Number 57: Cherry Blossom Issue

Number 57: Cherry Blossom Issue

With the advent of spring, I’ve noticed something disturbing on the streets: old guys with hot cars. Now, I admit I always wanted a dark Purple Dodge Duster when I was a teen, and ended up with a maroon Chevy Laguna. You might remember the Laguna — we referred to it as the Amish Malibu because it lacked any chrome. Still, it was fast enough to get tickets with, so I wasn’t devastated. But now as I look around, all the really cool cars are driven by guys old enough to afford them and not worry about the insurance. Somehow this feels wrong. Hot cars should be driven by hot-headed young men is search of even hotter women, and if you’re in AARP, you should give a new guy a chance. Because even if you found the hot babe of your dreams, what good is it going to do you this late?

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Frank Hilgenberg
Starring Daniel Cooklsley, Jim Cassidy, Jamie Lyn Hawkins
Theater Downtown, Orlando, FL

Brick Pollit (Daniel Cooksley) suffers from a slight dose of The Love That Dare Not Speak It’s Name In Rural Mississippi. A few years ago, his special friend Skipper died of drink, and Brick is hot on his heels. Before Brick’s last call, buxom wife Maggie (Jamie Lyn-Hawkins) must assure social status and fend off Brick’s shyster brother Gooper (Dean Walkuski) who wants everything but Maggie. Fertility rules and Gooper’s wife Mae’s (Ashley Evan Hoven) ovaries have Maggie shut out 3 spoiled brats to none. While Maggie could seduce a eunuch, Big Daddy’s (Jim Cassidy) cancer becomes a public fact yet he believes writing a will is a tactic admission of mortality. The biggest estate in Mississippi hangs in the balance – can Brick convert it in cirrhosis before he dies, or does to go to the 3 worst behaved children in the Delta?

“Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” is Tennessee William’s most famous play, and it reinforces everyone stereotypes about the south – steamy sex, blatant racism, and bizarre family naming practices. It’s also one of Theater Downtown’s best productions, with a steady rhythm of nervous laughter expertly woven between the wrenching miseries of the well-to-do. As the Pollit family self destructs, Director Frank Hilgenberg finds every joke in the text and makes it work. Cooksley’s sense of comic timing carries the first act, and Cassidy’s physical motion make the last two acts fly. The set is classy, the drama strong as Tennessee bourbon, and the comedy a delightful chaser.

For more information, please visit www.theatredowntown.net

Red Herring
By Michael Hollinger
Directed by Paul Luby
Starring Mellissa Merrill, Kelsey Lee, Andrew Athridge, Jonathan Sepulveda
Seminole Community College, Lake Mary, FL

Those tricky commies have no respect for American values. First they steal our atomic secrets, and then they try to get god fearing G-Men to have adulterous affairs, contrary to the laws of God and Wisconsin. James (Athridge) feels Mutually Assured Destruction is better than One Government One Bomb, and when a microfilm delivery fails, he recruits Senator Joe McCarthy’s (voice of Bobby Bell) daughter Lynn (Merrill) to make the drop. Only FBI agent Frank (Jonathan Sepulveda) and rogue cop Maggie (Kelsey lee) can stop them, but that means no time for illicit nooky. Can America be saved, or are we in deep macaroni casserole?

There are plenty of laughs lurking in Hollinger’s script, even if they don’t all connect. The best yucks came from the supporting players – Catherine Morrison as acid landlady Mrs. Kravits and Amanda Lytle as homey Mrs. Joe McCarthy. Frank and Maggie stayed too serious to get their timing right, and James and Lynn seemed more interested in marriage and love American style. Most interesting was Bobby Bell as Joe McCarthy – it seems SOMEONE should be rolling over in their grave over that pairing.

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

Merry Wives of Windsor
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Jim Helsinger
Starring Anne Hering, Suzanne O’Donnell, Dan McCleary
Orlando UCF Shakespeare Festival, Orlando FL

Some men are just natural overachievers. Short on cash, roguish Sir John Falstaff (McCleary) decides to simultaneously seduce two wealthy yet happily married women. His big mistake was using a form love letter, and when the women compared notes, they decide he’s a buffoon (true) and deserves whatever he gets (true again). As the torture beggins, Mistress Margaret Page (Herring) and her doting husband George (Patrick Flick) work to marry their very marketable daughter Anne (Beth Brown), while Mistress Alice Ford (O’Donnell) puts up with her naturally jealous husband Frank (Philip Nolan). As they wreak havoc on his person and pride, they involve husbands, servants, and anyone else who wander on stage. Poor Falstaff, he just wanted to clean out their wallets and bring them permanent Elizabethan disgrace.

With the complete “A” list of OSF actors, Merry Wives gets a laugh from every joke that could possibly connect with a modern audience. Both Hering and O’Donnell were delightful as they poured torture upon torture on the man. Tim Williams as Dr Caius gives one of the finest French fop performances he’s ever done, and Phillip Nolan battles Brad De Planche for the most overwrought self-gnawing award in the show. Best of all, McCleary’s rotund Falstaff never seems particularly upset, as if he’s already in on the jokes played upon his oddly grey head.

Like all of Shakespearian comedies, the plot depends on amazing coincidence, mistaken identity and a general airheaded approach to reality. Fortunately, OSF safely ignores these technical points and plays up the innuendo and potty jokes, giving us all the needed releases of laughing at what we’d prefer to find funny than having to over-intellectualize what we had to study in school. Remember, the word “urinal” IS pretty funny sounding.

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

Guys and Dolls
By Frank Loesser, Abe Burrows, and Jo Swerling
Directed by David Gerrard
Starring Kyle Harden, Courtney Winstead, Rod Cathey and Betsy Bauer
Starlight Theater, Orlando, FL

Everyone believes that marriage will change the other party from a semi-civilized compromise to the man or woman of their dreams. In reality, whatever is wrong at the start will only get worse, and this show advises you take wedding vows with a grain of salt. Nathan Detroit (Cathey) engaged Miss Adelaide (Bauer) fourteen years ago, and now she’s getting antsy, particularly since she told her mom they were married with 5 kids and Nathan assistant-managed at the A&P. Really, she’s a dance hall floozy and he runs a floating craps game taking a cut to cover his tailoring bills. Neither is exactly middle class boring, and both seem resigned to the eternal flame of dating yet never sharing a tax accountant. The switch occurs when pressing business forces them into a BB gun wedding – Nathan planned a big game with some tough guy high rollers, but the fuzz (James Stevens) clamps down, making backrooms and funeral parlors are hard to find. A thousand in cash would solve the problem, and Nate bets Sky Masterson (Harden) that he can’t get Bible-thumping Sara Brown (Winstead) to Havana for dinner. Sky’s pretty smooth, and not only does he get her there, he pours demon rum into her, awakening her suppressed desires to find a man and make him into something he doesn’t want to be. Will Nate make the game happen, or will Big Jule (Jason Goodson) take his 50 g’s to Disneyland?

Guys and Dolls plays out in a cartoon Damon Runyon world of colorful buildings and even more colorful menswear. There’s some good singing here, with Ms. Winstead showing a strong alto and a stronger tremolo. Mr. Nicely Nicely (Dustin Cunningham) did a beautiful job on “Sit Down, your Rockin’ The Boat”, while Sky and Sara clean up on “I’ll Know” and the first act punch out “I’ve Never Been in Love.” The other big number “Luck Be A Lady” went very well, but I was let down by Adelaide’s vocalizing. I understand the role calls for an adenoidal tone, but I found her strident and fully agreed with Nate delaying vows until she completed her voice changing years.

There are three driving tensions in “Guys and Dolls” – Will the crap game happen, will Adelaide get Nate and will Sky and Sara resolve their mismatched romance? None of these story threads felt compelling, and it seemed as if the cast had already read the script and knew the answer. Of course, we know they know, but I would hope they could act like they didn’t know. There’s entertainment in the sets and singing, but the acting is spotty and you never really care what happens to these people’s love lives or their gambling debts.

For more information on Starlight Theater, please visit www.starlightorlando.com

A Body of Water
By Lee Blessing
Directed by Chris Jorie
Orlando Theater Project at The Rep in Orlando, Fla.

Sometimes a senior moment stretches into a lifetime. Moss Sibley (Jim Howard) and his wife, Avis (Christine Decker), wake up every morning with a complete mental reboot. Sleep wipes out any short-term memories and most long-term ones. They don’t know who they are, where they are or why, although they can still do crossword puzzles and make a decent latte. The only clue to reality lies with the woman who claims to be their daughter, Wren (Laura Anne Hodos). She keeps them well-dressed and plays horrid mind games with them every morning. Is she torturing them or just trying to raise enough anger to keep them alive? The audience remains as confused as the Sibleys, as author Lee Blessing dribbles out the facts and red herrings parsimoniously, but the clues are all there — take everything at face value and apply the simplest possible answer to every question.

Howard and Decker make a fine older couple, even with their disabling memory problems. He’s gracious, loving and infused with a glowing humor. Decker is a bit harsher, but more driven to find an answer, even going so far as to discreetly flash hubby in hopes of oxygenating an ember of remembrance. His memory doesn’t take, but everything else seems connected. Hodos’ daughter feels ambiguous. You sometimes feel she’s faking something or really out to harm, but in the end she feels like a loving daughter doing the best anyone could under the circumstances.

This creepy thriller is in its fourth version, and perhaps Blessing plans to rewrite it for every production. The audience often as not said, “What the heck just happened?” I felt Wren really had found a strategy that kept her parents alive and happy for at least half a day every day. Others offered conflicting interpretations in the noisy post-show bustle, and I can’t say any of those interpretations were any more right or wrong than mine. Perhaps Moss and Avis HAD found happiness — pleasant surroundings, reasonable health, and the ability to never, ever carry yesterday’s pains into tomorrow.

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

Sylvia
By A. R. Gurney
Directed by Kevin Bee
Theater Downtown, Orlando, Fla.

You have to give the Theater Downtown crew marks for consistency. They’ve kept the same lineup for every revival of the popular A. R Gurney’s Sylvia. The plot never changes: Greg (David Bass) and Kate (Lori MacCaskill) find the nest empty and take off in separate trajectories. She’s teaching again, and he’s adopted a proxy girlfriend, the mixed breed canine Sylvia (Jennifer Gannon). At first Kate’s objections revolve around shedding, chewing and fleas, but eventually she sees the light — Greg’s fallen out of love with her and would rather spend time with Sylvia. Sylvia mimes the perfect girlfriend evolution, from admiring worshipper to demanding queen bee. The showdown arrives. Sylvia gets the boot, but in a little post-show wrap up we find Kate relenting and the trio lives happily ever after.

While Bass and MacCaskill kept up their energy, it’s Gannon’s bouncy performance as the vamping hound that makes this show interesting. With its loose moralizing about midlife crises and recasting one’s relations after losing the biological imperative of mate, breed and propagate, Sylvia could easily slide into the maudlin. It avoids that, emphasizing the comic over the emotional. Utility outfielder Aaron Babcock gives a mixed performance as all the external advisors to Greg and Kate. His fellow dog-lover persona works well enough, but his choppy delivery as Kate’s old friend and Leslie the ambiguous Marriage Counselor make him seem uncomfortable in the baggy-dress drag roles.

Talking animals are an age-old conceit, often offering advice to a protagonist beyond their potential education and experience. Gurney keeps Sylvia completely self-interested and focused on the moment, with only occasional flashes of perceiving future time. This keeps the story sweet without the syrup and never makes you feel weird about suspending your disbelief. Now, if they would just rotate the actors every so often…

For more information, please visit www.theatredowntown.net

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