Number 43: Post- and Pre-Apocalyptic Edition

Number 43: Post- and Pre-Apocalyptic Edition

I’m going on vacation, and that’s when REALLY bad stuff happens in the world. Sure, we’ve already gone through three ravenous storms that blew away all those pesky oak trees and mobile homes. Soon we will select the least qualified president in our history, but in my experience, watch out. Worse things are about to happen. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get out and enjoy yourself this weekend.<p>

Best Of Playwrights Round Table

Plaza Theater, Orlando, Fla. </b><P>

It’s fund raising time again, and the Playwrights Round Table shifts through its inventory of the short pieces written and produced over the past few years, and selected these nuggets for your entertainment: <P>

Opening the frivolities is “Silly Mary Chop Chop” (By John Goring, Directed by Chuck Dent). Heads are rolling in France, but fashion sense prevails, and Giscard (Todd Kimbro) and Remy (Brett Carson) compete for the affections of some boy toy Count. It’s hair salon gossip, and even the entrance of Marie Antoinette (Sarah Benz Phillips) doesn’t break their rhythm. She’s in a hurry, and only has time for a cut and a fluff, and as she rolls on into history, Giscard and Remy agree – it’s not worth fighting over split lovers. Rating: silly, but fun. <P>

“Remember Me?” (By David Hill, Directed by Jim Brunner) takes a look at another romance that might have gone wrong, given a chance. Janet (Marty Stonerock) meets what appears to be an ex-lover, Sam (Lou Hillarie) in a waiting room. He, like most men, has CRS (Can’t remember Stuff), but bluffs along until Janet is convinced he impregnated and abandoned her in Jacksonville. Sam has plausible denial, but after a few verbal rounds, Janet believes that Sam isn’t really her ex-lover, but her soon to be lover. Sam has a revelation as well – she’s going to be the psycho girlfriend he never wanted. Run, Sam, run! Rating: Scary! <P>

Still more romantic comedy wraps up the first half of the show with “Dynamics of Double Dating” (By Larry Stallings, Directed by Daryl Hazel) Both Jillian (Jennifer Jacobsen) and Roger (Dave Heuvel) appear on the terrace of a roof top restaurant with a nice view. Each is supposed to meet their steadies, who happen to be brother and sister. Both have “relationship issues”. Both are set up. In this semi serious romp, we discover that Jillian is afraid of heights, and Roger can’t read. As they realize the others aren’t going to appear, salvation is at hand for both – Jillian teaches English, and Roger works in construction. They plan a date learning to read atop some half finished building. Somehow, this seems a stressful date, but it does wrap up all their fears in one place. Rating: Touching. <P>

A more serious romance develops after intermission in “Clothes Encounters” (By David Almeida and Stephen Miller, directed by Nicole Carson) slightly overweight actress Lorna (Jennifer Jason) meets hunky set designer Jason (Landon Price) at a nude beach. This certainly rips away key uncertainly early in a relation and tonight they are having their first Real Date at a coffee shop. She looks arty enough in her all black ensemble (which not only makes you invisible during set changes, but hides most of the dirt), but he dresses a bit eccentrically, even by art school standards. Even thought he’s the most wonderful man she’s ever met, and dates hard to get, she abandons him. I find this just a bit odd, as it is every woman dream to get a guy to change. It’s usually not that successful, but they all try, bless their hearts. Rating: Stay with him! <P>

The best and darkest piece explores the last moments of two people on 9/11. “Love in Falling” (By Chuck Dent, directed by John DiDonna) finds Danny (DiDonna) and is fiancé and secretary Sally (Amy Brackel) trapped above the fire line in a rapidly worsening situation. It’s clear – they either burn to death, or jump. What to do in theses last few minutes? Well, some time gets devoted to the Mets vs. Yankees debate, and some time to unfulfilled love, bit mostly the discussion covers the best way to end everything. It’s a nerve wracking story; one based in imagined reality, but brought to life here. You hate to see them go, but they have no choice. Rating: gripping. <P>

We end with the statistically based “People Like You” (By Jack McGrath, directed by Heather Leonardi). Jason (Jeff Klien) is an ordinary guy, so ordinary that a high tech life insurance company has studied him and realizes his purchase of fireplace tool out of season is a strong predictor of his demise on his coming Peruvian vacation. Agent Jones (Christy DeMeritt) is out to sell him a policy so her soon-to-go-public employer, Cyber Life, can get some free publicity. Frankly, if a company could do this, I’d run like heck when the agent showed up at my door, but Jason buys in leaving Agent Jones to ponder her own fate. I remember that skyrocketing stock market… Rating: A bit dated. <P>

All these are clever, well conceived plays, representing some of the finer, albeit shorter pieces that can come out of this group. Expect nothing more than minimal staging, but that does emphasize the acting and writing, striping the theatrical experience to its bones.

For more information on Playwright’s Round Table, visit

http://www.playwrightsroundtable.org/</a</I><p>>

A Chorus Line

By Michael Bennett

Directed and Choreographed by Brian T Vernon

University of Central Florida Conservatory Theater, Orlando, Fla.</b><P>

This is a tough show pulled off with grace and panache. Two dozen or so aspiring dancers have shown up to work like heck for free in hopes of getting an unstable, low paying job somewhere in the general vicinity of Broadway. Hopes are high, egos are fragile, and a Voice From The Booth (Zack, played by Creed Bowlen) has the last word on who makes it and who doesn’t. He has an assistant, Larry (Paul Gebb) who has the moves down pat and everyone strives to dance exactly the same way. As we plow though the audition, everyone gives us a piece of their life and their passion for dance. Some stories are sad, Like Paul (Michael Navarro) and his abusive childhood; others more moody, like over the hill at 29 Shelia (Tal Yardeni). Nearly all tell of dancing from since they could walk, and a few face serious issues with accepting their own bodies, like the recently enhanced Val (Brittany Berkowitz), who found that surgery COULD improve her call back percentage. Some stories even seem a bit contrived, as Cassie (Lisa Bryant) reveals a past relation with Zach that may end her faded career.

Behind the life story of these “kids” is a whole bunch of dance. In the opening number “I Hope I Get It”, the choreographer is faced with in the interesting problem of getting people to almost know the number, and get it wrong the same way every night. As we progress, the numbers get tighter, and the cast is pared down to 4 guys and 4 gals who get to sign one of those mysterious contracts that pervade show business.

We see a huge amount of talent here. Not only do the dancers put on a splendid show, but the full band from UCF’s music department plays with discreet enthusiasm behind a scrim, showcasing nearly the entire fine arts program. We even get a glimpse of the tech world, as lights mounted in the wings appear reflected in the mirrored set. This show has been running somewhere for over 6000 performances, and if you can get enough dancers in one place at one time, it will keep adding to that tally.

For more information on UCF Conservatory Theatre, visit

http://www.theatre.ucf.edu</a</I><p>>

Desire Under the Elms

By Eugene O’Neill

Directed by Julia Gagne

Starring Frank Soto, Kurt Jenkins, Gabrielle Brown

Valencia Character Company, Orlando, Fla. </b><p>

You can’t always get what you want, but you can always get someone else’s birthright. . Look at young Eben Cabot (Jenkins) – he’s convinced his father Ephraim (Soto) stole the farm from his deceased mother. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, but Eben is clever enough to buy off his two doltish brothers and send them to the California goldfields. The only remaining problems are his new step mother Abbie (Brown), and his hard as nails Ephraim. Dad wants everyone to know how hard he is – he abandoned the rich loam of the American west to come back east and pull stones put of the ground. Good dirt makes you lazy and unfit for heaven, and only by slaving away in the fields can you assure salvation. It’s works righteousness, without the industrial revolution. Eben despise his new mother until she seduces him and they breed a child that dad thinks is his. Will this romance on the sly work? Oh, come now, this is O’Neill and NOTHING happy will happen.<p>

Well, that’s a strong statement, as the production itself is a very happy result. The two brothers Simeon and Peter (David Santillo and Nick McKenzie) display a Lil’ Abner bumpkiness that is so rare these days. Old Ephraim looked like he smelled stronger than my 98 year old uncle who passed on when I was 12, and the olfactory hallucination made it back to the 10th row. Abbie was cast as a black woman, which made this 1850 set piece more interesting. Would that have happened even in rural New England and pass without notice? Whether it would or not, the pull between Eben and Abbie was visible, and even if the seduction seemed a bit quick, you did believe it when it happened. <p>

What O’Neil never makes clear is the truth of Eben’s claims. We must either accept his insistence or believe his cranky yet honest father. Either way, the farm would have fallen to him eventually, until Abbie made a serious mistake in judgment, and he helped her take a fall. No greater love hath any man, and no stupider was any woman. And that is the essence of O’Neil’s view of life. Live slowly, die old, and be miserable along the way.

For more information on Valencia Character Company, please vist http://valenciacc.edu/theater/</a</I>>

Celebrate Me Home

Written and Directed by Roy Alan

Musical Arrangements by Justin Scott Fisher

Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park, Florida</b><P>

Well, it’s that time of year, and while you’re GOING to hear this music, there’s no point in taking it seriously, is there? Our favorite micro-auditorium rings out with this tightly arranged medley of most of the hits and a few of the misses of seasonal music. A rather extensive cast of 4 students and 4 professionals cover the bases, opening with 9-something Tianna Stevens asking “Where Are You, Christmas?” It’s a dangerously cute beginning, but by the Irving Berlin Medley sung by Heather Alexander and company, you’ll be relieved to know most of what makes up this show is more tongue in cheek than tear in eye. <p>

There’s a wonderfully funny “50’s and 60’s medley,” capped off by Caitlin Kimball giving a free form beat poetry reading of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” Occasionally we return to the sentimental, as with Todd Long and Patti McGuire’s duet of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas, set as a soldier and his girl (or wife, who knows these days?) wishing for better sleeping arrangements. Wrapping up the first act is a “Bell Medley”, with the company complaining about the silver bells and jingle bells and caroling bells. The bell leitmotif came from decorations on horse draw sleighs in a previous century, and counts as anachronism by any standard. Perhaps these tunes could be upgraded to reflect holiday ring tones?<p>

Kimball reappears in the second act as the befuddled Norwegian singing “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas”. She didn’t have that right Midwestern accent, that belongs to heather, a fellow Milwaukeean, but the paste on mustache went over well. The big comedy number followed by Heather and James Berkley presenting “Christmas Time with Bob and Flo”, a pair of lame lounge singes in the Holiday Inn of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I’ve actually been there, these guys are much better than the act I saw. Berkeley didn’t get any real solos until the second act, but they are worth the wait, as he belts out “Home” and “All I want for Christmas is You”. <p>

This company always pulls off the best singing of anyone in town, and it’s worth saddling up the SUV to make the long trek past grandma’s house, through the blown down woods, and all the way to Orange Avenue to see them. <p>

For more information on Winter Park Playhouse, visit http://www.winterparkplayhouse.org/</a</i><p>>

Dancing At Lughnasa

By Brian Friel

Directed by Donald Seay

Starring Kathleen Lake, Sara Jones, Krysta Robinson

UCF Conservatory Theater, Loch Haven Park, Orlando</b><p>

It’s so depressing watching the Irish starve to death, but they do approach the process with some élan. Things are hungry and getting worse in rural county Donegal in 1936. With no men around, excepting young Michael (Wesley Farrell Miller), the 5 women of the Mundy clan hang on by knitting gloves and nursing eggs out of a rooster. Chris’s (Nancy Calas’s) pregnancy was a blow, as was the return of confused missionary Uncle Jack (Christopher Pearson Niess). There are just too many mouths to feed, and if not for cigarettes and the wireless, life would be completely unbearable. Cranky and self righteous Kate (Lake) holds the family together, defending it from sin and fun, and everyone covers for Rose (Robinson) who’s a little slow, even by back hills standards. One day Michael’s father Gerry Evans (Aaron Kirkpatrick) wanders back into their lives, but only long enough to dance a few turns before heading off to the Spanish civil war. Then things get worse.<p>

This is certainly no feel good story, but a wrenching tour through desperate poverty in a poor land and a poor time. Lake’s Kate dominates the show, with her strict morality and intention to go down as miserable as possible. Rose takes her good time to reveal her handicap, and it’s clear these people care about her more than themselves. A strong performance comes from Maggie (Sara Jones) as she breaks into step dancing at the drop of an “r”. Uncle Jack spent a few years to many in Uganda, and went native. This isn’t that big a step when you compare the African pagan rituals to those of the Celts – sacrifice and dancing around fires are common enough, and the Irish Catholics are not as far removed from their roots as Kate would like to think. The one person on stage I felt sorry for is Michael, the putative narrator of the story – he spends most of the show sitting on the side in semi-darkness watching the women interact. I felt genuinely happy when he got to say a few words. <p>

Despite the downer story line, this is another solid project from the UCF crew in the new Orlando Rep space. There’s plenty of room for creative sets and innovative lighting, and even if you are sitting in the back, there are no bad sight lines anywhere in the venue. Scenic designer Joseph Rusnock built a clever country cottage set, even if the cook stove looked a bit familiar to me. I give this show solid marks for Celtic solidarity in the face of desperate conditions, and people soldiering on in the tradition of the British Isles.<p>

For more information on UCF Conservatory Theatre, visit

http://www.theatre.ucf.edu</a</I><p>>

The Three Sisters

By Anton Chekhov

Directed by Julia Listengarten

Starring Mindy Anders, Jenny Ashman, Stephanie Ouellette

UCF Conservatory Theater</b><P>

The Russians are always waiting for Uncle Sasha to save them. Maybe he will appear in the guise of the Czar, or the Communists, or the Capitalists, or God. The three Prozorov sisters see it in the chance to move to Moscow. Stuck in a provincial garrison town, the only social life revolves around the officers, who are just as bored as the Prozorov’s. The have a bit of money, but work becomes more and more important as their brother Andrei (Josh Gold) gambles away the estate. Oldest sister Olga (Anders) teaches school and hates it. Sister Masha (Ashman) married a school teacher she now despises and cheats with Commander Vershinin (Kevin Blackwelder). Graceful Irina (Ouellette) decided to work, not realizing what a pain it can be. As things hang in a Russian stasis field, not much visible changes in their life except that Andrei’s wife Natasha (Ashley Fischer) gradually takes over and marginalizes the sisters. Eventual, even the army gets bored and moves to Poland, leaving the 3 worse off than before, although we now understand just how miserable they have become.<p>

While there are many outstanding performances here, they ensemble never seems to gel. Each actor seems to stand in their own space, and only the relation between Olga and Masha seems to work. Anders’ Olga seems the glue that holds the Prozorov’s together, as Masha cheats on her doofus husband and Irina whines about working at the age of 24. Andrei has a wonderful soliloquy, but seems disconnected from both his sisters and his domineering wife. Vershinin seems the honorable man, even as he does the dishonorable, and rotund Ferapoint (Sam Waters) plays the country bumpkin trying to get Andrei to sign endless papers tied the local government. <p>

This play is often viewed as subtext, implicit relations, and suffering, but there is another message that comes out – the uselessness of the Russian upper classes. Everyone seems well off, but no one seems to carry any real enthusiasm about life or work. All relates to one’s ancestors, status, and estate. No one seems interested in DOING anything, making a change or a difference, even for their own self interest. Work is done by the serfs, pleasure is enjoyed by the few, and everyone feels this is the way things ought to be. A revolution swept this bunch away, and replaced it with a similar bunch, but with different set of slogans. It must be something in the water…<p>

For more information on UCF Conservatory Theatre, visit

http://www.theatre.ucf.edu</a</I><p>>

So I Killed A Few People

Written by Gary Ruderman and David Summers

Directed by Brook Hanemann

Starring Rus Blackwell

Red Moon Theater Joint at the Orlando Rep, Orlando, Fla.</b><P>

I hear most jail birds claim they didn’t do it. Not so death row inmate Archie Nunn (Blackwell). He’s up for 8 homicides, and allows there might be a few more, left as Easter eggs for people to find. It took a while to catch him, he knows his craft. Never repeat a style, and only a minor slip up while signing in to a hotel as a cartoon character brought him down. Now, he’s won a court case allowing him to tell his story on stage, giving him a sort of “last free speech.” How did he drift into this awful business? Sure we were all brought up in a world of distant parents and too much television, but most of us merely hate our jobs, and don’t act out the murderous intent we often joke about over coffee.

Blackwell has always tended toward dark, minimalist productions and this one tops all his previous work. Despite the slightly surreal premise, Archie Nunn carefully spells out his bloody fetish, his journey, and how it will end in the Florida electric chair. Always lucid, yet bordering on insanity, he stay inside his yellow painted stripe yet intimidates the audience to the point you are secretly glad he’ll be leaving this vale of tears as soon as possible.

Nunn points up many of the realities of death by the state – some people think it’s the only solution, and an equally fervent crowd believes it immoral – although they would never allow him in their homes, even it they didn’t know who he was. Jail is a world of humiliation and control, and that more than confinement is its power to punish. But the most significant point is the killer is not that different from any of us – we all have the opportunity to do damage, but only a vanishingly small group actually does. And they are very, very hard to find. Now, THAT’S fear.<p>

Measure For Measure

By William Shakespeare

Directed By Richard Width

Starring Jessica Walling, Paul Bernardo, Johnny Lee Davenport, Stephan Jones

Orlando UCF Shakespeare Festival, Orlando, Fla.</b><P>

The Duke (Bernardo) is a classic case of a great worker promoted to a crummy boss. His rule of Vienna left the draconian sex laws unenforced for 19 years, much to the horror of people who are horrified by that sort of thing. Rather than fix the problem himself, he leaves the sanctimonious Lord Angelo (Jones) in charge, and heads off to make an incognito study of the lower layers of his domain. Their he meets Claudio (Seth Maisel) and Juliet (Sara Hankins), who are married in the church, pregnant, but yet have some incoherent trouble with the dowry paper work. Legally, they are fornicators, and Claudio deserves beheading NOW, but his girlfriend can live until the child is born. Saving the day falls to Isabella (Jessica Walling), who is about to enter a convent. She can rescue Claudio if only she has sex with Angelo. She’s willing to die for Claudio, but a quickie with the sleazy Angelo is more than she can bear. No wonder Europe is having fertility problems.<P>

Notionally a comedy (there’s only one beheading, and that guy was already dead), Measure is a very dark story of placing the law above reason. Parts of the story exude menace, and Jones’ Angelo coldly menaces as Walling’s Isabella struggles with herself – how much will she do to save the unjustly accused brother. Dancing around the poor management is earnest Escalus (Johnny Lee Davenport), a man who sees the problem but is powerless to solve anything. What saves the evening are the multiple comic stories. Clearly the most fun is the bordello scene, presided over by a Joel Grayish Becky Fisher and her fur clad hooker Kate Keepdown (Sarah Hankins). Close behind are comic antics of Davis Veitch as Elbow, the local constable, and Bernadine, profession a drunk and prisoner. Lording over the laughs is a foppish Timothy Williams as Lucio and Froth in a coat that would make Oscar Wilde proud.<p>

This is a schizophrenic show – the comedy plays well, and the pathos works just as cleanly, but the two sort of coexist on separate planes of existence. The closest link between them is the lost soul of the Duke. He vacillates between backing Angelo’s tough stance, and applying logic and pity on those caught in the web of morality and good intentions. He sees the direct results of bad policy, and ultimately makes the correct decision. I think we might all agree this makes him a better person and a better ruler, not that we would allow such a person to stand for office today. Bad laws make bad citizens, I’ve heard, but careful consideration makes good rulers. Perhaps these WERE the good old days.

For more information on UCF-Shakespeare, visit

http://www.shakespearefest.org</a</I><p>>

Night of January 16th

By Ayn Rand

Directed by Chris Jorie

Valencia Character Company</b><p>

Everyone loves Jury Duty, right? A day off of work, lunch on the city, free parking and the chance to pry into someone else’s sordid little life, what more could you want? Tonight 12 people volunteer for this duty out of the paying audience, and the story to judge is particularly juicy. Karen Andre (Morgan Matos) stands accused of murdering her boss and lover Bjorn Faulkner, and tossing his corpse over the edge of his ritzy penthouse. He WAS swindling everyone, and the scam was collapsing about his ears. But, wait, maybe she’s innocent, Faulkner had just married the daughter of a wealthy banker John Whitfield (Steve Druker), and the new Nancy Faulkner (Brittany Powell) isn’t sitting well with him. Stirring the pot is small time shakedown artist Larry Regan (Luis J Torres). He may have loved Karen, and he may have been working both sides of the street as well. How to decide? Simple. Ask the jury. Society does it everyday.

While the trial is a bit forced, leading to a purposefully ambiguous resolution, this play is more about the dozen or so studies of the people surrounding the crime. Quite few Swedes cross the stage, lead by the prim and disapproving Magda Svensen (Gloria Duggan). She clearly has the best line – “A kiss is the last door in heaven before a girl falls to hell.” Imaging it with a Swedish accent… Another standout is Jane Chandler (Sharon Engram) as the handwriting expert with no doubt about her capability. Another strong Swede is sleazy Sigurd Junquist (Phil Pollard), small time embezzler and one of the most sallow looking people I’ve ever seen, anywhere. He looks like the sort of guy who might actually prefer lutefisk and lefsa. <p>

All in all, the entertainment value is rather high, particularity if you enjoy crime drama. Most of the audience I spoke to was seriously debating the guilt and innocence of the player at intermission, and most off the cast hung out in character to offer opinions and insight. As in real trials, the whim of the jury may play as much a role as the true guilt or innocence of anyone you see on stage. Here’s your chance to contribute to justice, even thought it wont get you off the hook with Orange County.<p>

For more information on Valencia Character Company, please vist http://valenciacc.edu/theater/</a</I><p>>

The Shape of Things

By Neil LaBute

Directed by David Lee

Starring heather Leonardi, Patrick Braillard

Mad Cow Theater, Orlando, Fla.</b><P>

It’s every Woman’s dream – the modification in detail of a Man. Evelyn (Leonardi) makes good progress on the subject Adam (Braillard) – he’s lost weight, fixed his hair, and even dumped his favorite old coat. That’s the biggest step; men HATE getting rid of clothing. How did she do it? A mix of sex and suggestion, and really, he’s all the better for it. Even his old roomy Phillip (Jason Hook) takes note. Now that’s progress; another man detected a difference. Philips fiancée, Jenny (Erin Muroski) feels a bit uncertin about Phillip, and asks for a private talk with Adam, and it leads… somewhere. Somewhere just far enough to mess up both relations, and then the other shoe drops – Adam is more than a boyfriend project, he’s part of Evelyn’s ART project. Now THIS is creepy. <p>

This tightly written little drama takes a serious look at both the drive behind relations, and the line between art and reality. From the relation point of view, Evelyn drives things forward, but with an ulterior motive far beyond lust. Leonardi plays the vicious sex card cleanly – you start believing she’s really in love, and just a bit kinky, but you find her deception wipes out the innocent and sincere Adam. As a flip side to her drive, Muroski is also innocent and vulnerable, and while Hook’s Phillip is sincerely a jerk, he drives her to ground for a more basic reason – he’s a guy, and that’s all he can think to do. <p>

As to art, I think its true a human can become an art project, whether through careful body crafting in a gym, or developing and living a character. The key point lies in the decisions to “artifice” oneself must come consciously from inside, not from another’s secret agenda. Further, today we sort of allow people to arbitrarily declare something “art”, even if it’s just a pile of junk or a stream of baloney. There’s no outside judgment that can say “just a minute, that’s not art, its crap.” On one hand, this allows the Impressionists and Cubists an easier ground to gain credibility, but on the other, it makes art degenerate. There is no bar to keep someone out of the gallery, and that cheapens the whole process. Look at poor Adam – he gets the treatment, and has to buy his life back at inflated gallery prices from a bitter performance artist. <p>

For more information on Mad Cow, please visit www.madcowtheatre.com

A Little Night Music

Music and Lyrics by Steven Sondheim

Book by Hugh Wheeler

Directed by Patrick Flick

Starring Kate Ingram, Warren Kelly

Orlando UCF Shakespeare Company, Orlando Florida</b>

Nothing heightens the punch of a musical about complex infidelity like setting it amongst turn-of-the-century Swedish Lutherans. Fredrik Egerman (Warren Kelly) misplaced his first wife somewhere, and remarried nubile yet repressed Anna (Tracy Ganem). It’s been 11 months since he popped the question, but he has yet to pop the other half of the deal. Things have come to such a pass he returns to old flame Desirèe Armfeldt (Ingram). While Anne is a blank page, Desirèe has been written on and erased a few times, but the lust remains. Her only problem is a Dragoon named Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Al Bundonis). He’s not the sharpest beach ball in the Swedish military, but loves to duel and refuses to let his wife be insulted by someone fooling around with his mistress. How to sort this all out? Why, get everyone in a country house for the weekend. That always sorts out the hormones.

“Night Music” is Orlando Shakespeare’s first foray into the world of musicals, and it comes off quite well. There’s a ton of NYC equity talent on the clever and colorful set, and only minor audio problems mar the first act. A little re-equalization, and the audience can now clearly hear the huge blowout end to the first act, “A Weekend in the Country.” The ensemble raises the rafters, and numerous individual voices deserve mention. I was most impressed by Mr. Bundonis as the jilted Count Malcolm. Besides his near solo “In Praise of Women,” he does fine verbal sparring with Mr. Egerman. Grand dame Madam Armfeldt is the main comic relief in the story, and Diane Findlay plays every joke for optimum timing from her antiqued wheel chair. Female lead Kate Ingram pulled off the jaded, faded courtesan and amateur actress with great aplomb, and the big number “Send in the Clowns” was nearly enough to bring us to tears.

For a musical, this has an astonishing and complicated plot, and the songs are divvied up in an equally complicated set of refrains. The opening is a bit long, with the chorus dancing along with the overture as we try to grab onto someone to start leading us through the large cast. Once out of these woods, things go clearly, although the relation between Anna and her stepson Henrik (Christopher Kale Jones) is a bit mysterious at first. These are nits, and we all hope to see more musicals dot the schedule in the future.

For more information on UCF-Shakespeare, visit http://www.shakespearefest.org

Long Day’s Journey Into The Night

By Eugene O’Neill

Directed by John DiDonna

Starring Peg O’Keef, Tim Bass, Daniel Cooksley

Theater Downtown, Orlando Fla.</b>

Here’s a family where strong common interests pull them through tough times. James Tyrone (Bass) is a washed-up actor, miser, and alcoholic. His wife Mary (O’Keef) prefers morphine and living in her lace curtain Irish past. Younger son Edmund (Cooksley) may have consumption (tuberculosis these days) and consumes prodigious amounts of alcohol. And elder son James Jr. (Roger Greco) is a failing actor, and well on his way to major liver damage. How did they get here in rural New London, Connecticut? Was it the schoolgirl crush Mary had on James when he was at the pinnacle of a mediocre career? Was it his desire to buy up all the marginal real-estate in town to save his fortune from banking collapse and frivolous expenses like lighting? A bit of both, and this family from hell makes a strong argument for staying away for kith and kin at all costs.

Life is hard, and this cast pours their hearts out to bring it to life. Peg O’Keef seems to put in the most hours, stumbling around and worrying about her hair and her hands and sneaking off to the spare bedroom to shoot up. She carries an odd accent, halting and pretentious, and conveys a sense of loneliness and isolation. Greco’s father figure looks a bit like a young John Candy, but projects a blowhard’s view of the world while cheating those he notionally loves of the medical care they need, and they need it mostly from being around him. The two boys are equally consumed with anger – anger at their father, their mother, and the world in general. It’s not that the world treated them that badly, but whenever it did, dad was standing by to rub salt in the wounds.

Long Day’s Journey evokes a sense of incompleteness, as if O’Neill didn’t really finish it, edit it, or bring things to resolution. Characters remain static, not really changing, but battling among themselves for no real gain. Rather, it seems to capture his life and times, and all the horrible rough edges we associate with the artist – alcohol, drugs, abandonment. While the run time is about 3 hours, the journey is worth it, both to hear the artist’s voice, and to see this splendid company slave to bring it to life in front of you. It’s not just a journey, it’s an adventure.

For more information, please visit http://www.theatredowntown.net</I>

Us and Them

Written and directed by Bob DiCerbo

Studio Theater, Orlando, Fla.</b>

People decry soft money political ads, but tricking an audience into paying $10 to suffer through 3 hours of the stuff is much, much worse. This turgid production opens with a Professor (Scott Leake) leading his class of dedicated students through a discussion of how news reporting has degraded over the years. True enough, things WERE much better when William Randolph Hearst ran America. Still, our beloved pedagogue can’t get a date, whether because of sexual disinterest or his obsessive need to expound the evils of Bush and Cheney to everyone he meets. His equally sexless buddy Richie (T.J. Tilbert) sets him up with uber-earnest Sara (Shannon Beefy). Sara’s befuddled dad (Arlen Bensen) weakly defends the Republican Party, but mostly wishes his daughter was having sex on a regular basis. Later on Richie nearly picks up a waitress (Faye Novick), but prefers debating the 9-11 commission to taking her home.

OK, I admit, I’ve embellished the story a bit. Quite a bit, actually, as this remarkably horrid drama fails in nearly every respect. The story line, as described, fills up about as much of the evening as it took you to read this far. The rest of the show is a brutally heavy-handed political diatribe, listing all the sins of every Republican administration since Garfield was president. Writer DiCerbo believes that if a point is worth making, it’s worth making five or six times, just to make sure you remember. Character development is minimal – Sara lost a twin brother somehow, probably because of a Republican. Her father, notionally the loyal opposition to this party political broadcast, has the effect of a silhouette target at a police shooting range – he gets blown away, and never gets a decent shot off. The Prof and Richie come across as two teenagers, daring each other to talk to a girl, but you know they don’t have it in their hearts. More importantly, you don’t care. Dialogue ranges from droning to histrionic, with occasional diversion into incomprehensible to those of us not obsessed with the topic. And the only dramatic tension created was the thought “How much longer will this go on?” Intermission took quite a few casualties, including at least one other writer. I hate to blow my own horn here, but when a show sucks this badly, I’m going to stick it out, if only for bragging rights.

If there is one positive here, it’s the acting. This genuinely fine cast is stuck with a script from hell, and they soldier though it like our glorious Vietnam veterans. Mr. Leake shows a fine and believable presence as the teacher who needs constant reminders to end class. Chris Niess plays a statistically adept guardian of heaven’s entrance, citing figures to three digits to a befuddled George Bush (Phillip Corents). Bensen reminds you of Ozzie Nelson, in a good way, and Improv veteran James Newport breathes some temporary life into the listless lines, and the Greek chorus of students had real fire in their bellies as they read from endless scripts of Bush evilness. <p>

Politically, the message is quite predictable. Corporations are taking over the country, and make too much money. Bush and Cheney are evil incarnate. The world is going to hell in a hand basket. Somewhere there is a clean, cheap, impact-free energy source, and Exxon suppressed it. If you have made a decision on how to vote this year, I beg you to spare yourself from this misery – act on your conscience. If you haven’t decided, flip a coin and give the 10 bucks to a wino. It will be money better spent, and your decision will be just as good as if you sat though this Auschwitz of an evening.

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