Number 51: 2006 Roll Out The Barrel Edition

Number 51: 2006 Roll Out The Barrel Edition

By the time you read this, the Stupor Bowl should be over, Valentine’s Day will be whizzing past, and more esoteric stuff should be happening in O-town. If I can work it into my busy schedule, I’ll be more than happy to pass it along

Antigone
By Sophocles, Adapted and translated by Jean Anouilh
Directed by Peg O’Keefe
Starring Babette Wagner, Michael Maudlin
Mad Cow Theater, Orlando, FL

It’s good to be king, Right? Well, maybe not. Charismatic Oedipus is dead, and workman like Creon (Maudlin) rules Thebes. Consolidating power rules all else, so he leaves the corpse of his rebel nephew Polynices rotting in the heat. This offends not only the Gods, but sister Antigone (Wagner). Perhaps the rabble will calm down, but Antigone will honor her brother no matter the price. Creon captures her, but can’t sweep her under the carpet. They argue public service versus needs of the heart, and both pay a deep price. You can be nice, or you can be king, but you can’t be a nice king.

Wagner and Maudlin reach very high, supported by a deeply impressive cast. Daniel Neil Olson Guards Creon and the imprisoned Antigone, paces back and forth, explaining his amoral justice system in a clipped boot camp manner. It’s consistently funny, and an anodyne to the disaster of Creon’s extended family. Erin Murkowski appears as sister Ismene, nearly strong enough to aid her sister, but weak enough to escape death by honor. John Connon revels in his role as Haemon, Antigone’s fiancée. He’s honorable, good looking and unaware of the revolt under his nose. Yup, he dies as well.

In this tight little stage left production, Scenic Artist Rebecca Pancoast hearkens back to the theatrical contrivances of the 60’s – a Mondrian like grid of rough 2 by 4’s are covered with torn rope mesh, and a few columns of the sacred ash grove suggest a devastated city and populace. Creon sports a 60’s sport coat, a gold necklace implying his slightly fallen diadem. Antigone counters him verbal blow by verbal blow with her hair piled up like ropes. She is the wild spirit to his oily smoothness, and while a one man chorus (Christian Guevarra) lets you know just what is coming, you never lose focus on the story, even when cell phones disrupt the sound system.

You can’t always get what you want, but you can always find death – that’s the message in all good Greek tragedies. Principles will get you so far, but some times you need one small further step – do the right thing, and absorb a mere moment of pain. It’s so hard as to be impossible.

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

Stripped
By John DiDonna
Directed by John DiDonna and Seth Kubersky
Empty Spaces Theatre Company
Lowndes Shakespear Center, Orlando Fla.

This is the classiest strip club you’re likely to find in Central Florida, even with the burned out light bulbs in the dressing room. John DiDonna and the Empty Spaces Company took over the new Mandel Theater, removed the curtains and added a runaway with poles. Then he convinced 6 local actresses (and I mean real actresses, not the kind with quotation marks) to portray the lives of the girls who live off of taking off their clothes. The story is a composite of many interviews with real dancers, and while the details may be buffed up by the sources, it’s an interesting look into the world of the partially dressed and desperate.

Sarah French plays the college girl from Alabama, and she seems happiest in this business. This contrasts with angry Sara Lockard, who vacillates between shame and pride in her profession. Lauren O’Quinn does it to raise a son, and perhaps she’s the only girl who escapes to a “real” job. Katie Merriman looks like she’ll live her life in this business, and doesn’t care. I found Dorothy Massey the most interesting, as she played the true professional, and comes closest to displaying a distinct sexual ambiguity. But the saddest is Yzaura Vanegas, who works with the explicit encouragement of her husband. THAT’S kinky.

So what’s the point? Strippers do it for the money, and while the biggest bill in anyone’s garter was a single, that’s theater economics more than stripping economics. There’s a fine, wavering line between prostitution with intercourse, and just standing around naked for money. Tonight those two acts seem one, no matter what anyone says. Clearly both the women and the customers are victimized, while the owners and managers remain shadowy figures, unexplained and unintroduced. Some might suggest outlawing the whole business seems unworkable, but today’s maze of conflicting regulations gives some societal control. “Stripped” raises as many questions as it answers, but better yet, it provides just as much titillation as Orlando will tolerate.

For more information on Empty Spaces Theater Company, visit wwwemptyspacestheatre.org

Five Women In The Same Dress
By Alan Ball
Directed by Chris Niess
UCF Conservatory Theatre

I always enjoy funerals more than weddings. It’s not morbidity, but weddings seem so contrived, so potlatch, over the top in a bad way. And at a funeral, there’s no pressure to get drunk, over eat, or pick up an usher, unlike the mega-wedding of Scott and Tracy. The crucible of tonight’s show steams in the bedroom of Meredith (Emily Mara). Here all the orange taffeta clad bridesmaids come to ditch their ugly shoes and whine about life. Frances (Kelly Sullivan) finds solace in Christianity and joy in flaunting it to everyone in earshot. She doesn’t approve of anyone else – Meredith smokes pot, Georgeanne (Jennie Sirianni) cheat on her husband, Mindy (Courtney Moors) likes girls, and Trisha (Brittany Berkowitz) buys condoms at Costco. Later on, groomsman Tripp (Chris Carlsberg) pops in with some coke and tries to sound guilt while Trisha seduces him. Sounds like a typical Knoxville wedding to me.

It’s an interesting character study, even though Mara gives here lines like she’s training for Torino. Sirianni’s Georgeanne seems the most tragic, as though she really is trapped inside a life soap opera. The truest performance comes from Sullivan’s Francis, hiding behind her faith to avoid dealing with the real world. And while Berkowitz has the moves and words of a wanton down, I never felt her emit any raw the sexual energy.

All the hot button topics are here – AIDS, religious tolerance, sex, drug, heavy metal, and the True Meaning of Love. With 6 people on stage, you get a fair sampling of 6 opinions, with none of them completely self consistent. No surprise, men aren’t the only ones who think with their little head. It just sounds different when girls say it.

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

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 father’s 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 (Stephen 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 parents 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 Pittsburgh, 1969, and like many large cities the downtown was dying. Urban renewal 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 optimistic, 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 that 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. It’s 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 own self interest.

The names are a bit confusing, and no one on stage is actually Asian, 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 their rock star poses; 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 household, 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 brilliant Nolan to milk this story for everything it’s worth. Each actor has their 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 take 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 June 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. 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 backstage; 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

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