Number 21: October, 2001

Number 21: October, 2001

I admit I was hiding on the other side of the world when this all
happened, but I had the reservations and travelers’ checks so what could I do?
I stayed, and bought a bottle of Absinthe and drank it all up. That’s what
writers are supposed to do under stress, right? Can you tell if it helped?
It was nasty stuff, it better have done something.

Spinning into Butter
By Rebecca Gilman
Directed by Chris Jorie
Starring Linda Landry, Anthony James Holsten, Christine Decker, Doug Truelsen
Orlando Theater Project at Seminole Community College

People like this give liberals a bad name. In the tweedy atmosphere of beautiful Belmont College, Negroes, Puerto Ricans and all those other fascinating People of Color are a rare and treasured commodity. If only they’d hang out with you, the world would be convinced you’re not racist. Never be racist, it prevents tenure. They hired Dean Daniels (Landry) from the hard streets of Chicago to improve Belmont’s minority element, but she turned out to be white – all the black candidates wanted more money to live in Vermont, or wouldn’t put up with the blowhard faculty.

Daniels really wants to help. She’s personally responsible for every bad thing every European imperialist did to anyone, ever. Why? They said so in grad school, and the PhD’s are all so much smarter than she. This Monday starts bad – she gets a $12k scholarship for Newyorican student Pat Chibas (Shirvan Badeesco), which ticks him off. It’s not the money, but the horrible compromise he had to make – actually admitting he was Puerto Rican to get a minority scholarship. Oh, the shame! Next, some creep tapes threatening notes to a black student’s door. She calls the cops, while the rest of the faculty poses. Ex-boyfriend Prof. Collins (Holsten) suggest a campus wide forum on race. Dean Strauss (Truelsen) offers a carefully argued speech on why HE isn’t a racist, and Dean Kenny (Decker) wants a 10-point bullet list by tomorrow on how to solve the race problem with no increased spending. Daniels mistakenly tries to please everyone, and is fired for her efforts. Meanwhile, the racial minorities flee campus for the safety and sanity of NYU. And the sensible minority? Well, it never visited in the first place.

Landry’s Daniels is the sinner with no chance of salvation – she says the truth, and is crucified for it. Everyone hectors her. Trueslen’s pompous Strauss evokes the pig headed self-assurance that made us liberate the student union in the 70’s. He just rubs you wrong, and his position is automatically bogus because he’s such a jerk. Deckers’ Kenny lies waiting in the grass to devour the mouse of Dean Daniels. Run if she ever smiles at you. And Collins? You’ve met his type – argumentative, logical, a strong supporter of African American Theory. If he ever corners you at a faculty student mixer, attempt suicide with the cocktail toothpicks – it’s less painful. Even Chibas gets off a few tirades that make you want to send him to study hall with no dinner.

This is a though provoking and difficult production. Daniels says many things that make you uncomfortable – not because they’re not true, or that YOU never thought them, but because we’ve all been taught to repress them in the name of Playing Nice. The Belmont faculty comes across as a bunch of underwater basket weaving buffoons – the worst academia has to offer. Even at earthy SCC there were bitter twitters of laughter from the students in the audience. The Belmont crew glorifies respect and tolerance to other people yet won’t even treat co-workers politely. It’s harem politics – the fights are so bitter because the stakes are so small. See it with your friends, and then go out for espresso. You’ll be up all night.

Shakin’ The Mess Outta Misery!
By Shay Youngblood
Directed by Carla Lester
Starring Canara Price, Tambra Simms, Jami Thomas, Maria Beauford
People’s Theater at Studio Garage

Time to go to the river. Soon, anyway, as our young lady (Price) reaches that critical hormonal time and becomes a woman. He real mama, Fannie Mae (Yakima Branch) left years ago to dance in New York, and it fell to Big Mama (Sims) to raise her. She had help – Big Mama’s friends joined in to pass along skills, wisdom, and stories that make her a proud black woman, ready to tackle the world. Price alternates between a present day reminiscence and childhood action, recalling chilling events and wonderful stories. There was Auntie Mae (Thomas) who taught her how to wear a hat in the wind and not to take any crap from a man, Ms. Lamama (Debra Hering) more in tune with her African roots than most blacks in the 1950’s, and Ms. Tom (Josie Deamus) who taught her to fish, carve, and that there are alternative paths in life and love. The vignettes are touching and funny – the story of how Ms. Shine (Beauford) ground glass into the governors sugar after he insulted a black children’s choir, how a prayer meeting cured Aunt Mae’s stomach tumor and made Price a believer, and how God helped the whole crew of them survived accidentally spitting on a white man. These black folks are some amazing storytellers!

This represents culture – one’s reactions and responses to the common situations life throws our way. We teach and reinforce it to one another on a daily basis – woman to woman, black to white, young to old, and ‘Shaking’ molds a strong woman out of good material. This girl’s real mother didn’t last long, and discovering that story underlies the tale. You’ll hear it eventually, but I’m still a bit lost as to what happens at that river. I think chanting is involved, and maybe a secret handshake. Then you’re in the sorority, and everyone goes home for coffee and cookies.

Oedipus The King
By Sophocles
Directed by Julia Gagne
Starring Dennis Grant, Giovanni Vargas, Adrienne Justiniano
Valencia Charter Company, Orlando Fla

The heart of the Greek argument is get the other guy to agree to something innocuous, then argue him into a corner because he didn’t think the whole thing though. Thebes is rotting under a plague, crop failure and stagflation, and King Oedipus (Dennis Grant) wants to know what the gods demand to lift this curse. Kreon (Vargas) pops over to visit the Oracle, who tells him to punish the murder of old king Laius. Oedipus vows to hunt this ne’re do well down and thrash him properly, never for once thinking he himself had anything to do with it. After all, he was raised in Corinth, and despite the prophecy that Oedipus would kill daddy and sleep with mommy, he’s been careful to avoid any fratricidal behavior. Well, someone does have the goods on him – cranky old Teiresias (Tommy French) tells him some of the truth, and when an old shepherd (Bobby Aulgur) confirms the story, Oedipus is a big man in a very small box. Still, he keeps his word, blinding and exiling himself as his wife and mother Jocasta (Justiniano) hangs herself. He’s pretty miserable, but he does come to a deeper self-understanding, and the Greeks appreciate that in a tyrant.

Lavish and arty, this Oedipus is visually stunning despite the uneven perfomance on stage. Oedipus varies from dead flat to visceral, presenting his best efforts arguing with Teiresias, but coming off as reading a teleprompter more often than not. Kreon seemed tentative and not really afraid of the power of Oedipus, and Jocasta’s accent seemed a bit out of place. The best stage work came from Teiresias, the Corinthian Messenger (Tommy French again) and the shepherd. Minor roles, but very well played. The chorus (lead by Chris Worley) did an excellent job explaining Oedipus’s motivation and emotion, besting even the king himself. Then there was the interpretive dance – a troupe of dancers periodically appeared to express the dialog as motion – the dancing was excellent, but distracted from the story until they pulled billowing red banners from the abstract face of Oedipus hovering over the dark and moody stage.

Oedipus is the classic self important tyrant, a self made man on a castle of air, a man smart enough to out fox the Sphinx and yet able to shoot himself in the foot when the situation calls for it. This plays out in a society both superstitious and loyal, convinced Seers and Kings will save them from a destiny ruled by Luck and Stars. Every obscure prophesy is true, the gods are both hostile and loving, and the right thing always happens, no matter how hard it hurts the innocent. And with all that you still can’t figure out what’s going to happen or why. Isn’t that just like real life?

Caffeine – the Halloween episode (Reprise)
Written and directed by Todd Kimbro
Impacte! Theater, Orlando Fla

Sure, we all worry about alien abduction. The shame, the dehumanization, the lost wages, the anal probing – who needs it? Not Tuni (Lisa Glaze) and Jasmine (Megan Dewitt), serfs to the low wage Central Florida Tourism economy. Green faced Charles Frierman turns boyfriend Holden (Ed Campbell) turns from a bad scriptwriter to undead flesh eating zombie bad scriptwriter, captures the girls, and begins turning them into sex slaves for his dying race. But is it all that bad? Sure, they’re breeding the spawn of an evil species, but they have cell phones built into their brains, 600 anywhere minutes and Tuni’s even getting a free boob job. Would Drippy World offer that as a fringe benefit? I Think Not. Well, there’s one down side – the evil empire Buck Stars representative Fiona Blackburn (Niki Darden) tries to buy out Devon (Kimbro)’s coffee shop to help spread an evil sex serum world wide, aiding and abetting the little green man brigade. Things are looking pretty glum until Stash (Rick Marinaccio) gets a disco ball amulet from a weird smelly street person, opens a portal into the Nth dimension, and rescues the girls from certain orgasm. God, he’s such a stud! The Buck Stars Conspiracy lies in defeat; Devon keeps his cash flow negative dream, and the alien invaders beat meat to the next planet of luscious babes. Life, as we know it, is safe.

This is a revival of the pick of last years Caffeine episodes. We still have the despicable Devon and Stash plugging java, the Caffeine Crash still has no disenable customers, and Jane Jetson with the flammable blue hair (Christine Morales) still bounces in and out, directing alien the bimbo sex slaves and helping move furniture. The writing seems a bit tighter than last time, the cast excellent as always, but the audience seemed a bit unresponsive to the silliness on stage. It’s not the production or anything, but it seems Caffeine isn’t quite enough to lift the dark mood of today.

The Dirigibles
Impacte! Theater
Orlando, Fla.

It’s a good start – the Dirigibles drift on stage in a cloud of random beatnik drumming and dueling didgerie-doo’s, all documented on low-res 8mm tape for an evil future family film night. Another late night at the Orlando theater that might almost make it as a coffee bar, Impacte!, and we’re running through a bit of experimental improv in support of a home grown ultra late night TV series. Opening a long segment of freeze and justify, the genetically mismatched couple (Brain Deming and Alicia Johnson) spend all their money to an evil doctor (David M Brown) in exchange for the most genetically perfect ubermench Francis (Disco San Andreas). He’s not too bad, but still a bit imperfect and slated for recycling. Freezing and replacing characters moves us to a bit of teenage make out and a talent less talent show and a Dutch dam holding troupe and, oh, a non German language lesson. Sometimes you had to beat the freezes into the cast, but they did stop, drop and change direction eventually. It was funny, but there was more blocking than I’ve seen elsewhere.

Being experimental improv, we now drop into the “what the hell are they thinking” segment. High pitched whiney voices bounced around the troupe as they all made up sentences that ended with rhymes to the word walk – talk, balk, wok, stalk, talk, walk, Falk, stalk…. Oooookey-doke. Deming then launches into a fairly long monologue containing that fatal line “We were all sooo wasted”. I’m sure it helped at the time, but like so many drunk in a wedding party tales, it’s best saved for the other attendees.

Having passed through the valley of nervous laughter, it’s on to some more traditional improv, like a good round of “Challenge.” Someone tells a personal story in two minutes, but anyone else can object for any semi logical reason and grab the joystick. All good clean fun, except that ultra enthusiastic Greg Barris kept objecting to sentences beginning with “So…” – a legit complaint, but not 10 times in a row. This evolved into a more elaborate Challenge, with the cast pausing and dropping into little vignettes prompted by the story. The clock stops, some interesting stuff evolves, and we return to real time only when there’s a really good flaw in the story. Clearly the highlight of the experiment, we watched every one drop into perfectly reproduced 4 head ultra VCR slo mo of 2-year-old Kevin Towsley falling down the stairs. They need to make that one up again soon.

It’s not the smoothest improv going, but it does have a meta-improv feeling – they make up new ways to make up stuff. A few hits, a few misses, no one left on base, but they’re out there take chances, and that counts for something in my book.

You Should Be So Lucky
By Charles Busch
Directed by Tim Muldrew
Starring Mark Edward Smith, Paul Wegman, Heather Leonardi
Theatre Downtown, Orlando Fla

Oh, to live the life of a humble electrologist in Greenwich Village! Christopher (Smith) slowly starves despite his passion for hair removal until elderly Mr. Rosenberg (Wegman) passes out on his stoop. While Chris minces around in some of the gayest shirts ever seen, Rosenberg is pretty much oblivious to the Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name. They become fast friends even as Chris’s sister Polly (Leonardi) moves in; vamping at everyone she meets like Dolores Del Rio on speed. Rosenberg even sends Chris to the Metropolitan Ball for Homeless People on a whim. Actual homeless people aren’t allowed in, so it’s a pretty swank event, and he finds true romance in the form of publicist Walter (Muldrew). Life turns around until Rosenberg dies in a bizarre depilation accident, putting a bit of a damper on the newfound love affair. Rosenberg returns as a noodge of a ghost that only Chris can see – it’s a better afterlife kvetching at Chris than hanging with his cranky ancestors. Now, there’s the matter the will – a $10 million slice of the estate goes to Chris if only he can fight off the pit bull lawyers of daughter Lenora (Sarah Mathews). When the facts are against you, argue the law, and when the law is against you, argue in the forum of Trash Tabloid TV. It’s off to the Wanda Wang (Darby Ballard) Show, where ‘victimization’ just means you have a good flack, and everyone realizes there’s more at stake than mere money. Yes, the Grail of daytime educational television lies within reach – a show even lower on the food chain than Wendy Wang’s. Here you go Chris – you just got your 15 minutes.

This is even funnier than the last Weekly World News. The one-liners all connect, the situation careens between absurd and true life, and if money doesn’t buy happiness, it sure keeps the lawyers and talk shows lubricated. Mathews’ Jewish Princess from hell is priceless (unless you give her that 10 mil RIGHT NOW!); Ballard finds her center as Wendy by screaming, “Fuck ’em! Fuck’ em ALL!” and Muldrew obsesses over whether asking to pass the salt is too controlling. You can even forgive them for reconciling to start Victim TV – they’ll be at each other’s throats by tomorrow. In the dark days when nothing seems humorous, this is a show that reminds us that the right mix of greed, camp and death can still bring tears of laughter to your eyes.

Biloxi Blues
By Neil Simon
Directed by Dr. Karen Copp
Starring George Patages, Stephen Pugh, Brian Fitzgibbons
Orlando Theater Project, Seminole Community College

Turning a boy into a soldier is much more than push-ups and SOS. There’s a pressing need for discipline, cleaning latrines, discipline, Kitchen Patrol, discipline, midnight marches, and …oh, yeah, more discipline. That’s a job for Sgt Merwin J. Toomey (Fitzgibbons), a 20-year veteran of one of the biggest mind games going – the US Army. He’s charged with turning 6 raw recruits into fighting men ready to die. The easy ones are the dumb ones – horny Wykowski, (Rick Paulin) the confused Selridge (Marcus Carrasquillo), Carney (Hector Negroni) who sings in his sleep but not well, and young Hennessy (Casey Gardner) who got caught with someone else’s pants down around his knees. Aspiring writer Eugene Jerome (Patages) comes into line quick enough, but he has the indiscretion to write down every thing he thinks and leave it lying about. His goals are simple – write, get laid, and not get shot. The tough ones are the smart ones. Weak Stomached Arnold Epstein (Pugh) fights a guerilla war against the army by applying Talmudic Logic to Basic Training. He makes his own life miserable, but he’s fighting on principle and making small but steady gains against Toomey and the forces of stupidity. Battle lines are indistinct, but Toomey sees his nemesis and goes to the wall in a climatic battle of Judaic Thought vs. the Army Way. Push-ups are involved, and it’s not a pretty sight.

Based on Simon’s experiences in WW2, Biloxi captures an innocent moment in life where a young man had no choice but to live quickly as death almost certainly lay in the near future. There’s no bitterness or railing against fate, just a vivid attempt to seize today. The language is strong, the degradation real, but sex is $5 on a 48-hour pass and you just might meet a nice girl and find true love. All are the vicissitudes of life during wartime. Arnie achieves his dreams – a weekend hooker relieves him of his virginity, a nice catholic girl give him a kiss that really counts, and he lives to tell the tail. Best of all, he goes on to write professionally AND well, and we all rejoice as a nice Jewish boy does good. And who says the Army’s a bad place?

By William Shakespeare
Adapted and directed by Richard Width
Starring Robin Olson, Stacy Barton, Marty Stonerock, Irene L Pynn
RS&C Productions at Studio Theater Courtyard, Orlando Fla

We all know you shouldn’t drink your own bath water, but that’s not clear to retiring Madame King Lear (Olson). The burden of government exceeds her attention span, and the kingdom will be divided among the 3 daughters, with the best parts going to the one who spouts the most flowery praise in public. No problem for the older two sisters – Goneril (Barton) can put a positive spin on anthrax, and Regan (Stonerock) can sell an icebox to an Elizabethan. Not so for youngest Cordilia (Pynn), who spouts a few bland mom and apple pie lines and tics off the regal to the point of banishment. It’s bad judgment all around. Empty-headed Lear moves in with her eldest, who immediately kvetches about the 100 rowdy retainers and boots the parental unit out into the cold. Will Regan do any better? Sorry, we don’t have the spare room made up, could you wander around in the storm for a few weeks till we’re ready? And lose those knights; they never wipe their feet. Yup, it’s a conspiracy. They’re in cahoots with conniving Edmund (Width), illegitimate son of Gloucester (Arlen Bensen). They don’t say ‘Clever Bastard’ for nothing – he’s convinced his legit half brother Edgar (T Robert Pigott) to flee in as guilty a manner as possible, and sells out to the two sisters for some cash and a little booty. Only Cordelia is willing to take in dear old mom, even after her roughshod treatment. But hey, this is a tragedy, and now it’s time to pluck out some eyes, have a peppy battle, and wipe out most of the cast in as fiendish a manner possible. England is saved, I think.

“Lear” is a difficult play, and a brilliant cast struggles against difficult staging to present it. Olson’s Lear wields the bright-eyed enthusiasm of an old man on the verge of dementia and loving every minute. Pigott flies up and down the scaffolding with a grace and daring do the others can only admire, and Width’s boyish charm makes you want to forgive him his treachery even as he makes things worse for every one around him. The two older sisters convey a scary but sexy appeal that might make you consider a deal with the devil in a black dress. And Cordelia? Well, she’s nice but really needs to speak up for herself a bit more. All this and some vigorous battle scenes struggle to be heard in the open space of this outdoor stage. As voices diffused up and out of the courtyard, the diesel sound of the 21st century float in. Making things more difficult was the interspersing the action amongst and behind the audience – we spent plenty of time twisted around trying to see who was saying what way in back. It felt like audience in the round – I recommend the back row seats if your neck bothers you. It’s a clever and vigorous production, but oh, for a Muse of Amplification!

Electra: At The Wiener Stand

By Todd Kimbro

Directed by Joshua Horn

Starring Christine Morales, Niki Darden, Joshua Horn

It’s Betty’s turn to be the Martyr. Not that the others aren’t pitching, but
Betty Brooks (Darden) has the moral high ground – not only was she molested
as a child, but now she slaves away every day selling hot dogs along the
roadside in the Florida heat and smoke, and is the only source of steady
income to her little household. Orin James Jr. (Horn) has the role of her
useless boyfriend, son of a rapist and really bad driver. Stash (Scott
Borish) wants to be a stripper in a gay club, an unusual dream for a
straight Jewish guy, and Raphael (Richard Anschuetz) is that rarest of
birds, a gay redneck. None of these guys is even making cigarette money, so
while no one really approves of Betty’s job, no one objects to the point
where they go and get their OWN job. That would be so bourgeois. Turns out
Orin’s got a mystery sister spawned by one of his father’s felonies, the shy
feminist Iffy Rodriguez (Morales). Unable to assert herself against even a
friendly kitty, she hides behind writing and the burden of penis
challengement. As Iffy discovers her half brother and his extended domestic
situation, Betty’s world unravels. She’s pregnant by Raphael, hates Stash,
and Orin’s got a gun and can’t decide who to shoot first. It’s the summer
of smoke, 1999.

Somehow, this story accurately grabs the spirit of Central Florida a few
years ago, and it grabs the story of these lost souls with no skills, no
career, and no clear desire to get either. Betty in her halter and Daisy
Mae’s looks like the hot dog girls that seem to have evaporated – cute at a
distance, tough in person, and not someone who’d tolerate two wiener jokes
from a customer. Orin carries daddy’s psycho genes, and while he has the
right to keep a gun, I wouldn’t allow him actual bullets. The high point of
the show is Iffy’s tentative reading of her class writing assignment,
complaining of the Oppressive Gravy of Negative Vaginal Imagery Pervading
Society. It was, well, enlightening. And both Stash and Raphael seemed
pretty comfortable with their sexual dislocation – straight people should be
so well adjusted.

As one of Kimbro’s earlier writing forays, this is still one of his best.
The interaction between characters has that “you’re my friend but you’re
screwing me somehow” attitude that underlies so many roommate situations,
and the misery engendered by everyone on stage is sharp enough to be
poignant and believable without seeming forced or contrived. For this
reprise of a past Fringe show, there are plenty of characters for everyone
to hide behind.

Piano Lesson

By August Wilson

Directed by Reese Hart

Starring Leroy Flemming, Charles Lattimore Jr., Michelle Nicole Falana

Studio Garage, Orlando Fla.

Conniving Boy Willie (Flemming) and his bumpkin buddy Lymon (Lattimore) scam
a load of watermelons and a truck just barely able to make it from Sunflower
County to 1936 Pittsburgh. If he peddles them to the white folks on the
hill, he has almost enough money to buy old man Sutter’s farm. Sutter’s just
dead now, mysteriously pushed into his well. Death by immersion is a common
enough affliction in those parts, and most folks attribute it to the
Ghosts of the Yellow Dog. Boy Willie can make the rest of his stake if
sister Bernice (Falana) will let him sell that old piano – the one daddy
carved for Sutter back when he was a slave showing the story of his life.
There’s a crazy white man going around buying up stuff like that – Folk Art
he calls it. Daddy might even be one of those ghosts – he got burnt in a
boxcar with some hoboes when Sutter’s piano went missing. Bernice regards it
as her only heirloom, and plans to keep it even if Sutter’s ghost hangs
around staking his own claim. Plus the spirits won’t let Boy Willie lift it.

But we’re not here for the family story – it’s just a frame hung with a
hysterical set of stereotypical black characters. There’s part-time preacher
Avery (Steve Jefferson), an elevator operator with a vision and a small
business loan to start a church. He’s got that black Baptist preacher’s cant
and makes his bald pate sweat on command. Avery’s romancing Bernice, the
dedicated single mother and paragon of sanity. Her husband got shot by
mistake in one of Boy Willies’ deals, and she’s left raising little Maretha
(Chandreas Clincy) and keeping her hair pomaded. Uncle Wining Boy (Joseph
Pinckney) drifts in when he’s short of money, talking about his recording
career and selling uber-hick Lymon his first 100% silk Super Fly suit.
Doaker (Benjy Westmoreland) works as a porter on the railroad and sort of
hopes everyone will calm down and stop drinking his good liquor. Yeah,
they’re a bit one dimensional, but it’s a very FUNNY dimension.

Between the work songs and ghost stories and scatterbrained philosophizing
and a few incomprehensible dialect diatribes, “Piano Lesson” recalls the
ethnic humor that America devoured in the first half of the 20th century. It’s
passed through the valley of the shadow of non-PC, and it’s safe to gingerly
appreciate the ridiculous side of blacks getting by in the white man’s world.
Better yet, just laugh along, that seemed to suit the audience fine.

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