Number 53: Soccer? Isn’t that for kiddies?

Number 53: Soccer? Isn’t that for kiddies?

An amazing thing happened last week. Two middle-aged guys were standing in the hall at work actully discussing the World Cup, and the relative merits of Czechosovakia and Argentina. Every other person I’ve ever met who cared about this particular sport was from Europe or South America, and none of the super couch jockeys ever heard of the game until they had kids of their own. Can this be? The Final Solution of the sports world? We’ll know as soon as Rich DeVos picks up a team and gets us to pay for the stadium. Meanwhile there’s not a lot going on until school starts, so we might as well kick some bicycles.

Moon Over Buffalo
By Ken Ludwig
Directed by Tom Larkin
Starring Mike Briggs and Cira Vance
Center players at Osceola Center for the Arts
Kissimmee, FL

Theater is dieing, and the Hay Family isn’t doing much better. The company fades away and the chances of getting out of Buffalo solvent are slim to none. Oldest daughter Rosalind (Suzanne Hakimipour) took up advertising and wants to marry a TV weatherman Howard (Richie Vadnie), George Hay (Briggs) has impregnated his supporting female actress Eileen (Lydia Claire), and his wife Charlotte (Vance) is dating their lawyer Richard (Jeremiah Krivinchuck.) Only one thread of hope remains – mega film director Frank Capra is heading to Buffalo to size up George to replace an injured Ronald Coleman. Even his wife Charlotte might even ride these coat tails to Hollywood stardom, so today’s matinee becomes crucial. Too bad George went on a bender, and by the time they find him, everyone’s forgotten whether they’re doing Noel Cowards Private Lives or the swashbuckling Cyrano DeBergerac.

Brigg’s George seems to lack the hopeless desperation needed to motivate his role, although he was an excellent foil to his long suffering yet faithless wife. The calm center of this show resided in Grandmother Ethel, played by local veteran Jan Peterson, who seemed completely disassociated from the action bounce off of her. I like Andrew Hakimipour’s Paul, the diminutive company manager who looked like he wanted to Groucho at any moment, and Rosalind seemed all business and ready to settle down and be June Cleaver.

“Moon over Buffalo” is one of the classic slapstick “play-in-a-play” comedies of our age, and this company did a respectable job of getting the jokes to work, entertaining the audience, and not injuring themselves in pratt falls. Theater isn’t really dead; it’s alive and lurking in community theaters like this across the country.

For more information on Osceola Center For The Arts, please visit www.ocfta.com

Noises Off
By Michael Frayn
Directed by Mark Brotherton
UCF Conservatory Theater Orlando, Fl

There’s always a joy to see a show when the audience full of enthusiastic Fine Arts Minors. UCF’s season opener attracted the usual large proportion of theater majors cheering for their fellow students in this fast paced comedy. We follow the somewhat professional cast of “Nothing On”, a dreadful British bedroom farce, as it travels from Weston-Super-Mare to Stronking-On-The-Scrote, or some other completely dreary British backwater. Backstage, director Lloyd Dallas (Michael Pettey) has impregnated stage manager Poppy Norton Taylor (Libby Tatum) but really wants blond bombshell Brook Ashton (Andrea Dunn.) Leading man Garry Lejeune (Spencer Morrow) romances fading lading lady Dotty Otley (Erika White), as this entire play within a play revolves around a symbolic plate of sardines. I think I’m oversimplifying here.

Unlike last weeks Sondheim orgy, this play carries very little message or subtext. It’s a vehicle for slapstick and sight jokes and excuse Ms. Dunn to running around in her J.C. Penny undies. There’s a certain amount of over acting required for this show, particularly for the drunken Selsdon (George Milton) who has only one voice setting – loud and plodding. That worked well enough but I though Ms. Dunn’s antics were so over the top as to be distracting. I like Kyle Atkins role of Tm Allgood, the long suffering stage tech, and Pettey’s Dallas had a believable polyester and Vitalis feel about him.

The second act takes place backstage with the show running, and contains a beautifully choreograph scene with the entire cast fighting over a Chekhovian axe. If you’re not familiar with this show, it requires a very complicated set, and it’s worth sitting through intermission to watch the stage hands rotated the behemoth. I caught the second intermission, which featured some sort of unplanned collision. Everything halted for a round of furious backstage pounding. It’s rare to have this much entertainment value in the intermission.

It takes until the second act for the audience to get the real joke here, but the journey is pleasant. While there were a few garbled lines, you really have to have seen this before to notice them. Like Henny Youngman show, once the first giggles start; they keep coming all the way to the end. Noises Off, but Humor In.

For tickets and more information, please visit www.ucftheatretickets.com

Annie Get Your Gun
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields
Directed by Jennifer Jones Cavanaugh
Starring Daniel Tuegel and Kristen Burke
Annie Russell Theater at Rollins College
Winter Park, FL

Do I smell half baked Political Correctness? This classic musical dates to an era when Indians were the all purpose villains and stooges in Hollywood, and no one thought twice about what an ethnic slur might be. Unfortunately for this classic piece of American Musical Theatre, this perspective generate anxiety among the well meaning artists of the 21st century, and reflects in this otherwise interesting local production.

Buffalo Bill Cody (Joseph Bromfield) runs a Wild West show in need of a new star. Sharpshooter Frank Butler (Tuegel) puts bullets in targets but not butts in seats. Cody lucks into backwoods hunter Annie Oakley (Burke) who can shoot pheasant with a rifle at 100 yards. They clean her up and slap some publicity on her, and next thing you know she’s in love with Butler. As a Classic Old West Guy he can’t tolerate being upstaged by a woman, which only goes to show Annie’s big song is right – “You Can’t Get a Man With A Gun.” It takes a European tour and near failure of the show to bring Annie and Frank together, but I suspect this marriage shouldn’t keep fire arms around the house.

With a small but competent live orchestra in the pit, the musical backing here is wonderful, even if the microphones on the singers gave some persistent dead spots in the front rows. The set consisted of a dozen or so large flats dropped in from the loft, which gave the show a nice period feel. Both Tuegel and Burke are excellent singers, even if their chemistry seemed flat. The funniest character was the dragged up Eli Green playing the Cincinnati hotel owner. Other outstanding performances came from Michael Mastry as Charlie Davenport, Cody’s manager, and Rob Yoho as Pawnee Bill and a few other support players.

Oh, did I mention the Native Americans? The program has rather long ruminations about the whole business of casting the roles, and whether they should even bee there, or what to do with them in this enlighten age. This is not the original script, as “I’m a Bad, Bad Man” sung by Frank and “I’m An Indian, Too” by Annie and the Indian Chorus are pulled and sort of replaced by the awkward “I’ll Share It All With You.” I assume the copyright Gods have blessed all this surgery, but I feel everyone on stage wishes the Indians hadn’t been written in and they could just sing “No Business Like Show Business” and “I Got The Sun In the Morning” and then go home. I can’t say what the right course is here, it’s certainly an artistic decision, but if a show is that uncomfortable for the cast and crew, maybe they should pass on it. The awkwardness telegraphs to the audience, and while the show had some wonderful moments, it felt unenthusiastic.

For more information on the Annie Russell Theatre at Rollins College, please visit www.rollins.edu/theatre/index.shtml

Court ordered therapy – Ladies of Eola Heights Part 3
By Michael Wanzie
Directed by Kenny Howard
Footlights Theater, Orlando FL

Orlando can’t seem to get enough of oversized drag queens. The Ladies of Eola Heights are back again in the 3rd installment of this slow moving soap opera centered on the dysfunctional Loxdale family, who magically continue to live in the now once squalid but now pricey part of town. Gratuitous violence in “Part 2 – After the Prom” now leads to some court ordered quality time with head shrink Jonathan Burroughs (Frank McClain). Matriarch Pearl (Michael Wanzie) told everyone to clam up and do their time, so most of the early comic action revolves around the doctor losing patience with his patients as the spirit of Pearl’s deceased son Jackson (Miss Sammy) lip syncs his way through 70’s standards. Eventually the women crack, and Ruby (Tommy Wooten) opens up to her anger about their father’s cremation and subsequent internment in a dumpster, and conservative yet alcoholic Opal (Doug Bas’ra) berates Pearl for her disrespect of the flag. It could be anyone’s family.

Is it funnier than your family? Only in degree. Wanzie has a solid franchise here, and knows how to milk the laughs for all their worth. The running gag is simply the look of the 3 women, coupled with the arbitrary appearance of Miss Sammy and her wild outfits and over the top “singing”. Comedically, the only real problem is the rather vicious diatribe on the war about three quarters of the way into the show, which really lets the wind out of things. It’s heartfelt, it motivated Pearl’s action, and drew a positive audience reaction, but it really broke the feeling of the show. Of course, it only took a few minutes to recover, and as we all felt some closure (whatever that is) near the end, a 4th installment was promised. We trust the Wanzie and all his weird creature will sty fresh longer than a certain ray gun toting film franchise did. Otherwise, what would we do to feel superior to those snooty residents of Cathcart Street?

For more information on the Footlights Theater, please visit www.theparlimenthouse.com or www.Wanzie.com

Sweeney Todd
By Steven Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler
Directed by Alan Bruun
Starring Stephan Jones and Laura Hodos
Mad Cow Theater, Orlando, FL

Sweeney Todd is the finest Serial Killer Cannibal musical Mad Cow has ever performed. In this narrow genus of stage productions, there are few contenders, and it takes either Sondheim or Trey Parker to capture the mood of the protagonist without getting overly campy or moralistic. Benjamin Barker (Jones) escapes Australian exile and adopts the name Sweeney Todd. He has a bone to pick with vile Judge Turpin (Ron Schneider) who sent him away so he could steal Barker’s beautiful wife. Todd finds his daughter Johanna (Meggin Weaver) a ward of the Turpin, and since she’s bumping up against a ripe old 15, Turpin plans to marry her, and who to stop him? Vengeful Mr. Todd sets up shop with Mrs. Lovett (Hodos), seller of the worse meat pies in town. As Todd begins murdering for practice, she bakes the carcasses into the pies, boosting sales enormously. Eventually, Todd gets Turpin where he wants him, and in an ending remencent of Titus Andronicus, bodies pile up so fast some of the extras have to come around twice to get murdered.

Moral? Be careful who you kill, it might be someone you love. Music? Sondheim, so it’s tougher than most, but “Worst pies in London” rocks, and “A Little Priest” was the toe tapper you to take to the bar at intermission. Acting was superb, with Jones a smoldering time bomb with nothing to lose and nothing to gain. While Hodos ties to smooth his rough edges, she sings as well as I’ve heard her and “By the Sea” nearly moves you to marry. Another fine performance came from David Alameda in the roll of Perrelli the Barber, but Weaver’s Johanna was on key if a bit over soprano for my taste.

As always, Mad Cow crams more stuff in a small space than anyone else in town. With a series of clever semi-translucent screens, set designer Cindy White makes rooms come and go, and back lighting soften some of the more gruesome murder and sausage making business. A live band holds forth, and as 10th anniversary offering, this show is a milestone for downtown Orlando’s last surviving Theater Company.

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

A Thousand Variations on a Lie Once Told
By Stacey Lane
Directed by Kathleen Lindsey
Starring Marty Stonerock
Sponsored by the Women’s Playwright Initiative
Tupperware Theater at the Orlando Rep

Once a liar, always a liar. It’s the harsh side of perfection – once you make the teeniest mistake, you’re impure for life. Abby (Stonerock) lost her husband long ago, but found a new man, Patrick (Paul Carbonell). This Christmas, she’s invited her three perma-PMS’d daughters over, and they are spoiling for a fight. Dead old Dad supposedly wrote them each a letter before he died, but Abby denies this ever happened. None of the daughter will accept even the slimmest possibility the letters were never written, and for 20 years acid and vitriol role over the family. Eldest daughter Whitney (Kylie Koscoe) won’t even give Abby a picture of her granddaughter, youngest daughter Anna (Kelly Slonecker) pretty much rolls with the facts, but its middle child Rena (Melissa Ready Hoepner) who blasts both barrels of the attitude shotgun constantly. In order to prevent open bloodshed, Abby puts Patrick on the spot to do a little last minute forgery, which pours a bit more benzene on the fire. This is the sort of house where you should always save the last bullet for yourself.

This is a fairly new piece, and is still undergoing some rewriting by Rollins alumnus Stacey Lane. With a well chosen cast, the show feature a relentlessly hammering first act, followed by a more evenly paced second act. Ms. Stonerock kept the most control of her life, and while her goal is to make everyone happy, ultimately no one is even close. The daughters are all true to their dialog, with Ms. Hoepner giving an excellent effort as the Most Unpleasant Girl In The World, and Kelly Slonecker emitting as much niceness as the script allowed. One of the side points here is that Abby’s friends decide she likes frogs, which simplifies their Christmas shopping. Set designer Kristen Abel must have scoured every thrift shop in town for the hundreds of amphibians lining the book shelves.

There’s an interesting story here, and if the daughters were a bit more sympathetic, it would play more realistically. In the story, Abby hasn’t had the girls over in 6 years, and if they were my kids, I’d host this dinner in a dive bar. At least there, the bouncer will toss you out if you get too nasty.

For more information on Women Playwrights’ Initiative, please visit www.WomenPlaywrights.com

Ubu Roi
By Alfred Jerry
Directed by John DiDonna and Seth Kubersky
Starring Bobby Bell and Peg O’Keefe
Empty Spaces Theatre Company at Orlando UCF Shakespeare Festival

What do you call a film that no one ever watched, but everyone speaks of knowingly? It’s a classic, and Ubu Roi falls right in the stage section of that category. First presented 110 years ago, it only ran twice but provoked riots and got banned. We don’t have that level of commitment to art these days, as you can’t even get a Fringe show shut down without violating fire code. Art and entertianment has progressed in this century, even if politics and human folly has stayed constant. And today absurdism is a minor industry.

Here’s the log line: Pere Ubu (Bell) conspires to kill the King of Poland (John Bateman), then loses all to the Russians when he fails to pay his bribes. Simple enough, and it’s the telling not the tale that makes the show. Mere Ubu (O’Keefe) occasionally gives advice, but it’s the oath taken on here size 44 boobs that seal the demise of gassy hubby. Pere Ubu’s indicted co-conspirator Bordure (Joe Comino) straps a plunger on his crotch, and takes the fall when needed. Brett Carson makes a corpulent yet fashionable Czar of Russia with his pants around his legs and sequined red boxers. A dozen other refugees from Rocky Horror re-enactments and the Fringe circuit fill in the gaps, and even the audience gets to help out with fart sounds. Good thing I had a raisin, apple and peanut butter sandwich for lunch.

So what’s the big deal? While this piece is a stock element of drama school texts, apparently no one has bothered to perform it in decades. Perhaps it’s the intimidating cast, the dated absurdity, or the need for a large number of horses on stage. What ever the reason, it’s a happy moment that our local avante garde troupe tackled this paleoabsurdist icon, and executed it with the panache of Pee Wee’s playhouse. Action flies along with the bare minimum dialog needed to nail the story, and convenient signs hang around the necks of actors so you never wonder who the tall guy in the doublet really is. Childlike in simplicity and directness, Ubu combines nearly every element of the standard dramatic form – 5 acts, clear protagonist /antagonist relations, rising action in 2 waves, and a host of other nitty things only a specialist could love. It also has Bobby Bell saying “poop” loudly and clearly, applying his profound knowledge of Brecht to a clearly defined and crucial acting task.

Perhaps more decades will pass before someone tackles Ubu again. Unlike Godot, the other Absurdist classic no one really has the bladder power to sit thought, this king Ubu zips along with plenty of motion, laughs, and a wonderful sense of flatulence. Conceptually, it props up Dada, the Marx Brothers, and Mad TV; and as Pétomane would have recommended: “It’s a gas!”

For more information on Empty Spaces Theater Company, visit www.emptyspacestheatre.org

Yada Yada Yada – A Cabaret
Musical direction by Kyle Mattingly
Winter Park Playhouse
Winter Park, Florida

Who says you need a plot to have a good time? WPPH bases its philosophy on singing in the shower while CNN drones on in another room. Three WPPH regulars, Heather Alexander, Mark Taylor and Elizabeth Block, are joined by newcomer Tim Evanicki, lately of “Bathhouse – The Musical Fame.” Dressed in matching red and black outfits, the team banters likes an Action News Team while delivering a stream of Broadway Standards that fill their intimate show space.

After the girls gently needle Mark Taylor about his stock good looks and Disney stage experience, he replies with an amazing “If Ever I Would Leave You” from Camelot. Ms. Block had two nicely contrasting pieces, “If I Could Be Funny” near the opening, and “Everyone’s Girl” near the end. Evanicki seemed a bit outside the main flow, but pulled off a nice pairing with “Poor, Unsuccessful, and Fat” followed by Heather Alexander’s “Rich Powerful and Famous.” Somehow, those two songs should be a duet.

Despite his appearance as a new comer to this practiced crew, Evanicki had the two best pieces, a heart rending “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables, and a very silly “Mr. Cellophane” which featured the rest of the cast ignoring him while getting snacks and chatting up their cell phones. The second act opened with a hilarious rewrite of “Traditions” from Fiddler on the Roof. Taylor put on his best shetl accent and sang about Orlando Actors avoiding work in the Villages. Why do they do it? “Ambitions,” of course.

Yada is sharp, entertaining, and on key. And it’s over too soon, but that’s the rule – leave ’em begging for more.

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

Man From Nebraska
By Tracy Letts
Directed by Fran Hilgenberg
Starring Larry Stallings, Lori McCaskill
Theatre Downtown, Orlando, FL

OK, so living in Lincoln Nebraska and selling insurance is a bit dull. It might make you challenge your religious beliefs, and that’s a good enough reason to enjoy a midlife crisis. This sums up Ken Carpenter (Stallings) and his life, but at least his marriage is still intact. When that pesky break with God arrives at three a.m., wife Nancy (McCaskill) freaks out especially when she discovers it’s not a heart attack. Days go by with no salvation in sight, so Revered Todd (John Minioble) suggests a few days in a cheap hotel and a stack of Louis Lamoure novels. Odd advice, but it gets Ken to London, where he meets some locals, takes up sculpture, and eventually decides whether God exists or not, he really dose like his wife.

Ken’s life is Bor-ring, and as the audience leaked away in the first act, we all hoped for something, anything exciting to happen. Act two picked up quite a bit as Pat Monday (Alana Leonard) and her two exceptional talents attempt seduction. Then Ken whines a bit, takes up drinking, and befriends locals Tamyra (Carmen Garcia) and her gay flat mate Harry (Andrew Beaudoin). They teach Ken that art and drugs are more useful than prayer and abstinence, but it takes the long awaited passing of his mother (Bridgette Hill) to get him off his existential butt.

While Stallings was an excellent choice for a man with nothing happening in his life, I really liked Garcia and Beaudoin’s work as the semi-dissolute Londoners with semi-believable accents. Minioble’s Reverend Todd may not have offered believably Baptist marriage advice, but his voice and presence made him look suitable for a prime time channel 52 gig. His father Bud Todd (Jon Archer Lundgren) really seemed like a classic randy yet smelly old guy who takes a fair shot at seducing middle age Nancy. Nice casting!

The set was dominated by a table that swung this way and that, accurate modeling Ken’s state of mind. His story feels real, even if he and Nancy’s motivation seems diffuse and unbelievable. Bud Todd and Ken’s mom are the two poles of old age – one wastes away in a nursing home, and the other embarrasses himself grabbing for that last bit of gusto. Pat Monday and Reverend Todd show us good and evil – Sundays in church, or Fridays handcuffing a wanton. I suppose in this case you could do both, but it feels wrong somehow. Harry and Tamyra are the alternate path of life, showing Ken he can still grow and experience new ideas. Lastly, Nancy shows acceptance under all conditions, while Daughter Ashley (Megan Wiley) is ready to dump anyone for any reason, including looking cross eyed.

There you have it, pick one from column A and one from column B, and see where you end up. I’ll pick the randy old guy rejected by family but sculpting naked women option. Hey, life’s all about choice, isn’t it, Ken?

For more information, please visit www.theatredowntown.net

Kitchen Recipes
By Steve Rowell
Directed by David McElroy
Starring Alan Sincic and Marylyn McGinnis
Studio Garage Theater
Orlando FL

What did the ‘burbs represent to their imhabitants back in the 50’s? Were they a place in the country for tired city dwellers, or a bland grid of sameness boring children to rebellion? It depends on your perspective. For dreamy Albert Sanders (Sincic) it’s a private world he shares with his moderately disturbed wife Rose (McGinnis). For their children it’s a trap to escape. James (Derek Ormond) worships television and ends up in “Media” as a career. Charlie (Tyler Cravens) rebels against everything until nothing is left, then joins the priesthood. And middle child Betty (Jennifer Paccione) reveals her sexuality in the least dramatic coming out scene ever staged. It’s the Anger Family, and they make you very happy they don’t live in Orlando. They even make YOUR childhood seem sweet.

Kitchen Recipes tells its story with multiple flashbacks and out of sequence scenes guided by a rather bland and unhelpful cooking show on a TV monitor. While keeping track of the time isn’t difficult, it begins to weight heavily as plot points are repeated to death and key dramatic points are telegraphed. Events don’t make one think “Oh, wow!” but rather “About time.” The acting is respectable, with Alan Sincic in one of those disassociated roles he excels at, and Marylyn McGinnis poignant as the social butterfly and slight disturbed June Cleaver type. Tyler Cravens did good work as well, particularly when he appears as the hippy jailbird with Led Zepplin symbols neatly lettered on his professionally torn jeans.

This show has some excellent insight into suburban life for my generation, but it runs long and the children all lack warmth. The TV host segments attempt to lead into the emotional heart of each scene, but really don’t help and eventually become annoying. Most impressive is the set, which accurately captures the furniture we all grew up with, and uses TWO different refrigerators. Now, that’s a dedicated crew.

Foreplay – The Improvised Musical
Created and Directed by David Charles
Musical Direction by Jim Rhinehart
Sak Comedy Lab, Orlando, FL

There’s always a bit of a cheat in a long form improv piece – before the tickets are torn, enough thought must be given to allow proper stowage and deployment of the non-specific locations, roommate foibles, and weird pets. Then, when the butts are in seats, the cast can harvest the fodder for the show and make something coherent from the randomness of paying customers. Tonight we find our starting point with a guy named Al who builds bombs (Chase Padgett), a man called Ghost (Jay Hopkins) whose room mate and girl friend are nagging him to death, the live in boss Debby (Kate O’Neal), and Joe, (David Charles) a man obsessed with sun catchers.

Creator David Charles is the best singer up there, but the whole cast pulls together for he ensemble numbers. Even the non-musical Jay Hopkins hits enough of his notes to convince us he sang in the church choir. Lyrics appear as needed, surprisingly few cues are dropped, and the entire musical portion of the show is quite enjoyable, even if there is a feeling this is a first walk through. Ok, it IS a first reading, but normally that sort of thing is done behind closed doors with bottles of Aqua Fina and leg warmers.

All of these people tie together somehow, and unlike a real musical, there’s a reasonable plot stringing this carefully crafted impromptu entertainment together. Al opened the show singing “I’m the Bomb”, an up-tempo charters development piece, leading us into all the standard musical forms, each sounding somewhat, but not exactly, like a Broadway tune that didn’t quite make it on DVD. Once again Sak spins an engaging story with reasonable sub plots, dramatic tension, and a plausible resolution from nothing. That’s more than you can say about Sondheim.

For more information on SAK, please visit www.sak.com

The Wizard of Oz
By Frank Baum, Adapted by John Kane
Directed by Donald Rupe
Starring Meaghan Fenner, Tabitha Bernabe, Brian Dowling, Chris Fahmie
Nothin’ Productions at The Osceola Center for the Arts

The whole concept off putting a black woman in black face baffles me. Maybe they excuse it with “she’s really just dark gray”, but it’s still as weird as the rest of the cast’s makeup in this rather surreal children’s show. Like the film, Kansas is devoid of color, and grayish little Dorothy (Fenner) and Toto have a run in with grumpy neighbor Almira Gulch (Ruth Chute). A gentle Kansas breeze blows them all to the Technicolor Land of Oz, leaving the ugly grease paint somewhere around Topeka. Some very tall munchkins rolling around on office chairs tell Dorothy the bad news – she needs to visit the Emerald city, fill out some forms, and discover a universal truth or two before she can go home.

In the midst of a series of technical mishaps, the cast principals did a decent enough job, and most people with singing rolls impressed me. Dorothy opens with a nice “Somewhere over the Rainbow”, backed with a clean sounding 8 piece orchestra. The orchestra (Conducted by Alaina Tuftee) kept up with the music, giving us a great “If I only had a Brain” sung by Scarecrow (Bernabe).The Cowardly Lion (Fahmie) played the role with a Brooklyn accent and some short man bravado. Wicked Witch of the West (Choute) intimidates the audience and the munchkins, and even with her awful Orange face, we saw her inner pain at the loss of her sister. The only real annoyance came from Good Witch Glinda (Cynthia Betancourt) who spoke LOUDLY … AND SLOWLY, a very annoying effect which I blame on the director.

This Wizard boasts a 7 pm curtain, and draws an enthusiastic under 10 audience who seemed oblivious to the gray faces and action sequences set in the rear wings. We all got a better view of the stage hands in the wings than some of the action set in the back of the theater. I don’t get the whole “breaking the 4th wall” thing, but some groups think it’s arty. Despite some odd artistic selections and missed technical cues, this show reaches its intended audience, and comes from dedicated people struggling with an ambitious show and getting will have stories to tell by the close of the run.

For more information on Osceola Center For The Arts, please visit www.ocfta.com

Man Is The Only Animal That Blushes… Or Needs To
Written, Directed, and Starring Michael Edwards
Winter Park Play House
Winter Park FL

Once you’re old enough, you achieve the privilege of flaunting vices as the key to long life. Mark Twain (Edwards) kept some simple vices, led an interesting and entertaining life, and wrote The Great American Novel. After that, the path to steady income lay on the lecture circuit, and we’ve all bought a ticket to see this great old coot. Twain regales the audience with tales of his life as a reporter, river boat captain, prospector and general Pain-in-the-Butt to polite society.

Tenor and WPPH regular Todd Allen Long open each act with a few turn-of-the-century pop songs – “My Merry Oldsmobile”, “Bird in a Gilded cage”, and my favorite “She’s More to be Pitied than Censured.” (Remember, a MAN got her in that state.) It’s a nice sort of a warm up, lading into Mr. Twain’s entrance in a white suit, stogie, and impressive nose. In some ways, Twain did what George Carlin does – point out the absurdities of current life, and let us make up our own humorous conclusions. The talking points ramble over the face of the earth, but never confuse or bore. There’s a reading of Huckleberry Finn, and comments on religion and the stock market. It’s what hanging out with your grandfather might be like, if he was actully interesting.

The show is shorter than you might like, and touches on the maudlin, but Mr Edwards is completely convincing as the man who taught the world how to get others to white wash a fence while leaving you time to fish.

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

The Constant Wife
By Somerset Maugham
Directed by Alan Bruun
Starring Elizabeth Dean, Mark Edward Smith, Dean Kology, Tommy Keesling
Mad Cow Theater, Orlando, FL

I thought I was cynical about love and life, by this makes me look like a self help guru. Fifteen years of pleasant marriage between John (Smith) and Constance (Dean) Middleton yields a sleep-away child and a nice house in Mayfair. John has a piece of fluff on the side, Marie-Louise Durham (Kology), who just happens to be Constance’s best friend. They shop, eat and share most secrets, and even though Constance knows more than she lets on, life is good. Of course, news like this never stay quiet, and bubble headed sister Martha (Heather Lea Charles) can’t wait to tell the lurid details to Constance” for her own good.” Too bad Constance’s idea of her own good doesn’t line up with society’s, and when her old beau Bernard (Keesling) shows up after 15 years in Japan, she decides to change the world, or at least her little part of it.

In this complex but very funny piece, the role of a woman and her economic freedom builds this strong and witty comedy. Mark Edward Smith has that tall elegant look that makes such an effective slow burn, sort of a John Cleese without the accent. Peg O’Keefe plays Constance’s mother, spouting the sexual double standard in a stilted and tiresome voice. Dean does all the heavy lifting, keeping a good face but occasionally stumbling on the dialog. One of the funnier moments comes when Jay Hopkins appears as Mortimer Durham as Marie-Louise’s cuckold husband, wearing enough extra padding to survive most Iraq bomb attacks.

For an 80 year old play, the themes and concerns are so topical you could have set it last week and not lost anything in the translation. The sexual double standard for adultery is still in effect, and while Constance is perfectly happy with John, she eventually feels standing on her own out classes Mayfair life. Once the lust is dead, there’s no particular reason to hang around with hubby beyond the need for a bridge partner. Suffragette or feminist, this timeless comedy may well be just as effective in another 80 years.

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

Cabaret for Steve Schneider
Hosted by John DiDonna
Theater Downtown, Orlando FL
June 24, 2006

So where do Community Newspaper back-page writers go when the Central Florida arts scene just don’t give that same old thrill? Steve Schneider, longtime Orlando hipster, critic, and bon vivant heads up to NYC in a few weeks to pursue higher education. The O-town Theater set gave him a fine send off, with a number of locals pulling together to sing him out of town. This show raised enough money to keep him in Starbucks for a few weeks in the Big Apple.

Most of the singers were refugees from the current production of Psycho Beach Party. The setting was informal, with a suitcase for tips onstage so we were spared the embarrassment of actually sticking dollar bills in Steve’s undies. With Big Don Hopkinson on the keys, we listened to an eclectic selection of current and classic show tunes from “Season of Love” to selections from Spelling Bee. Seven Pugh and Adam did a cute song from the Producers. (Sorry, Adam, my notetaking was weak and nobody sprang for programs.) I’ll say this – there are some people in Beach Party that can sing lots better than that script allows them.

Mr. Schneider seemrf moved, and while the singers often chose more attractive audience members to molest during some songs, I’m sure the selection was a personal choice and not any reflection on Steve’s personality or hygene. One of the neater facets of this town is the general good relations between press and talent, and while there was plenty of alcoholic lubrication, the whole thing was heartfelt. Do well, Steve and if it doesn’t work out, well, we’ll still be down here if you need us.

Bath House, The Musical!
By Esther Daack and Tim Evanicki
Directed by Esther Daack
Footlights Theater, Orlando, FL

There’s a saying about preferring bad actors and a good script, but after this show I really wonder. Modest Billy (Evanicki) just came out, and finds the bathhouse scene a little intimidating. Does he sweat it out in the steam room, or just stand around looking cute until Mr. Right Now appears? Bathhouse The Musical has the germ of a clever concept, and while it was a sellout at the last Fringe Festival, it leaves a lot to be desired in the slightly larger and much colder space of Footlights Theater.

The fundamental problem is the cast can’t project, and without microphones, you have to focus very, very hard to hear any of the lyrics. Rather than filling your head with sounds, the Bathhouse cast whispers in your ear from a long, long way away, and any energy that might be in the lyrics comes from inside yourself, and not from the stage. The first half of the show has some promise, with clever lyrics and cute styling; but once we enter the horrid Tent Revival Scene, any energy that might have lurked in the smoky recesses of the stage scurried away beneath the fire exit doors. Evanicki’s Billy is likeable as the novice bear, and while the oddly named Hottie (Karl Anderson) has pecs and a tan, his main claim to fame is a decent ability to pliè and jetè. Teddy (Jerry Jobe Jr.) has the cute twink look down pretty well, but tall Maurice (Kyle Harde) just seems lost on stage.

As an introduction to the bathhouse life, I suspect this show might pass on some tips. But rather than suffer through this play, go talk to people out in the bar area. They probably sound better, and the A/C isn’t as vicious.

For more information on Bathhouse the musical! visit www.bathhousethemusical.com/index.htm

For more information on the Footlights Theater, please visit www.theparlimenthouse.com or www.Wanzie.com

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
By Edward Albee
Directed by Julie Gagne
Valencia Character Company
Orlando FL

This is Ozzie and Harridan with a 0.18 blood alcohol content. George (Kohn DiDonna) failed miserably at the Herculean task of teaching history, while his dear wife Martha (Kate Singleton) was equally unsuccessful at producing a new president for father’s college. With livers as big as their heads, they’ve taken to torturing unlucky newcomers to this remote college town, such as Nick (John Bateman) and his wife Honey (Leilani Cliffton.) Time means nothing in their hazy world, and inviting people over at 2 a.m. makes perfect sense, at least until the ice runs out. That marks the real alcoholics – industrial ice machines and 50-gallon drums of bourbon gravity feeding the wet bar.

Be glad, be very glad that these people only exist on stage and won’t follow you home. George and Martha would be divorced if they were actual carbon based life forms, and while Nick and Honey are still young and attractive, they seem headed for the same No Exit Strategy warfare their elders live and breathe. DiDonna and Singleton have a sort of chemistry, but here it’s more like mixing sulfuric acid and metallic sodium. It takes a half a dozen neat bourbons to get Bateman’s Nick warmed up, but as soon as his wife passes out he’s all up for Martha’s blatant seduction attempt. Too bad he fails to impress her or George, but at least he can blame his poor performance on the ethanol.

In a story revolving around the difference between truth and illusion, the illusion that these are the most awfully miserable people is complete. Chained together for some reason only they understand, their pain becomes a template for those who follow, completing a cycle of abuse. While not for the emotionally squeamish, this Woolf will scare the pants off of anyone.

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

Kid Simple: A Radio Play in the Flesh
By Jordan Harrison
Directed by Alan Bruun
Starring Sarah French, Kevin Kelly
Mad Cow Theater
Orlando, FL

We live in a world of visual bombardment, from TV to computers to signs along the street. That’s what makes this play so interesting – it strips nearly all the visual off the story, leaving pure narrative punctuated by a collection of other worldly sound effects. Little Moll (French) lives in her room and invents with the best of them. Her parents (Terry Thomas and Kathy Baker Wood) worry a bit, particularly when she stops listening to her favorite radio show. That’s because her very cool “Third Ear,” a machine capable of hearing the unhearable, is stolen by sinister forces lead by The Mercenary (Kevin Kelly) She sets off on a quest with virginal Ollie (Kane Prestenback), destroys the plot to end the world, and maybe helps Ollie clear up that case of acne that’s been bothering him.

You could really listen to this on a radio, late at night, the darkness illuminated by the soft glow of the Zenith dial. Acting on stage is minimal, but the sound effects are cued by TV monitors on the side of the stage, so that’s one reason for showing up at the theater. Narrator Kimberly Gray neatly ties the threads of the story together, although she becomes a little more self-referential than I’d like to hear. Behind the cast, we see 3 technicians and a bank of electronics – no coconut shells in this radio drama. Overall it’s one of the most unique theatrical experiences around town.

Is there a message here? That’s the big conundrum. I’ve struggled to see one – dangerous technology run amok, girl rescues boy, smart kids are destined to social exclusion, but none really resonates with the text. Perhaps the title really does say it all – the story, despite its whiz bang technology, really is Kid Simple.

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

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