CANDY WITH A CAUSE 


For the third year running the Orlando International Fringe Festival is raising operational funds by presenting an evening of 10-minute plays staged by hometown directors. This year's program has an extra twist: For the first time, all of the pieces were written by local playwrights. As befits the 2004 event's Halloween theme, some of the works are tricky while others offer surprising treats.

First Halloween Together is a lightweight offering that sees a young couple (Mariel Jackson, Christian Damon) reminiscing about the Halloweens in their childhood. As written by Eric Pinder and directed by Ray Hatch, the playlet is only intermittently amusing, but it gets some bump from its nostalgic value. Trick-or-treaters of a certain age will smile at references to Mary Jane candies, UNICEF charity boxes and Pixy Stix – which some viewers will remember as the very first powder they ingested through a straw.

Orlando expatriate Peter Hurtgen Jr. contributes A Vampire, a Monster and a Bunny, a Saturday Night Live-type of sketch that has a trio of amusing adults (Janine Klein, Joe Swanberg, Doug Ba'aser) dressed up in Halloween costumes and acting like kids. Directed by Kenny Howard, it's whimsical and silly, with absolutely no pretense at being anything but.

Happy Halloween Forever, written and directed by Ricky Avila, struggles not to be incomprehensible and obtuse. But as it proceeds, it turns into something quite scary: an endless repetition of a nightmare scenario, starring a protagonist (Carlos Navarro) who can't even count on death to release him from his Sisyphusian fate. It's Groundhog Day from hell.

Loser's Lane, written and directed by Anitra Pritchard, is a comedy sketch that pairs two disparate characters who seem to have nothing in common but their weirdness. A dumpy college professor (Todd Schuck) is first run down and then given a lift by a dim-witted sorority lass in her fifth (or maybe sixth) year of school. The banal plot is saved by Robyn Pedretti's hilarious performance as Becca, the girl who serves as her sorority's designated driver.

Act 1 ends with Queen of the Cats, a lip-synched version of an actual 1940s radio serial, The Mysterious Traveler. Judicious editing by sound designer Jason Donnelly and crafty performances from a three-person company (Miss Sammy, Joe Swanberg, Chris King) directed by Chad Lewis give this loony campfire horror tale a delicious spin. The appropriated story is completely silly and the dialogue is wonderfully inane.

Act 2 opens with David Lee's adaptation of The Trojan Women. Though the piece is completely out of place within the juvenile atmosphere created by the evening's other offerings, its stark power nonetheless stuns the audience into a respectful silence. Eight blindfolded actresses (including Klein, Peg O'Keef, Jamie Middleton, Tammy Kopko and Trenell Mooring) portray the tortured women who have witnessed the atrocities of war. Little, it seems, has changed since Euripides' day.

Six Inches Doesn't Go Very Far (a Penetrating Little Drama) is a convoluted piece submitted by playwright (and Orlando Weekly theater critic) Al Pergande and directed by Margaret Nolan. It has some witty moments, but ultimately it's a murder mystery without any dramatic action. Instead, the play's two characters (Tim DeBaun, Chris Cariotto) merely talk about the crime that's taken place, finally befuddling the audience as to who killed whom and why. All I could figure out was that it had something to do with knives.

Smurfette (written and directed by Jill Bevan) and Scar Tissue (written by Tod Kimbro and directed by Michael Marinaccio) are the kinds of plays one finds in books with titles like Short Scenes for Student Actors. Both efforts get barely passing grades – mainly because the work was handed in on time.

The finale, Re-naming Weinstein, written and directed by Amy Steinberg, gets its kick from actress Klein's frantic impersonation of Stacy, an overweight and overwrought Jewish-American princess intent on discovering her dark side. It's Hebraic neurosis with a Gothic twist. Happy Halloween, bubbelahs.

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