlando Fla.

Where there’s a Fringe Festival, you’ll always find booze and aspiring actors. Orlando is a big convention town, and one of the smaller events is the slightly misnamed Canadian Alliance of Fringe Festivals. They’re very open minded up there, and have allowed Orlando, Kansas city, Minneapolis, and a few other Yank organizations to join. Beth Marshall is encouraging local groups who are ready for prime time to go work other cities on the circuit. Tonight we give the out of towners a sample of our local talent in the seedy yet somehow exotic atmosphere of the Foot Lights Theater.

Hosting this orgy of experimentalism are our own OOPS guys, veterans of the gay vaudeville circuit. They mostly worked old favorites while set changes went on back stage, opening with “Be My Fag Hag” and ending with the always popular “I was a Teenage Mutant Boy scout from the Fallout Zone.” This pretty much covers their spectrum, which ranges from Fiely’s pink orchid to his 6 foot gas powered pocket monster that tours in its own special plastic case.

If nothing else, we got a preview of some acts destined for our next Fringe, running this May in Lock Haven Park. The very popular “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” will reappear, lead by David Lee in Linda Carter drag, and backed up by a very solid band who can’t seem to get their mascara on right.

Local diva Amy Steinberg came out, but there was no sign of her guitar, just a bit of JAP kvetching and tanning. Janine Kline and Frank McClain did a few of the musical numbers form Michael Wanzie’s “Living on the Edge” from the previous year’s festival. The strident politics got dumped in favor of the more popular songs like “Two straws” and that great sing along “Big Ol’ Lesbian Song.”

The headlining event was a full reprise of Wilson Loria’s enigmatic “To the Winners”, one of the artier shows at last year’s Fringe. One can argue he’s already touring since he’s up from Brazil, but Orlando gets plenty of folks from Rio, so I guess we can deem him an honorary local.

After the show, most of the audience gathered out back at a meet and greet for local artists and the visiting producers. Some interesting facts came out, such as most Canadian Festivals are over subscribe 3 to 1, Calgary is just starting a festival, and even Kansas City has tackled the anarchy of 100’s of unsupervised adults on stage. It helped to know Michael Garvey or someone like him to get in, but even though the Footlights A/C was set on Nome, we all had a good time and a few more drinks than necessary. And, no one yelled at me.

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

There’s nothing like the idea of a 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 Festivals 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 Daytona 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 naturally 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 hummable. 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

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 details 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

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