Number 44: Fade to New Years Edition

Number 44: Fade to New Years Edition

It’s really amazing, the bitterness over the election that permeates all the people who were so excited about the huge voter turnout this season. A big turn out is OK, so long as they vote for YOUR guy. I even heard some prominent radio people suggest revoking the right to vote for those who ‘voted wrong’. That’s not democracy, that’s 1960s Chicago. So what else interesting is happening, besides the mandatory Dickens Marathon?

Happy Days
By Samuel Beckett
Directed by Alan Bruun
With Peg O’Keef, Alan Sincic
Mad Cow Theater, Orlando, Fla.

Some days you find yourself up to your butt in alligators. Other days you’re up to your butt in muck, and that’s where Winnie (O’Keef) wakes up on a regular basis. It’s not immediately clear why she’s waist deep in this pile of mud, but everything she needs is there in her bag – toothbrush, mirror, hand gun, you name it. Behind the pile of dirt is a man who might be her husband, Willie (Sincic). Willie doesn’t have much to say, he just reads random items from the news paper while Winnie goes on and on about how great day it is. The day drags on, minor crises come and go, and what do we have, but drawn out existential life? Existentialism escalates as the second act opens, with O’Keef now up to her neck in immobility and Willie out of sight until he ineffectively crawls our and fail to climb the mound. It it still a happy day? Why, sure, Winnie says so, so it must be. It reminds me of marriage drifted of into the weeds -Willie could easily dig her out, and she could dig herself out, but either represents change and either is much worse than sinking into the morass. And where does she end up? Immobile, ineffective, and yet strangely happy.

As piles of dirt on stage go, this one worked well and it’s hard to think of anyone beside Ms. O’Keef who would look as good sitting in it. There s a high level of skill needed to sit still and blather on about nothing, and yet convey a message of desolation and desperation effectively. Sincic had less to work with, script wise, yet he was quite effective at crawling out miserably to say goodbye to the woman of his life, particularly after he had largely ignored her for so long. Being Becket, all of this stuff sort of seeps into your mind as you drive home, and even after you’ve discussed it for a while, you still don’t know if you got it right. “Happy Days”, while very well done, is not for the casual theater patron – its level of surrealism, absurdity and misdirection will leave your average couch potato fried.

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

Lysistrata
By Aristophanes
Directed by Belinda Boyd
Starring Jenny Ashman, Kathleen Lake, Ashley Fisher
UCF Conservatory Theater, Orlando, Fla.

I think they beat the penis jokes to death in the second act, but that sort of comes with the territory. It’s the middle of the Peloponnesian wars, a conflict which vex the Greeks for decades and history students for centuries. Randy God Zeus (Keston John) bets his faithful wife Hera (Mimi Jimenez) that one or the other can end this war by disguising themselves as mortals and arguing the humans in to reasonableness. The wager? Ten years of unharrased infidelity if Zeus wins. Ah, it’s good to be a god.

Down on the ground, Lysistrata (Ashman) proposes that all the women in Athens and Sparta withhold sex from their men until a truce is signed. While the conceptually good, enforcement is tough even after they swear an oath on an 8 foot phallus spewing red streamers. This is WAY beyond symbolism. In the second act the men arrive, and it’s clear the plan is having its effects. My advice? Don’t sit in an aisle seat.

Lysistrata is the original anti-war story, ridiculing the testosterone laced violence of the men with bawdy, lusty antics of the town’s women. While Lysistrata holds the women together with stirring speeches, the Greek women cheerfully attempt to mount anything that moves, particularly Jaded Kleonike (Lake) and earthy Myrrhine (Fisher). In the second act, most of the action shifts focus to Myrrine and her aroused husband Kinesias (Kevin Blackwelder) as she teases and leads him on. UCF pushes the story about as far as a state funded institution can, with wonderful results. When not playing young, horny housewives and protuberant soldiers, the male and female chorus dons wonderful masks transforming them in to elderly citizens, whining about their bad backs.

The main flaw in this otherwise flawless show comes from the weird voice effects applied to Zeus and Hera, making most of their dialog incomprehensible. Fortunately, the Greeks always repeat the key points, so eventually you get the jist of the bet. Lysistrata is really for a mature audience, which I find refreshing after the icky stickiness of last month.

For more information on UCF Conservatory Theatre, visit
Driven to Abstraction
By D.W. Gregory
Directed by Kathleen Lindsey
New Playfest, Orlando UCF Shakespeare Center, Orlando, Fla.

While “Driven to Abstraction” was presented as a workshop, it represented a nearly complete story with many of the nuances needed to transition to a full production. We see two intertwined tales – Alya Harrison plays Sue, an earnest art history student dating uptight premed candidate Brad (Patrick Braillard). He doesn’t “get” art, and convinces Sue to help him with a paper for the class, taught by Tad Ingram. Against this context, we see a sketch of Picasso’s (Ingram’s) life and loves, particularly with his lover and muse Dora Maar. Surrounding both stories is a smallish Greek chorus of art critics and Picasso hangers on who make an ironic counter point by saying same things over and over. When the professor figures out Sue wrote Brad’s paper, he seduces her, and then (and this is the point that’s still slightly fuzzy) kills her or cause her suicide.

Whether you “get” modern art or don’t (and someday, I just can’t tell if my Mondrian is upside down), there is a good deal of insight into both the student condition and the life of the 20th centuries most prolific painters. The only weak spot I saw was the death at the end, but even interpreting this as deliberate ambiguity doesn’t reduce the enjoyment of this cleverly written piece.

New Playfest – Staged Readings
Orlando UCF Shakespeare Center
Orlando, Fla.

The Shakespeare Festival of New Plays (or PlayFest, the name is a bit fluid sometimes) offers up over a dozen readings, free to the public with a festival button. This is one of the best deals going, as all the shows are reasonably far along, professionally directed and acted, and cover a wide range of material. However, these are readings and as such still work in progress. Commenting on them is a little dangerous, as all may see major revisions before they appear in final form. There’s a good crop in this festival, and I’ll risk offering some broad views of the material as presented.

Codes (written by John Minigan, directed by Kristen Clippard) explores a long term relation between an actress Anna (Sarah Hankins) and her teacher and mentor Curt (Eric Hissom). They meet in her freshman year, with Anna hot off a successful high school drama career. Curt whips her into shape by making her THINK about what she is doing, and not just reading the lines. Always painful process, but the rigor forges her into a career so successful she worries whether minivans ads are a sell out. “Codes” is about being in theater, in a general class of shows like “Anton in Show Business” or “Noises Off”. A certain familiarity with behind the scenes theater workings helps the jokes.

“…Nothing Happened…” (Written and directed by John DiDonna) explores the psyche of a woman after sexual assault, leading to a breakdown of her internal self. Eight voices represent aspects such as Denial, Anger, Rationalization, and a strong male fantasy figure called “Rock”. The author continues to work with the piece and his goal for this intriguing work is still unclear.

Shatter The Sky (written by Sean Christopher Lewis, Directed by Rob Anderson) takes an ancient Greek tragedy, freshens up the language, and leaves the bones of the tragedy intact. We know this is Greek, not only because of the names (Orestes is played by the threatening Michael Chappell, Menelaus by the magnificent Veryl E. Jones), but by the nature of the tragedy – matricide and incest. I’m sure people did that sort of think long before the golden age of Pericles, but it took Greek literature to codify just how you are supposed to feel after committing these awful acts.

The country folk of post-Civil War America relived these Greek tragedies, and we cover that territory in the slightly fictionalized tale of the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s in “Last Hanging in Pike County”. (Written by Janice Kennedy, directed by Margaret Nolan). We’ve all heard of the Hatfield – McCoy feud, if only from the cartoons of our youth, and the parallels to Romeo and Juliet are there – young people in love despite larger family problems, bad advice all around, and untimely death for the nice people, long life and prosperity for the bad. It’s a very authentic story, in both text and dialect, even if the country talk gets a bit thick from time to time.

“Seagulls In A Cherry Tree” (Written By William Missouri Downs, directed by Thomas Joyner) ties all of Chekhov’s major plays into one work that draws a steady stream of laughs from this admittedly literate crowd. Knowing the story of at least on of these plays will help a lot, but even if you don’t the logic of the tale is clear, as the banality of life and bad financial planning causes the loss of the past, and a family estate passes into the hands of a new generation, a generation unfamiliar with how things OUGHT to be, and ready to make some money of the old place before everyone starves. Now, that’s Russian.

The clear high point of New Playfest is “Every Christmas Story Ever Told” (Written by Michael Carlton, John Alverez, and James Fitzgerald, directed by Jim Helsinger) One of the crises in modern theater is the dreaded Christmas Carol a show which is a guaranteed money maker and keeps more than one company afloat in this town. But, everyone recognizes its done-to-deathness, and we all seek an alternative. This broad parody ties pretty much everything on TV for the month of December into one big pile of topical silliness, and it flies along skewering all the stuff in need of a stake of holly through its heart. Impressively, this reading drew an ovation, and I suspect this will start appearing on stage soon.

Another very funny work in progress is “The Night They Kidnapped Barrymore” (Written by Mark Leiren-Yong, directed by Arlen Bensen) the premise id the Peter Lorrie and Humphrey Bogart steal Barrymore’s corpse and prop it up in Errol Flynn’s apartment. The pair are working on Casablanca, and both despise the movie and each other. The opening act draws a solid laugh on nearly every line, and only when the cast drifts into self explanatory monologues does the energy fade a bit.

Local writer John Goring presented a comprehensive look at the post-puritan England of King Charles in “The Royal Baker”. His reign was one of increasing tolerance, which he took advantage of with his numerous dalliances. Being rather broad minded, he allowed his wife similar latitude, although he insisted on bestowing some rank on her boyfriend, Sir roger (Simon Needham). A big part of the fun s multiple euphemisms for sex and body parts, giving the reading a Monty Python feel right up to the hanging at the end.

“Hunting the Basilisk” (by J Shafer, directed by Megan Alrutz) presents 4 strong female characters in the after life, each confronting some internal demon that haunted them in life. It’s the after life, and time and place are a bit diffuse, and the women span the period of the French revolution to today. The talk back was one of the best I’ve participated in. and the author revealed that while he had written it specifically to provide strong roles for women, most festivals devoted to Women plays would not produce it due to his gender.

Vine Theater – 3 Short Pieces
New Playfest
Orlando UCF Shakespeare Center, Orlando Fla.

Three writers group their works in progress under the Vine’s umbrella to give an interesting if rather long program. Their presentation at new Playfest is an opportunity for the authors to seek feedback as well as offering the public a glimpse into the process of writing.

The lead show is an excerpt from “See Rock City,” written by Arlene Hutton. We find our selves in a small town at in WW2. Young May (Kimberly Gray) is an ambitious school teacher, with a shot at making principal in a year or so. She married gentle Raleigh (Scott Ghram), a young man with epilepsy and few prospects for employment. He writes sporadically for a living, but May is the bread winner, a situation frowned on by the town. May’s Mother Mrs. Gill (Donna Black) supports her, but Raleigh mother (Gloria Duggan) regards him as a lazy ne’re do well. The pair stumble along until the war ends, and May loses her job unfairly, and asks Raleigh to move to New York, hoping he can make it there.


While the split between May and Raleigh is abrupt, the lead up is a well modulated view of small town life and mores, with a slight scandal associated with any action not consistent with what has always been done. The high point of this show is a hysterical account of the Gill’s dog Jimbo, who would sneak in to church to be with the family. “See Rock City” is a homey tale of sacrifice for love, with well built characters you’d like to know more about.

Next up is completed work, “Anglo-American Alliance”, written by Anne Nelson. There’s a tension in any artistic household, a tension between the need to create and the need to eat. Freddy (Roger Scott) spews motets and concertos and occasionally hits a commission. Wife Lisa (Lucy Carney) writes music as well, but one composition a year is top speed for her, s her day job keeps them afloat. An Old friend Henry (Landon Price) drops by, ostensibly to offer a commission to Freddy but really to make a much more personal offer to Lisa. It’s sudden, unexpected, but quite attractive…

Anglo American alliance is reminiscent of the comedies that came out of England in the 60’s and 70’s, with a decidedly sardonic take on love and marriage. There are plenty of laughs, and while Henry looks a bit smarmy, you believe he reasonably sincere enough about his offer, and Lisa distracted enough to consider it.

Finally, we come to an excerpt for the musical “First Comes Love…” (Music by George Livings, Book and Lyrics by Jonathan Hickey) a piece that has most of a first act and a rough sketch of a second act. The story revolves around a musician and a writer (Patrick Oliver Jones and Tony Dietterick) working for a tyrannical boss (Eric Nutting) and unable to produce material fast enough. The musician is tied up with a new baby, and the writer with a failing marriage. The songs sound good, well polished and interesting, and the show stops abruptly, leaving us ready to come back and hear more, hopefully by next year’s festival. Good material, all around.

Trapezium – A Knightly Farce
By Henry Rathvon
Directed by Russell Treyz
New Play Fest
Orlando UCF Shakespeare Center, Orlando Fla.

You’d think by now that most people would be smart enough to do their own wooing, and not have some underling fetch their Lady Love. King Mark (Kristian Truelsen) hasn’t figured it out, and sends his dashing nephew Tristan (David Hardie) from rocky Cornwall to lush Ireland to fetch fetching Iseult (Mindy Anders) .The voyage is long and rough, and either a mis-mixed potion from Iseult’s maid Bridget (Heather Leonardi) or raw teen hormones has caused the two to fall in love. If you have a degree in English lit, you know the story, and if you don’t, no matter, it’s crossed yet mismatched love. King Mark gets it quick enough, and takes the misplaced affections of his new bride better than you’d expect. He’s open mined enough to encourage a young man’s fancy, and is nice enough to leave the two lovers alone with time on their hands.

Fast paced and drizzled with iambic pentameter sauce, author Rathvon takes a classic and copyright free story and runs it repeatedly, each time from a slightly different view point and ending in a radically different conclusion,. None of the conclusions suit the cast until the last one, by which time everyone has a true love and it’s safe to stop the merry go round and let everyone off.

With a simple yet color coordinated set, Trapezium dotes on fast paced word play, and adds more words to the English language than Ned Flanders. Truelsen plays a solid and imperturbable King Mark, encouraging wenching when ever possible, and if that wench is his wife, well, so be it. Comic narration comes from pompous Sir Mullet of the Scrawny Legs (Jason Flora) who strives to unseat or upset the good looking but no better than he needs be Tristan. Anders is cute and lusty, so you know eventually someone will get her in bed. It’s Bridget who drives plot, cursed with bad eye sight when it comes to toe of newt or wing of fly. It’s a whirlwind of unlikely coincidence, timed to fit exactly between the opening curtain and closing bows.

For more information on UCF-Shakespeare, visit
Coyote on a Fence
Written By Bruce Graham
Directed by Chris Jorie
Starring T. Robert Pigott, Jim Howard
Orlando Theater Project at Seminole Community College

If you’re bad enough we remove you from society and put you in jail. If you’re really bad, we keep you there till you die, and maybe speed the process a bit. It’s minor industry, arresting, store housing, and debating these people, but don’t get me wrong – most of these guys you don’t want wandering around. Tonight John Brennan (Howard) is the jail house intellectual – erudite, clever, and a good enough speller to edit the Death Row Advocate. His complete complex sentences make him the darling of the New York Times and high on the wardens crap list. His crime? He’s ACCUSED of kicking a drug dealer to death, but since no on in jail is really guilty, he keeps up his denial as reporter Sam Fried (Chris Pfingsten) grills him for a scoop. While he types away on a ribbonless typewriter, his neighbor Bobby Rayburn (Pigott) babbles on about white supremacy the spaciousness of a death rows cell. Backwoods and a bit retarded, he burnt 37 blacks to death in a racist attack, so The Times thinks a little less of him. We like our villains, but only if their villainous in exactly the right way. Both are scheduled to die, and while Brennan works the system, Rayburn gladly admits his action, hoping to see Jesus real soon. Who’s the better man? Neither, really, they both failed society in a big way, and as a group we cannot tolerate either sort of sin.

It’s tough to make light of the situation, but Graham’s clever script blossoms as a black comedy under Jorie’s deft touch. Pigott shows a real knack for the hillbilly Aryan roll, playing it as an enthusiastic puppy with no moral qualms about what he’s done and willing to do again. Howard’s Brennan connives and glosses over the horrors his crime as well as the crimes of the executed as he writes their obituaries. They may have been mass murderers outside, but inside they are one and all pillars of the community. Guarding the jail birds is the outstanding Christine Decker as Shawna DuChamps, tough prison guard and Brennan’s only real friend. Pfingsten’s reporter reads a bit more ambiguously. He might be genuinely interested in Brennan’s plight, or might be looking for a sensational story, or slumming a bit, but either way, he makes very definite moral judgments on the people he reports on, journalistic detachment be damned.

The death penalty is one of the polarizing issues in America, and the hypocrisy of both poles shows clearly in “Coyote.” Those who support it often seek vengeance, and the issue of proper application of the ultimate punishment often becomes trivialized. Those who oppose it often choose to ignore the brutality of the crime, romanticizing the guilty even if they would fight tooth and nail to keep them out of their neighborhoods. In the middle sit the two groups who deal wit the situation on a daily basis – the judged and their keepers. Both are human, and both are animals. It’s just not always where either of them sits on a daily basis.

For more information on Orlando Theater Project, please vist www.otp.cc

The Eight Reindeer Monologues
By Jeff Goode
Directed By Sara Blackwelder
I Theatre Production Company
Downtown Media Arts Center, Orlando Fla.

We all love the shabby reality behind the glitter and gloss of pop stars, and Santa and his posse is no exception. Is Santa a lovable friend of children, or dangerous sexual predator? Do you see Rudolph a hero, or a feebleminded sex toy? And would YOU leave your husband alone with Mrs. Claus at the company party? All serious questions, and like all gossip, you believe what you want and who you hear it from.

Let’s check in with the 8 current reindeer. No nonsense Dasher (T.J. Windsor), the overachieving take-no-prisoners deer, doesn’t care about gossip. He has a job to do; anyone unable to pull his weight is just a reindeer dropping. Next we hear Cupid’s (Mark Catlett) take on the situation. He’s the openly gay deer, finds life a laugh, and has had encounters with Mrs. Claus that would curl your antlers. Vain Hollywood (Patrick Braillard) recently replaced Victor, who tragically died in bad landing. Santa had to leave the body, so somewhere SOMEONE got a little extra present. Hollywood appreciates the marketing value of the whole situation, from the family oriented claymations to the sordid details suitable for a late night HBO special. He’s slick and commercial, and isn’t that what the holidays are about?

We hear more and more, from feminist Blitzen (Liz Hargnett), Biker Comet (Rafael De Sivilla), ditzy Dancer (Anne Hazard), Sad Sack Donner (Jamie Cline), and ultimatly sexy Vixen (Annalisa Kyler) appears to set the record straight – she knows what’s what, and how Santa operates, but does that make her a victim? You bet.

This funny and irreverent show takes a new slant on both the holidays and the media portrayal of the high and mighty. The cast is solid through and through, with the best performances from Sivilla’s rough looking biker with a heart of gold, and Braillard’s made for TV polished look. Staging and costumes are minimal, leaving only the writing and acting to carry the evening, which they do with wit and timing. I Theater comes out of the gate with a strong holiday show, marred only by its way-too- short 2 day run. Look for these guys to do more good work in the future.

For more information on I Theatre Production Company, visit
Chanukah with The Feldman Dynamic
Conceived and Directed by Brian Feldman
Studio 6107, Sanford, Florida

Normal theater compresses time, emphasizes conflict, and highlights resolution. “The Feldman Dynamic” does the opposite, setting the audience in a more voyeuristic situation. We peer through that 4th wall, seeing a family living a mundane life, brightened a bit by a traditional Jewish festival. Two Chanukah candles burn furiously as the family dawdles around, making latkes and eating Matzo soup and jelly donuts. Father Edward does most of the cooking, with son and director Brian assisting, kvetching, and burning his fingers making apple sauce. Sister Adrienne contemplates leaving her job at Lowes to study more, and makes fun of the Christian literature she is inundated with, although she does adopt the minor goyish swear word “Geez” every now and again. Mother Marilyn reads the mail, and everyone drones on as the room warms up and fills with the smell of cooking.

Is there tension? Not in a classic sense, although you do wonder where things are headed and will they ever get there. The conflict is low keyed, short lived, and easily resolved, although the preshow announcement vaguely promises a small spat. As the Feldman’s say their prayers and live their lives, they ignore the half dozen people sitting on risers in their cramped 2/2 apartment in a middle class complex out in the middle of Orlando suburban sprawl. When they end the show, and bow slightly, the effect is a bit unnerving. The audience goes from ignored observers to welcome friends – “Have a latke”, “Have some wine”, “How are you doing?” The 4th wall falls, but the smell of cooking oil penetrated it long ago. It’s not a sermon, but a window into another family, and you half expect to be asked to take out the trash as you leave. Life, unscripted.


For more information on The Feldman Dynamic, visit
www.FeldmanDynamic.com

The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge
By Mark Brown
Directed by Arlen Bensen
Starring Phillip Nolan, J.D. Sutton, Ron Schneider
Orlando UCF Shakespeare Festival

Technically, this title is bit deceptive. After receiving salvation from the evils of Low Christmas Spirit, Mr. Scrooge (Nolan) hauls Marley (Sutton) and three ghosts into the dock and charges them with reckless endangerment, kidnapping, and deprivation of personal crankiness. All well and good, within the concept of the law, although The Judge (Schneider) thinks the whole thing a waste of his time. While scrooge is his own council, the spirits spring for the oily lawyer Rothschild (Jeff Marlow), resplendent in his purple vest. Its fun and objections as the case teeters between absurdity and totters towards exorcizing all the plot inconsistencies of the original story.

It’s over the top parody as everyone gets a wrapped package of belly laughs and titters from this well written story. Nolan’s lead ties the play together with his bizzare set of charges and counter charges. A more gentle yet entertaining performance comes from the ghoulish Marley and cowering Cratchit, both played by J.D. Sutton. Schneider is cramped up in the bench with an itchy looking wig and a thunderous temper, but the best role goes to the Ghost of Christmas Future, played by the versatile Tim Williams as an elderly and cantankerous Jewish Uncle.

Was Scrooge mistreated by the spirits? He makes a good case for it – they entered without permission, flew him around at great heights with no safety gear, and made him into someone new without his express written permission. Just because it was “for his own good” doesn’t make it right. All the action takes place on a typically wonderful OSF set by Bob Phillips, replete with the magic snow machine in the ceiling and Florida frosted windows. If there was one disappointment, local scream queen Sarah Hankins as Ghost of Christmas Past never gets a chance to let a good one rip. Maybe if the ghost of Xmas Future gave her a nice goose for the holiday…


For more information on UCF-Shakespeare, visit
A Crisp 10 Spot
A Festival of Original 10 Minute Plays
Directed by John DiDonna
Seminole Community College, Orlando Fla.

There seems to be a resurgence of 10 minute plays in the area, this is the 3rd or 4th set to appear in the Orlando area in the past 6 months. Presented as an exercise for SCC students, it presents some interesting shows performed by up and coming student actors.


We open with the silly costume drama “The Sad Mushroom” (assistant directed by Troy Ogun.) Frank (Benjamin Paris) plays a duck against Sandra’s (Lisa Vega) tomato in and endless children’s theater production of the title. The mushroom is played by Bill (Sean Duncan), but it’s a deal with the devil – his theatrical career is limited to just this role until he or Mrs. Boutwell (Aida Roman) dies. Can sex provide a cure? No, but it’s worth a shot, just to get out of the contract.


The very clever “17 & 0” by Nicole Carson comes up next, where Melinda (Paula Trinidad) has an unusual spiritual gift – she can always see the results of any sporting contest. Its 1972, the Dolphins are posed on the edge of a perfect season, and she’s going to cleanout rich pretty boy Bruno (Stephen Pugh). Carson’s attention to factual detail pervades the piece, and if the stats aren’t right, I could never tell.


“Covering”, by Lyndol Michael (assistant directed by Michael Bell) puts a few acting students in a dark theater, and scares the poop out of them. It’s not a compelling story, but it shows to what lengths actors will go for a job.

“Blocked” by Michael Garvey (assistant directed by Caitlin Bowden) has a Serling-esqe plot. Two actors (Corey Volence, Paula Trinidad) and a director (Lisa Vega) are trapped in time and space until the writer Rita (Suzanna Letchford) comes up with a way out of her writer’s block. Back and forth, erase and rewrite until something, anything happens. I’ve been there; I hope I haven’t tortured my imaginary friends as Rita does.


John Goring provides a scripted reading called “Three Play” (Assistant directed by Steven Pugh) A director faces the classic stage problem – does he cast his girlfriend, or someone who can actually act AND show up on time? The readers are left unidentified, but the director does the right thing – ditch the weak player. I’m sure his home life will be just peachy tonight.

“Superstar: the Rehearsal” (Bill Cosgriff, Assistant directed by Caitlyn Bowden) locks three young actors in a theater, then scares them to death one at a time. I kept hoping they would split up and look for the axe murder.

The touching “Birthday” has a man (DiDonna) hire three actors for a one time improve event – they are to throw him a surprise birthday party. He’s brought the presents and the cake, all they have to do is collect their checks and pop off a chorus of Happy Birthday. They do, and then leave him to his loneliness.

The best comes up last, with the wildly romantic “Frederico: Ritratto Di Un Assasino Di Serie.” Written by Bobby Bell (assistant directed by Carla Hemingway), it features the Zorro-like Stephen Pugh as Giorgio out hunting for the man who stole his girlfriend. He’s gone around the world killing all the wrong people, and now stumbles onto Caitlin Bowden and Michael Parry making out in the lighting loft. Nothing will break his firm belief this is the man he must revenge, until the deed is done and a library card proves conclusively this is the wrong man. Maybe it’s the Mysterious inspector Number 6; a clue found in the dead mans jeans.

A Christmas Carol
By Charles Dickens
Adapted by Christopher Rohner
Directed by Frank Hilgenburg
Starring Bobby Bell, Jim Brunner, John Gamber

On a now familiar set, Theater downtown crams another huge cast into its small space for a wonderful and crisp repeat of this holiday standard. We all know the outline – Scrooge (Bell, Emile Doles, John Hill) is abused and abandoned by his father, and grows to find the love of money more stable than the fancies of his fellow humans. Abuse begets abuse, and his clerk Bob Cratchit (Brunner) receives what Scrooge himself cannot resolve internally – hard, miserable work is the only medicine for a hard, miserable childhood. When the pain becomes too much, the ghost of Scrooge’s deceased partner Marley (Gamber) visits him, encouraging him to loosen up, get out more, and add fiber to his diet. Driving the point home are a few more ghosts, and at some point you wonder – why isn’t this done at Halloween? Oh, I know! Because Scrooge relents, but real ghosts just hang around the same old haunts. All this supernatural counseling makes up for years of miserliness in a few hours. This has GOT to drive Cratchit nuts.

Bobby Bell has homesteaded this role, but tonight he seems more viscous and cheap than ever in the beginning, and more joyous and loopy at the end. Bell played the role with a fractured foot bone, and maybe it was the pain fading as those Perky Dan’s kicked in. Or, maybe he’s just really nailing role of the ultimate anti-prole. Opposite him is the humble yet subservient Jim Brunner as Cratchit, every owners dream employee. If you got a hundred of them together, there wouldn’t be any innovation, but by God the paperwork would get done correctly. This time out, my favorite player was John Gamber’s Marley, a bit buffoonish to scare, yet humorous enough to make Mr. Fezziwig and Old Joe into more than they usually are.

While the set reamains the same, the adaptation by Chris Rohner cleanly resolves a number of minor plot issues I have with the original, cuts out a few things that are hard to stage and add nothing to the story’s impact, and generally makes the evening fly by. Even the large crowd of very small children in the audience was transfixed – coming in, I feared a tourist flight to Atlanta, but instead found an enthusiastic and well behaved audience for this traditional favorite. Maybe even my heart of stone can be warmed this year…

For more information, please visit www.theatredowntown.net

Best Of Playwrights Round Table
Plaza Theater, Orlando, Fla.

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:

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.

“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!

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.

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 uncertainties 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 are hard to get, she abandons him. I find this just a bit odd, as it is every woman’s dream to get a guy to change. It’s usually not that successful, but they all try, bless their hearts. Rating: Stay with him!

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 these 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.

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 a 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.

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 www.playwrightsroundtable.org

A Chorus Line
By Michael Bennett
Directed and Choreographed by Brian T Vernon
University of Central Florida Conservatory Theater, Orlando, Fla.

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 callback percentage. Some stories even seem a bit contrived, as Cassie (Lisa Bryant) reveals a past relation with Zack 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 www.theatre.ucf.edu

Celebrate Me Home
Written and Directed by Roy Alan
Musical Arrangements by Justin Scott Fisher
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park, Florida

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 four students and four 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.

There’s a wonderfully funny “50s and 60s 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-drawn sleighs in a previous century, and counts as anachronism by any standard. Perhaps these tunes could be upgraded to reflect holiday ring tones?

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 singers 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”.

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.

For more information on Winter Park Playhouse, visit www.winterparkplayhouse.org

Desire Under the Elms
By Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Julia Gagne
Starring Frank Soto, Kurt Jenkins, Gabrielle Brown
Valencia Character Company, Orlando, Fla.

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 stepmother Abbie (Brown), and the 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 despises 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.

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.

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’Neill’s view of life. Live slowly, die old, and be miserable along the way.

For more information on Valencia Character Company, please vist valenciacc.edu/theater

Dancing At Lughnasa
By Brian Friel
Directed by Donald Seay
Starring Kathleen Lake, Sara Jones, Krysta Robinson
UCF Conservatory Theater, Loch Haven Park, Orlando

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 five women of the Mundy clan hang on by knitting gloves and nursing eggs out of a rooster. Chris’s (Nancy Calas) 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.

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 too 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.

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.

For more information on UCF Conservatory Theatre, visit www.theatre.ucf.edu

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