Art in the open 

Forget the simple Costner-ism, "If you build it, they will come." As the recent debut of the OVAL on Orange art gallery demonstrated, sometimes "they" will come even when "it" is still a work-in-progress.

Located at Pine Street and Orange Avenue, the new space drew a reassuringly hefty crowd to its Nov. 28 ribbon-cutting ceremony. The turnout was none too shabby for an event held early in the evening on the busy first Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Like egg-nog swillers in the final scene of "It's A Wonderful Life," art lovers and other curious citizens wedged themselves into the aisles between the under-construction cubicles that soon will serve as individual artists' studios.

Bereft of the drywall and glass doors that will complete that transformation, the studios were little more than wooden frames supporting a representative portfolio of visual works. No one seemed to mind much. A few members of the Orlando Visual Artists' League (OVAL) -- the latest in a long line of attempts to bring our area's aesthetic types together under a common rubric -- half-joked that the studios should remain in their minimalist form. It would be better for walk-through traffic, they reasoned.

We'll see how brisk business actually is when the gallery is finished a few weeks from now. But OVAL on Orange faces an uphill climb if it's to live up to the inaugural remarks of Mayor Glenda Hood, who grandly proclaimed that such an initiative had been "part of `her` vision for downtown for a long time."

Of course, had the city really gotten its way, the function of art at Pine and Orange would be as a lobby decoration for the Mad Cow Theatre Company `The Green Room, Sept. 21`. The noise from the upstairs BAR Orlando put the kibosh on that scheme, and successor OVAL has reportedly suffered a worse sort of leakage: the trickling down of liquids from the club's urinals. No wonder the gallery's intended October premiere was delayed. It's not the Louvre just yet.

As she heaped praise on those who had supported her cultural strategies, Hood strangely neglected to recognize OVAL president Terry Hummel. Neither did she pay lip service to Ford Kiene, the philanthropic but unfortunately tattooed proprietor of the Gallery at Avalon Island. At least Hood didn't try to plug the "Grinchmas" promotion at Universal Orlando.

The OVAL opening was merely a portion of something called the "Arts On and Off Orange Open House and Arts Crawl" -- basically, a walking tour to every downtown venue that, taken together, could give the impression of forming a cultural hub. The spillover of OVAL visitors into the 11 remaining sites was sporadic: Avalon Island was enjoying strong attendance when I stopped in. But just up the road, an actress dressed as author Zora Neale Hurston maintained a lonely vigil outside the Orange County Regional History Center, nearly desperate to engage a passerby in one of the "theatrical interactions" for which she had been enlisted. In the meantime, she wondered what had happened to the celebratory toast she had been promised. That Zora, she always gets the short end of the stick.

Fallen Angel

The production of Charles Busch's "Times Square Angel" that was to begin performances this Friday, Dec. 8, at the Parliament House `The Green Room, Nov. 30` has been canceled. Confused by the principals' continued battles for control of the show, many cast members elected to cut their losses and walk out. According to director Steve Gardiner, finding the necessary number of replacements on short notice proved impossible.

The collapse of "Times Square Angel" comes amid a morass of accusations and counter-claims that defy easy sorting out. Robert Black, who preceded Gardiner as the play's original director, puts it best by referencing the old "three sides to every story" axiom. "With this one, there's at least four or five," he says.

Each party involved in the dispute appears to have a different interpretation of the key issues: Who first secured the rights to the show, Gardiner or stage manager (and former Performance Space Orlando owner) Winnie Wenglewick? Or had they acted simultaneously, as Black believes? Did the Parliament House threaten to cancel the production for its alleged shoddiness, or merely express offhand concern? How personal was the clash between Wenglewick and Gardiner? Very, Black says: "I really think one of them was just out to totally destroy the other one." (Forget "Times Square Angel"; that's the show I want to see.)

Gardiner still plans to stage "Love, Sex & the I.R.S." at the PH, hopefully next January. But the deepest and most immediate effect of the conflict is the loss of Wenglewick to Denver, where she moved two weeks ago. Seeing Times Square Angel go up in smoke, she believes, removed her only reason to remain in Orlando. Wenglewick is optimistic about starting over in what she calls "a much more cohesive theater community," and still plans to produce her own fringe festival sometime in the future, though its target site has changed from Tampa to Austin, Texas.

Michele Elam, who was to play the lead role in "Times Square Angel" before the cast's walkout, offers a cautionary postmortem. "The last thing you want with a theater company in Orlando is bad vibes," she says. "`But` no one wanted to be involved in something this unprofessional."

This week's scorecard

Neither Bob DeRosa's "Gifted" nor Tod Kimbro's "Electra at the Wiener Stand" was among the 250 semifinalists named last Friday in the Project Greenlight online scriptwriting contest `The Green Room, Nov. 23`. So what visionary documents did the pool of Internet judges cite for further appraisal? Among others, a story about a woman who turns her father into a talking dog. Oh, the shame of it all ... Bon voyage and godspeed to the Cerulean Group's Jenna McCrae, whose relocation to Japan is imminent. McCrae's aptitude for poetry and the theatrical arts has long been an asset to Orlando's cultural cause. Her recent focus on costuming is the key to the move -- she's following her wardrobe position with the Cirque du Soleil troupe onto foreign shores. Shoes are McCrae's specialty; hers will be difficult to fill.

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