Number 14: January, 2001

Number 14: January, 2001

I swear my car wouldn’t start the other morning. And I’m sure not asking
these rednecks for a jump start. They’ll get the polarity wrong for
sure. If it doesn’t warm up, let’s all move to Florida. I hear there’s
some culture there now that they put fiberglass lizards everywhere.

Born Yesterday
Written by Garson Kanin
Directed by Christine Robinson
Staring Jon Freda, Leneil Bottoms, Brett Rice
Theater Downtown, Orlando Fla

Mr. Dirty Deeds has gone down to Washington. Wannabe Mafioso and president of the Legitimate Business Man’s Club Harry Brock (Freda) drags his bimbo girlfriend Billie Dawn (Bottoms) down to D.C. for a little shopping – minks, a Rolex, a senator or two, just a few odds and ends to help the business. Crusading reporter Paul Verrall (Rice), next door neighbor at the $235 a night Hyatt Corruption catches wind and an interview turns into charm classes for Billie. Should I mention they fall for each other? And she picks up some civics, like punching card balloting and creating scrap metal cartels. Egged on by Verrall, she stops signing papers for Harry and soon his entire business empire collapses about him. Ha! Take THAT, Mr. Tough Guy! No one can stop the forces of truth, justice, and the Corrupt Practices Act of 1973, as amended.

God that guy Brock freaked me. Freda can yell like my old man, only worse, and if you ever wanted to intimidate someone, hire this guy. Bottoms’ Billie (ahem) exuded that cheap dance hall sex-for-a Delaware Quarter ambience so well I almost became allergic to her perfume. Coupled with the roly-jovial and more correct than Alan Alda Verrall, this Progressive political romance rocked. Driving the message through was impossibly tall Bill Welter as Senator ‘On Sale’ Hedges, Filipino tough guy Larry Lesher as Harry’s bodyguard, and ultra unctious Dennis Enos as lawyer Ed Devery, fallen assistant DA.

Brock spends the evening grasping for something but never sure just what – money, power, anything but Billie. After all, he owns her and doesn’t need to marry. And Billie’s perfectly happy being perfectly stupid, until Paul teaches her a thing or two about he world. When the light dimly shines through her haze, a blip of moral outrage at the world as it is seeps in from Paul and his nearly sexless romance. Billie refuses to belong to Brock, and brings him down in the name of the American Way. My God, she’s become a liberal!

Social Security
Written by Andrew Bergman
Directed by Virginia Light
Starring Stephen Hurst, Jennifer Langford, Sue Cohen, David Clevinger
Osceola Center for the Arts, Kissimmee Fla

Art or Sex? Sex or Art? Which should you prefer? In the trendy East Side galleries in NYC, the first wins out often as not between David and Barb Kahn (Hurst and Langford). That’s fine until sister Trudy (Cohen) and her wobbly husband Martin (Clevinger) drop by and announces that Barb gets cranky old mom Sophie (Terry Hill) indefinitely. Barb and Martin have a meta crisis – they’re fed up with Sofie plus their only daughter is living with two guys on Vogel street in Buffalo. She calls it a ‘menagerie’. Well, Mom’s bit fussy and tends to leave half eaten sour balls in the sofa, but has a heart of rusty nails until the straying eye of nonagenarian uber artist Maurice Koenig (Key Howard ) convinces her to run to France. And she doesn’t even take her walker! When Trudy and Martin return, not only is Mom getting some again, and Dave and Barb are doing it in the middle of the afternoon in the middle of the dining room, but daughter was doing it with a rabbi (Orthodox, thank God!). Obviously they missed something in the first act and only the big D will help now. Serves ’em right for not appreciating Davids art collection.

So they told a few jokes, they ragged on some modern art, they over acted a bit, and showed us every Yuppie’s nightmare – dealing with their completely uncool folks when they get old. Sofie’s not just a responsibility, she’s a responsibility that continually points out WHY she’s responsibility. Forty years ago she changed your diapers and now you’re so busy you can’t even call? And you didn’t bear grandchildren! And you spend money like water- are those those expensive La Seur Peas in you kitchen? Who are you – Liz Taylor?

Crimes of the Heart
Written by Beth Henley
Directed by Trudy Brunner
Starring Brook Hanemann, Heather Avery Clyde, Mindy Anders
Mad Cow Theater at Orlando UCF Shakespeare Theater

Is it that most plays about The South involve abuse, or are most plays about abuse just set in The South? Either way, Babe Botrelle (Clyde) has been whupped upside the head so much she got confused when she went to blow her brains out and instead winged hubby Zack in the gut. What a shame – in little Hazlehurst Mississippi cousin Chick (Kathy Barker) won’t ever be able to hold her head high (which is a really big thing in the south, like whuppin’ women.) Ok, Babe in the slammer is bad enough and Gramps had another coma, but the big issue here is sister Lenny (Hanemann) just turned 30 and no one remembered and with her shrunken ovary no man would even consider her. Would a guy even notice, even on a 5th date? Well, this is a full metal family crisis and even sister #3 , the miniskirted Meg (Anders) came back since her L.A singing career is now reduced to clerk in a dog food factory. Maybe she can do it once more with ex-boyfriend Doc Porter (Christopher Gibson) even though she kinda left him in the ER after Hurricane Camille. It’s a lot like your life, except these folks are on stage.

So it’s a bit of a comedy, a bit of a tragedy, and a bit of a character study with the occasional detour to the maudlin. It’s not a black comedy exactly, but sort of a dirty gray. Still, the cast steamrolls over the jumps from happy to sad. Lenny rises above her depression and perma-virginity for a shot a the only guy in town who’d take her, ovaries and all. Chick actually changes pantyhose on stage, an operation men find deeply mysterious that’s no clearer once you’ve seen it done. I was particularly taken with Michael Lane, all bones and joints, playing the young lawyer defending Babe as a vendetta against Zack who did something evil yet unspecified to his father. And Meg appears to be all legs and lust with a miniskirt, platforms, and a bottle of bourbon as she takes her old boyfriend for the ride she promised so long ago. Looks like they’ve still got each other by the dénouement, and we get a few pokes at the rural south. It’s fun, but I still think people beat there wives up north just as often.

The Question
Written By Ed Campbell
Directed by Chad Lewis
Starring Mike Marinaccio, Marion Gooding, J.R. Anschuetz
Impacte Productions, Orlando Fla.

Acting Students differ from the rest of the collegiate Petrie dish because they KNOW they’re pretending. Ur-playwright Leith (Marinaccio) can’t quite write a clean death for best friend Johnny (Gooding) without getting him PO’d. It’s not an easy motivation plus he’s only doing it to show he doesn’t really need him even though he really does. You come up with this stuff in college after a few herbal cigs and a Budweiser, but work with him. Leith has a long term girl friend Samantha (Angela Jo Strohm) who’d like him to stay of the recreational medication. Johnny has the knack of picking up any girl, and does his magic on little Liv (Llana Fayerman). Third roomy Poops (Anschuetz) can’t get laid for beans, but he does have a source for those essential cigarettes. We think it’s the narrator and on stage critic Kaz (Jeffery Forte). As critics go, he’s pretty accurate, calling a long useless bit of exposition near the end of the first act pretty close to the mark, saving me some work.

When the boys chip in and pick up a dose of the designer drug Destiny, Leith finds out how he really feels about Sam (boooorrr-ing) and Johnny and Poops go on one of those ultra cool trips they told us about in the drug warning class. And it’s that drug induced silliness that’s the absolute high point of the evening, beating out the bamboo sword fight, the sex scene, and the pompous Speech Of Self Enlightenment Leith gives somewhere along the way. Johnny and Poops wave light sticks and become one with the audience (or at least a few lucky members) and generally freak out hysterically. It’s a trip. Well, Leith pushes his plot along, and the whole drama school thing keeps going, and students dress in black, and people move to New York, and life drags on, just a bit more self aware. We only leave one loose end – why call him ‘Poops’? Good question.

By Arthur Laurents, Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Mark Mannette
Starring Hunter Sargent, Shelly Ackerman
Center Players, Jewish Community Center, Maitland Fla.

You can beat a dead horse to water, but if you get it to change color you’re the Stage Mom From Hell Madame Rose (Sargent). As vaudeville fades into a memory during the first act, she’s dragging her daughters act around the country, harassing stage mangers until they book her just so she’ll go away. It’s the sort of drive needed when your kids would rather eat worms than be on stage. As she fights her way to the bottom, Rose picks up Herbie (Ackerman), the ex-agent and candy salesman who just can’t say no to abusive and domineering woman. In the first act, Rose targets eldest daughter June (Sophie Wise, Ansley Delong, and Marni Becker at various ages) who eventually has the good sense to elope with a dancer somewhere around Buffalo. After June 86’s, Rose moves on to make even lesser talented Louise (Lauren Gendzier, Johannah Giron, and Sara Hightower) her target. When they hit rock bottom at a Burley Q in Wichita, Louise agrees to strip to pick up a few bucks. A star, as they say, is born.

With the first act dominated by kiddy acts, the only redeeming feature was Sargent’s steady and strong voice. If they’re your grandkids, of course they’re adorable. If they’re someone elses, sorry, they’re just little kids. It was Sargent’s voice and Ackman’s endearing performances that held us through the two hours till intermission and the first curtain call. The second act was much stronger, and could well have stood alone. The third Louise (Hightower) constantly looked mortified at the shenanigans here mother put her through. Desperate enough to expose her self to the low lifes that frequent places like Minsky’s, her pain was clear. Helping her were strong support from the three strippers (Mandi McDonough, Stacey Needle, and Elizabeth Ju

Written By Yasmina Reza
Directed by Aaron Posner
Starring Eric Hissom, Philip Nolen, Michael Carleton
Orlando UCF Shakespeare Lowned Theater

There’s an aesthete lurking in every dermatologist, and when Serge (Carleton) gets a slight dose of cash toxicity, he pops $50k for a painting that’s not exactly white, but is awful pale for this sort of scratch. Buddy Marc (Nolen), the anti-modernist engineer drops over and has a good laugh at Serge’s expense, but for some reason this painting drives him nuts. It makes him so froth-mouthed that he sends spineless and stressed-out Ivan (Hissom) over to help browbeat Serge for using the word ‘deconstructionist’ without the exact amount of irony that would indicate he can spell it, but doesn’t believe it really exists. Subtle – yes. Diplomatic – no. We soon have three semi-once-ex-friends yelling and screaming and making you wonder why they even stay in the same city, much less the same play.

And fine yelling it is. Hissom rolls out a nonstop 5-minute monologue with not one period, comma, or even a lowly and rarely heard semicolon. I think he hyperventilates offstage to get through these parts. Nolen has the build and bad fashion sense that marks him as a slide rule-toting member of the techy set, but seems really obsessed about the fact that a 3 by 4 white rectangle could have resonance with anyone, especially a guy he hangs with. Normally, you’d have to be an art critic to get this cranked over a color field canvas. Serge, with his earring and fashionably balding buzz cut seems a nice enough collector / climber. Maybe it’s his assumption that you are as familiar as he with the names and personality of the rarified world of postmodernism. And maybe he forgot to watch the Super Bowl again. Anyway, it IS a bit annoying.

It’s said that good art causes strong opinions, whatever they may be. To my skeptical eye, a white square seems minimalist even by minimalist standards, but there was some clever lighting (or acting, it’s hard to say) that gave some subtle color to the painting near the middle of the show. Could you have painted this picture? Heck yes. Did you think to do so? Of course not. But someone else did, and pulled the price of a used Jaguar out of the air. Now, that’s an art.

Faith Healer
Written by Brain Friel
Directed by John DiDonna
Starring Rus Blackwell, Marty Stonerock, Tom Stearns
Soulfire Traveling Medicine show at Zoe and Company, Maitland, Fla

Frank Hardy (Blackwell) has a gift. It’s either the gift to heal, or it’s the gift to make people think their healed. Under the haze of whiskey and poverty you’ll never know, but it earns him a starvation wage as he tours the dying and unpronounceable towns of Scotland and Wales. England and Ireland are too ritzy for what he does, the people not near desperate enough to seek his weak and intermittent solace. The occasional miracle does flow from him, bringing someone relief or putting the odd pound in his pocket. On to the next faded damp town with faithful Grace (Stonerock) and road manger Teddy (Stearns). They’ll hit it big any day now.

But the tale lies elsewhere, far away in the hills of Frank’s lies and self delusion, as he runs from his inner self, but can’t run far enough or drink fast enough to get away. He gets first crack at his own story. You know he can’t cure you, but you hope he might cure himself. And Grace goes next, telling her version of running off with the roguish mountebank, never to find any real love or healing, but staying with him out of the mulish loyalty that imbues all truly tragic women of Ireland and the stage. Finally, Teddy tosses in his thruppence, picking up Frank’s act after Mulatto, the Woman Who Speaks to Pigeons loses her flock and her stage career. Teddy’s the least tragic, seeing Frank as a torn and mostly worthless meal ticket. Teddy could have been something – a carny barker or maybe a sandwich man, but he too is drawn to Frank, and seems happy enough.

Sad and maybe true, Frank doesn’t exactly drift, but he certainly has little to moor him except his calling. Grim as it may be, the story’s the thing, and the story is more interesting than the people who live it. And Frank and Grace and Teddy all lived a single truth – it’s better to keep bailing than swim for shore.

Caffeine 4 – Working Title
Written by Todd Kimbro
Directed by Abigail Paul
Impacte! Productions Orlando, Florida

Obsession comes in many forms. Some stalk Merryl Streep. Some wash their hands every five minutes. Holden (Ed Campbell) writes and rewrites his script till the prepositions wear out and the vowels need to be replaced. Still, it sold to that local studio that scored big with an out-of-focus existential tale shot with nonunion camera men. Holden’s unfortunate film is called “Working Title”. Catchy writing isn’t part of the obsession. “WT” revolves around the psychotic extrapolations of his friends from the Caffeine Crash coffee bar and soap opera, and it intentionally doesn’t have an ending. What it does have is a pickle montage and an unexpected song and dance number right at the beginning, both of which were high points of the show. Holden’s film, however, might have trouble getting a showing at the Palatka film fest. He cast it from the people he wrote it about, after agonizing whether they were qualified to play themselves (In general, most people couldn’t play themselves convincingly. It’s weird.).

Since everyone plays versions of themselves, and Holden shoots in a rather free form directorial style, it’s never clear who is their real self and who is their film self till Holden yells ‘Cut!’ or ‘Action!’ or ‘Take 5 – I need a rewrite!.’ This leaves the audience patiently waiting for a joke or two, but we didn’t get many cues to laugh. And the pickle was never really explained, forcing us to the assumption that it was a sly Freudian reference to the sex life of the writer… or perhaps just a salty relish item. It’s so hard to tell them apart these days.

Shirley Valentine
Written by Willy Russell
Directed by Chris Jorie
Starring Christine Decker
Orlando Theater Project – Seminole Community College

It’s not just that the honeymoon drifted away, but it went out for
a pack of smokes and never came back. Shirley (Decker) and Joe were
young lovers, that’s true, but 20 years and 40 pounds and a set of
stretch marks from Manchester to Liverpool has turned her lust into
thigmoanthropomorphism. Joe’s off at the mill and demands food on the
table at 5:00:01 SHARP. Otherwise, Shirley’s left to her own devices,
making small talk to the wall as if there was an audience watching her.
And when her friend gives her a ticket for a girl’s fortnight out in
Greece, it’s agonize agonize agonize, until Joe pushes her over the edge
and onto the airplane. Is Greece the fantasy land of her dreams? Of
course not – even though she meets a nice rock to converse with,
vacations are never as much fun in person as they are when you get home.
The sun’s too hot, the water’s too wet, and the Greek wine is a sort of
turpentine Chardonnay. But it’s a new environment, a chance to reflect
on who you are, what you’ve done, where you might still go. It’s a mid-life crisis, complete with the obligatory Greek God of whoopee. But more than
that, Shirley finds strength she never realized, a backbone she’s
forgotten, and self-sufficiency nurtured by forced independence. As the
years passed, a bowling ball grew around her neck, and now she can see
it, analyze it, and toss it into the eternally deep Aegean sea. And what’s
left on the beach? The bubbly interesting Shirley of yore, and she ain’t
going home. Joe can come here and eat squid. It’s healthier.

It’s a one woman show, and Decker starts a bit slow but winds up a
gripping and sympathetic character. Husband Joe never crosses the stage,
but only lurks in the shadows of dialog and nuance as Decker builds him
into a strong supporting character, driving her to distraction, travel,
and a self realization which everyone who survives to that certain age needs
to examine. And while she’s acting, she cooks, cleans, does a bit of
ironing, and we know that Joe let his greatest asset waste away. He let
her run off with the wall.

Murders a Drag
Written by John Graham
Directed by Gregg Triggs
Starring Tom Vazzana, Louie Gravance, John Graham, Dennis Marsico, David
Theater Downtown, Orlando

Bang! Bang! Bang! Got that dirty bastard! Dinah (Vazzana) puts a few
slugs into her hated husband and pushes him out the door into Waimea
Bay. That’s life in the Martin Denny Ultra Lounge world of 1950’s
Honolulu. Hubby’s gone, thank God, but now there’s no money and prissy
little Anita (Gravance) wants private school and don’t even think about
getting a job. It’s so degrading, having mommy work. Good thing Bill’s
old secretary Lez (Graham) has a good idea, besides drafting his
suicide note. Ship ‘Nita off to Swiss girl’s school and open a Luau
featuring Carol Nan’s (Gravance again, that busy guy) famous Chicken and
Waffles. Yuuuum – eeee. It’s not just a dinner show, it’s a lulu of
a luau. And when rubber-faced Max (Marsico) washes up on shore after a
Mormon orgy at that very luau pit, it’s love at first sight for Dinah
AND little ‘Nita.

Well. That’s life in the sordid world of professional Luau. And it’s not
the story we came for, but the fabuloso costuming, the cool soundtrack,
and the lamp we never thought we’d see again after grammy’s unauthorized
yard sale. It’s a classy drag show set in a low-class society. I liked
Marsico’s oily portrayal of a wronged yet vengeful cad, but the
audience liked Vazzana’s dresses better. Gravance and Graham both did a
top notch job of sniping at everyone on stage, but poor Buck the ex-cop
(David Kelly) gave a stiff-legged token straight guy performance that
never seemed to fit into the story. He looked muscular enough, and
perhaps that’s his job, but he did seem like the fifth wheel in this
story of booze, bullets and fake boobs. My biggest disappointment? I
finally find a decent luau, and had to wear my lumberjack shirt. Go

Sex, Lies, and the I.R.S.
Written by William Van Zandt and Jane Millmore
Directed by Steve Gardiner
Starring Ward Ferguson, Stephen French, Laura North
Footlight Theater – Orlando, Fla.

Tax time loometh, and accountant Jon (French) did some very creative
accounting, listing roommate Leslie (that’s the male Leslie, not the
girl you remember from second grade) as his wife of 4 years. Leslie’s
not that way, you understand, but is in fact making out with Jon’s girl
Katie (North), who plans to really marry Jon in a few weeks (fill out
form 8606 and 4551, don’t forget schedules E and G and get a note from
the priest or rabbi, not applicable to Mormons). The I.R.S. has caught
wind, and ace investigator Floyd Spinner (Gardiner) is dropping by to
check Leslie’s bona fides (of course they can, they’re the IRS). And
will Leslie consent? He damn well better, or he and Jon get to share a
cell club Fed, Fargo. Kate’s got a few duds to lend, and Jon’s got
Spinner a case of vodka and an order of Mung Tofu Moo Goo. Things are
going swimmingly until Jon’s mom Vivian (Bobbie Cross) shows up for the
wedding and Connie (Judy Diamond) drops in to make up with Leslie and
Janssen the Super (Christopher Zapateir) drop in to check for
unauthorized women and everyone passes out or falls off a ledge.

So it’s a screwball comedy. And one that sailed over the heads of
the audience, who were hanging around for the 9:30 Drag Show. A shame
too, as the cast was spot on with the jokes and the general sense of
panic this item needs. French was suitably oily as the friend who’d
steal your identity and then leave your dry-cleaning at the Goodwill,
Cross was a Jewish mother as one would never want to marry, and
Gardiner’s progressive intoxication shows the wilder side of America’s
most feared paper pushers. And the ambiguously named philanderer Leslie
was almost cute in drag. Almost. At least he shaved his legs.

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