Number 55: Year End Blow Out Issue

Number 55: Year End Blow Out Issue

Ok, your guy lost. Stop whining. Or he won. Stop gloating. The fun is over, kaput, done. You have serious work ahead of you. In the next two months you WILL be nice to your relatives, you WILL max out a credit card and you WILL get a stack of junk you neither need or want. Here’s a tip – tell mom, or your kids, or your main squeeze to forget the salad shooter, the evil sweater with a elk, and the Celine Dion CD. Tell ’em to get you some tickets to something cool, like these ultrahip happenings.

Seven Guitars
By August Wilson
Directed by Rus Blackwell
Peoples Theatre, Orlando FL

What I like best about August Wilson is his fearless examination of black stereotypes- taking the cardboard figures and inflating them with a life that verifies the old saying: “stereotypes work because there’s always a grain of truth in them.” Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton (Contona Thomas) has a bad case of pomade in his hair and a big hit on the radio. He got a flat fee for recording, and now Savoy Records wants to exploit him again. He smells cash, and asks his old girlfriend Vera (Marci Stringer) to join him in Chicago, but she’s gun-shy, as he ran off with another woman once before. His backup band is skeptical as well, with Canewell (Barry White) reluctant to suffer the abuse of the white recording industry, and Red Carter (Randall Jackson) finding steady work and steady women right here in Pittsburg. When their manger gets arrested for selling fake insurance, Floyd pulls a little robbery so he can get his guitar out of hock. He survives the robbery only to fall victim to overly religious Hedley (Dennis Neal) who sees the money as a gift from God, and long over due at that.

When the speechifying runs long, you have a niece set to look at – a full two story brick building dominates the set, and an number of stunt chickens give there all for the dramatic action. I only see two real guitars on stage, but there are seven people, and each representing a path to tolerate the oppression. Vera exudes motherliness and good cooking, while landlady Louise (Avis Marie Barnes) turns to alcohol and independence. When hot pants Ruby (Trenell Mooring) show up, we get a look at the sex for a living option. Hedley’s a mystic, believing himself the uncrowned king of Ethiopia, while Red and Canewell slide by on pride and rascality. Sadly, the one with real talent and a real option out is Barton, and his own ambitions ultimately out fox him. What’s the take away? My feeling is the tall nail gets hit hardest, so stay where you are and get along quietly. How sad…

For more information, please visithttp://www.peoplestheatre.org

The Feldman Dynamic – Home For The Hanukkahs
Conceived, Produced, and Directed by Brian Feldman
Orlando UCF Shakespeare Festival

Another episode of the Feldman Dynamic went off without a fight. It appears the family has been encamped on the long shallow stage of the Goldman Theater for the past week, with little but unread mail, unwrapped gifts, and a water cooler easing their ordeal. Like any other random episode of TFD, this first night of “Home For The Hanukkahs” wasn’t so much about story resolution, but about family and their trivialities of daily life. Mom’s been fighting a horrid disease, daughter Adrienne offers insider reviews of Shakespeare Fest’s “Every Christmas Story Ever Told,” and Dad offers food and fractured Hebrew prayers for the good old Blue and White. Presiding over the event is the creative element of the family, Brian. He’s added a new layer of pain to the Jewish experience, mixing Veganism with Judaism. Oy, have I got a Food Guilt!

While there’s no story arc other than that the Feldman family arose to a new day this morning, there is an antagonist – A long haired dachshund. He spent the entire show whining like a good Jewish American Princess, but rather than searching for reservation in Miami, I think he just wanted to sniff the audience. He was cute in a yarmulke and talis, but while several people called him a kosher dog, my seat mate pointed out that kosher status really depends on how he gets killed.

Like gefilte fish, The Feldman Dynamic is a bit of an acquired taste. It’s a reasonably funny and entertaining show, and you get a nice gift bag as you leave. You may avoid the ghost of Christmases Past in your regular life, but here the ghost of Take Out Chinese is never far from the Jewish zeitgeist. They didn’t have jelly donuts tonight, but the carrot cake was pretty good. Too bad Kwanzabot couldn’t drop by.

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

Fruitcakes
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park, FL

Ok, it’s holiday music, but at least there’s a bar, and the opportunity to get up any time you want and get booze does dull the edge of this most guilt ridden of the holidays. The WPPH crew of Heather Alexander, Laura Anne Hodos and Mark Richard Taylor pull together a nice selection of seasonal favorites peppered with a fair number of lesser known songs. The opener was “12 days to Christmas” which should make you either get out and shop, or just order Hickory Farm for the whole family. Then we pick on corporate desserts with “Nobody likes a Fruitcake”, and examine the question of “How do you have an Orlando Christmas?” Well, that’s an easy one; I book the in-laws into the Swan, and get them to buy me a day pass to the Parks. Then I arrange an emergency business trip to Los Angles.

The first act leans towards well sung standards, while the second act is more comedic, featuring the reunion of Ebb and Flo, those semi-detached twin lounge singers working the Downtown Oshkosh Holiday Inn. Flo (Alexander) is the one in green with the light bulbs in her hair, while Eb (Hodos) has the red jump suit with the faux fur trim. Parody lounge acts are timeless, and their club version of “We Three Kings” leads nicely into the “Salute to Snow” and a holiday version of “Rawhide.” Mr. Taylor drops by as Frantz the Mailman, and then it’s time to go into the audience and play Kiss the Bald Guy With Extra Lipstick.” Wives love this.

Music comes from the effortless keying of Justin Scott Fischer, and there’s a friendly air of conviviality in the room. WPPH popped for new chairs, complete with state of the art cup holder technology, so there’s more leg room than in past seasons. After a few drinks, it’s nearly enough to make you book airline tickets…no wait, it’s still December up there.

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

Mother Courage
By Bertolt Brecht
Directed by Bobby Bell
Starring Darlin Barry, Derek Ormond, Nikki Darden
Seminole Community College, Lake Mary FL

You just don’t see than many musicals about the 30 Years War. Oh, sure, it’s full of stirring battles and high ideals, but it’s not a real source of up-tempo love songs. Still, Bertolt Brecht exploits it as a strongly cynical antiwar fable, centering on the exploitive adventures of Mother Courage (Barry) and here three children. She makes her daily bread supplying the various armies with food and clothing in this drawn out bloody conflict. She knows death follows the hero, and counsels her children to avoid enlisting. Hot blooded Eilif (Cory Volence) ignores her, and does well, particularity in the Rape and Looting Division of the Swedish Army. Simple minded Swiss Cheese (Michael Sapp) becomes paymaster of his regiment. When the Catholics win a battle, he skips with the cash, but not fast enough. Even here daughter Kattrin (Amanda Lytle) dies warning the residents of Halle of an attack, and turns the tide of battle. A lot of good all this does dear old mom, who must push on, abandoned and alone.

Why is war so profitable for the few? Because the many insist on having it, and will pay any price to win. Blood and money are ultimately equal, as we see every night in the news. Mother Courage’s aphorisms are cuttingly true, “When heroes are required, there has been poor planning”, “As long as there is corruption, there is hope” and “War satisfies all needs”. All this is said by the end of the first act, leaving the second act to plow the message back into us again. Barry’s role made clear that conniving and manipulation can create a profit in chaos and that that profit comes with a price, just as heroism and glory do. Supporting her were an excellent yet cowardly Chaplain (Ormond), and the lusty and possible infectious prostitute Yvette (Darden). A large rotating set kept a small army of stage hands turning it with the scene changes dictated by a master Sergeant. When it was lodged correctly, they either marched off stage or dropped flat, like corpses in battle.

Despite the length and somewhat pedantic nature of Mother Courage, the show is entertaining, even if it drifts off near the end. All the lead charters sing a song, always with the same wheezy melody. Overall, the effect is a serious version of Pere Ubu, more adult in appearance, but still absurdist at heart. The message was best summed up by something General Patton said – “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country.
He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”

For more information on the Seminole Community College Theater program, please visit www.scc-fl.edu/arts/theatre

A Christmas Carol
By Charles Dickens
Adapted by Christopher Rohner
Directed by Frank Hilgenberg
Starring Deal Walkuski
Theatre Downtown, Orlando Florida

One word: Zombies. This play has zombies! They’re only on stage for a minute or so, but they are pasty faced, brain munching zombies, and as they danced Joseph Marley (Drew Storie) off stage, I thought “The IS hope for this chestnut.” You know the drill – cheap ass scrooge (Walkuski) grudgingly grants his faithful yet underpaid clerk Bob Cratchit (Adam Cornett) a day off, and is visited by the hallucinatory ghosts of what he was, what he is, and were he’ll end up in a few months if he doesn’t shape up and grant a Living Wage and some health insurance. He relents, and like all reformed sinners, eventually annoying all his acquaintances, but in a more self-satisfied way.

While the set and script remain much as they have in the past, Dean Walkuski was an excellent choice to fulfill the lead role. He’s a bit over the top, a bit melodramatic, but with his Halloween makeup and undead friends, he makes a good example of how none of us will actully act this holiday season. Aaron Babcock returns as the ghost of Christmas present, and sings “Deck the Halls” as fast as humanly possible. Emily Nanette plays the Ghost of Christmas Past looking like Glenda the Good Witch form Wizard of Oz. Frank Hilgenberg expands his role as the Chekhovian wino, harassing the clean and prosperous in the first act, then appearing as the rapacious Old Joe in the second.

Children and dancing dominate the second act, which drags from time to time as furniture and imaginary leftovers need to be removed. A soundtrack of horses and carriages and falling snowflakes is a recurrent theme in this production, which aids in distracting us from the street traffic and busses on Orange Avenue. If we need a common ground to bring the whole family this is the place, and this year your unappreciative Goth teens will have something to celebrate as well. Just don’t nibble anything during the preshow caroling.

For more information, please visit www.theatredowntown.net

Present Laughter
By Noel Coward
Directed by Katrina Ploof
Starring Alan Bruun, Marty Stonerock, Jamie Middleton

Back in 1930, Method Acting still simmered in some Russian Revolutionary playhouse, and over the top exposition sold tickets. Garry Essendine (Bruun) makes a living over acting in the West End. He’s so good at it that he forgot how NOT to overact in real life. Surrounded by admireers and hangers-on, his nearly ex-wife Liz (Sotnerock) is very open minded about all the young ladies who spend the night due to lost latch keys. Secretary Monica Reed (Middleton) keeps his calendar straight while Fred (Daniel Neil Olson) and Miss Eriksson (Dawn Wicklow) keep his house straight. Not every young lodger is unattached, and eventually Henry Lyppiatt (Alan Sincic) discovers his wife Joann (Elizabeth Dean) spends the night occasionally, and raises a ruckus. Garry attempts to hide in Africa on tour for a few months, but no luck – all the women in his life try to tag along, but only one actually makes the boat.

This loud and boisterous comedy encourages over the top performance, and everyone on stage gives it their all. That’s riotous in the first act, entertaining in the second, and a bit draining to both audience and actors by the final scene. Alan Bruun led the charge, and I liked his over acting best of all. Olson’s Fred was a bit more restrained, as he travels Garry’s sexual path with less guilt, attachment, and scheduling. Dawn Wicklow’s Swedish accent sounded a bit more PHC than reality would require, and Innocent Little Daphne Stillington (Sarah Jane Fridlich) looked very nice in Garry’s silk jammies.

While tiring, Present Laughter is a wonderful period piece replete with matching art deco chairs, well paired comic actors, and laugh-a-minute dialog. Alan Bruun hasn’t appears on stage in ages, but was perfect for the part. If you must over act, don’t pull punches. Make the audience duck.

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

Don Juan Comes Back From the War
By Odon von Horvath
Directed by David Lee
Starring Vandit Bhatt, Christine Perez, Carol Palumbo
UCF Conservator Theatre, Orlando, FL

The war is over, we lost, the dead are buried and the living are left to sort out “What Next?” Don Juan (Bhatt) wanders shellshocked through this devastated society, searching for his lost fiancée. Well, lost is stretching it a bit, as he left her before the war began. As he journeys, lost more often then not, he charms his way into success as an art dealer, and into the bed of every woman he meets. He goes a bit too far when he seduces the daughter of his Landlady (Christine Perez). He takes French leave, traveling to the grandmother of the mysterious fiancée (Carol Palumbo), and then to the grave of the woman he loved. I think he even makes it with the maid on the way to the cemetery. He may be a bastard, but he’s a thorough bastard.

On a dark and dramatic monochrome set, parasail wings hung as drapes rise and fall as Don Juan wanders between broken windows and an all purpose bed. Bhatt seems little more than a scruffy refugee, yet he exhibits a consistent appeal to every woman he meets. Occasional musical number populate the show, opening with the odd sounding “Baghdad Song” and leading on to some classics including a mournful “Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair.”

Based loosely on the Odyssey, all the typical enemies of the epic traveler lurk in these women – Sirens, Lotus Eaters and a Cyclops. Don Juan seduces or eludes them all as he seeks an unavailable love. Like the original Odyssey, this show wanders along and it isn’t always clear where Don Juan or the story are headed, and more than a few audience members seemed confused as they travelled back to the parking lot. There’s an antiwar element lurking here, but it’s the peace, not the war that propels Don Juan. His memory of love brought him through the horror, but now he can’t find its reality and nothing else seems the same. Thus, the loss occurs before the battle begins and persists long past the next set. The world shifted, but very, very slowly.

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

Out of the Box
Voci Dance
City Art Factor, Orlando FL

Modern dance and Pornography have something in common – while no one can define them, everyone knows them when they see it. Voci Dance invaded the new City Arts Factory with a fine mixture of modern dance, poetry, artists at work and a full bar; and a receptive audience did an excellent job at recognizing all of these. Based on the concept of mixing dance with spoken word, Voci hooked up with Seattle poet Christa Bell, and used her voice as part of the soundtrack for several of the numbers.

Opening number “La Café Mimosa” featured a put-upon waitress (Choreographer Amy Tattersall) opening, serving and closing a trendy spot inhabited by the thin and beautiful, not at all unlike what City Arts hopes to become. Ms. Bell recited to a piece called “Fly” which brought fluid motion together with awkward heel-to-toe walks by Kelly O’Donnell, Rokaya Mikhailenko and Mary Clymene B. Wilkins. (I’m almost afraid to ask about the “B”.) Music from the Doors set up the closing segment of the first, act “People are Strange”, and we repaired to the bar or the easel to discuss dance, politics and art.

The second act featured more of Ms. Bell’s tightly paced verse supporting three works. These include an ode to the uvula, “Yoniverse,” “There She Goes” and a piece vaguely reminiscent of Flash Dance, “She Takes Up Space”. After the show, the dancer stretched out on stage and took questions from the audience. There were the usual plaudits and technical questions, but one hung the cast dead – “Please define Modern Dance.” They can dance it, but there’s no consensus as to what it is or isn’t. Now THAT is art.

For more information of Voci Dance, visit www.vocidance.org

Oleanna
By David Mamet
Directed by Paul Luby
Seminole Community College, Lake Mary FL

This is as good a reason to stay out of academia as I’ve ever seen. Professor John (John DiDonna) teaches skepticism, postmodernism and is right on the cusp of tenure. As you may know, tenure makes you nearly impossible to fire unless you bugger the dean in public. He’s called sullen Carol (Rebecca Valentine) in to discuss her numerous academic weaknesses, including poor organization, weak sentence structure and insufficient adoration of his new book. Carol has trouble with big words and takes copious notes to make up for it and when the interview ends badly, she edits them into a MUCH stronger document for the tenure committee, calling him on the carpet for sexual harassment. The professor foolishly calls her back to “straighten out” the matter and ends up with attempted rape and murder on his rap sheet. Carol may not understand the role of modern education, but she’ll make a damn good ambulance chaser.

Like any good Mamet story, everyone is rude, condescending, and morally corrupt. The good Professor drips contempt for his students and his job, answers the phone in the middle of Carol’s sentences and points out quite clearly he’s not delivering much of value to those who pay his way. Carol, on the other hand, clearly doesn’t “Get” college, and seems weak in general knowledge and academic skills. She’s working on a major in Unemployable Studies, with a minor in Unpleasantness. By the third act, I wanted to come onstage and hit both of them with a stick, but I know that would end up on my permanent record.

There are more than a few serious questions raised. Should students pay good money to be told the dream of college is just a sham? Should professors be allowed to teach any drivel to their students and squeal “academic freedom” if someone complains? Is it worth the risk to counsel students out of class, or have any interaction at all, for fear of false, undefendable accusations? And most of all, if you never believe in what you are doing, can you really lose it? Since Community Colleges focus on actual job skills, SCC is a safe haven for this play, but I can think of a few colleges where this would get the cast burned at the stake.

For more information on the Seminole Community College Theater program, please visit www.scc-fl.edu/arts/theatre

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