Number 17: April, 2001 (Fringe Special Issue)

Number 17: April, 2001 (Fringe Special Issue)

Ah, to be in England, now that spring is here! Veganism scores a big
victory as PETA (People for the Eating and Tasting of Animals) has to go
and burn all those oh-so-cute lambs. As the stench of burning flesh wafts
toward Norway, we have to find something to do while eating our Tofu
burgers. What the heck is Tofu, anyway? Ear wax from Baleen whales?
Beats me with a drumstick…

The Weir
Written by Conor McPherson
Directed by Tim Muldrew
Theater Downtown, Orlando Fla.

It’s always Happy Hour in the Weir, a smallish pub in a smallish town in a smallish county in Ireland. The town is getting smaller since the main highway (such as that is in Ireland) passed it by. Tonight a few locals who see the pub as their family cover business, as the German campers haven’t showen up for the season yet. Jack (Paul Wegman) makes it in before the barkeep Brendan (Don Fowler), and corks the dartboard, which calls for a Guinness to celebrate. When Jim (Mark Edward Smith) arrives, there’s big news – a young lady named Valerie (Tara Williams) moved into the area, and very married Finbar (Paul Luby) is showing her the area’s high points. These mostly involved fairie forts and other places where bumps in the night exist to let you know that as a human, you aren’t all that high on the spiritual food chain. With no karaoke machine, the evening’s entertainment is drinking and telling ghost stories – stories of phone mail from the dead and the perverts from beyond the grave. And how to beton the horses and scraping up enough work to get by.

It’s not just the Guinness available pre-show, but the porridge thick accents that set you about an hour by boneshaker bicycle south of Dublin. You can almost smell the peat and the WC. For centuries the Celts and Norse and Welsh whiled away the hours telling stories, stories to warn about and encapsulate and include the group into the difficult world outside. Are the visions hallucinations from poteen and ergot and starvation, or real views into parallel coincident worlds? Who can ever say, but they’re real enough when told and can still shiver your MTV withered spine. Only a few dislocations creep in, such as Luby’s struggle with the traditional Irish tem of endearment ‘feckin’ idjit’, which sounds a bit more Yiddish than really necessary. This is overwhelmed by Wegman’s brilliant characterization and story telling, and his chemistry with Fowler pushes the show through the difficult accents. In the end, Valerie tells her own story of messages from beyond, and it’s good enought for acceptance by the locals, an event that rarely occurs that quickly in the real world. It’s the bright positive side of rural isolation.

A Perfect Ganesh
By Terrence McNally
Directed by Anne Hering
Starring Mark Lainer, Jay Becker, Christine Decker, Cathleen Weir
Orlando Theater Project at Seminole Community College

They say India can heal you soul if you don’t mind the poverty and disease. Soul healing is a bit subjective, but we’ll assign the task to the laughing elephant headed god Ganesha (Lainer). Grouchy Margaret Civil (Decker) and her bubbly semi best friend Katherine (Weir) take a few weeks off to visit the subcontinent. Katherine is the sort who loses stuff – camera, flight bag, tickets, husband, first-born male child. That’s why she packs heavy – it guarantees there might still be some underwear for the ride home. Margaret holds on to things better, like the memory of her 4-year-old boy, lost in a tragic accident ages ago. Together, they’re the archetypical innocents abroad – vaguely aware that cultural difference exist, but still able to step on all of them. As they wander about, a sincere love hate relation develops based on mutual loss and social pretensions, dysentery and shopping for the perfect statue of Ganesha. Ganesha statuary permeates India like T-shirts permeate Daytona Beach.

The women are good, but the real charm of the show revolves around the support from Lainer and Becker who play every other role from the Indian stand up comic behind the Air India desk to the unctuous tourist guides to the Japanese couple next door. Lainer wears the elephant hat, but his size and shorn pate increase the challenge of playing diminutive Japanese woman, a 4-year-old child, and the hotel maid. Like a good god of happiness, he meets that challenge with gusto. Lainer and Becker occasionally drop their fakey Indian accents and revert to a street tough American, indicating a conversation in Hindi, the one language most Americans missed in high school. And it’s just as well, you don’t hear what those cabbies are saying about your lousy tipping or what the maid thinks of your earrings.

Perfect Ganesh revolves around loss. Ganesh lost his head and then part of his tusk early in his career, the women have lost parts of their families, Margaret faces losing a breast or her own life, and the sea of humanity they wade though is lost, but only in a way we can’t understand from our western view point. Through it all, Ganesha drops in to remind us that he stays happy, as should Kate and Margaret. And the audience is smiling, just like Ganesha recommends.

Lone Star
Written by James McLure
Directed by Ray Hatch
Orange Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

What would make a man leave the safe confines Angel’s Bar in Maynard Texas to go drinking in Bossier City, Loosiana? Hell, maybe there’s something going on, ‘cuz there ain’t much to say about Maynard. Roy (Tommy Wooten) still drinks to forget his ‘Nam years. Not that he wouldn’t be drinking if he never got called up, understand, but it’s a good reason to eat a case of Lone Stars on a Friday night. Little brother Ray (T. Robert Pigott) didn’t have to go, being somewhat too dumb to serve as cannon fodder in the jungle. He needs occasional refresher course in breathing, although technically speaking he isn’t really Dain Bramaged all that much. Roy (remember him?) has a love in his life – a pink 1950-something sexwagon, full of fond memories and used condoms. Dufus Cletus (Eric Pinder) succeeds in borrowing it and wrapping it around the only tree in the county, and it falls to Ray to break the news. He handles it by confessing something much worse, thus softening the blow, but not the blows.

They’re not just funny ‘cuz their red necks, they’re funny just ‘cuz they ARE. Roy is tough and opinionated and hoping for a fight to cut the boredom. Ray is dumb and innocent and looks up to Roy, which is kinda sad. Cletus is a nerd, and a nerd of the worst sort – a dumb ass nerd. Together they sketch the absurdity of small town lives and small town minds without ever realizing their own absurdity. Your not laughing AT them, you’re laughing WITH them. But in a good way.

Joe’s NYC Bar
Temenos Ensemble Theater Company
Bring Your Own Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

Deep down in the demi-improv of Orlando’s fake bar scene, you might stumble on a little hole in the wall called Joe’s NYC. Owned and operated by a guy named Gabe, he was too cheap to get new bar mats printed when he took the place over from great grandma Josephine. Nobody actually knows your name there, but the place is stuffed with cops and hookers and drunks and philosophers and cross dressers and jerks. And, being Orlando, a bunch of tourists snuck in and clinging to the wall. My kind of place, actually. My only real complaint is there’s no bar rail to rest your tired feet while you nurse a O’Doul’s (yes, no liquor license from the city. The bastards.) When you’re not hearing the life woes of the Yiddish derelict or some not-as-bad-as-I’ve-heard-lately poetry, there’s a loud and muffled band called Luther Throcket. They do a bunch of one-song sets sounding like Spinal Tap, but with the talent knob only turned up to 7. Otherwise the joint rattles with conversation covering politics and religion and art and marriage and the demise of Times Square Sleaze, with the occasional lovers spat brightening the air. There might even be a fight!

After a full week of Women’s plays and Understanding Your Sexuality and suggesting non-specific locations, Joe’s is a nice break. The atmosphere starts outside, with a cranky bouncer and a wandering derelict. I knew he wasn’t real when we held a semi coherent discussion on Kandinsky and Klimt. Most real winos don’t know beans about surrealism. They live it, but just don’t realize it. Theme carries on inside, where if you’re lucky you grab a stool and have a little side discussion with the cast about what ever. It reminds me of the bars of my youth. And, if there was real beer, the band would have sounded a lot better. Make it in before last call.

Street Seuzz
Pimpin’ Catnip Productions
Green Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

The Cat in The Hat isn’t just for raves anymore. Never was, actually, since Dr. Seuss had a bigger influence on my generation than Dr. Spock, or Mr. Spock, for that matter. There’s more rhythmic similarity than you expect between Dr. Seuss and Dr. Dre, and it’s not a big slide to go from what you saw on Mulberry Street to what you see on South Orange Blossom Trail, center of Orlando’s hospitality industry. True, the language and details are more suited for Jerry Springer than Nick TV, but in a world of big breasted bitches and Ghetto Guaranteed ‘Hos the Doctor looks more like supper fly. In his world, the Cat in the Hat turns into the Fag in his Drag, and The Places You’ll go include life in the pen with a case of AIDS.

Raunchy and clever, Street Suezz has a brilliant writing tarnished by poor perfomance. Main Man Dave McConnell seems to stumble through his lines, unsure of what’s coming up next. There’s a completely unconvincing heckle to set up an apology, and the whole show could use a few more weeks of rehearsal. The material is there, but we need a more convincing sell to make this Crack House into a Crack Home.


Men Commandments
Quick Change Theatre
Blue Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival


Rules rule. Dating rules, relationship rules, how to meet rules, how to break up rules, the glossy mags are full of them. And some rules are more than just rules, they verge on commandments handed down from the Mt. Sinai of rules. They are the 10 commandments for handling your man. Some are obvious (no previous boyfriends, get his name right, feign interest in sports), some not so (don’t gossip, don’t fart – really?). Just as the bible uses little stories to emphasize the rules and the results of ignoring them, Quick Change (Sarah Quick and Ruth Dennison) present a little parable of a woman who Dates Just For Fun, but ends up in love and likely to trade the excitement of pure lust to enjoying the cigarette more than the act. It’s cute, it’s bouncy, and like all the Brit sex and dating shows, the line “But the sex was fanTASSSStic!” rears it’s head. Well, of course. That’s why people date, silly.

One for the Road
Written by Harold Pinter
Amnesty International
Orange Venue

10th Orlando Fringe Festival

“Is this the Pinter?” asks a steady stream of patrons to the show. Finally, the exasperated ticket taker exclaims, “I guess so. Who is Pinter, anyway?” So glad we could enlighten you. Evil Doctor Nicholas (Adrian LePeltier) defends his homeland from those who would poison their good-hearted solidarity by asking “Why?” Victor (Tim Bass) has tasted that interpretation of God’s word, and now is the worse for the wear – fingers missing, knees and feet malfunctioning, and a nasty bruise, well, everywhere on his body. His attractive wife Gila (Tara Capozzoli) gets to do a little time in the bordello ward of the hospital, and son Nicky (Michael Paulauski), raised to disrespect the soldiers of this fine upstanding corner of the world, has a short career ahead of him. As a general rule, the more often words like “people’s” or “democratic” or “republic” appear in a country’s name, the less it actually has of those items. These folks are trapped in a particularly freedom loving democratic workers paradise. It’s easier to swallow this international brand of marketing when you don’t get to see behind the curtain.

Short, vicious, and to the point, One For The Road paints the image of places where even thinking wrong can get you 30 days in the hole, and there aren’t any Miranda rights. LePeltier, urbane and sadistic, loves death more than sex itself. And the wounds on Victor and Gila are disgustingly effective. Only the child has no mark on him, and I suspect he won’t have any when they’re done with him. These folks are professionals, and pro’s don’t leave marks.

As If Never Been…
Penny Pocket
Purple Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

You don’t see a lot of Beckett. Probably just as well, it’s a bit opaque, and today’s 3 short works progress from “Hard to Follow” to “What The HECK Was He Thinking.” Opus 1, cleverly known as “Play”, introduces 3 ashen heads (Candice Lucado, Eric Nowak, Dara Matthews) protruding from urns. In unison or individually, they tell the slightly tawdry story of a woman meeting her husband’s lover. What does he see in her? Blubbery lips, no neck, not much class. As a light flashed on the heads, they start and stop speaking, always as fast as humanly possible. They report the story several times, so you do get the complete set of details. The staging is clever and intriguing, the story a null set. I smell experimental theater at this point.

A second interlude, “Ohio Impromptu”, has two elderly charters (Shane Riley, Jonathan Spector) reading, slowly and distinctly, a rather uneventful segment from the last chapter of a travel adventure. One reads, anyway, the other occasionally raps his fist and makes the first go back a line or two. They finish. No question now, it’s an experiment and it’s not for the easily bored.

Wrapping up the event we witness “Rockaby”. Jamie Seerman rocks gently while a hypnotic voice babbles a bit of dialog. As it winds down, Jamie emits the faint phase ‘more…’ causing the voice to repeat, which causes Jamie to repeat. Opaqueness nearly over came my brain, even after a 3 pm candy bar and a Coke.

Yup, you don’t see a lot of Beckett.

Stop Kiss
Black River Productions
Pink Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

Love hurts, especially when someone beats your head against the wall for necking with the wrong girl. That’s the fate passed out to Sara (Adonna Niosi), recently moved to Greenwich Village from stuffy St. Louis. She’s teaching kids in a Brooklyn war zone, and fought for that privilege. A friend of a friend Callie (Leesha Halstead) agrees to show her the ropes of the big city – where to get good Vietnamese food, when to go to the Met, explain why a car is a really bad idea. And they fall in love. It’s shy, it just sort of happens, and in a place like NYC, you would think they would have a relatively open mind to a lesbian traffic reporter and her bestest friend. But they don’t, and that’s the tale.

In a series of cut for TV scenes, we see the relationship and its aftermath develop simultaneously. There’s the discovery of a new job, a new environment, and a new relationship paralleled by the discovery of violent homophobia, familial squabbles, and a decision to move forward or retreat. The story is linear, the telling interleaved like a deck of cards, and the pacing frustrating. I refuse to believe that we don’t have the attention span to watch a proper theatrical scene, and blackout to move a pillow or clean up wine glasses gets annoying. The story and acting over come the stage directions, and Stop Kiss presents a disturbing story in a positive manner, with a positive result.


52 Pick Up
Penny Lane Projections
Orange Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

We all have a voyeuristic streak that requires us to listen to couples argue and make up and make out in public places, even though it’s none of our beeswax. We don’t know these people, will never see them again, and it’s not like the world is ending for anyone other than the protagonists. Best of all, we just cut a very thin slice out of these other’s lives, and don’t have to hear the boring detail of what went before or after or in-between. Chose a couple and make a good selection of the peep show slides ranging from first meeting to years after the fact. Put them on a deck of cards, toss in the air, and let them land on the floor. A cute cute couple (Justin Sage-Passant and Letitia Thornton) picks up the cards and let us sorts them out. You know they met, you know they break up, and when it’s over you know just enough to satisfy your voyeurism. And they won’t call you up at 2 am drunk and in need of commiseration.

Eccentric Comedy Showcase
James Cheshire and David Webb
Green Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

I have met the great Anti-Comic. If you have any jokes or funny stories in your head, he will suck them out, leaving you as humorless as his show. What’s worse, it costs $2 to get in, money that would be so much better spent on the winos on Orange Avenue. Tonights show opens with a description of something he planned to do, but forgot the props. He then demands new material from his unavailable writer (not that there is any OLD material available), and requested that he audience shit on his face. If that request had been made 10 minutes later, there would have been taker, but instead we had a small rush for the door. Fortunately no one was injured. After a few jokes about Jews in the ovens and jumping about with a chicken mask, Cheshire did the only thing that could possibly turned into a laugh – lip syncing to Shatner covering Elton Johns ‘Rocket Man’. Don’t get me wrong – this bit wasn’t actually funny, it just had the potential. While there was no actual heckling (it might have encouraged him), the audience had better lines than Cheshire. During a ‘quick change ‘ off stage, one woman announced “If he comes back naked, I’m outta here!” Her date replied, “If he comes back WEARING clothes, I’M out of here.” Maybe we can book those two next time.

Beauty of Rigor Mortis
Jennifer Jo Dennis and Jeff Lofvers
Orange Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

I always wonder how those Haunted House attractions make a go of it. For a few weeks around Halloween it’s a good giggle, but how you get people to look a fake corpse in July eludes me. In this particularly grimy attraction, the unattractive workers don’t have much respect for the boss, a guy (Michael Desjarlaisis) who will be luck to make assistant district Manager for Circle K if no one kills him first. When a real body appears on the set, the emphasis is on getting the paying guest through rather than calling the cops. The phone lines are cut and no one in this play has a cell phone. Amazing, since I’ve seen entire productions wherever line of dialog went by a cell phone. Well, more bodies clock in and the paying guests clock out and we soon see that sure enough a few deluded cast members are doing it because they hate the boss. Geez, they could have just quit – Taco Bell is paying $7.00 plus al the Chalupas you can eat.

The story’s a bit hackneyed, the make up very cool, and the best character was Frankie the evil clown(Rory
Penland, a last minute replacement for another actor. Even though this guy was reading lines from a script buried in a copy of Fangoria, he was quicker, funnier, and more entertaining than the rest of the cast. I hate to pan people who carry battle-axes, but it’s not just some customer who’s dead here.


Irene Is A Cactus
Trilemma Productions
Red Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

Getting out on your own with your first apartment is one of life’s biggest thrills. Gwen’s (Heather Avery Clyde’s) done it, now that she’s 29 and mom’s had a stroke. She has asthma, which kept her inside for most of her youth. She may be a bit slow, or she just might not have every built the social skills needed to deal with other people, and little sis Shane (Mindy Anders) worries. Gwen’s even met an actually GUY down at the laundry mat. He’s and artist, making his living throwing paint on canvas. Seascape or Metastatic cancer, it’s all the same to the art world where perception is much more important than intent. Alan has a crazed semi-roommate Davy (Christopher Lee Gibbon) who writes astonishingly bad poetry and reads it with enough enthusiasm that you might clap to be polite. And on the periphery of this nodule of humanity is Ryan (Aaron Weiderspahn), who can care for himself, but only marginally. As Gwen tries to separate herself into an individual, Shane acts as if it can never happen. Will Alan take advantage of her? With the drunk poet puke on her plants? Will Ryan ever finish a sentence in one breath? Shane is concerned, but for all the wrong reasons. Gwen still needs her, but as a friend and confidant, not as a nursemaid.

Irene is a touching story of family and friends, with each character clearly delineated, clearly motivated, and clearly executed. My favorite is Davy, whose manic intensity provides the perfect foil to Gwen’s introverted shyness. Alan’s the sort of nice guy you hope for in an in-law, but Shane dominates her sister the way some parents prevent their children from playing in the dirt. You need that exposure to dirt and bad people to build up your social immunity, and that’s what Gwen is going to get.

The Monument
Invisible Arts Project
Orange Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

War is not nice for human beings or other living things. When the thin veneer we think of as civilization peels back under the flames, the weak and cowardly take it worse than the tough and psychotic. Stetko (Mike Lane) faced the military dilemma of rape or be raped, kill or be killed. And when his side lost, heroism became war crimes and choices narrowed to immediate death or enslavement to cruel Mejra (Beth Marshall). There’s nothing left but to start over, scrabbling in the dead soil for a weed to eat. Stetko gets the short end of the stick, not that the stick is all that long. Under the intense brutality of Mejra’s unexplained anger and sympathy, Stetko recounts the 23 rape/murders done for the greater glory of his homeland. Mejra forces him back to the scene of the crimes and he exhumes the corpses, recalls their names, bodies, personalities, and goals. There was no need for them to die, and there was no joy or glory in killing them. They were just collateral damage.

Dark and disturbing, Monument is one of the darkest of this year’s Fringe Noir season. Marshall’s anger seems to know no bounds and every blow is emphasized with a drumbeat. Lane has that sort of cowardly bravado of a man with nothing to lose and nothing to gain. He didn’t want to kill or rape, but it seemed preferable to not killing and not raping. He claims the Nuremberg Defense, but it carries about as much force as a shoplifter claiming ” I was framed”. Yeah, right. Are we able to remember the unjustly killed in war, hundreds and thousands and millions? I can’t. One or two or a dozen memories are all any of us can carry. It’s just as Stalin said – “One death is a tragedy. A million is a statistic.”


Out of My Skin
Shannon and the Monkeys
Pink Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

Some people start by making a fashion statement, then allow that statement to become their manifesto and finally it overtakes their lives. Izzy the Clown (Shannan Calcutt) prefers wedding dresses for everyday casual wear. Swank, elegant, but they catch on things and are a bit bulky at poolside. Bemoaning the loss of her favorite dress, white-faced Izzy wears her pink nose and long skirt, but little else. After trying on some of the dresses scattered about the floor, she settles on a little black number and proceeds to rearrange he life by starting a synchronized swim team. Two lucky stiffs from the audience (Including a embarrassed looking Todd Kimbro) join her with rubber swim caps, goggles, and wedding dresses to do a little kiddie pool number. Every one in the audience though “Whew – dodged THAT bullet!” When that mess is cleaned up, Shannon does a little Martha Stewart piece about building new and larger breasts with Baggies and masking tape. It’s amazing the effect simple household items can produce, and wind up turtles are the finishing touch. You boy friend will be so amazed; he might even call you back the next morning.

Out of My Skin is one of those bizzaro shows that fascinates and repels at the same time. As you walk out, you think “Now what…no, that’s not…maybe…” and you tell all your friends to see it. We hate being confused alone.

Labrador
Big Sandwich Productions
Purple Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

If there’s anything worse than one-man shows about actors acting, its one-man shows about actors complaining about acting. Still, after about 15 minutes of rhetorical questions (Why is the sky blue? Why do people worry about why the sky is blue? Is it really just Raleigh scattering?) our man in Vancouver (T.J. Dawe) launches into a warm and low-key tale of spending the summer criss-crossing the provinces in a touring children’s theater troupe. “Honing the craft” is the euphemism for this little slice of living heck. Dawe’s grandparents came from Labrador, and now he finds himself visiting those roots, and on someone else’s nickel. A wild frontier town, with miners and wind-chill factors to make nitrogen freeze and alcohol distilled from codfish, he stumbles into the only bar in town and ends up bludgeoned for looking at the wrong woman. Well, any woman would be the wrong one, there aren’t that many and all are claimed.

It’s a touching story, well told and completely fabricated. Which is a shame, because it seems better to believe it a true travelogue to a place not many of us will visit. According to the Labrador Tourist site, it’s 350 miles from somewhere you never heard of in Quebec by “Good Gravel Road”. When it comes to storytelling, it’s better to be interesting than truthful. That’s why people fish – so they can lie about it over beers.


A Night In The Theater
Stumpy Productions
Purple Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

Nothing raises the spirit and nobility of the workingman like exposure to the classic arts – ballet, opera, Shakespeare. That’s why basketball remains popular – you can follow it without an interpreter. Snooty Walter (Simon Needham) drags his wife Donna (Angela Angel) and their friends, Margaret (Darby Ballard) and Stanley (Doug Truelsen), to cultural events like Hamlet and then berates them for not understanding. Donna is wearing jingle bells, Margaret carries mints in crinkly cellophane, and Stanley has the bulk and posture of that guy sitting next to you in the middle seat of a Delta Express flight to Boston. Only Walter knows when to laugh, when to cry, and when to point this out to his friends. Why see this sort of blather anyway? Why- to come to a deeper understanding of ourselves, our friends, and who’s sleeping with whom. Oops, didn’t mean to say that. Isn’t that Ophelia over there? I thought not.

It’s a mirror. Not only does the cast study the audience with the same fascination and indifference we apply to Theater in the Park, but that’s all of us up there, we who patronize the Arts once a year or once a week, whether we need to or not. An evening out is a good chance to have a really good talk, meet friends, have some overpriced drinks, and show off our intimate knowledge of Elizabethan in-jokes. And where else are you going to do that? Not at the basketball game, that’s for sure.


Mission: Improvable
Red Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

Your mission, should you decide to buy a ticket for it, is to suggest relations, nouns, non-specific locations, and whatever Agents Snake Eyes, Hurricane, and Cyberdyne need to entertain you for an hour. If you don’t have a good time, we will disavow all knowledge of your purchase. Your mission is dangerous – you will watch an infomercial for Hollow Cereal and Squidgy Aardvarks and it won’t be pretty. There may be vacation slides of the trip to Tibet with inverted skydiving and burning ballet lessons. Incredibly bad doctor jokes are a clear and present danger to yourself and the American Way Of Life. In the event of a 2-minute talk on bad experiences with a child psychologist, you are authorized to use deadly force. Audience members have been known to shoot one another, and a really cheesy-looking randomization bomb may be passed through the venue. We believe you can triumph over this incredibly silly high-energy show, but if you do not, a memorial without your name on it will be raised in Improv World Headquarters.

Good Luck.

This Is A Play
Art’s Sake Theater
Pink Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

Uta Hagen would love this. It’s not experimental (whew…), nor Children’s Theater (Thank you, Dear Lord), nor even Community Theater (Hey!). But it does take a play, a play about three heads of lettuce, and STRIP AWAY PRETENSE, leaving behind only Raw Emotion! Raw Motivation! Pure Up Staging! And no tedious dialog, just the inner monologue of …Actors Acting! Do they understand what the director wants? What the writer was babbling about? Where the audience will go after for drinks? No, they’re having what passes for a CAREER! Emote! Emote! Emote HARDER, damn it! FOCUS! And don’t think of DeNiro during the love scene! Well, just a little.

It’s a writer (Andrew Nissan) thinking about those writery things like Concept, Context, Content, and getting paid Cash. On stage we find a Tentative Young Woman (Sarah McElligott), flitting to incomprehensible direction, and the Angsty Young Man (Trey Stafford) seeking his light and acting really really hard in Tabasco Undies. His overactive left eyebrow keeps stealing his scenes. But it’s the Older Woman (Dawn Stahlak), resplendent in a cheap wig and resenting those moments of accidental profundity, who can blah blah blah her way thorough whatever lugubrious dialog someone shovels at her. Plus, she knows what to do with her hands – use them to give that pointless bowl of soup to someone else, and get the heck off stage. Critics agree – “Funniest Show in Fringe” – “A Laff Riot” – “A Cerebral Noogie” – “I Wet Myself”. It’s not WHAT the critics say; it’s WHO says it.

SHHH!
Toxic Audio
Red Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

No one likes a band practicing next door at 2 a.m., and it seems no one like a cappella groups bursting into song in grocery stores or on delayed flights. That’s why people keep telling the Toxics “SHHH!” – it only takes two to practice, and they like to stay in top form wherever they can. After a run of successes in that growing world of bands without instruments, Rene Ruiz brings the Toxics back to Fringe, practicing new material in front of a home audience. Opening in the dark is the haunting “Voices Carry”, a single female vocal over a backdrop of mysterious sound effects, effects that carry over to some silliness like Michelle Mailhot imitating a lawn sprinkler. Sounds like a Rainbird model SK-125 to me, but I’m not an expert. Later, she pulls off Twinkle Twinkle without opening her mouth. A muffled classic, but identifiable. Other new material of note included the N’Sync inspired “God Must Have Spent a Little Less Time On You” and a thrift store vinyl version of “Dream a Little Dream With Me” sung by Paul Sperrazza. He skips, he pops, he even runs at the wrong speed. Don’t you miss your LP’s?

We also hear a good selection of TA standards – “Route 66”, the audience humiliation version of “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road”, and some of Shalisa James’s scat singing. Jeremy James does a few audience suggested improv numbers. If you get the chance, ask for the Kiddy Version of “Syphilis” – I love you; you love me, now hurts when I go to…laugh. Yeah, laugh. It’s an all ages show, you know.

Insert Title Here
Verge Diversions
Pink Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

Being stalked is bad enough, but when you’re a washed-up salesman and your only claim to fame is a supporting role in a kiddie show a quarter century ago – well, that’s sort of sad. Especially for the stalker. Steven (Ward Ferguson), formerly ‘Steve’, aka ‘The Awkward Mouseketeer’, sits in a diner, trying to figure out why he’s such a lousy salesman. It’s obvious he forgot the ABC’s of sales – Always Be Closing. Obsessive Leah (Lori Babson) closes quicker, offering a gift of felt mouse ears and unwanted reminiscences. They did the famous ‘Cornfield Scene’ on the May 10, 1957 episode, but he NEVER BECAME HER PEN PAL. The Cad! Well, this warped her permanently – they had to quit killing mice on the farm. As things went to rack and ruin, Leah moved into the woods to become ‘Rat Woman.’ It’s a cult thing, I guess. As Steve becomes more frantic, the Blue Fairy (Leneil Bottoms) appears, working her limited magic to chase away the bad woman, offer Steve release from the eternal bondage of ex-kiddie stardom and… that’s it. Lights up, audience goes home, strike the set. Show’s over. Wish I could say more, but it looks like the author ran out of typewriter ribbon. It felt like Theatrus Interuptus.

4 Quartets
Mad Cow Theater Company
Red Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

Past is future and future is present and time is death and life and death are the same and past or future, or both. Got that? Didn’t think so, but T.S. Elliot thought it pretty deep and took the time to write it all down. He was the sort of poet who thought you should work hard to understand his ideas, or you weren’t worthy of their salutary effects. It’s not what you understand; it’s how hard you work. The Mad Cows work hard to make you work hard, but somehow I kept getting lost. Elliot’s Quartets are more a stream of consciousness series of images than a well (or poorly) argued position. A little help comes from droogie Alex (Michael Duffy), sitting on the floor studying his hands, playing with blocks, planting a rose, or meditating. In the delirium of that meditation, 4 excellent speakers (Mindy Anders, Sarah Matthews, Mark Edward Smith, and the ever elegant Rick Stanley) relate Alex’s thoughts in a syncopation of lines hypnotic, dense, and a good bit more obscure than we unworthies can follow. The set is symbolic, the reading well done, and everyone is dressed for the opera, but opera it is – a story sung in a foreign language by skilled professionals, impenetrable to the non-professional audience.

Fanny Hill
Eyewitness Theater Company
Red Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

In every generation, one or two great innovators arise. Before Fanny (Joanne Haydock) and her sidekick and business manager Phoebe (Rachel Thorn) arrived on the hooking scene, a strumpet was little more than a trollop. Certainly, the occasional Harlot or Wanton set up shop, but it took Fanny to create the Celebrated Whore of Great Repute. Born in Manchester and poverty, she eventually found her way to London, a place where a young person might find fortune in the jolly old days of King George II. Not that many did, but quite a few tried. We find the heroines tossed into Newgate prison, where they put on an amateur theatrical biography, assisted by the tall good looking Young Man (Duncan Milligan) and the short suspicious looking Gentleman (Peter McGarry.) Fanny starts out a bit cross eyed, but she learns and masters both the love that knows no name, and the love that knows no tax deduction. She becomes a kept woman, an unkempt woman, and then a courtesan. As she progresses, the money gets worse, and the time needed to prepare gets longer. You know the drill.

With a veneer of period English covering the randy dialog, we have a hysterical childbirth sequence, lots of cartoon sex, fly unzipping, and enough boob grabbing to fill the hour. All done in the best of British taste, to be sure. It’s great fun and you wish you could be up there helping from time to time. And there’s a moral, which is always a good cover for a ripping sex yarn. Tonight’s moral is…um…For every loose woman, there’s a well-hung man. Or at least she’ll say so, for a bit of cash.

What The…?
Voci Dance Group
Pink Venue
10th Orlando fringe Festival

If Stravinsky ever made a video for MTV, this is what it would look like. Running, falling, leaping, inverting, flexing women and men dressed in black or white fill the room, bouncing and lifting and hugging and appearing and disappearing with a coordination that could only happen with professional dancers. The music is jazz or new age, the lighting dramatic, spoken words non-existent. When not on stage, dancers slither behind walls and curtains and change costume, white to black, black to white, occasionally allowing a flash of color, but purity of form and motion is emphasized, not purity of personality.

Some numbers stand out from the sea of vaguely erotic motion. Title piece “What the…?” takes a pool noodle and beats it into submission as a motion around it suggests everyday objects – tooth brush, subway bar, broom, bus stop. “Take Five”, the Brubeck classic, turns to fluidity in space with 5 nicely choreographed women dancing out a call to clove cigarettes and martinis – it makes you just FEEL cool. And “I Can See Clearly” revs a blind woman and her cane into a frenzied swirl of a similarly disposed dancer, animating a musical direct attack on the dating conundrum with the lyric “I’ve seen you around. I find you attractive. Want to go to bed?”

Music and motion do fall before the atrocious sight lines of the Venue, a common enough problem at this year’s Fringe. If you sat in the front row, or perched on the rails in the back of the room, fine, but everywhere else the dancing got lost behind others’ heads. Perhaps we can see this group again, in a clearer space. And, as in most Modern Dance, there’s no story, just the joy of moving. With other people. On stage. Behind the tall people.

Decaffeinated
Written and Directed by Todd Kimbro
Red Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

This time it’s really last call at the Caffeine Crash, Orlando’s hippest fictitious java shack. Devon (Kimbro) has to close up and move to Louisiana to care for his dying grandma. Cousin Jeff (Joshua Horn) got girlfriend Tuni (Kimber Taylor) pregnant, and they were to marry until Jeff had to go to a strip bar in NYC on business. He forgot to mention it to her, and now he’s rooming with cousin Devon and grandma and out of sight. The rest of his friends take him for missing until Devon squeals. Road trip! The rest of the cast makes a mad dash along the panhandle till they run into a ditch in LA (Lower Alabama.) Tuni pops out a kid, screen writer sub-par excellance Holder (Ed Campbell) makes a documentary about backwoods gay boy Cletus (boy, there ain’t nowhere on earth he’s not gonna get hassled), and everybody ends up moving in with Devon. Swell the theme music.

Sure it’s confusing, but hey, it’s soap! While there are a few slow spots, a number of things work very well. The road trip sequence was a scream, and as they rolled into the crash, the entire cast panic sway perfectly in a Star Trek Bridge style crash. And when the baby comes and Grandma almost dies, there is a sort of crisis duet performed on stage. And somewhere along the way, the topic of Pentecostal Homoerotic Porno films arises. It’s a genre that’s surely under represented in the world of independent filmmaking.


Snapshots
By Nick Wood
Slainte Productions
Orange Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

Men are scum. We leave the lights on, we leave the seat up, we leave our families for no good reasons and start new ones in distant lands. Erin Geraghty’s dad did, as did his father before him. All that remains of this dual bigamy are Erin and her elderly half-aunt Maureen, who she finds after a bit of detective work. At first, Aunty Mo pretends there is no relation. A few faded photos disabuse that fantasy, and the two form a tense friendship that only fails when Mo’s mind does. Now she obsesses about the windows in the nursing home, and Erin struggles with forging a career as an actress, a career that creeps forward until the day she gets the good news and the bad – The Royal Shakespeare Festival wants her for Lady Mac Beth, and the doctor wants her breasts for cancer. With no one to depend on her, is it the shooting star of fame and death or the prolonged agony of life after therapeutic mutilation?

Giving this interior monologue, Geraghty has the look and feel to make it believable, and evoked a sympathetic response from the audience in the intimate venue of Fringe. Erin clutches to the photos and hopes as she tries (an perhaps fails) to understand her place in her body and her world. Aunt Mo is merely her foil – a relation, however distant, that makes the only possible link to herself. She is so alone that she may well be the only woman in Ireland with no American relations at all.


Shakers
Written By John Godber and Jane Thornton
Art Sake Studio
Blue Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

The pay’s OK, the work’s not bad, the boss no worse than most, but it’s the bloody customers that will drive you bonkers. Four young women toil away in the sort of posh Brit restaurant that would pass for a ‘casual dinning experience’ here. Think TGIFriday, if they had them England. Always smiling, always serving, always allowing the customer the benefit of the doubt, allowing a grope or rude comment if need be. It’s the customer’s experience, after all. All four women have their own private reasons to be here. Adel (Marisa Odom) is a single mom with few skills besides her looks; she’ll do anything to stay employed. Carol (Christy Moore) needs the job, too, but has a chip about being thought stupid. Mel, the feisty redhead (Yvonne Suhor), sees what she’s doing as necessary and is proud of her calling. We can’t all be brain surgeons, after all. And Nicky (Lauren O’Quinn) hopes for something better, a job as a dancer on a Norwegian cruise ship. It means exposing herself to drunken Dutchmen, but that’s the price of fame. And when they’re not waitressing, these ladies play the assorted customers who frequent the sort of place where Desperate Hour drink prices start at expensive and go up – drunks, poseurs, 21st Birthday partiers, you know the type – people like you and I.

It’s semi-serious fare, with individual monologs revealing about a first date’s worth of info on each character. If you’re in the field, you sympathize. If you don’t, you might start leaving bigger tips. While you watch its constant motion, see it as motion with purpose and motion with pride. It’s not a deep revelation, but you might be surprised that you really DO prefer Belgian Beer.

One Man Show
Written and Performed by Myles Thorogood
Artist Repertory Theater
Green Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

There were, in fact, no short immigrant uncircumcised PhD professors in the audience tonight, preserving the good doctor’s uniqueness. And while unique, his form and flow of uniquity morphs steadily as Thorogood performs a series of diverse yet carefully delineated charter sketches. The Doctor, a sort of pan-Indian / Kenyan / Jamaican intellectual philosopher, discusses the advantages of technology in shielding you from the hordes of foolish people who daily suck up oxygen yet fail to add much to humanity. Sliding into the low self-esteem Ann, he becomes a woman trapped on the treadmill of endless self-improvement seminars. She longs to emulate the power pop divas of the 80’s – Tina, Cyndi, Janet, Madonna. Ann then creates vicious imitations of their various dancing and self-groping styles. Like so many on that circuit, she has the answer. She just doesn’t see it.

We visit Boyztown, where a young boy is thrust from the safe but strict rural life with Grandma and the local AME church into the tough life of the projects (I guess they ain’t finished yet). Reading, writing, and arithmetic becomes reefer, rifle, and Ritalin. Now rather than hearing the “Starving Children” speech, he gets to give it himself to his niece Chatinqua. (Sorry if I get the name wrong, I’m really bad with the Nuevo Black Christian name spelling convention). But the best sketch is the last, as a gayer-than-thou gym bunny, he prattles on about love and decorating and his chance to make it in television. Demoing the role to his invisible audience, he moves so effortlessly into a hardened gangsta, that when he stops and pops back to the boy toy, the audience is in shock. I’d love to see this guy tackle Martha Stuart.

Messing With Medea
Multistory Theater Company
Yellow Venue
10 th Orlando Fringe Festival

Think of it as a nasty divorce. Jason went off with his Argonaut buddies, and besides the Golden Fleece he brought back one of those war brides that looked pretty good after 5 months at sea. But after two kids and Jason’s move back to Corinth, she’s a bit too exotic, she still has a gypsy accent, and King Creon’s daughter is not only better looking but she’s available. We know about a woman scorned, and scorned is Medea. Scorned and vocal. With daily diatribes about how she was treated, the King decided to exile her, just to be safe. She begs for a day to prepare for the kids, but really she’s preparing to kill her ex, his hot new wife, and the king. It’s SO Jerry Springer.

How best to do the deed? Knife in the Library? Rope in the Drawing Room? Ahhh.. Poison Flammable Dress in the Palace! She sends this deadly but improbable gift to the new wife, and begs a reprieve for the kids. This works until the princess bursts into flame along with daddy, who was only trying to get her to drop and roll. And to prevent her sons’ torture, Medea knifes them herself. She agonizes for a minute or two, then she does the foul deed. It would make a cracking good mini series.

With only two actors to play the multiple parts of this classic by Euripides, the risk of confusing the audience is high. But skillful acting and careful delineation of persona means that we never lose track of who is who or why they do the rotten things they do. Bill Buffery covers all the heavy Greek Chorus work, leaving Gill Nathanson to sputter and fume ancient vengeance. Jason offered money, but by God he’s not getting the kids. Just watch and see.


The Torture Chamber of Doctor Bear
Orlando Furioso
Written by Biers Blackwood
Green Venue 10th Orlando Fringe Festival

If you think your job is vicious, be glad you’re not in children’s puppet television. Miss three episodes, and those little cookie munchers will forget you ever walked the earth. It happened to Professor Wally (Sean Keohane), usurped by the sock puppet called Dr. Bear. Now Dr. Bear (Jeff Conover), promoted to walking costume puppet, faces the same fate at the hands of fresher, funnier, and less sweaty Fluffy Bunny (James Silson). Holed up in the cheap El Segundo Arms, Dr. Bear orders a massage and a pizza. Miss Bambi (Rachel Rhodes) discovers that while Bear is hypoallergenic, he has no penis and his tongue is glued felt. Not a promising start to an hour of hot sex.

Real or felt? That’s that puppeteer’s dilemma. You are flesh and blood, but inspire a felt and wire armature with personality. Dr. Bear has gone too far, and lost himself. After a bottle of vodka, his human nature starts to fight back to the top – he sees himself, naked in a mirror, miming his motions needed to animate the heavy costume. Now Fluffy Bunny’s gone missing, and under questioning from a loathsome detective (Jerrod Bogart), his career flashes before his eyes. He didn’t kill the rabbit now poised to push him off the stage, but he’s sure gonna, given half a chance.

Viciously funny, Dr. Bear’s story glides across the stage with humor and pathos even as the sets nearly wipe out the front row. More than once, the whole audience let out a collective ‘aaaawwww’ from some puppeteer’s manipulation of the wires. Miss Bambi strips, which I whole-heartedly support, and Bear’s alter ego (Scott Silson) appears nude. That’s not a problem in itself, but the mime of personalities was so near perfect that when Bear loses his suit, you sort of expect him to be nude as well. It’s a minor point, but since The Mayor has allowed nudity, lets go for the full artistic effect.

Mac Beth
Manchester Central Theater Company
Green Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – Mac Beth, favorite of King Duncan, kicks butt on the battlefield. In a few years, he might even make king. There’s just a little personality problem – he relies on soothsayers, but at least they are more accurate than the stuff Janet Jackson flogs. To grab the crown, just a few legitimate heirs need perish. Lady Mac Beth is not only more ambitious; she’s sick of drafty old Cordor Castle and wants to move to the trendier Duncan Estates. If only more people felt a fatal stabbing pain… With sparkling eyes and a mean streak that goes all the way to England, Lady M convinces hubby to kill the king. And his chamberlains. And his kids. And Banquo and half a dozen others. Sort of like remodeling, what starts out as a bit of paint and paper becomes a years-long fiasco that STILL doesn’t look right. Mac Beth puts an over optimistic spin on some bonus prophesies, and next thing you know, the whole English army rings his door bell and shouts, “Trick or Treat!”

Consider this to be the Reader’s Digest Condensed Shakespeare. All the good lines remain, with all the confusing Elizabethan in-jokes swept away with a lot those redundant minor characters. The whole show is down to an hour, and pardon me for saying this, it did need a bit of editing. With a cast of two experienced Shakespearian actors (Duncan Milligan and Joanne Haydock), character switches work well enough. Milligan looks confused and put upon by his wife (Mine wants a new kitchen. I know how he feels). Haydock has the will and sex appeal to convince even the audience a little murder will go a long way, and who’s really gonna notice a missing king in medieval Scotland?

Despite a mid-show blackout (Fringe is so much better at art than wiring), character and motion flowed effortlessly. It’s the skill of the actors to roll through the lines without re-inserting the bits dropped in the condensation. Some people consider the Bard’s work Holy Writ, and some consider it out of date and stuffy. It’s neither, of course. He’s just a writer, and after half a millennium, you notice things that could be a little tighter. The blokes from Manchester have taken a good stab at the problem.

An Evening of Estrogen
Jen Kober and Jill Shargaa
Orange Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

It’s Gay and Lesbian Sing-a-Long time in this raucous show of standup, sit-down, and musical comedy. Jen and Jill, each pretty funny in their own special ways, get together to keep an audience rolling and rocking for a little over an hour. Jen, the more full figured of the two, does a little stand up and improv, selecting one audience member to provide the improv starting points. When that person doesn’t deliver the concepts on time, there a look of utter contempt in her eyes as we slide to the show’s only slow point. After pelting the audience with Laffy Taffy and Twinkies, there’s a bit of audience humiliation (she picks on the only other lesbians visible from the front of the room) and a few songs about the evil weed. She claims to smoke some, but I’ll bet it’s just a rewrapped clove ciggy. Orlando’s not THAT tolerant of the arts yet.

After Jen eats her appointed half show, Jill (the thinner, yet shorter one) appears with her electric guitar to slide though a clever set of song parodies. Some are way too short, being just a riff and a line (See me, feel me, nudge nudge me, wink wink me) to a few longer, better developed numbers (Now You Live In Bithlo / We Will Rock You). It’s nasty but safe – she’s unlikely to draw much audience from the mud bog and drag race set. Jill’s biggest innovation in comedy is the replacement of the drummer’s rim shot with flipping the bird to the audience. It seems to work, and with only guitarist Morgan and a cameraman documenting the silliness, it’s sure cheaper. The sound was awful, and mercifully the guitar amp burst into flame, forcing the last part of the show into “unplugged status.” The jokes are rude and crude and the audience loved them, but your mom will not be impressed.


Incense and Nonsense – A Night of Religious Burlesque
Written and Directed by Rob Labby
Act About Players
Orange Venue
10th Orlando Fringe Festival

There are worse deaths than drowning, crucifixion, or staked over an anthill – there is always Death By Bad Comedy. Act About set out to do a little burlesque show, and obeyed the first rule of comedy: “If you don’t have your own material, steal someone else’s.” The second rule is “It ain’t what you say, it’s how you say it.” That one they missed. Many of the sketches are taken or adapted from classic burlesque routine, such as Smith and Dale’s Doctor Sketch. It’s silly, a bit racist, and hysterically funny when done with a bit of timing. Today, it just sort of lay there on life support with its loved ones hovering about and planning the wake. Whole jokes went by without even the decency to have some punch on the punch line – when a joke dies, you should at least tell where you’re SUPPOSED to laugh. The closest we got to whipping the audience into something other than a torpor of humor came from Tim Dunn as Reverend Holey Moley, the Lay Your Hands On The Radio faith healer. He at least pulled a reluctant “Amen” from the crowd as we neared the end of service. But as we wrapped up, the whole cast came out and sang ALONG WITH A RECORD. It’s not that God doesn’t have a sense of humor; just some of his sheep are still a little lost in that department.


As You Like It
Written by Wm. Shakespeare
Directed by Eric Hissom
Starring Richard Width, Grace Gonglewski, Steve Lyons
Orlando UCF Shakespeare Festival
Lake Eola Park, Orlando Fla.

It’s peace, love and iambic pentameter in this hippy dippy 1968 Shakespearian comedy. Duke Roland De Boys dies leaving mean old Oliver (Tom Picket Taylor) to pick on younger brother Orlando (Width). Why is he so mean? Orlando’s not even a stepbrother, and he’s fed up with mowing the lawn and washing Oliver’s car. He takes a shot at Dick Nixon’s (Duke Freddy, Robert Krakovski) favorite, Cassius Clay (Randy Culzac) and wins immediate banishment in an upset victory. Things could be worse – at least fair Rosalind (Gonglewski) falls for him. Well, we can’t have one lover banished and another in town, so Rosalind beats feet with best friend, cousin, and personal style consultant Celia (Margot White). They’re off to join the Merry Pranksters of the Arden Woods, a sort of people’s democratic anarchist free love commune. Dressed as a man to reduce road hassle and provide a handy plot point, Rosalind confuses everyone, particularly Orlando. Denser than your typical Elizabethan swain, he fails to detect Rosalind’s secondary sexual characteristics, but still woo’s her with a bit more enthusiasm than required. Hey, guess what? Oliver comes around, Duke Dick Nixon joins a monastery, love is in the air, and now we can all marry and make merry.

There’s a lot to recommend setting this story in the 60’s. If you strip off the quaint words (quintain, quatrain, quodlibet, or something like that) there’s a concept album lurking here. Narrating and playing a mean lead guitar is Steve Lyons, looking like a cross between Roger Daltry and that whacked out LSD guy in Woodstock. Dathan Williams (Touchstone) tells a few jokes, some of which we get, and then fronts the closest thing to an Elizabethan showstopper musical number – James Brown plays Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar. There’s a real chemistry between Rosalind and Celica, and Width plays the sort of petulant hunk women always pick up first. And the minors put up some great scenes, like Kip Pierson’s Sylvanius wooing saucy wench Phebe (Kathleen Kaplan). She’s practicing for Taming of the Shrew, yet he seems so thrilled to win her. Well, country living did seem a little more pleasant when you haven’t had to actually do it yourself.

Romeo and Juliet
Written by Wm. Shakespeare
Directed by Dennis Delaney
Starring Alessandro Juliani, Margot White
Orlando UCF Shakespeare festival
Lake Eola Band Shell, Orlando, Fla

There’s a reason we don’t let 13 year-olds marry – they overreact to
the slightest little thing. Take steamy little Romeo Montague (Juliani).
One minute he’s pining for the unavailable Rosalind. Next thing, he’s
got a Jones for even-more remote Juliet Capulet (White). For some
reason, the Montagues and Capulets are pegged on vengeance, and even
the servants are ready to bite thumbs and snap towels at one another.
And Romeo has to pick one of THEIR women to romance. Well, its true
love, its Elizabethan, and next thing these two kids run off to Friar
Lawrence (Dathan Williams). They call him ‘Father Easy’ around the
church – he’ll go along with nearly any crackpot scheme that walks up
and knocks on his cell door. Papa Capulet (Robert Krakovski) has
another guy in mind anyway – dashing Count Paris (Tom Taylor), who has
no idea what he’s in for. When a minor street brawl kills randy Mercutio
(Mark Rector) and the evil Eddie Munster lookalike Tybalt (Andy
Warrener), Romeo finds himself banished and suicidal. Friar Easy, I mean
Lawrence, comes with a dangerous solution – drug Juliet so everyone
thinks she’s dead, then dig her out of the familial tomb before she
suffocates. If only Romeo would read his mail – he misses the plot, and
has to kill himself. Personally, I don’t think Lawrence should have
married the two in the first place, and a little premarital counseling
would have been in order at least. I tell ya, it’s got every modern day
hot button – underage sex, drugs, teen suicide, messing with the undead
– if it wasn’t a classic, you couldn’t put this material up today.

Notionally set in the 1830’s New Orleans, we see the Montagues as black
and the Caplets as white, but Romeo is so much paler than his kin folks that
it’s sort of hard to keep race in mind as a motivation. Even more
disconcerting, only two of the characters speak in a southern accent –
either everybody must drawl, or nobody gets to drawl. Juliani and White
shoot some sparks, but my favorite character is Mercutio, who runs
around in his best Mardi Gras goat pants and horns, sexually harassing
all the women in town. You may have gone to school with this guy. And
what Shakespearean play would be complete without comic minor
characters, like the graceful comedy of servant Peter (Jason Flora).
On a beautiful and well lit revolving stage, there were a few sound
problems from time to time – crackly mikes and inaudible bits of dialogue.
While these are fixable, there were a few pieces of music played in the
background that overcame the actors’ speeches, and added little to the
production. And while technically a tragedy, the body count is rather
low (6, and one of those has a heart attack in the dressing room) and
the first half plays as a romantic comedy – I think the two star-crossed lovers
would have made it together, had only they showed a little more patience
and less desire to prove some dramatic point or other by stabbing
themselves. Impetuous youth, stay thy hormones!

Menopause – The Musical
Book & Lyrics by Jeanie Linders
TOC Productions
Exchange Theater, Orlando, Fla

The Estrogen-challenged set was out in force for the debut of one of the
seasons cleverest parodies. Adding ” – The Musical” to just about any
disaster can lift it from the realm of tragedy to comedy, and an older
woman’s, ahem, passage is no different. Four pretty decent vocalists
meet in a lingerie scrum at Bloomingdale’s, and strike a musical
friendship based on their common interest – menopause. It’s a musical,
so we’re not looking for much plot, but the songs better be good. It’s
the rule.

And pretty good they are. With nearly 2 dozen pop tunes that we all sort
of remember reworded in a hormonal manner, there are plenty of laughs,
even for the two guys who crept in. My favorite singer was Shelley
Brown, who has a wonderful gospel singing voice, carrying just enough
tremolo to let you know she doesn’t just practice in the shower. Taking
the lead on “You heard it through the grapevine (And now you’ll never see
39)”, you hope these songs can slide into a bootleg Motown greatest hits
disk. Another stand out has Patti McGuire doing a touching duet with a
long pink Mr. Microphone, “Only You”. Well, her and her microphone,
anyway. And everyone, including Wesley Williams and Pam O’Bannon pitch
in on “The Husband Sleeps Tonight”, which is why all older couples need
to keep a guest room.

The set, I’m told on good authority, was painted “Blush”, which is one
of those colors like Navy Blue, that only woman can see. And on that
Blush Set sang the 4 horsemen of menopause – Zoloft, Praxil, Prozac, and
St. Johns Wort. It’s silly, it’s fun, but let me remind you – please take
your medication – it will make everyone happier.


Easter Lilies
Written and Directed by Bobbie Bell
Starring Adam Williams, Tiki Noriega – Hagen, Kimberly Nelson
Seminole Community College Fine Arts Theater

The world keeps shrinking for the Russell family. Daddy’s swindled most of the populace of Florida and those poor deluded fools want their money back. Flies, vultures, and maggots circle the corpse of his empire, and mysterious Daniel Richter (Jeffery Wilson) harasses spoiled son Joshua (Williams) and his loyal fiancée Theresa (Noriega). Little sister Christine’s (Nelson) not just delusional, she thinks she’s Saint Hildegard, Saint Theresa, and a few other holy types that got the pink slip at Vatican II. While on unauthorized leave from the home, she’s on a mission to talk to all the flowers in town. They need her advice, it seems.

Joshua has a few items hidden away, like a condo and a secret bank account and a mysterious painting of St Sebastian. Richter finds out about them by hanging with the gardening help around town, and means to settle his debt. He brow beats and sermonizes Josh until he coughs up his last dime, licks Richter’s cane, and agrees never to say anything bad about poor people ever again. Is this the vengeance of a wrathful Richter? Is Josh now homeless and unemployable? Deus Ex Machina, Richter gives it all back! Well, most of it – the house goes to a foster family. It was just an act to teach Josh some humility. As if he’ll learn to appreciate the proletariat.

Easter Lilies has some finely written and acted charters, and some stunningly awful dialog. William’s Joshua combines the unpleasantness of a completely thoughtless bad boy with his sister’s professional insanity. And Nelson’s Christina is a delightfully innocent weirdo, ready to do anything for the world around her, fully believing in her mission from God. Bell’s script shows a thorough understanding of Catholicism and its relation to 19th and 20th century philosophy, but has some astonishingly self righteous speechifying. Particularly jarring is Richter’s long diatribe against Joshua, accusing him of every modern evil from wearing shoes made by Third World slave labor to living in a gated community to keep the homeless at bay. All valid topics for a Easter Morality play, had they been introduced prior to the closing scene. Richter wears the same shoe and lives in the same community as Josh, and has no moral high ground to make these accusations. And on Richter’s one truly justifiable complaint against Josh, that he disrespects his students, he lets him off the hook. It will make you wince, but it might make you think.

Seder
Written & Directed by Ron Vierling
Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center
and the Jewish Community Center
Maitland, Fla

War is hell. And it’s especially bad when you have no way to fight back.
Five sisters, daughters of a small town polish Rabbi, are lucky enough
to escape the Nazis in body if not soul. It takes 50 years and travel
round the world to bring them together in Chicago, a reunion they hope
to celebrate with the Seder meal, a tradition

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