Number 19: Summer, 2001

Number 19: Summer, 2001

The other night I was in the local coffee bar and video store. You know the place – it’s easier to find a copy of “Wittengenstein” than “Austin Powers,” and the Ted V. Mickles section is larger than the Arnie section. Some guy was bragging that his friend was “the Greatest Buddhist in the Western hemisphere.” Doesn’t “Greatest Buddhist” seem just a bit antithetical to the whole idea of Buddhism? And how was he selected – did I miss the award show? Who made “Most Serene” this year? Did anyone finally levitate?

Dr. Piranha’s Super Sci-Fi Theater
Written and Directed by Rory Penland
Studio Garage, Orlando, Fla

Ya gotta love the title. The costumes are a blast, and the music and effects (Rooney LaPlante) are great, and even a few of the skits are pretty funny. Not all of them, mind you, but that’s the price of exploring brave new words of skit comedy. Sometimes you land on the planet of large breasted women, and sometimes the Klingons just invite you over for dinner.

We begin with an iffy “X-Men Auditions”, where the team of mutant superheroes holds tryouts in Mobile, an area well known for mutant activity. There’s Scooter {Darren Humphrey), who can knock over a coke can at 2 paces with his belching, Delbert (Jonathan Sloan) the Possum Man who sticks babies to his outfit and plays dead really well, and Runestone (Jessica Saitta), who, well, is in tune with the cosmos. But the real keeper of the interview is Ecstasy (Tina Gleason) who really does have a super power – she can give you an orgasm just by thinking at you. Now THERE’s a crime fighting skill.

“Interview of The Shoogar” brings a dedicated and enthusiastic Rumanian applicant Shoogar (Penland) to the world of life insurance. He’s a hard worker, owns his own feet, and will kill you if you don’t hire him. Actuarially speaking, the funniest part of the show. Another winner was the “All Nebula Dating Service” with a spotty and unpronounceable alien (Sidney Dragon) revealing his inner self to the disembodied voice, enumerating height, weight, excretory orifices, and taste in species. He got Tori Spelling. Not a bad deal, but I don’t think all the orifices will line up.

What Sci Fi show is complete with out the Star trek parody? I think it’s a legal requirement in some states, and “Star Drek” is the Dr. Piranha version. You’ve got Scotty (Humphries) going on about those worthless dilithium crystals, Uhura (Teresa Castillo) with an attitude bitching out at Spock (Spock), and the whole crew mistakenly missing Kirk with that transporter thingy and nabbing Jeanie, Batgirl, Floyd the Barber and a very Tim Curry sounding Thurston Howell from the other 70’s TV dimensions. It looks cute, but never really went anywhere

There was even a bit of decent improv, but with the small audience at the premiere of this show, the cast had to do with Shi-tang Blood Beast Poetry about Vinyl Flooring. I’m sorry; it was the only subject that came to mind.

Doc P has the clever genesis of a show with a great cast and concept, but needs more work on the actual funny bits. Some of the segments peter out or just sort of stop, and some of the ideas that do work don’t expend to their full potential. Still, it is something to see when Sak lets out.

The Baby Dance
By Jane Anderson
Directed by Dennis Enos & Beth Marshall
Starring Beth Marshal, Denis Enos,Jeffery Grant, Abrah Wilberding
Spirit Daddy Productions at Impacte! Theater
Orlando, Fla

There’s a lot of similarity between buying a private party used car and a baby. No warrantee, of course, and there may be hidden problems that don’t show up for weeks. Negotiations can be stressful with both side thinks the other is taking advantage, and it’s true often enough. Rachel and Richard (Wilderburg and Enos) can’t make babies on their own, and Al and Wanda (Grant & Marshall) can’t seem to NOT make babies – a classic case of supply and demand. Through an intermediary lawyer, the ultra efficient Roni (Nicole Geiler) these two couples have entered into one of those tabloid agreements – the liberal yuppies get a nice white baby, and the trailer trash get a new set of tires and bail money for mama. What could go wrong? Only a minor issue of umbilical cord length and short-term oxygen deprivation. Fortunately for the parents-to-buy, Louisiana law gives everybody five days to make a decision after the birth. Rachel wants this baby doll, but Richard hears a funny sound under the hood and backs away. Al and Wanda end up with just one more mouth they can’t feed, but at least they got some new skins for the pick-em-up truck.

Wanda and Rachel spend the interminable first act getting to know one another. Wanda eats cold cuts and Jell-O and spends more time pregnant than not, while Rachel drinks Perrier and avoids caffeine and cigs and thinks Wanda should as well. Al clings to what pride he can, and Richard hold out for the extended warrantee and the floor mats. No one will be happy no matter how things turn out.

A well-balanced cast paints this culture clash sympathetically, and the scripts picks up considerably in the seconds act when Richard and Al come to blows over a child neither really wants. Wanda and Rachel could have be best friends, except for the bit about money and education and how they were brought up. Roni will get her fee eventually, that type always does. Once upon a time, babies appeared magically under the cabbage leaves, and now you can pick them of the Internet. But a baby still has a soul, and only the real parents understand this tonight. Still, I’m with Richard 100% on not viewing the actually delivery. It’s too much like watching someone work on your tranny.

Killer Joe
By Tracy Lett
Directed by John DiDonna
SoulFire Traveling Medicine Show
at Zoe & Company

Rednecks keep the TV on all the time to cover the sound of the pit bulls barking. And pit bulls bark loud, so they can be heard over the blare of “Wheel of Fortune.” But even a loud out-of-tune TV can’t hide the sound of Chris Smith (Scott Hodges) who needs a bunch of money RIGHT NOW which his daddy Ansel (Brian Bradley) isn’t likely to have it in his BVD’s. But what daddy does have is an alcoholic ex-wife with an insurance policy made out to slow thinking daughter Dottie (Brook Hanemann), and nobody’s all that fond of mama anyway. Chris knows of a gentleman who might help, a professional and a member of Dallas County’s finest, Joe Cooper (Rus Blackwell). He takes cash, up front, but might just negotiate an easy payment plan if Dottie were tossed in as a retainer. When Ansel’s ex-ex expires, there’s a bit of confusion about who actually gets the money – it’s not Dottie, but Rex, her second husband and Ansel’s second wife Sharla’s (Babette Garber’s) boyfriend. Yup, it’s white trash Wuthering Heights – she’s taking Ansel’s money AND sucking Rex’s crank. Trailer life – it just doesn’t get any better than this.

Nor does local theater. It’s crude, sexy, scary, and the funniest show you’ll ever see that leaves half the cast naked, dead or seriously wounded at the curtain. It’s not recommended for small children or impressionable Mayors, but you should grab a seat behind the splatter shield before it sells out. The casting is perfect – Brian Bradley cowers in his undies, not exactly a comedic role, but hysterical nonetheless. Wifey Garber is the sort of woman who greets you at the door half nude, and can’t see the problem
when her stepson objects. In the long view, it’s a reasonable reaction – it’s not like the preacher is going to show up at 3 a.m., and most of the rest of Dallas county must have seen that beaver somewhere. Hodges bleeds well when not screaming, but he covers both with the grace of a boy with more overlapping chromosomes than generally regarded as legal, even in Tejas. The
real chemistry rises from Blackwell and Hanneman. He’s creepily polite and bosses this loser family around like a cop pulling you over for 85 in 40 zone, and Dottie’s happy to obey – she hasn’t had a date since 3rd grade, but looks pretty sexy in her red party dress and nothing else. The seduction leaves the audience breathless, and tears Dottie between loyalty to Chris and lust for Cooper. It’s an amazing performance.

Safe behind that #4 chicken wire, the audience avoids most of the spray of fried chicken, troll dolls, and Blatz. God – how much of that stuff can you drink and still act without hurting yourself? Watch Bradley and find out. And then there’s even a moral – when dealing with people who can’t buy lotto tickets regularly, get cash in advance. Otherwise you’ll end up with a trailer AND a woman you don’t need.

Rainbow Sprinkles
Written By Stacey Lane Smith
Directed by Doreen Heard
Starring Marilyn McGinnis, David A McElroy
Playwrights Round Table at Impacte! Theater
Orlando, Fla

The conservative ideal is everyone starts in the same place, and the liberal ideal is everyone ends in the same place. And in the liberal world of suburban kiddie clowns, better than average is anathema, no one may have more fun than anyone else, and stilt walking is just another way of poking fun at cripples. Or are they “Differently Abled” folks… I get confused, just like whether to cheer for dodge ball and deride the Presidents council on Physical fitness, or the other way around. Concerned mom Miranda Giles Hampton (McGinnis) wants the best possible party for her precious 10 year old, and interviews helpless clowns like poor Mr. Rainbow Sprinkles, aka Mr. Noman (McElroy). Stilts are out, magic whiffs of Satanism, a nicer than regular face painting might damage a young psyche, and balloon animals – well, someone like Mrs. Miranda might interpret them as phallic symbols. And lets not even THINK about the rainbow on Sprinkle’s face.

It’s the modern plague of PC, and just as patriots fought the British and the Germans and the godless commies, it’s timer for playwrights and rednecks and kiddie clowns to stand up to the misplaced fear of offending anyone anywhere anytime. The fussy, flighty boss form hell Hampton Giles needed a good talking to, and Mr. Noman was the right person to give it to her. Plus, he throws little sparkle confetti – just as Impacte finally got the floor clean from their last fundraiser. But this is not too large a price to defend the American Way and offend those who would have no offense. They offend me, and I want it stopped.

Psycho Date
Written by Mel Basham
Directed by Simon Needham
Playwrights Round Table at Impacte! Theater
Orlando, Fla

In small town American, you date the boy next door more because he’s available, rather than because he’s some sort of wonderful. Jane (Erin Kelly Gallagher) has been through the phone book, and a blind ate with axe wielding Norm (Tom Ruby) might be a step up from rednecks Lou and Tom (Lou Hillaire and Paul Tomayko). They’ve agreed to meet at the Hard Cheesecake Café in Truckstop, Okalahoma. Norm’s got his own theme music (well, he borrowed it, but who really watches Hitchcock these days?), and CNN refers to him as “Bowling Ball Bag Norm”, but none of this really matters to Jane. Norms might be opening a string of hotels in Paris (no, no that one, it has plenty already) and Jane sees a path out. Out of this truck stop, out of small town Nowhereville, and maybe a way out of the misery of continued living. Perky, sassy waitress Velma (Karen Miller-Press) even brings a knife so Norm can cut the cake. Or anything else that needs cutting.

Yeah, dating’s a desperate situation. Do you go with the cute guy, knowing he might just chop you to pieces? Or pick the lowest common denominator knowing he might just make you go bass fishing every weekend of your natural life? I know it’s a tough call, lets hope likable Jane can eventually find a guy who just snores a lot. If Norm doesn’t turn into a long term life partner, they can at least have a few laughs about his mom. Or maybe not.

This Side Jordan
Written by John Goring
Directed by Willie Teacher
Playwrights Round Table at Impacte! Theater
Orlando, Fla

It ain’t racism if you’ve got money and a proud war record. Gruff but despicable Commissioner (Key Howard) runs this town, and facts aren’t going to stifle his brand of justice when a black man is shot. We’ll just round up one of the usual suspects, and string him high. It’s the southern way. Parker’s (Carlos Jackson’s) the candidate for tonight’s instant justice, and he’s having a few last words with his distraught wife Dinah (Michelle Nicole Falana). The Commissioner’s son J.T. (Steve Lyons) runs the one cell jail, and the Commissioner’s disgust with him barley surpasses the hate he feels for the blacks in the town he runs, owns, and dominates. Since the police report doesn’t support his plans for the case, he goes in to interview Parker and force him to raise a fist in anger. The abuse grows until J.T. breaks down and shoots his own father. It’s instant justice, all right.

It’s rough, disturbing, and you know it’s a way of life not that far-gone. Howard’s Commissioner controls the play, just as he controlled his little world. But with no effective curb, he abused his position until someone had the courage to stand up to him and solve the problem he causes. You have sympathy for Parker – “I’ve done a hundred bas things in life, but I didn’t do this.” He may deserve punishment, but at least here he gets away with innocence.

The Anonymous Dutchman
Written By Stephen J Miller
Directed by David McElroy
Starring Paul Tomayko, Mark March
Playwrights Round Table at Impacte! Theater
Orlando, Fla

There are things you do because it’s your job, and there are things you do for fun. Eric (March) finds both activities in the park tonight. This evening he’s having sex in the shrubbery, and in 24 hours he’ll be back in uniform busting the cruising set. But that’s for tomorrow, tonight he’s met a special guy named John (Tomayko) and they’re having a little cappuccino to celebrate and get to know each other. John’s an architect, out and proud, and someone like Eric might be his answer for long-term happiness. Meanwhile, cruising is just a way to meet people without having to go to a mall or someplace boring. Eric’s happily married, has two nice little girls, and works for the vice squad. There’s about to be a big police crack down on gay guys in the park, and would John please pass the word? It would save everyone a lot of pain.

Jeez, do cops actually do this? Even gay ones who might want to revisit the scene of the crime when the mood suits them? It’s a touching story, but Eric will never leave his wife, not even for an architect with College Park renovation market sewed up. Eric has his standards, he has his job to do, but it’s not going to interfere with his hobby. And work? Well, there’s always crimes to fight, so it’s not like the police are going to lay anyone off. He’s just a nice guy. I’ll bet he’d even let you off a speeding ticket if you had a clever enough story.

People Like You
Written by Jack McGrath
Directed by Heather Leonardi
Starring Heather Leonardi, Erin Muroski
Playwrights Round Table at Impacte! Theater
Orlando, Fla

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean their not gathering data on you. Send in a warrantee card, order something on the net, call your mother – all that information and more goes into some central scrutinizer, and voila! – they can predict what fire place tools you buy, who you’ll marry, and even if you’ll have to fill out a life insurance claim form tomorrow. Ms. Klein (Leonardi) heads off to Peru to become an archeologist, and life insurance peddler Ms. Jones (Muroski) has just enough time to catch her on the way to the airport. The numbers show she might be killed by a leftist guerilla organization, and the publicity for CyberLife will help pop it’s IPO (This is so 1999, but the thought is nice). She’ll sell her policy; all right, and never mind her bosses admonition to fasten the seatbelt on the way back to the office.

It’s funny story, but then again it’s not. If you ever want a creepy sensation, try searching on your own name and see what surfaces. I found a cousin in Beloit who’s wanted for spouse abuse, but no matter. Whole industries are based on Ms. Jones predicting what Ms. Klein will do or buy, or have happened to her, and they aren’t going away. Stop worrying about the CIA chip in your hiney (it never really worked all that well) and start worrying about the junk mail and how it gets to YOUR house. I do.

The Dining Room
By A. R. Gurney
Directed by Kevin Main
Theater Garage
Orlando Fla

So many of us have dining rooms – stately, aloof, reserved for those special guests, or perhaps crowed, messy homey areas for home work and taxes and Cheerios. As our lives pass by the dinning room remains – a still point in the lives we lead and the homes we inhabit. Certainly, crises appear – Mom loses her mind and wants to go home, or Dad goes off and fights for the honor of his dishonorable brother, or the maid quits. And smaller events happen here – the folks left the liquor cabinet is open and there might be boys with pot, crazed architects want to move a few walls, mom’s cheating and gets caught, but the dinning room caries on.

Our dining room is the province of the moneyed New England set, wandering in time from the depths of the depression to today. A series of vignettes (I think the Vingette’s come from Connecticut, but I’ll check the Social Register later) fill the evening. In one scene, the grandchildren are leaving the nest, and taking the nest egg with them. Wealthy Gramps (Joe L Smith) has the money, and grandson. Erik Wagner comes looking for a slice – does he need are car, or does he want to go to Europe this summer, or is he marrying? No, just boarding school, High Episcopalian, perhaps, and the browbeating is horrible but the check is forthcoming. Then there’s the spat between husband (Matthew Damiani) and grad student wife (Dina Pancoast) about using the dining room table for a typing desk. It’s bad enough she’s typing there, but using Grandma’s Irish linen place mats under the old Underwood – unforgivable! And when given the choice between theater with her favorite aunt and the first night of the Junior Assembly (apparently where you select your first ex-husband), daughter (Catherine Alford) just won’t see mother’s (Sally Daykin’s) good advice – decide what I want, not what you want. It’s a WASP thing.
It’s not exactly a linear drama, but each segment sprouts, flowers and resolves itself briskly. Actors take on amazing roles – everyone is a child at some point, even a fellow I would still call ‘sir’. There’s nothing preachy or complex, just a solid view of the world from the furniture’s point of view. This is the world of maids and summer homes, finger bowls and Staffordshire, and the rich have the same problems as we do, except they have much better furniture. I wonder what they want for the Art Nouveau oak sideboard? It’s much nice than that stuff they sell on PBS.

Alice In Analysis
Music by Kim Rich
Lyrics by Kim Rich and Lewis Carroll
Book by Douglas E Huston and Kim Rich
Theater Downtown, Orlando Fla.

Thirty something and a life resembling a hit of Batman acid, Alice (Cathleen Eberwine) needs a little professional consultation. The impossibly tall Dr. Lutwidge (William Welter) represents an alternative to a few weeks in Bellevue. He’s from the “How long have you hated your mother?” school of psychoanalysis, so Alice still hallucinates after the insurance runs out, but she feels much better about the population of her personal theme park. There’s the forgetful White King (Ed Preiss) belting out “King’s Lament” and the Duchess (Bobbie Cross) singing about herself in “Duchess Song”. Queen of Hearts (Cynthia McClendon) wants everyone’s head removed, while her pleasant hubby (Mike Funaro) passes out stays of execution – it’s so hard to get good help in a psychosis. A sexy Cheshire cat (Gloria Miller) rubs the guys in the audience the right way, and the cute but ever so orange Lobster Girls dance a quadrille with the Gryphon (Denis Enos) and Mock Turtle (André Provencher). As phantasms go, they’re a supportive bunch.

And how does Alice fair in this rabbit hole rehab? Outstanding costumes and clever choreography fill the stage even if the White Rabbit (Terry Mullenix) couldn’t quite get wispy Alice up in a lift. Alice’s singing feels a bit weak from time to time – the notes are in place, but the volume falls a bit short of the back wall. A fair number of songs seem forced and not all that interesting. “Changing Places” ended the first act, but we didn’t see anything approaching a showstopper until Cross’s “Meaning” and Provencher’s “Soup of the Evening.” A last minute romantic fantasy with the White Knight (Enos) seemed a confusing chess game played with a few cards missing. Long overdue for a musical treatment, Carroll’s story needs a few more sessions on the writer’s couch.

Written by Todd Kimbro
Directed by Michael Marinaccio
Starring Todd Kimbro, Meghan Drewett, Scott Burnish, Ed Campbell
Impacte Productions

You might have missed the Brown Venue at the last Fringe Festival. That’s where they had the Albanian Dance Ensemble and the Marxist Mime troupe and the little show “Binary System”, a play about someone reviving a play about John Wilkes Booth seducing a young Southern woman for her plantation. And that’s all you need to know about the story, because the show is really about putting up a low budget production, complete with bad wiring, bad acting, bad sound, bad relationships, and an undying belief that the show is worth doing no matter how few people come to see it. In other words, it’s what drives theater festivals.

Kimbro and company are veterans of more than a few low budget adventures, and the collective experience is transformed into one of the funniest events Impacte has ever produced. Onstage director / playwright Jim Kudrow (Kimbro) obsesses over ever getting through a rehearsal without someone dying or hurting themselves while supressing unrequited love for the leading man who declares “I’ve had it with vagina!” Over-actors Richard Forrester (Campbell) and Ian Marshall (Borish) fight over Stephanie Sanguine (Drewett), who wears a T-shirt warning “Don’t Stare at These.” Yeah, right. Whatever you say. After a ten-hour ride with the props missing in action and no sleep, there’s time for one rehearsal, a few beers, and opening night.

The best perfomance of all comes from the strangely silent Venue tech Steve (Charles Frierman), who opens the show dancing and syncing to Sinatra while sweeping up the glitter from the last show. When Kudrow misses his ride to the hotel, he closes the show with a summary of why anyone subjects themselves to this torture, and why the rest of us come to watch. It’s hysterical. “Q” peeks behind the scenes at what drives those lesser Fringe shows, the ones where you walk out into the bright Florida sun and think “I paid $3 to see THAT?” There’s a reason – they’re dedicated, and no matter what abuse anyone heaps on them, they’ll be back next year for the same reason. For the Art.

Marry Me A Little
Music By Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Alan Bruun
Starring Jennifer Langford and I. John Paulus
Mad Cow Theater Company at Fred Stone Theater

It’s amazing what you can do with Sondheim B-sides. There’s enough material lying about, unproduced or cut from shows for one reason or another that you can patch together a whole production with nothing more than leftovers and gaffing tape. As you settle into a theater with a suspiciously familiar set, the gentle sounds of New York traffic play subliminally in the back of your mind. You know its New York and not Orlando because things are actually moving. And floating above this street scene live two lonely people in identical and intersecting apartments, singing show tunes to while away their lonely Saturday evenings. The songs are only loosely related, like lives of 3E (Paulus) and (2E) Langford. Same stage space, different lives, they sing their way from loneliness to meeting to breaking up and reminiscing about the whole process. It’s a funny illusion – they sing duets and kiss and dance and sleep together, but they’re not in the exact same room, theatrically.

While your belief hangs in suspension, top-notch singing overcomes any of the material’s weakness. And songs do get cut for a reason, you know. Still, top honors go to “Bang!” which must have seemed ever so risqué in its heyday, and still had the force and energy of an initial sexual contact. Risqué beats ruminative, and “Can That Boy Foxtrot” was a close second, followed by “Two Fairy Tales” with it’s clever mirroring of symmetric story lines. And then there were some other tunes that I can’t seem to separate in my mind as I write this. “Marry Me” is a pleasant little show with good chemistry between the performers, nothing to controversial in the plot, and a tune or two to hum out to the parking lot. And it explains the significance of Blue, but you probably knew what it was, anyway.

Marvin’s Room
By Scott McPherson Directed by Deanne A Etchison
Starring Heather Le Campbell, Carla Hicks, Ryan Jones
Theater Garage, Orlando, Fla.

The burdens of life never end for long-suffering Bessie (Campbell). Dad had a stroke, forgetful Aunt Ruth (Brenda Emerson) is generally falling apart after painful surgery, and now Bessie herself catches leukemia. The bad news came from scatterbrained Dr. Wally (Rick Breese), a graduate of the Three Stooges Medical College in Tobago. Bessie’s best hope is a bone marrow transplant from a relative, like her estranged sister Lee (Hicks). Lee went off to have fun with sleazy men while Bess stayed home playing martyr, and they never did get along. Now Lee has two boys whose marrow might match, but it’s a long shot. Charlie (Mike Littig) reads too much but is pleasant if a bit autistic, and Hank (Jones) spends his spare time in the loony bin after burning down the house and neighborhood. It’s not that he’s really that deranged, but once someone pegs you as crazy that’s pretty much what you are and its institutional food for life. When Lee and Charlie’s marrow fails to match, Hank remains Bessie’s only hope. She realizes Hank isn’t crazy, just abused, and Hank finds in her the acceptance no one else gives. Hank becomes the son Bessie never had, and she becomes the first adult that treats him as a normal human being. That’s not a lot, but it’s family.

It’s an involved story of inner relationships, some easy to see, some a bit hard to tease out of the dialog, which seems read-out rather than acted. Without setting up sufficient dramatic tension, the acid humor peppering the story seems a bit out of place. Bessie is a heroic and tragic charter, but she doesn’t really connect to the audience till the very end. Dr. Wally provided comic relief, but you really wonder why anyone would go to him for medical advice, much less cancer treatment. The only really compelling perfomance came from Hank, with his tough boy outside and lonely child inside providing the show’s best character. The set was cleverly constructed, with a ‘torn paper’ effect vingetting the action, and transitions between the scenes effected by minimal props movement. Still, “Marvin” suffered from too many short scenes and blackouts breaking up the narrative flow, a problem that so many modern writers inject into otherwise well-done works. It’s a show with great promise unrealized.

Killing Time
By Richard Stockwell
Directed by Rus Blackwell and John DiDonna
Starring Rus Blackwell and Jan Taylor-Hendricks
SoulFire Traveling Medicine Show
Lowndes Shakespeare Center, Orlando Fla.

It’s amazing how much plot you can cram into two people. Rick (Blackwell) pays for Jane’s (Taylor’s) groceries in what one assumes is a casual seduction. She’s a bit short, since he picked her pocket in the checkout line at Tesco’s. And it’s not really all that casual since he’s been watching her for weeks, and their relationship actually goes back almost 10 years although neither recalls the brief meeting right away. Criminal intent surpasses lust as Rick manipulates Jane into staying longer than she should, and eventually agreeing to cooperate in murder most foul (what other kind is there?). There’s a mutual acquaintance, and each has good reason to cooperate to extract vengeance, and only cooperation will lead to success. And then the plot really gets complicated.

This is a show where excessive post-show detail will only spoil things for the next audience. A spirited debate arose at intermission about who did what to whom and how, and you should join that debate when you see this thriller. A stream of thinly suppressed violence pushes Rick’s character to action, a stream that later surfaces in Jane as she extracts her vengeance as a woman wronged from a man betrayed. Between the crests of wife-beating and tear-gassing, Rick and Jane exchange a tight sexual tension – neither is desirable in themselves, but both find the other fulfills a frightening need until the truth of the matter turn lust into blood lust. It’s a tightly written story with nary a wasted word or action. Every casual detail of the set, the dialog and the characters come to a focused pitch in the final act. ‘Killing Time’ is no time killer, but a gripping battle of the sexes where sex is never really the issue.

The Ride Down Mt. Morgan
By Arthur Miller
Directed by Joe DiDonna
Starring Paul Wegman, Joan Leslie, Babette Garber, Bobbie Bell
Theater Downtown, Orlando Fla.

Jewish-Albanian insurance mogul Lyman Felt (Wegman) could charm the pants off Barbara Bush. One wife’s not enough trouble for him – besides faithful Theodora (Leslie), he commutes from NYC to Elmira to service a second family with harsh Leah (Garber). All is fine till he slides off a mountain road in an ice storm on the way to check on the fidelity of wife 2, which brings both women and Theodora’s daughter Bessie (Noel Holland) to his bedside. Everyone seems a bit shocked, but not near as upset as you might expect. Only Bessie seems to see him for what he is – a charming, amiable, lying son of a bitch. You can tell the type a mile away – Felt swears nothing is more sacred than Truth, you need to be True to yourself, and telling people the Truth is the honest thing to do. Except he seems to be allergic to it, avoiding it at every opportunity in the flashback-filled story of how he ended up in the Elmira tabloid press. Confidant and lawyer Tom Wilson (Bell) tries to straighten things out, but mostly works on getting a statement for the press and the marketing rights to the story. Felt himself handles the more difficult legal task of refusing to sign anything his harem brings to him.

So just what happened? Not all that much – Wegman’s Felt is an interesting character, and you get to know him about as well as you’d like to know any insurance salesman. He charms. He flatters. He lies like a pro. He snows everyone, including his buddy Wilson. He may have asked for forgiveness, or may not have, because his charm and blarney obfuscate and justify anything he does. The two wives seem less upset with each other’s presence than his daughter Bessie does, and you sort of feel they might get together later to talk decorating ideas. Then there’s a piano player (Anthony Riley) sitting high above the stage noodling along from time to time, and a pretty decent Nurse Logan (Vicki Elaine Felder) giving Felt his meds and not falling for him. It’s not so much a drama as a character sketch, and there seems to be a lot less screaming than two wronged New Yorkers could produce.

Child of the Night
Music, Book & Lyric by Don Hopkinson, Jr.
Directed by Robert Martin
Starring Dan Austin Black, Joelle Hall, John Gracey
Seminole Community College and Stage Left Productions

He’s not scary, he’s not campy and he’s not erotic. He’s the intellectual Dracula. The Count of Darkness doesn’t just seek blood, but worries about his victims and seeks informed consent. Victims are involved in their Vampirification. The Count isn’t perfect, certainly, reading other peoples mail and offing a few local serfs, but he acknowledges his faults and hopes to improve. He doesn’t even bite on the first date anymore. He cares.

In this well-conceived musical, brimming with potential Broadway hits, John Harker (Gracey) heads off to Carpathia (it’s near Moldavia, not to far from Bucovina) to do a little real estate deal for tall and debonair Count V von D (Black). Trapped in this Balkan backwater, the Count falls for Harker’s fiancée after reading Harker’s mail and rifling through his suitcase for a photo. After locking Harker in a hall closet, he jumps the first boat to England to pursue the beautiful Mina (Hall). He begins by romancing her best friend Lucy (Lisa Hutson), accidentally turning her into a half vampire – undead, seeking blood, but without the full training needed to keep a low profile in modern society. She turns to child snatching, and no 12-step program can save her. Harker picks the lock and shows up with Viennese Doctor Van Helsing (Douglas Neville), and several of Lucy’s ex-boyfriends. They’re out to finish off Lucy, save Mina, and eliminate the Count. Lucy is a breeze, but then they split up like teenagers in a slasher flick and the Dracula picks them off one by one. He misses Harker, who puts a stake though Mina, even though she hasn’t actually been bitten yet. And she had the best songs – very sad.

I had some skepticism about a Vampire musical around the summer solstice, but this show was a very pleasant surprise. Everybody sang their hearts out, even if the audience had trouble hearing them, with particularly good performances from Hall, Black, and the underused Renfield (Hopkins). He wrote the show and should have given his character a bit more to do. There were quite a few memorable songs, particularly “Master of the Moon”, “Forever”, and the ensemble “In the Holy Name of God”. A few more microphones were needed, and if you could get the cast to sing into them, this show should go on to the big time.

The best part of the show, overall, was the revisionist treatment of the Count. He’s not any more evil than anyone else, he’s just different – different needs, different goals, but not so different that you’d throw him out if your daughter brought him home. Harker seems the bad guy, particularly after he stabs Mina – it’s a petulant “if I can’t have you, neither can he.” Not every musical harbors a plot, but this one does, and it’s well-written, memorable, and sung with skill. Just very, very quietly.

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 climactic 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 if 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 babysitter, 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 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 in complete disarray, and Felix is starting to feel a bit unloved. Topping off their relationship, Oscars invites the bubbleheaded 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 Oscar’s 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.

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