Be Original Theater Festival
Dr. Phillips Center
New Generation Theatrical
October 4 through 6, 2019
Orlando continues to grow it reputation as a center for new theatrical works. The “Be Original Theater Festival” presented a pack of new plays ranging from comic to creepy at the highly secure Dr. Phillips Center. I was lucky enough to catch four of them.
First off there was a staged reading of “Exhibit: Perfect European Man” by D.J. Salisbury. Based on a true incident, we travel back a century to the British Museum. They have a rather eugenic plan to make full body casts of the most perfect specimens of every race on earth. They start with Ziegfeld protégé Eugen Sandau (Logan Benedict). He was one of those strong man acts that was so popular in the 19th century, and today the casting skills come from Desmond (Jason Blackwater). Desmond’s normal work product involves making replicas of fossils, and Eugen is skeptical. Bu the casting proceeds, and both men touch upon the very dangerous topic of male to male relations. The dialog is rife with long sentences and British idiom, and leaves us in an ambiguous state at the end: is there an attracting between these two men?
Then I was off to “Fallen Angel” created by Jami-Lee Bartschi and directed by Paul Castaneda. While there is no shortage of Frankenstein derivatives in the world, this one takes some oddly creative turns. Mary (Elena Scaringe-Peene) lost her sister Franny (Chelsey Panish) to suicide. As a writer, she recreates Franny on the page in such detail that Franny materializes. It’s not a perfect operation; Franny is no longer mentally ill but she’s no longer complete either. As the landlady Victoria (Ana Martinez Medina) worries about the rent, Mary tries to un-botch her experiment gone off the rails. Thought provoking but somehow incomplete, this story needs a cleaner ending to be a satisfying modern horror story.
“Wolf in a Concrete Jungle” by Eislinn Gracen takes us into the world of shape shifters and fur suit fanatics. Rowan (Rebecca Pennell) occasionally turns into a werewolf but no one knows why. This has made high school especially hellish and dating too risky to consider. Her wussy dad (Steve Flaa) misleads her about her missing mom, and when she meets the geeky furry Jude (Devin Skorupski) it looks like romance is in the air. But a promising first date goes “horribly wrong” and Jude loses more than his manhood. There was a ton of absurd humor here, one of the absolute best pieces of stage direction ever: “Rowen’s Wolf stops fornicating the couch.” That one line makes up for a LOT of new plays that will never see a production.
I wrapped the evening up with Michael Wanzie’s “It All Started at The Radisson Inn”. Connor (Mike Van Dyke) is a gay man with some X and a rather specialized sexual interest. He meets Bret (Jake Rura), a straight man in search of a dose of X just about like the one Conner offers. The catch? Conner has a specialized fetish, and he wants Brett to let him rub his feet. And that’s all. Period. If you know Mr. Wanzie, this isn’t much of a surprise. Soon Connor works his way into Bret’s life. While Bret still intends to marry his fiancé Julie (Marina Magnelli) she’s off dealing with a family crisis, and Conner rolls into Bret’s life a little too much to explain. This a clean and well-polished story and despite its rathe specific details, it’s very funny and enjoyable. It’s also complete with lights, costumes and all the other nits and bits an off-Broadway show needs. I expect this will show up in the near future as a venue near you soon.
The “Be Original” fest seems off to a good start. Even on a late Sunday there were respectable houses. The material was well chosen, and all those scripts were at a point a public viewing would add value. The Dr Phillips location is a minor annoyance as you must pass through metal detectors every time you step outside, but it is technically a superior performance space. I was even directed to try and use the servant’s passages to get from one space to another; this led to a long adventure back stage in the maze of catering tunnels. But it did give me my debut on the stage of the Walt Disney theater, and I even had an audience of one. Let’s hope this festival joins New Play Fest and New Musical Fest and Playwrights’ Round Table and all the other new play events that seem to pop up in Orlando like daisies after the rain.