Archikulture Digest

Number 2: February, 2000

Orlando has a soul, but the devil won’t buy it. Down at

the crossroads of I-4 and the Turnpike at midnight, we hoped to learn

the blues. Satan said “No Deal” and made us watch Ben-Hur, but he tossed

in a few other rituals so we wouldn’t feel too bad.

Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde

By Moises Kaufman

Dir. Michael Carleton

Starring Jim Helsinger, Eric Hissom, Richard Width, Richard Watson</b>

It’s not easy being a sissy. Oh, sure, you can have two successful plays running and a clutch of great novels, poems, and sonnets, but it’s still

a tough job. There always some loser who’ll accuse you of sodomy and bad

taste, and next thing you know you’re in the dock defending your personal

letters to some Slim Gilt Soul or another. What’s an aesthete to do?

Oscar’s (Helsinger’s) strategy singularly misfires. When the Marquis of

Queensbury (yes, the guy who invented prizefighting) accuses him of

“posing as a sodomite”, Wilde foolishly hauls him to court, hoping to

protect his lover and the Marquis’ son, Bosie (Width). Too bad Wilde

isn’t just posing, and quite a few people slither out of the woodwork to

confirm this nameless vice in court. He’s not only doing it, but he

actually enjoys it! The only decent thing left to do is prosecute,

prosecute and prosecute until they get a conviction, and then auction

his stuff to the lowest bidder.

With nearly every line followed by citation, chapter and verse,

Helsinger and company overcome the preachy nature of “Indecency” to

deliver a cautionary tale of hubris in public life. Wilde steps into the

witness box, astride the world and confidence oozing from every pore,

but a single small slip plummets him to the depths with a speed any MTV

pop star would appreciate. While Width’s Bosie appears ready to burst

into tears at any moment, raging against dread old daddy’s homophobia,

the twin Rumpoles of Hissom and Watson spit venomous lather, each hoping

for the glory of saving or slaying such a glorious preening peacock.

At every decision point, Wilde makes the worst possible choice for the

best possible reason. With multiple opportunities to rectify the damage

done, he spurns safety and plunges headlong into ever more disastrous

pursuits, all in the name of protecting himself and his friend. The

noblest actions, standing honorably and not taking French leave like a

coward or reasonable man would, lead to misery and dishonor for all. Sic

transit Oscar.

A Soldier’s Play

Written by Charles Fuller

Starring Randy Culzac, Chris Taylor, Anthony Majors

Presented at Theater UCF</b>

Ah, the joys of being black, in the Army, and stuck in a small town in

the rural south during WWII! The whites hate you. The army hates you.

The other blacks hate you. Heck, even YOU hate you. Then someone shoots

your NCO, good ole Sgt. “Stone Ass” Waters (Majors). What more could a

bunch of signal corps types want, since the Japs and Nazis are half a

world away? The army’s only black officer, precise and tenacious Col.

Davenport (Culzac) tools into town, resplendent with leather brief case

and aviator shades. White Captain Taylor’s (Taylor) only real concern

is sweeping this embarrassment under the rug, and a colored man seeking

the truth does not help. All that’s really needed is a scapegoat. Blame

the Klan or some racists in the next regiment or even that suicidal

blues picker. Who really cares anyway?

Highlighting the spare barracks-like set are numerous outstanding

performances. Especially noteworthy is Nick Sprysenski’s hyperkinetic

Lt. Byrd, fanatically anti-black and ready to fly apart at the indignity

of interrogation by Davenport. Corporal Cobb (Andy Dardaine) seems so

eager to please as Captain D’s gofer that you hope to see him promoted to a

bigger role on the spot. Best of all is Reggie Jernigan’ smoldering PFC

Peterson – all army, and ready to do damage.

Militarily precise, plodding like the infantry into battle, ‘Soldier’s

Play’ encapsulates the many facets of proud people born into the forced

degradation of a racist social system. Preserve your internal pride when

forced to clean stables. Eugenically improve the race by systematically

eliminating those who sing the blues. Accept Army discipline, but lose

the playoffs in protest to another’s suicide. Those folks can’t look good

without standing on the necks of others. Things have to be this way, you


Written by Steve Martin

Dir. Tod Kimbro

Performance Space Orlando</b>

Well, I have to admit it. I’m a WASP. Oh, sure, there’s a 12 step

program, or I could claim to love that velour soul sound of James Brown

and the Motown homeys. But, it’s all a lie and there’s no way around it.

In fact, I’m just like this new, clear family munching dinner off the

pink-themed dinette, talking love and floral arranging and oral sex. The

cast of WASP is a seething mass of inner secrets and subtle desire. Just

take good old Dad. He’s not only the repository of religious knowledge

and a connoisseur of piebald lawn jockeys, but the possessor of truly

dark inner secrets. Mom not only whips up a mean mango Jell-O mold, but

secretly communicates with Voices who assures her about the meaning of

love, and why leaving dad might not be a good idea. After all, Voices is

omniscient – she scored an 85 on the final, and any thing above 80 means

you know everything. Junior hangs with a freaky space man, and Sis has

some truly interesting fantasies while in choir practice. See? We people

of non-color post-Catholic DWM extraction aren’t all THAT boring.

Well paced and slightly surreal, this production bopped along to a Yma

Sumac and Pseudo Elvis soundtrack. Cast vocals often overwhelmed the

confines of Orlando’s funkiest venue, but the segues where clever and

the action slipped seamlessly between the cardboard cut-out

characterizations of Real Life and the poignant, all too close to home

Fantasyland. Steve Martin (Arrow Through the Head guy) is not well known

as a playwright, and perhaps just as well, as the nonlinear relations

and fast switches from dream to reality can make your head spin.

Consider his play a luxury item – it will annoy your friends when they

find out you saw it and they didn’t.

The Duchess of Padua

Written by Oscar Wilde

Reading by Studio Theater

Directed by B. Marshall</b>

Strange advice from a mysterious stranger strips young Guido Feranti of

his only friend and thrusts him into the court of the vile Duke of

Padua. Waiting for the cue to slay his father’s slayer, he falls madly in

love with the abused and despised Duchess. That is, until he comes to

despise her and she to love him. Oh, wait, now she despises him, he

despises her, they love each other, they don’t [sigma] it’s opera without

arias. Someone knifes Duke slimeball, and Guido and the Duchess now take

turns confessing and not confessing and dying and not dying. At long

last, they agree to love one another AND die, so this counts as a tragedy.

Long on words and short on wit, this is Wilde’s second play, and by far

the longest. Judicious cuts by director Marshall help the ears and

behinds of the modern audience. Occasional bits of Wildean epigram float

to the surface, but get dragged back down by Elizabethan pretense. Weak

as theater to today’s sensibilities, Duchess is really a work for the

scholar attempting to understand Wilde’s evolution as a dramatist and

attempts to find his voice as a playwright. With austere staging, the

reading was well presented by 6 somber players dressed completely in the

black livery of the arts. Sitting motionless and stony when not emoting

lines, each pops to life on cue, and lovingly creates the character at

hand. Despite the difficulty of the material, this turned into an

enjoyable view of a dusty corner of modern literature.

Ben Hur – The Musical

Director – Amick Byram

Book by Chip Hand

Music & Lyrics by Paul Johnson and Roland Owen

Starring Robert Patteri, Stephen Jones, Cassie LaRocca</b>

Trapped in a tuneless musical, boyhood friends Judah Ben-Hur (Patteri)

and Messala (Jones) swear eternal fealty to one another. Duty pulls them

apart, one to lead Jerusalem’s wealthiest family, the other to the Roman

Army fast-track. Military bureaucracy clashes with Jewish hegemony when

they meet 15 years later as Rome subdues the feisty Hebrews. Judah ends

up a galley slave, while Messala opens an Italian Mafia franchise in

Jerusalem. In this non-gripping adventure, Judah’s Sea Escape lands him as top chariot coach of the Empire, racing Messala for revenge and a

huge slug of cash. Vengeance is mine, sayeth Judah Ben-Hur, running his

ex-buddy into turn 3 of this bizarre Disney animatronic chariot race.

Meanwhile, Judah’s mom and sister catch leprosy, probably from a Roman

toilet seat. Oy Veh – what to do? Jesus schleps his cross to Golgatha.

Divine omniscience limits his spoken words to a single “Thank you.” If

you slept though Sunday school, you won’t find out what he did to annoy

the Romans in this show. Deus Ex Machina, Judah remembers that Jesus

cures leprosy in his spare time, and catches him at that awkward moment

when they crucify him, hoping for one last miracle. Leprosy cured, but

not even Christ Himself can raise this musical corpse from the grave.

One last sappy ballad, and exit stage left.

Strong, competent vocal work, stunning sets, superb lighting and music

fail to redeem this vaguely religious experience from the eternal

damnation of no dramatic climax. Will Judah race for revenge against

Messala, or will he forgive and forget as Esther (LaRocca) begs? Will

Messala forgive Judah for a crippling accident, even though no one was

wearing a seat belt? Can the camel embarrass the stage manager? And

exactly what part of the Torah prohibits chariot racing, anyway? These

question flit across our minds as we hope for at least one memorable

song. No such luck.

For a production with a strong religious basis, there was no attempt to

explain the motivations or actions in terms of faith or belief. Some

details of the Jewish faith were muddled or stereotypical, and anyone

not familiar with Judeo-Christian beliefs stayed that way. The sum

effect was that of a high school production performed by a really

competent cast on a really big budget. If you gave this troupe a decent

script, they could make magic. As it stands, they don’t make bupkas.

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