Live Active Cultures 

Seth renews his vows with cult pop culture

In a college religion class I took, I learned that cults are small, young social groups dedicated to the ritualized veneration of a sacred text or charismatic leader. (A larger, older cult is called a religion.) While I’ve never sold flowers in an airport, my life seems wedded to the world of the cultish, at least within an arts and culture context: From last week’s Star Trek convention to Disney’s domain (surely the world’s most profitable cult), I frequently find myself among the obsessively exclusive. Over the past week, I’ve renewed those vows with cult pop culture, and appropriately enough, my quartet of experiences coincided with the four wedding essentials.

Something old

The Rocky Horror Picture Show wasn’t my first cult-film crush – that would be Pink Floyd: The Wall – but it’s my deepest. Still, I hadn’t attended the Rich Weirdoes’ “shadowcast” show at Universal CityWalk in more than a year. On Halloween night I remedied that, largely because local nerd-rock favorite Marc With a C played a pre-show set.

Though the show has upgraded (when I began we used folding chairs and flashlights; now there are actual set pieces and spots), I’ve apparently aged. When I find myself grumbling that I don’t understand the audience callbacks and whining that 1:30 a.m. is past my bedtime, it’s time to retire my rice and fishnets.

Something new

If anyone in the local theater community could start their own cult, it would be Beth Marshall. At last Thursday’s Play-in-a-Day 2011, the former Fringe producer again demonstrated her power to assemble Orlando’s A-list artists. This annual experiment in extreme playcraft isn’t unlike cult indoctrination: 24 hours of isolation, insomnia, arbitrary rules and forced collaboration with strangers. The difference is that Play-in-a-Day supports Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s PlayFest instead of some paranoid polygamist, and produced seven brand-new playlets – several of which were pretty good.

Participating writers included David Lee, Josh Geoghagan, Paul Strickland, Kenny Babel and Lindsay Cohen, with Laurel Clark, Tara Corless, Jay Hopkins, Paul Castaneda and Marshall herself directing. My top picks: Rob Anderson’s Twilight-Sleep, directed by Jeremy Seghers, starring Eric Pinder as a pregnant pre-op transsexual, Nicole Carson as his wife and Arwen Lowbridge as an unsympathetic nurse; and Rob Ward’s The Special, directed by Leesa Halstead, featuring Dorothy Massey and Lauren O’Quinn on an Internet date, with Brett Carson as their waiter.

Something borrowed

Last Friday, I returned to my first cult fascination: the Muppets. Kermit the Frog and his felt friends’ fates rests with the box office for their upcoming film, but I’ll remain a fan even if Amy Adams ruins their comeback worse than she did Julie and Julia. Thanks to the Heather Henson-hosted Muppet Movie sing-along, held at the Gallery at Avalon Island as part of the Orlando Puppet Festival, a new generation got to experience her father’s classic comedy.

This participatory interpretation of the 1980 film is obviously inspired by Rocky Horror, with a goodie bag of props to play with and a script of shoutouts for each celebrity cameo. Best were the in-theater effects puppeteered by the Ibex crew, including Gonzo borne overhead by balloons. The production was reportedly a hit with the sold-out crowd at the family-focused early showing, and the late screening’s smaller, older crowd (aka the lovers, the dreamers and me) left feeling a little more connected to that rainbow.

Something blue (that blew)

I missed last summer’s staging of Danny Feedback’s Crack Rock Opera at Theatre Downtown, but went to see its current Parliament House production because OW’s Bao Le-Huu called it “a DIY Rocky Horror with better music.” I’ll concur with the DIY part, but amend “better music” to “louder music, loathsome characters and an incomprehensible plot.”

The evening started strong with Tony Clifton-esque lounge lizard Sal Minnelli and a warm-up set by gimp-mask-clad Room Full of Strangers, and the real-life Fox news clip warning about “jenkem,” a human feces-derived hallucinogen (hence the titular “crack”) is hilarious. But it’s all downhill from the first line of narration, delivered alternately in bad British falsetto and racist Engrish. The slender and profane story is staged without any apparent acting ability; the cast delivers dialogue as though improvising while drunk. They are talented musicians – some songs show flashes of Floydian drugged-out genius – but all I could understand of the painfully over-amplified lyrics were the frequent “fucks.” Like Scientology, this is one cult I won’t be joining.

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