Number 58: 2007 Orlando Fringe Festival Issue

Number 58: 2007 Orlando Fringe Festival Issue

Who says Florida lacks seasonal variance? We just wrapped up Bike Week and Spring Break, Chilly Season is a distant memory, and now we can enjoy our brief Smoke Season before Hurricane Season begins. The 16th Orlando Fringe Festival is out there somewhere in the smoke, and if I can find my way thought the haze from the beer tent to the brightly color-themed venues, I’ll let you know what looks good, and what would be on the cutting room floor… if this was the Film Festival.

Shee Haw
Conceived and Choreographed by Blue
Babyblue Star Productions
Footlights Theater, Orlando, FL

For over 15 years, “Hee Haw” provided America with what it needs most – corny jokes, busty women, and maudlin songs. Blue and her VarieTEASE company use this classic syndicated show as a template for a wild evening of live, lip synced, and flat out funny singing. The loose premise is a TV show run by the singing duo Toy Clark and Fuck Owens. There’s some preshow antics about a feud between Owens and Dolly Parton (Danielle Hunter), but soon we enter the down home ambience of Cornfield County. Besides Owens and Clark, local favorite Missy Sammy does a creditable Minnie Pearl imitation, although I suspect half the audience has no idea why there’s a price tag hanging off her Sunday bonnet.

The musical covered all over the map – there were classics like “Elvira,” “These Boots are Made for Walking,” and “Walking After Midnight,” as well a newer numbers like “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy.” The highlight was a trippy lip sync of “Stairway to Heaven” by Ms. Parton, which surprisingly enough is off a real album. There was enthusiastic if disorganized tap dancing by the Patty Cakes, and the jokes? Well, they were pretty corny.

Despite all the campy weirdness, there was a real story buried in here. When Dolly sang Stairway, she was a goner and for as good a reason as anyone ever gets killed on stage. As she went, there was a sort of strip involving more underwear than most women use these days, and a sort of tear formed in my eye as the show wrapped up. I know a few of you out there don’t really appreciate C&W, but after exposure to the VarieTEASE version, you might rethink your position, at least for a few hours.

For more information on VarieTEASE, please visit

Conceived and Choreographed by Ann DeMers
Music by Kevin Becker
Empty Spaces Theater at the Harwood-Watson Dance Studios
Orlando, FL

I used to fear of Modern Dance, but the electroshock cured that, so I thoroughly enjoyed this thematically conceived evening of dance and motion. John DiDonna’s Empty Spaces Theater covers some very eclectic ground, but the thrust into dance is a pleasant surprise.

Their dancing explored 16 of our best loved fears, from Topophobia to Coulrophobia. Not all of these were interpreted strictly as dance, but some as spoken word (Fear of Strangers) or even as small skits (Fear of Flying). The strongest dance number was the opening Freak Out sequence, where the entire cast came on stage, pressed there noses agianst the 4th wall, and broke down. A young woman knelt shivering in front of me, whimpering. I did what I always do in that situation; I ignore her as hard as possible. Other noteworthy segments include Fear of Heights, which involved the cast balancing cheap chairs, and the Fear of Eye contact segment, where John Bateman attempted to stare me down. There’s an overhead projection cueing us to the phobia about to appears on stage, which cheated us out of guessing the fear itself. At least they could have used the correct medical term, which would have challenged the audience.

The females on stage were the real dancers, and I wish I could sort them out well enough to discuss them individually but the program was a bit ambiguous. The 3 males were easier to sort out; I’ve seen all of them on stage around town. Dancing wasn’t their strength, but they gave some balance to the cast, particularly for the Fear of Intimacy number. As the fears ran out, there was a quick wrap up called “Helping Hands” which showed some interpersonal attempts to defuse the fears. That’s all we and good, but if there’s a monster under my bed, I don’t want to meet it, no matter how friendly it might be.

For more information on Empty Spaces Theater Company, visit

All the World’s a Stage…
Summer Stage 2007 Summer Spotlight
Coordinated by Mark Brotherton, Amanda Wansa, Mark Koenig
UCF Conservatory Theater, Orlando FL

s a little leery of a show that has three columns of directors, but was pleasantly surprised by this ensemble piece that involved virtually al of the UCF theater majors and their instructors. Too many cooks can spoil a soup, but this was more of a dim sum table. Each little piece worked wonderfully, and they all flowed in a completely logical sequence.

structure is what made it work, as they chose Shakespeare’s 7 Stages of Life to arrange this collection of skits, scenes, songs and spoken word pieces. There’s no point in detailing the lot, but a few high points stick out. Michael Pettey put a nice twist on “Tone of Voice,” a coming of hormone piece featuring a young man struggling in a singing audition as his voice alternates between suave adult and adenoidal child. Another cool monolog comes from Christine Perez as she reads “Good Credit” She just got her first credit card, and she’s out to use it all today, before mom finds out.

we get to the sexy segment, Khristy Chamberlain and Taylor Jeffers do the fun, fun “Just Friends”. More they just good buddies, these two share all the benefits, including unusual applications of chocolate sauce. Following this is the soldier segment overseen by Tad Ingram. This is the most coherent, most successful part of the evening, with the creepy “Three-Five-Zero-Zero” introducing us to the strange language of battle, then revealing the fog and futility of war with pieces of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Nurse’s Diary,” and “A Piece of My Heart.” After all this, they did give peace a chance with a full ensemble version of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

As we reached the end of the evening, Gary Flannery dances a long and heart rending “Mr. Bojangles” with choreography by Bob Fosse. It’s not exactly a downer, but it pulled tears out of more than few eyes.

UCF has some real talent, both in the student body and in the dedicated instructors, and it’s good to see them on stage together exchanging skills and enthusiasm. This show only ran one weekend, but the talent could carry it for a full run. This is theater at its most entertaining.

For more information on UCF Conservatory Theatre, visit

Happy Birthday, Wanda June
By Kurt Vonnegut
Directed by Tim Debaun
Starring Christian Kelty, Jennifer Gannon, Daniel Cooksley
Theater Downtown, Orlando FL

So what makes you a man? Harold Ryan (Kelty) believes in killing and bossing women around, while Dr. Norbert Woody (Daniel Petrie) prefers pacifism, a peace sign, and a nice Chardonnay. Splitting the difference is vacuum cleaner salesman Herb Shuttle (Cooksley). He’ll go see a fight, but not get into one as that might scare off a customer. It seems Harold went missing for 8 years, and while he drank the Blue Soup, the world changed – both his wife Penelope (Gannon) and Mutual of Omaha have written him off, and no one is interested in his histrionics, not even young Paul (Jeremy Ashton,) the son he never met. There might be a reunion, and there might be a murder suicide, but not even Ryan’s boon companion Col. Hopper (Larry Stalling) knows what might happen next.

I’ve known Kelty a long time, and he can still scare the crap out of me on stage. His rendering of the hunter – killer Ryan details a psychotic and bipolar man, partially disconnected from reason and reduced to little more than preprogrammed motions. He struggles to adapt to the change, as his world struggles to adapt to him and neither has a good time of it. His opposites are the coolly logical Petrie and the comical Cooksley, making a tense triangle that Gannon wishes would just evaporate. She’s grieved for the past, but now wants peace and respect more than a good scrogging. After all, scroggings are a dime a dozen.

Set on a calm 60’s set designed by the superb Paul Horan, “Wanda June” might be read as an anti war statement, an adaptation of the Odyssey without the dog, or an existential reflection on the meaningless of life. Watching over the show is a little Wanda June, played by the precocious Tianna Stevens. She was whacked by an ice cream truck, and now spends her days in heaven playing shuffle board with the ex-Nazi Butcher of Yugoslavia (Cooksley again). Her joy balances the misery of Ryan; she exclaims “I’m so glad I got here early!” Maybe you can’t go back, but catch this tense thriller before it escapes to the theatrical afterworld.

For more information, please visit

Hate Mail
By Bill Corbett and Kira Obolensky
Directed by Jay Hopkins
Jester Theater at Studio Garage, Orlando, FL

Rich boy Preston Dennis Jr. (David Almeida) hates out of town and unmet Dahlia (Trenell Mooring). Some cheap souvenir broke in his flight bag, and he takes a perverse pleasure in suing small people for small mounts of money. Small to him, but life shattering to them, and Dahlia is just his most recent target. She needs the souvenir sales job to stay alive while making it as an art photographer, and his lawsuit begins a long involved correspondence that take them from animosity to sex to mailing dead lizards. By the end of the relation they swap not only emotional positions but financial ones as well – a sort of a Town Mouse / Country Mouse inversion.

Almeida’s Preston takes the more educational journey, alienating his trust fund parents and ending up as an orderly in a nursing home. His motto seems to be “think small”, but his earnest efforts makes that seems the most logical of all paths. Mooring gets the bitchier role, as Dahlia resents a more self-centered energy demanding support for her projects and pet peeves, while Preston makes the shift from self-centered to outward bound earlier on in the relation. Both seems a bit distant from each other, and the best humor came from the fight scenes bracketing mercifully short Sappy Pet Names period of the romance. When Preston mails a sequence of dead lizards to Dalia, he threatens further escalation beyond the Gila monster level. He may be bluffing that he can go farther, but that might just be Guy Talk – Alameda seems too frail to take on a Komodo single handedly, but I believe Mooring could.

Writers Corbett and Obolensky explore what we don’t like to acknowledge – love and hate aren’t that far apart. Strong emotion is strong emotion, and while cuddly love may be more fun for the parties is involved, we outsiders really prefer the Battle Royal. Blood spurting slam down action always draws the bigger crowd – no one ever gossips about the happily married. You’ll’ love Hate Mail – send it to the ones you love the most.

For more information on Jester Theater Company, please visit

By David Auburn
Directed by Julia Allardice Gagne
Valencia Character Company
Orlando, FL

We all know there is a fine line between genius and insanity, but proving where it lies is difficult. A few years ago, Robert (Steve Drucker) revolutionized mathematics, but now he descends into a schizophrenic world that involves madly scribbling nothingness into note books. His daughter Catherine (Melanie Cromer) dropped out of Northwestern to care for him, and now his death forces her into a deep depression. The vultures are circling, Dad may have left something useful in those notebooks, and his former student Hal (Jon Hooper) got first crack. It’s hard to tell if he’s falling for Catherine, or if he just wants a crack at some proof that might get him a real job. And Sister Claire (Emily Nanette) want to move Catherine to New York, maybe to keep an eye on her, and maybe to commit her.

“Proof” looks at this relation on multiple levels. The fundamental question revolves around Catherine’s skills in advanced mathematics – can she really prove something that has stumped the best for cneturies, or did she snag it from Dad on his way down? If she’s so smart anyway, why is she hanging out with a leech like Hal? Why should anyone believe her, and even if this proof is real, what good will it do anyone?

There’s a nicely lit stage for this intimate drama’s exposition. The first act has a rehearsal feel to it, with little close connection between the players. By the second act, thing feel tighter, and Drucker looses a hard to quantify sing song quality he began with. I liked Hal; he genuinely seemed in awe of the material Catherine allows him to examine. When they have a brief flash of romance, you’d like it to flourish, but that’s not in the cards. What does appear is a deeper intellectual connection, that of fellow specialists working in a rarified atmosphere. Civilians may not get it, not for a few hundred years at least, but these two share a common wavelength. Hal’s not really a father figure, but he partially replaces that in Catherine life. They might even stay together beyond publication and that awkward interview on Fox that no one will really understand.

For more information on Valencia Character Company, please vist

A New Brain
By William Finn
Directed by Donald Rupe
Starring Jordan Scheerer
Nothin’ Productions
Theater Downtown, Orlando FL

I feel like a real heel for saying this, but I had absolutely no empathy for Gordon Michael Schwinn (Scheerer). He has a crappy boss, writers block, a even crappoer boy friend, and a brain aneurism. When a weird headache replaces his ability to write songs, he ends up in the hospital staffed with the Nice Nurse (Ruth Choute) and the Thin Nurse (Megan Wiley). Mom (Donna Coffee) is by his side, but his lover Roger (Seth Bradshaw) is out on his yacht, leaving only best friend Rhoda (Meaghan Fenner) come to defend him from his nasty employer Mr. Bungee, the Kiddie Frog From Hell (Joseph Sanders). There’s a chorus of doctors and priests and a homeless lady, but we never feel any urgency or uncertainty over the operation. When Gordon pulls through, he pushes Rodger off to one side, which might be just as well.

I can’t say any of the music in this show sticks with you, either, but “Poor, Unsuccessful And Fat” was a fun title. Most of the singing was workman-like despite energetic backing from local virtuoso John deHaas. Ms. Fenner’s tap and ballet pieces were executed very cleanly, and I’d have liked to see more of her on point. Weighing the show down was Scheerer’s rather weak singing, and he was often buried by the much stronger Ms. Wiley and Mr. Bradshaw. I give directorial points to the very funny Parade of the W=walkers, but that was the exception rather than the rule. New Brain? Stick with the old one.

For more information, please visit

Glengarry Glenross
By David Mamet
Directed by Robin Olson
Mad Cow Theater, Orlando FL

Forget everything you imagine about cold calling real estate salesmen. The reality is so much worse only David Mamet could capture it. Shelly Levene (Michael Edwards) and John Williamson (Joel Warren) sit in the greasy Chinese Restaurant of Total Destruction, bitching about not getting the good leads. They need to sell swamp land to the Poles and Jews of New York or starve. Later the over-aggressive Moss (Stephen Lima) tries to convince meek Aarnow (Ron Mc Duffie) to break into the office and steal the Hot Lead list, which enumerates people gullible enough and middle class enough to buy the idea of a Florda Low Tide Land as an investment. Only slick Ricky Roma (Don Fowler) has the golden touch, spinning velvet words and getting some loser with the horrid name “Lingk” (Joe Tamborello, Jr.) to sign up. But when all these bad boys show up for work next day we find some one broke in, swept the floors, emptied the waste baskets, and stole the Hot Lead list. What a shame they can’t ALL be guilty.

This is brutal, vicious story told by brutal, vicious people. No quarter is asked, and none given. While Fowler is the slickest, switching from suave seducer with the customer to foul mouthed hellion in his own domain, he’s as amoral as the others. Paul Carbonell plays a tough cop, but he’s up against pros when he interrogates this office full of snakes. You almost want to sympathize with Levene, but he’s not that nice to little old ladies, either. Maybe you can feel a bit for Lingk, but really, he just enables these vipers. The hate this cast exuded for the outsiders is so palpable it’s intimating to meet them in the lobby post show. See this show, and you’ll personally beat up any cold caller with the guts to violate the No Call list.

For more information on Mad Cow, please visit

Many of the shows reviewed here are presented as part of the Orlando Fringe Festival. Information on times, ticket prices, and location my be found at

Mark Baratelli’s Improv Cabaret
By Mark Baratelli
Piano by Jim Rhinehart
Blue Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando FL

Somehow I missed this guy for the past few years, maybe due to a bad case of improv burn out. Baratelli has an amazing voice and an even more amazing routine. Baked by pianist Jim Rhinehart, the pair improvs a complete cabaret act on the spot. Best of all we never have to suffer thought the “Name a non specific location” rah rah, Baratelli makes up the story in his own head and cues Rhinehart’s late night noodling piano. The stories are about as good as Garrison Keillor, but more fantastic. Tonight’s revolves around a nine year old Baratelli rejecting his families red neck background and turning to a career as a singer, only to fight a continuing battle with ball gags and rejection, eventually running away from home naked. His big break occurs when he transcribes a homeless mans stories in blood, and finds a publisher. This gets him upgraded from living in a shelter to living in a Barnes and Noble. It’s weird but completely charming.

The Glamorous Andre Merlyn Magic Show: The Return!
Red Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando FL

Indianapolis’s favorite Transbian Magician returns to Orlando with a fun and expanded show. There are some new characters, opening with the staggering Enid Breation, who mixes drinks for everyone, courtesy of her amazing Pitcher of Endless Pina Coladas. We then meet second hand televangelist and infomercial hostess, Shammie Baye Fakkir, who uses her homeopathic skills to pass blue water through the body of a hapless audience member. When Andrea appears, she’s supported by stage assistant Fezette (Nichol Carson), who struggles to release a rubber chicken from an ominous looking suitcase. It’s a bridge to cover a costume change, but it’s more entertaining than you might expect.

Merlyn’s show is cleaner and better organized than last year, even if the puns have gotten worse. Barbie Dolls levitate, rubber body parts fly, cards are taken, and an audience member has one of those cheap Red Venue seats collapse under her, although that wasn’t on the program. We miss the “Sword Through the Neck” illusion from last year, which can bring volunteers to tears. We do see an excellent sponge ball routine done in gloves, along with some card manipulation, and that frustrating pom pom illusion. This performer knows his magic and delivers a solid show. But the puns…

Midnight Snack
By Scottie Campbell
Directed by Margret Nolan
Brown Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando FL

Vincent (Roger Floyd) is dead. There’s no question about that, let’s be clear. It was suicide, he left a note, they didn’t find the body for 3 days, and it was a VERY positive ID. So why has he come back to haunt his old lover Tom (Scottie Campbell)? After all, he’s not a ghost. He eats, sleeps, farts and does everything a real person does, yet can’t show his wings or halos, or even pick lotto numbers. The reunion is pretty good for a while until he reverts to his pre-death bad habits. Maybe he IS a hallucination, Tom’s new best friend (Jamesson Beane) never seems to notice him as the pair works on resolving relation issues they failed to address while Vincent was alive. The play begins with some good bitchy writing that goes over the sort of We vs. Us stuff all couples struggle with. The problem here is the ending – the “discussion” devolves into a rather tedious “Fuck you” – “No, fuck you” loop that leaves the audience wishing whatever Divine Being they acknowledge would have offered the unusual second chance to a pair that had a deeper vocabulary.

La Duchesse de Langeais
By Michel Tremblay
Directed by Hume Baugh
Green Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando FL

If you’re going to whine about your sex life, at least make it an interesting whine. “La Duchesse” (Denis Couillard) finds himself alone in a seaside Mexican village drinking from a bottle of Royal Crown that ought to have pond scum growing on it. He’s been a practicing homosexual since he was 5, which seems a bit early to start on any sort of career. Since its siesta, he has trouble getting ice for his drink, but he drinks anyway, becoming not so much philosophical as bitter. Some of the stories are interesting, like his job catching clothing for a stripper, or singing “Take me out to the ball game” in mermaid drag. Most of the time, you wonder where the show is headed, and when he goes back stage to grab another bottle and take a leak, the sound effects are way more realist than I felt necessary. Overall, I’d rather spend an hour with Doug Huston.

Matanzas: A Survivors Story
By Minda A Stephens
Green Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando FL

This interesting historical reenactment presentation suffered from poor marketing and a difficult to pronounce name, and that’s a shame. It’s an interesting slice of Florida history that isn’t widely known, and was presented with a very high degree of professionalism. Scott Isert plays “The Fifer”, one a very few survivors from the ill fated Fort Caroline, a French colony in near present day Jacksonville. The boundaries of the new world were poorly understood, and served as a proxy battle to the national wars in Europe. There was a feeling that while this new continent was impenetrable and dangerous, it was worth money. The French sent an expedition in the 1500’s, betting that they could establish a beachhead against their bitter rivals, the Spanish. Poor decision making and several hurricanes turned the expedition in to a bloodbath, with only the musicians coming home alive.

Isert tells the story in a touching and believable manner, peppering the show with a patois of English, Spanish and French. National priorities included exterminating the French protestant as well and conquering the natives. Gold wasn’t a big issue in this conquest, not as much as drinking water and a supply line back to the old world. You may not to Fringe to get educated, but this lecture is as lively as any I’ve seen.

By Tony Lopez
Green Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando FL

You can learn a lot from those animal documentaries. Good stuff, like how long Giant Tortoises live, and how Blue Footed Booby birds mate, and that Killer Whales like baby seals almost as much as Canadian fur trappers. But nothing is as exciting as seeing these wild creatures in their native environment, like the Green Venue way out in the remote wastelands of the Rep. Tony Lopez and Joe Wesson are two unlikely looking actors that take us to meet these creature in a funny and family friendly journey on the cheapest charter boat out of Ecuador. The pre-departure speech indicates this trip might not be up to US safety standards, but the pair as giant tortii and frigate birds was a hoot. It’s not like they are all that good as naturalists, but the utterly zero dollar costumes and winning physical comedy are good for more than few belly laughs as Michael Marzella’s sonorous voice-over explains all that mating stuff.

Cupid and Psyche
By Sean Hartley and Jihwan Kim
Directed by Mike Rodgers
Orange Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando Fl

Venus (Meghan Colleen Moroney) is queen of Mt. Olympus, and is all about sex, love and beauty. Her son Cupid (Wesley Farrell Miller) helps around the mountain by shooting little arrows of lust into us mortals, making for all our romantic woes. Cupid’s buddy is Mercury (Scott Sadler), messenger to the Gods and patron of thermometer. When that hot little mortal Psyche (Lisa Erin Goldstein) starts getting better press than she, Venus sends the boys to do some dirty work – make all the Illyrians fall in love with the worst possible partners. This disrupted the country and was a Godsend to Shakespeare – no one knows where Illyrian is, inappropriate romances sound great in iambic pentameter. When Cupid falls for Psyche, he violates the Olympian Creed – “No messing around with mortals unless you conceal you godhood from them.” I guess they have anti-Viagra to help there.

This full blown musical is fun and zips right along on a beautifully laid out set. Venus reminds me a bit of Edie Adams, and vamps wonderfully. Mercury skates around in those roller sneakers that look so deadly if you’re over 30, and the Cupid / Psyche relationship has some genuine sparks. There’s one good song, “One Little Arrow”, but many of the other songs sound similar and carry that Disney stage musical feel. I was sitting there, thinking “oh, here’s the middle 8 again”. It’s good show, and with some punched up music, it could be great.

Suitcase of Memories
Directed by Chad Gneiting
Brown Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando FL

There’s been a seismic shift in public attitudes toward gays over the past 50 years. In the Eisenhower days, the topic was avoided or officially suppressed. In the 60’s the civil rights movement spurred a revolution in attitudes toward al minority groups, and today gay are at least tolerated most places, even if the public debates have become more strident. The Orlando Youth Alliance presents this collection of monologs on the realities of teens coming out over this span, with writing by Margret Nolan, Scottie Campbell, Jim Crescitelli, John Sullivan, and Logan Donahoo. The stories are touching if occasionally peppered with anachronisms. Nora Zegers admits a crush on the nun that taught her English, Greg Elsner pines for Judy Garland, and Taylor Grimes does a decent “We’re Queer and We’re here” in high school piece. The wrap up is a slightly gooey ensemble piece, but overall “Suitcase” is enjoyable and memorable.

Saint Kristie
By Doug Huston
Douglas Productions
Brown Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival

In the beginning, Doug Huston recreated God in His own image. Kristie (Rachel Potter) feeds AIDS victims until a bus runs her over. She finds herself in The Lounge of The Gods, which is just a bit classier than the P-house. Jehovah (Brad Haynes) tries to get her to sign on with his group as a Saint, but Gaia (Katherine Sandidge) and the Virgin Mary (Caroline Ross) convince her to become a sort of independent candidate in the heavenly pantheon on the Women’s Rights platform. It’s special interest politics of the highest order.

While the show is deliberately provocative, it feels like sitting through a Sunday sermon by a preacher who can occasionally pull off a decent one liner. Jesus (Kevin Goldbach) is lover to Satan (Ralph Cahill) and Mars, God of War (Robert Pate) finds employment as “The Actor with the Large Testicles”. There’s a joke or two in here, and the acting is successful, but this show is like being bludgeoned to death with Joseph Campbell.

Platelets – A Happening
By Donald Rupe
Brown Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival

I was expecting a bit more for a ten buck ticket. “Happenings” were a sort of 60’s handle for large free form block parties, art events, and orgies in Central Park. While an orgy might be pushing things even for this free wheeling festival, “Platelets” basically gets you in a room with a group of people doing random stuff on stage. There’s Scrabble and coloring and painting, and after a while they break out the orange juice and peanut butter sandwiches. No need to sit in your chair, come up on stage and help. We’re your friends…

Essentially, you are paying to see you own sorry acting abilities on stage. However, it IS kind of fun to walk up un stage during a show and ‘help’, God knows there have been more than few shows where a stage rush would have been better than what the production company was trying to pull off. It takes a little while to figure out what is going on, but after that, it’s almost as much fun as the beer tent, and no one is haranguing you about the Blog Wars.

Jesus In Montana – Adventures in a Doomsday Cult
By Barry Smith
Yellow Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando FL

You’ve all met the “Jesus” guy. No matter what you talk about – ordering eggs, asking directions to the mall, begging for spare change, this guy gets EVERY conversation around to Jesus and damnation. Meet Barry Smith. As a young man raised in a strictly Baptist household, he rejected organized religion, dropped out of college, and ended up doing dishes in a ski resort. There he found Bahia, and met one of its followers who claimed he was Jesus. Although a bit weak in the water into wine skills, the guy had great paperwork, a gift for gab, and a conviction for pedophilia. Best of all, he lived in Missoula, Montana. What more proof could you want?

Berry’s real life tale ranges from pants peeing funny to so creepy you think he’s still serious about this apocalyptic cult. As cults go, they were pretty tame – no sensory deprivation or donating all your worldly good, just a strong desire to make people read hundreds of pages of dense text. His story is enhanced with a very nice Power Point presentation, and while nothing REALLY bad happened, three years of his life either got wasted dealing with this Big Sky loony tune, or in gathering material for one man Fringe Festival shows. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and prophesy that he will successfully run this show in Edmonton or Calgary. And that’s more committal than any prophecy you’ll find in the Good Book.

Murder on West 18th Street
By John Goring
Directed by Larry Stallings
Playwrights Round Table
Red Venue Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando FL

This show looks more like an old fashioned radio drama than anything else I’ve seen. Hayden (John Bateman) is just back from the war, and when he opens his door, he’s greeted by 2 slugs from a 45. Joe the Detective (Josh Geoghagan) suspects sleazy club owner Nickie Gimble (Derek Ormond), but Sultry Treena (Sarah Lockard) might know something about the lead poisoning, if only they can find her. Motivation, method and opportunity – they’re splattered all over this stage.

The story isn’t complicated, but the atmosphere drips with the smell of cheap whiskey and low morals. The set is little more than a box, but seeing the actors bare their souls makes for a fun hour. Passing through the long dark tunnel into the theater helps the mood, and best of all, Hayden gets to die twice.

My Pal Bette
By John Ryan
Directed by Vanessa Verdecia
Brown Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando FL

Some of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen revolve around the obsessive-compulsive. Little Tommy Klein (Ryan) can’t enter the front door without tapping it 8 times, and finds entertainment in pressing his ear to the cat and tasting the floor. He’s got his internal demons, but the look like a pair of cheap sock puppets peeking out from the curtain behind the tiny Brown Venue Stage. Up in heaven, God and one of his very sparkly angels decide Tommy needs a Guardian Diva, and they assign him the bitter and alcoholic Betty Davis (Tammy Kopko). Her first piece advice involves a lit cigarette and the left eye ball of a bully. Bra-vo! As Tommy grows, his overbearing yet quaintly Jewish mother Carol (Janie Klein) bemoans his transition from really weird kid to reasonably well adjusted adult. Looks like she needs some diva action as well.

We’ve got colliding Bette Davis shows this year, but both are equally funny, just in different dimensions. “My Pal Bette” is about bitch slapping you own demons and damning those who don’t like you to living in their own hell, because it ain’t your job to make them happy. Tammy Kopko is vicious at Bette; advising us that “Parents shouldn’t be afraid to hang themselves.” Ryan is enduring as Tommy, and he’s has written a tight, funny piece that never drags, lectures, or wanders off into the woods. This piece is a blast!

Best Show Ever!
Six Characters
Directed by Suchan Vodoor
Purple Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando FL

All art forms impose limits on style that a good artist can exploit without feeling resticed. Ssilent films carry one of the most recognizable looks in the visual arts – the colors began as black and white, but now fade to sepia. Frames come by a bit too fast; super titles and sound effects provide the narrative. That’s the look the prop intensive Six Characters company captures in this cute story told with mime and motion. They wake up one morning to an unpaid bill from the electric company, and their meager savings stolen. We’re off a mad but futile chase to catch the thief, then everyone splits up to scrounge up the money to keep the lights on in there little lives.

The story is charming, if a bit long. Live action mixes with short films, and there’s more furniture, boxes, and oversized objects than anywhere else in this years festival. The one thing I think we all missed is the pie fighting, but they did a nice demo of that in the beer tent one evening. This is a fun family friendly show with no overbearing message except “get off your butt and make some motion!”

L.A. Nasty
By Ryan Dobosh and Mark Siano
Red Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando FL

There’s a song that goes “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.” Anywhere but LA, that smog coated Whore of Babylon responsible for so much of our popular culture. Ryan and Mark were part of a hot shot comedy group in Seattle, and at some point decided that they could take LA by storm. The odds were never in their favor, no matter how funny they were in Seattle. Their story follows so many others – arrive with high hopes, make the rounds, notice everyone else in town is more desperate than you, get a dead end job, move to a neighborhood where you can’t make out the graffiti, and give up. But even if these guys didn’t make the grade in LA, the story on their way down is funny enough for Orlando. They rap about the freeway numbers, tell tales of “shitting the lawn”, and talk of Valley Hags with butter faces – “her body is ok, but her face…” I lived there once upon a time, these guy have the place nailed. This show is much better than their posters would lead you to believe.

Outloud! Too Gay For Fringe?
Orlando Gay Chorus
Pink Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando FL

A chorus group in the Pink Venue wearing mud masks? How could that ever be too gay for Fringe? Instead, The Orlando Gay chorus brings a bit of civility to this years circus. Ok, there’s the nun drag thing, which eludes me as much as the gay fascination with Streisand and Minnelli. There’s the perfect choreography, the rainbow tee shirts, and the mandatory coming out story. But they sing ever so sweetly, with barbershop harmonies and a well chosen collection of tunes. “I Will Follow Him”, “I Ain’t Afraid” and others were arranged by Mark Klingaman to play to their strengths, the Andrews Sisters medley seemed somehow appropriate, and “Shadenfreude” was all about being bitchy and happy at the same time. What was lacking was the sort of show tune collection that sounds so gay, although they did a nice version of “The Boyfriend”. Their coefficient of gayness was indeed appropriate to the Orlando Fringe Festival.

Born To Be Asian
By M. Andrew Dalire
Blue Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando FL

Multicultural is one of those slippery terms that everyone uses, and everyone intends differently. Mr. Dalire applies it to the Asian Diaspora in America, a pretty broad swath of language, religion, and cooking styles. His format is a series of 20 or so sketches, some funny, some awkward, and some as mysterious as the Japanese characters tattooed on a biker chick’s butt. The most effective were a series of faux ads for Chinko Products – “So Easy An American Can Do It!” The coolest, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” opened the show. White guy Rob obsesses on oriental culture, and meets up with his friends at a restaurant. He’s more Asian than the Asians, and ends up embarrassing everyone. There are a few sketches based on real events, like the ill fated “Pink Lady and Jeff” TV show that lasted about 1 episode, and the case of a film company making a training video in which the Asian actors swore profusely at each other unbeknownst to the American film crew. Other segments like “Affirmative Asian” and “English, Please” felt a bit preachy and over bearing. It’s an interesting viewpoint, and remember – get those oriental tattoos checked BEFORE you get the ink. Some one might be getting revenge on us white guys.

Bitch Slap
By Darrin Hagen
Directed by Trevor Schmidt
Orange Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando, FL

Who wants to watch old movie stars make nice with each other? Isn’t a good old knock down cat fight more fun? That’s the promise of this bitterly funny battle of the drag queens. Darrin Hagen plays Joan Crawford, the self absorbed star who always sits on the right in pictures so her name is listed first. Trevor Schmidt is Bette Davis, the sleep your way to the top star who wrapped Jack Warner around her little finger. Refereeing the fight is Davina Stewart as Hedda Hopper, the failed actress who became one of the most powerful people in Hollywood – she knew where the bodies were buried, and who killed them. The show is built almost completely from actual quotes and interviews, and the level of bitchiness increases by the moment. Who won the most Oscars? How to get a sexier type font? Who could sleep with the most male leads, even if they had other preferences? It’s tough way to keep you ego afloat, your chances of failing at any turn are very high. The two eventual join forces to make “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”, an all too true story of two faded and failed stars forced to live with each other. There was no joy in the making of that movie, just a low level of terrorist attacks involving air conditioning and over accurate stage fighting. It’s almost like watching Dr. Frank N Furter battle Dr. Frank N Furter, but with less mercy.

F Bombs and G Strings
Todd Kimbro
Blue Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando, FL

Todd Kimbro is a veteran of the Orlando Fringe and a connoisseur of the F-word. Some of his most notable writing revolves around it and its only fitting that he spends some time serenading us with songs that feature this ever so useful word. The show is just Kimbro and an upright piano as he sings rock standards like “Roadhouse” and “Purple Rain”, then throws in a few of his own F-centric compositions from shows like “Zombie Doorman” and “Loud.” There a great medley of F-lines from recent alt rockers cleverly called “Another fucking medley” and an 80’s medley of goth and dance numbers, some of which I hadn’t realized contain his favorite embellishment. Kimbro get both rhythm AND led out of his piano, and if there’s one complaint about this show, it’s this: There’s not enough smoking.

Breaking Glass
By Alan Sincic
Brown Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando FL

Alan Sincic is a man with a story to tell. It’s not clear what than story is about, but it’s kinda weird and kinda interesting, like overhearing a couple fight on a long airline flight. Sincic is a Mad Cow Theater veteran, and these stories somehow reflect his life. There’s the sad little dog Sugar, who looks like he’s made of leftover parts from the doggie factory, assuming such a place exists. Another story finds him in grade school, wondering about the meaning of the phrase “Eric the Red landed on the whores of Greenland.” Really, don’t we all live for typos like that? His best efforts come when he drafts a woman from the audience and writ a long love letter on her leg. As he works farther up her thigh, her discomfort grew. She’ll never sit in the front row again. I vote “Breaking Glass” as this year’s Most Surreal Show.

Found and Lost: Goals for 2002
Silver Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando FL

Ya gotta love a dance company that uses an American Sign Language translator. There’s just something a bit absurd about that, not that the deaf should miss the details of this interesting evening. Right out of the box they started with a signed interpretation of the Preshow announcement. We now know what the signs for “Captain Morgan Rum” and “Narcissist” are, which may be useful somewhere. The dancing begins with a number of chalk lined boxes and a dancer kicking the chalk around. I’m not talking about blackboard chalk, but the stuff they use for line markers in football games. There’s more chalking going on with a blackboard up stage, as they write out random seeming words and phases, which the program notes indicate are from found scraps of paper in New York. Best of all: “The closer I get to you, the farther I feel from me.” Very arty, indeed. Soon we are asked by another dancer to look for her keys. The whole audience actually gets up and looks under the seats, then she’s deluges with keys from the wings. I hope one of them was right, or we’ll have to get a brick to let her into her car. The theme of children finding and losing treasures plays on, with all sorts of odd things pulled from the “found box” down stage. Diamonds and doll and little plastic beads are always important, whether you 5 or 50.

Andrea’s Revolution
Written and Directed by Nicole Carson
Blue Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando FL

In “Andrea’s Revolution,” plastic surgeon Thomas Gardner (Dan Oser) repeatedly botches elective surgeries and has the legal wherewith all to pay off his deformed patients. This isn’t enough to satisfy lawyer turned 60’s style radical Andrea Ratzenberg (Avis Marie Barnes) who kidnaps him with the help of her daughter Roxanne (Amanda Stephens) and Roxanne’s lover Talia (Liza Gonzolas). They plan a nice, homey torture-murder of Gardner the Terrorist complete with a filmed beheading and electronically cloaked voice over. No wonder malpractice insurance is so expensive.

Intended as black humor, Revolution offers the following preachy and convoluted logic: Abortion and private beheadings are OK for a good cause, but a vagina tuck and lift are inherently immoral. Later, the ground shifts and they justify Talia’s role of executioner since she’s already had an abortion. While the revolutionaries are almost convinced of the moral high ground upon which they stand, they are very, very careful to use their CSI training to not leave any evidence. It’s a lecture, but watching Oser lift his feet while bound and gagged so they can mop up evidence is almost worth it. Almost.

JAWS The Musical
Book and Lyrics adapted by David Lee
Directed by Chad Lewis
Naked Orange Theater Company
Silver Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando, FL

There’s no point in parodying a movie no one has ever seen. David Lee and the NOTCO crew tackle the biggest selling fish story since Jonah. This nearly musical parody attacks the film that kept people out of the water since the late 70’s, Jaws. For those of you who are young enough to think the seventies were a blast, here’s the recap: Beach town New England cop Chief Brody (David Lee) battles with the town Mayor (Joe Swanberg) over keeping the beach open and losing some tourists to a shark, or closing down operations until the nasty beast and all those summer folk go away on there own. It falls to scientist Hooper (Chad Lewis) and crusty captain Quint (Swanberg again) to go to sea and battle this unthinking and unfashionably out of season fish. Then everyone dies. Now that’s comedy!

“JAWS” finds it charm in the apparently slapdash set made from benches and backstage ladders and well-timed over-acting. Take funny people and put them in a funny situation, and let things rip, and rip they do. Lee’s stiff backed police officer clashes with Swanberg’s focused determination, whether as the Mayor intent on making money at all cost or as the sea captain with super sized mutton chops and marbles in his mouth. Anitra Pritchard plays all the female roles with her typically well endowed enthusiasm, and there’s an even a guest appearance by Catherine Goodson as Peter Benchley. The show charges ahead from crisis to crisis and not even a missing or off-cue actor can stop them. Damn the torpedoes, “JAWS” is a sloppy good time.

Conceived and Choreographed by babyBlue
Baby Blue Star and Naked Orange Theater Company
Orange Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando, FL

Well. If this isn’t the best Fringe show I’ve every seen, I’ve been visiting the beer tent too often. VarieTEASE is an elaborate circus cabaret orgy complete with stilt walkers, jugglers, dwarves and gay country line dancing. Spun out of the fertile mind of local dancer and scene maker babyBlue, it’s been polished at the P House and it expands from that teeny tiny stage to the full volume of the Orange Venue. The show begins with a circus style opening parade – actors, dancers and jugglers slowly enter while giving small teases of the show. Humans become puppets, puppets human, and all the fears and fantasies of dream life appear like various states of a good hallucination. Music and scene blend seamlessly, and even if the juggle drops a ball, it magically reappears from somewhere. Every time you figure out what might happen next, VarieTEASE is of in another direction.

Like a good circus, there are too many things happening to follow all of them, but the show flows as one with an expert mix of pop hits and club mixes forming a coherent if bass heavy backdrop. Highlights include the country line dance number with the singer dressed in an explosive nail covered jacket, babyBlue’s coat of many CD’s, the dwarf under the ball dress sequence, and that wonderful song “Suck too hard on your Lollypop.” There’s too much going on here to comprehend at one sitting, but all of it is outrageous fun and worth a second view in this huge space. This is about as much spectacle as Orlando can survive.

The Screw You Review With Linwood Sassy
By Dewey Chafee
Brown Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando FL

I make it a rule to never give anyone Depends as a joke 40th birthday present. It’s too easy, and the 4th or 5th pack isn’t any funnier than the first. That’s Old Guy Humor is so suspect – it takes all the easy shots at ageing. But I’m happy to report that while Mr. Sassy has the genera down pat, he embellishes it well enough to put on a fresh and funny show. Homo phobic Linwood Sassy dates from the early days of vaudeville, and while he’s in the end of his days, he’s got something to keep him going – Nurse Gracie (Robyn Pedretti). She’s tall, blonde, and has a skirt that starts out around her crotch and creeps up over the course of the hour to somewhere around her navel. Her panties are red. Backing up Linwood is John de Orderly (John de Haas) on piano. While he’s a bit whimsical, the piano playing backs up some fun songs like “Screw You,” “Long Time Daddy” and “He Can’t Live Without Me”. Nurse Gracie sits in the laps of the old guys, and Linwood takes audience letters. It’s just like a Sammy Maudlin Show, but sexier. The old guy jokes are dusty, the piano playing expert, and Nurse Gracie is worth the price for us dirty old men. Send you wife off to see a one woman show and enjoy yourself.

Sexual Confines
I.D.10-t Productions
Blue Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival
Orlando, FL

“Sexual Confines” presents three loosely related short plays, with no mention of the authors. That’s a shame; these are well written and well produced shorts and someone should take credit.

“Heights” (directed by Luis Poggi) takes us to a New York roof top where Isabel (Lauren O’Quinn) struggles with insomnia until Alec (Jeremy Woods) shows up with a picnic basket. They squabble over turf – Isabel was there first, but Alec has bigger plans, like proposing. Soon Isabel’s fiancé Jonathan (Scott Browning) drops in unexpectedly and what at first seemed like a pointless argument quickly escalates to a gripping drama.

“Sex with the Sensor” (directed by) David Veitch) is the weird piece. A hooker (Marci Stringer) picks up a john (Robin hack) and takes him to her place. He’s not interested in any of the normal things you might expect, but gets his kicks over clashing metaphors and conflicting similes. The hooker is weirded out, and he REALLY seems to enjoy it. I wonder if there are web sites for this sort of thing?

“Daniel on a Tuesday” (Directed by Christy Poggi) finds Daniel (Tim Riedel) at his usual Thursday haunt drinking his usual high end beer and watching “Golden Girls.” He left his ATM card in the machine and friendly but sinister Kevin (Luis Poggi) returns it an extremely unusual pick up situation. You can never tell what Kevin really means or who he is, and Daniel is rightfully uncomfortable the whole time. It looks like a turbulent relation lies ahead for both of them.

Good writing is not always the hallmark of a good Fringe show, but this is one of the nicer literary theater experience of this year’s Festival.

Calculus: The Musical!
By Marc Gutman and Sadie Bowman
Red Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando, FL

Math is good. I like Math. I like this show about Math.

Marc Gutman taught math, and I’ll bet his classes would make most anyone a math lover. In this gentle and family friendly musical, he does a pretty decent job of explaining one of those science things most people dread: The Calculus. Starting wit a cute video about the Five Sizes of Numbers, he shows the difference between regular numbers, infinity and infinitesimals. Then, with a mixture of McCartney, Lennon, and Tom Lehrer, he expands on the basic concepts of differential and integral calculus, even venturing into the second year topic of L’Hopital’s rule. And since you need conflict to make a good show, Issac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz do battle over the life and death topics of notation and first publication.

Aided by assistant Sadie Bowman, Calculus the musical is funny and accessible, even if Mr, Gutman’s projection barely fills the tiny Red Venue and its badly sloping seats. There’s no quiz, and you can get the class notes from a CD or his website. Even if you hate math, you’ll enjoy this unpretentious lecture.

So Kiss Me Already Herchel Gertz!
By Amy Salloway
Awkward Moment Productions
Red Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando, FL

Oy, was this show ever Jewish! There was a chair near the entrance to the Red Venue, and as the line built up two tired Jewish women kvetched over who should sit there: “No, you should sit.” “No, you. I can stand already.” It was a great way you set the mood for this one woman first person story of growing up in Milwaukee and having to deal with summer camp. I say first person because so many one person shows try to play 10 or 30 charters, and they often end up as hard to follow mish-mashes. Ms. Salloway avoids that, telling about the trauma of adolescent and finding a first boyfriend, no matter how inappropriate.

Amy is sent away so her mother can have some surgery with the parting shot “I can’t deal with you AND my uterus”. The camp is a conservative Jewish summer camp “Camp L’Chaim”. Where I come from summer camp meant boys and girls are kept in separate states. Here, the sexes mingle freely, but you can only listen to Jewish folk music and eat your meals in Hebrew. Amy has body shape issues (ok, she’s fat) and social issues (her parents aren’t wealthy) and acceptance issues (she’s the new kid and everyone else is paired up). So who doesn’t she get? Slow talking Velcro kissing Herschel. He’s no prize, but he’s better the Schmolo the Homo.

Amy’s story is bouncy and touching, with a nice variety of humor and pathos. We’ve all gone through similar things growing up, and its fun to look back and see how we might have been, or maybe where we are right now. The folk music is folksy, and there’s a handy Yiddish decoder ring to help the goyim. Be a mensch, see the show. You’ll plotz!

Sport: Rematch
PB&J Brewery
Silver Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando FL

It’s gym class time! The wildly successful Slastic sports crew returns from last year’s Fringe, Adding new team member Heather Leonardi. Slastic supplies any sporting gear you might want, but they’ve got competition nipping at their heels, like Oiu Oiu Wear and Sporto Gigante. As you enter, there’s a high energy warm up with beach balls and pumping music, and they succeed in keeping that energy going through the long and by now boring preshow announce. There’s precious little dialog here, and none is really needed in this parody of the sporting world. All the major ESPN time fillers are here – baseball pitchers battles, home town friendly sportscasters, whiney versions of the National Anthem, and obscure European sports than no one gets like Soccer or Futbol or World’s Strongest Man competitions.

The funniest moments come from wispy Brandon Roberts, because it’s always funny to pick on the little guy until he gets to be the bull chasing Jason Horne thought every other scene. There’s a boxing match where Heather Leonardi takes on Patrick Braillard, and he decks her, drawing an uncomfortable gasp form the audience. Late in the show we discover the Quidditch Ballet, which took me a few minutes to figure out as I know less about Harry Potter than hockey. No matter what the sport, the message is constant – you need the right trendy gear to get the most out of your exercise experience. And looking good is more important than feeling good.

Maxim and Cosmos
By T.J. Dawe
Big Sandwich Productions
Orange Venue

T.J., Dawe is probably the ultimate Fringe artist. No set, no costume, no sound cues, no light changes, just this guy with a microphone and a bottle of water and a real gift from writing and delivering monologs. “Maxim and Como” is a collection of thoughts flowing from the question of why we emphasis the Woman in Woman Writer and the Canadian in Canadian Literature. They’re marginalized in some way, but does pointing out the marginalizing factor make them better artists? From here we got on to the bulk of the evening’s entertainment, a Carlinesque examination of the cultural and sexual differences between men and women – men’s notorious ability to not care what they or other men wear or how they keep house, the unfairness of women’s underwear pricing, and how the reality of potential rape affects one’s ability to enjoy a walk at night.

I learned a few things – women aren’t so much interested in great sex as they are in getting chocolate and little notes. I got the titles of some books to check out, if I can read my notes. I learned the phrase “Boner Pills”, which will come in handy somewhere. But mostly, I got to listen to one of the great story tellers of the Fringe festival talk about something most of us obsess on – men, women, and how they get along despite of their genetic programming, Canadian style.

Written by Christian Kelty
Directed by Michel Marinaccio
Purple Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando FL

Beautifully written and professionaly produced, “Matador” is one of the theatrical gems of this year’s Fringe festival. A small village dies in this mythic tale of community redemption. Crops die, the young move away, and tradition is not enough to put bread on the table or cash flow in the registers. The Priest (Don Fowler) is no help, he prays for rain and parishioners to no avail. The remaining townsfolk become restive, and conceive of a festival to Saint Veronica, patron of bull fighters. Why bull fighters? It worked once before. The Matador (Tim Williams) once fought an epic battle, and then walked away half way through. The Bull (Christian Kelty) gored him for his trouble, but they had achieved some sort of understanding, and both retired to the country to heal. There the Matador found his family estate in disrepair, and he spends his time rebuilding it. Will they fight again for a greater good? The village sends the Senorita (Peni Lotoza) visit him, and seduce him into fighting again. It’s a struggle for the town, and struggle for the Toreador.

The set is a skeleton, as is the head of the bull, befitting this tale set in no particular time or place. Behind the set flowing Spanish guitars and horns from the Preacher Bill ensemble embellish the story. The towns folk live there assigned roles, with The Troubadour (Ricky Avila) constantly drunk, Everyman (Eric Pinder) constantly worried, and The Maiden Fair (Nadia Garzon) constantly on the make. The climax of the show is a nicely choreographed fight between sword wielding Williams and brutish Kelty. They charge and feint, grappling until the stage blacks out, leaving the question – Which one will die to save the village?

Pentecostal Wisconsin
Written and Performed by Ryan Paulson
Directed by Virginia Scott
Green Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando, FL

I grew up in Wisconsin, and don’t ever recall seeing a Pentecostal church. It was all Lutherans and Catholics, plus the usual oddball cults that hung out in the university. While it seems contrary to Scandinavian social customs, Pentecostal worship revolves around the Holy Ghost speaking through you in tongues, then getting translated by your fellow worshippers. If you believe, Jesus speaks to you directly and regularly, guiding your life in everything you do from what burrito to order to who to marry. Young Ryan listened hard for Jesus, but never heard the voice from anyone except the preacher, and eventually he left the faith for New York.

“Pentecostal Wisconsin” is one of those rare shows that examines why you believe or don’t believe with out falling into the twin traps of proselytization or hectoring. I found his struggle touching – all his fellows insisted they could hear the voice of Jesus, so he must not be listening correctly. But after 20 years of divine silence, he asked the obvious – If Jesus is my best friend, why won’t he drop me a call? When Ryan discovers that most of his fellow church goers are getting the same cold shoulder, he takes his guitar and moves to the big city. At least in New York the cabbies will talk to you.

What I liked best about this show is its exploration of faith and disbelief, without ever retreating to that all so common “How stupid can you be?” argument. Ryan tries his level best, yet fails to Hear The Voice. Churches offer two products – a social experience on earth, and a spiritual experience relating to an after life. While his Midwestern Pentecostals did an excellent job on the first front, they failed him miserably on the last. But they gave him one invaluable gift – he can tell a story with charm and humor, and even when a cell phone goes off or people sneak in late, he treats them with more Christian charity than I’ve ever seen.

Elvis and Roy: The Lost Concert
Peter Alden entertainment
Silver Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando, Fl

In 1976 Memphis WWIN radio hosts a mythical concert in support of the Bicentennial, that over hyped tribute to the US holding together for 2 centuries. Roy Orbison and Elvis climb out on stage for one of those concerts you wished might happen, but never did. Tonight the show rattles around in the nearly empty Silver venue as these two impersonators run through a sweetly nostalgic set of standards and a few surprise numbers. We hear the mandatory “Pretty Woman” and “Burnin’ Love”, lesser hits like “Black Slacks” and “Oobie Doobie”, and a duet of two versions of “It’s Over”.

The music is canned and Orbison mimes his guitar work, and the connecting dialog is a bit stilted, but the singing is nice enough. My favorite was Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, a surprising but well executed number. My biggest disappoint went was the end, they closed with the rather down Charlie Rich number “I feel Like Going Home” rather than a solid blow out number. Still, the audience response was positive, and you can safely take the whole family and be assured of getting a good seat.

Silver Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando, Fl

In all my years of writing, I have never used the following phrase: “This show blows chunks.” But here it is: This show blows chunks. Conceptually, it’s a very promising concept – Fidel Castro is a zombie, refusing to die and mindlessly following the rhetoric that put him in charge of the formerly fertile island of Cuba. Unfortunately, the wooden writing sounds like a grade school essay, direction seems to come from a Politburo Central Committee, and the actors seemed surprised when they hear each other speak. I have no idea who wrote, directed, or acted in this awkward show, as there was no program or website, and researching the names of the victims on stage would serve no purpose. If this information ever surfaces, it will be kept silent. Let’s believe these people are intrinsically good, and it the spirit of Fidel has some how infiltrated and subverted the Silver Venue. If you wander into this show, remember that old Russian saying: Save the last bullet for yourself.

Boys Boys Boys
By Doug Huston
Douglas Productions
Orange Venue
Orlando Fringe Festival, Orlando, Fl

Despite being physically attacked by the writer prior to the production, I actually liked this rambling collection of cabaret and condom lectures. It’s simultaneously 1978 and 2000 in a West Village drag club called “Boys, Boys, Boys”. The 1978 Dickie (Adam Lopez) suggests a 20 year reunion pact even as he vacillates over whether to call himself Little Rick, or Dick, or Rickie. As soon as the oath goes down, lights flash and we find ourselves in tonight’s the big time warp. Why the 2 year slip? Because everyone is running on Gay time. They spend a few scenes catching up and comparing notes, then its like any 20 year reunion – some are older and wiser, some are older and dead, and more are still just self centered assholes. Maxie (Joshua Eads-Brown) tossed her foam rubber tits in a dumpster years ago and took up accounting as Maxwell (Rusti “Fawcett” Hurd). Bobby (Karl Anderson) sings his way out of the club and onto the Vegas stage as Robert (Jay Sands). Hard drinking and foul mouthed Elizabeth (Joan Gay) gained a few pounds and lost a few syllables, evolving into the hard drinking and foulmouthed Liz (Barbara Solomon). And poor Peter (Blake Logan)? He’s the one who got AIDS and died.

AIDS is the under tone of the evening, and after Liz gives her impassioned speech about the disease and its effects, the show begins to run out of momentum, but not dialog. The cabaret wears on, the boys wave penises at the audience, and we get a few more numbers in front of the tinsel curtain. Huston succeeds with his recipe of black humor and ironic AIDS jokes, drawing steady laughter from the opening night crowd. Strident and gratuitous, funny and occasionally touching, BBB succeeds both as spectacle and public service.


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