Number 2: February, 2000

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

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

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
know.

WASP
Written by Steve Martin
Dir. Tod Kimbro
Performance Space Orlando

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

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

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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