Number 18: May, 2001

Number 18: May, 2001

One big advantage of Pro Wrestling over the NBA is they never ask for a new arena, and if they did there would be no silly talk about spending $250 million in honestly stolen tourist tax dollars to build it. And if you gave someone close to $000,000,000.00, you might see the following fine entertainment.

Anatomy of an Actress
Written by Rootie Wilder
Directed by Ken Eulo
Theater Garage, Orlando, Fla

Must actors find motivation from the events of their own lives, or is the ‘craft’ building a role from whatever motivation comes from thin air? In the case of Harley (Wilder), the motivation for her climatic scene in tonight’s play-within-a-play derives from the suicide of her husband. She records the search for the character in a diary, and her internal struggle to construct an alter ego fills the moments between acts of the sub-play. Her life and the role she takes are strongly similar, and it’s unclear she could play the role without tragedy preceding the casting call.

The sub-play dominates the show, with husband Zeke (Dave Mueller) abusing everyone and whining that no one supports him while he works in construction. After a fling with a 13 year old baby sitter, the resulting blame for pregnancy fell to 12 year old son Caine (Greg Nappo). Caine accepted the blame, hoping to protect the father he loves. Harley’s character Ruth is the up and coming mother, mid level executive, and coffee achiever. She seems unnaturally conspiratorial with her son, just as Zeke feels unnaturally abusive to the one person who has the goods on him. Everyone uses the word ‘confront’ constantly, until it grates like excessive profanity. When you see Ruth and Zeke for the first time, you might think, “How did THESE people ever get together?” It takes strong acting to overcome the serious problems with the character’s interrelations, but that acting does comes forward. Everyone on stage projects a strong, vital, and believable persona. You just sort of wonder how they all fell together on stage at the same time. Clearly, the author has done some confronting and healing in her own life, and has a desire to tell the story to those of us with less confronting in our lives. Still, if I had blown my kids college fund to cover up an abortion and gotten him to take the fall, I’d cut him a bit more slack on mowing the lawn.

The Odd Couple
By Neil Simon
Directed by Trudy Bruner
Starring Rick Stanley, Stephen Jones
Mad Cow Theater

Stop me if you’ve heard this story – divorced, broke, and sloppy Oscar Madison (Jones) lives in a really nice NYC apartment, bleeding money and self-respect. His regular Friday poker game is falling apart tonight because no one can stand the smell or find their obsessive buddy Felix Ungar (Stanley). Felix is missing because his wife booted him for the same but exactly opposite reason Oscar’s wife booted him – he’s not that bad a guy, but he’ll drive you nuts just standing there. In a spate of soon-to-be-regretted sympathy, Oscar takes him in. Felix agrees to do a little light cooking and cleaning to earn his keep. Of course, to Felix, light cleaning leaves a place suitable for building Pentium processors. After a few scenes, Oscar is ready to kill, the poker game is incomplete disarray, and Felix is starting to feel a bit unloved. Topping off their relation, Oscars invites the bubble headed but available Pigeon sisters (Adonna Niosi and Mikki Kriekard) down for a little entertainment, and Felix reduces them to tears before Oscar can even get friendly. It’s linguini-flinging time.

It’s hard to think of a better Felix on the local scene than Stanley. Fussy and self absorbed, with a single disgusted glance he conveys the smell of Oscars fetid apartment. And Jones’ Oscar is no slouch, either. His life falling apart and he has no idea exactly why. Now he’s gone completely out of control, gambling compulsively to try and make his support payments on sport writer pay. Only by uniting can they both save each other – Felix from suicide and Oscar from filthicide. Do the opposites attract? Not here – they just grind each other down until Oscar has no option but to divorce Felix and Felix has no option but to accept. It’s the only thing that can save their poker game.

With a strong supporting cast (Dennis Enos, Jim Bruner, Ron McDuffie, and Dennis Forza, Jr.) and a pack of really cheap cigars (my wife threatened to leave pre show when she smelled the warm up smoke), Mad Cow takes a dangerously safe play and reinvigorates it. It’s about divorce and loss – not only have Felix and Oscar divorced their wives, but they end up divorcing each other. Good thing there’s no sex to mess up a perfectly good poker game.

I Love My Wife
Book and Lyric by Michael Stewart
Music by Cy Coleman
Directed by Mark Brotherton
UCF Civic Theater, Orlando, Fla

Once upon a time, in country far far away (Trenton, New Jersey in the early 70′) casual group sex with your coworkers seemed like a good idea. Today you might regard this like juggling hand grenades. Suave Wally (Cory Warren) convinces spacey Alvin (Chris Layton) that threesomes are all the rage, and for all we know, that might even be true. Alvin suggests he and wife Cleo (Michelle Knight) give it a go. Deeply offended Cleo threatens to leave, but this is a musical so she immediately changes her mind and puts on her Victoria’s Secret duds. All we need now is a third party, and that would be either Wally or his wife Monica (Laura Mainard), depending on who walks in the door first. They come in side by side, and Wally suggests a foursome after Monica pops off to visit Mom for a few minutes. Monica gets the news at the last minute, that being just before Christmas dinner. Deeply offended Monica threatens to leave, but then she remembers this is a musical and immediately changes her mind and puts on HER skimpy PJ’s. Everyone jumps in the sack and were about to lose our multi-virginity until Alvin has trouble, um, concentrating. If he can’t do it, no one can, and everyone goes home relieved.

“Wife” holds a strange fascination – it’s so un-PC and yet so well done that laughter overcomes the little voice in the back of your head screaming, “WHAT were they thinking?” Alvin starts out a bit of a doofus but soon takes control of the show with his physical presence and torn personality – he’s in favor of sexual liberation, but not if it involves some one else grabbing his wife’s behind. Both Cleo and Monica pop easily from sexy to offended – the roles aren’t written that smoothly, but Knight and Mainard handle the awkwardness well enough to carry the plot line. And Wally is one of those guys you stop hanging with when you realize they make the dumbest stuff sound OK, and then leave you to twist in the breeze when you follow their advice. So, as far as musicals go, the book makes more sense than most, and there are only two numbers that don’t make a lot of sense – “A Mover’s Life,” which celebrates hauling households around, and “Everybody Today Is Turning On,” about the joys of getting stoned. They’re great songs, well sung, but sort of stapled on to the plot line. Despite these flaws, “Wife” is a pleasant time-release capsule, spiced with a Christmas time theme that makes absolutely no sense in May. But, hey, it’s a musical!

4 Men and Their Testosterone
Written by Peter Tolan / Aaron Sorkin
Directed by Larry Lesher
SteppenDwarf Productions
Impacte! Theater

Two stories, 4 men. It’s so simple, even if they’re not the exact same 4 men in each tale. In ‘Best Half Foot Forward’ (Tolan), the guys are bonding in a cabin in the north woods, with no TV, phone, radio, computer, nothing. They’ve been there a week, so they’re about at each other’s throats. Everyone picks on Dave (Mark Nixon) for his stupid hat and innate fear of ticks. Martin (Chris Robertson) manages to work a reference to his penis size into every sentence spoken, and Peter (Mark Marinaccio) is ready to call him on it. They’re not gay, OK, but it’s time for everyone to whip it out on the count of 3 and decide is size really does matter, at least in the context of casual conversation. And what do you think? Of course Martin was lying – he’s a guy in a cabin with 3 other guys in New Hamster. Why on earth would you expect the truth?

After a blackout and some new non-descript shirts, ‘Hidden In This Picture’ rolls. Robert (Lesher) has his first and possible last directing job documenting the disillusionment of Marines on Guam. You know this type of film, it’s either brilliant or dreck, but best wait for the reviews before you plunk down serious popcorn money. He’s over budget, late, and needs one last shot – the critical 11 minute, sun setting over the troops filtering back to their barracks shot. Yup, dreck. Go catch something with subtitles. He’s letting the Production Assistant Craig (Gianni Quatrano) call action so he can sit on top of the hill and enjoy the pinnacle of his mediocre career with his best friend and writer Jeff (Marinaccio). Joy is short lived when three cows wander on camera and set into dinner. Can we shoot them? Mat them out? Make them look like tanks or boats or something military? Or just leave them in and go for camp? Heck, add subtitles and dub it in Italian, it’s all the same.

Two funny stories add up to a very fun show. Both are about guys doing guy things, but there’s never any objectionable testosteronics. Lesher chose well, both in cast and script, and put together one of the funnier shows in this year’s Fringe Fest. Plus we learn a few new genital nicknames. I’m going to call mine “The Barbarian at the Zippered Gate.” That’ll impress the girls.

Written & Directed by Jeremy Menekseoglu
Presented by Dream Theater
At Studio Theater, Orlando Fla

You don’t get schizophrenia from sexual abuse, but if you ARE schizoid, abuse can help firm up what the voices are babbling about. Velvet (Rebecca Lincoln) has some short and long-term memory issues, but her real problem is the ghost of her handless father and first lover Keseburg (Steven Kittnedorf), haunting her night and day. She spends her day throwing marshmallows at the ducks in the park and the audience in their seats, and has fallen for Ben (Shawn Rotondo), the absolute nicest paroled 3rd-degree murderer and truck thief you’d ever want to meet. He’s got one of those electronic elk tracking bracelets, so he can’t really walk Velvet home after that critical first date. Velvet’s brother Lone (Menekseoglu) has scraped up the scratch to put Velvet in a really nice home up in Boston, and needs to get the deed done so he can train for the upcoming Olympic Sharp Shooting trails. And where did that money come from? Why, it’s a gift from semi girlfriend and wife Cricket (Caroline Treadwell), who plans to do a little balance beam work if she makes it to the games Down Under. While everyone’s screaming in a hotel room in Oak City, Ben shows up to no one’s delight, except poor lost Velvet who realized he needs a shower real bad. And she’s ready to wash his back. Of course, Ben gets beaten soundly and repeatedly for his efforts to find Velvet.

All these folks are damaged, each in their own way. Velvet’s got a demon that won’t let her sleep, the demon of a man accidentally killed in the act of molestation. Lone is dripping anger. Ben’s just one of those shithead losers who can write “Well, prison’s just like it always was,” with no irony. And Cricket seems to be infected with a fundamentalist Christian belief in the evils of alcohol and pain pills. Hey, what did that J man do for a living? He made wine, and made people not hurt. So what’s the deal? Plus she’s got Nationals in 13 weeks, like anyone cares. It’s a fine cast, and everyone’s got their parts nailed, with Ben and his eye action my favorite. Another excellent performance came from Keseburg, who was a genuine creepout when on stage in his Terror on Church Street makeup. Even the lighting was outstanding, a difficult task in the black box Studio Theater Space.

The fine acting overcomes the story’s structure. Alligator is chopped into innumerable microscopic scenes, separated by blackouts where the minimal props are rearranged for no discernable effect. As soon as a bit of narrative continuity builds, we stop, drop and roll into another scene. It’s as if the writer’s attention span was far shorter than mine. It’s an interesting tale, but it would flow better with fewer, more complex scenes. Despite this problem, Alligator considers whether two dang close to inoperable people can be happier together than apart. They think so, and who are we to disappoint them while they each wait there respective turns for a renewed freedom? And they make such a cute couple.

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 shown 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 bet on 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 term 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 enough 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 your 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 archetypal 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 viewpoint. 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 of 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 courses 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 they’re 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. You’re not laughing AT them, you’re laughing WITH them. But in a good way.

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’d 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 super 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.

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.”

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 Upstaging! 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.

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.

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