Last week the New York Times reported on one of the few products to see a recent upswing in sales: Spam. If the economic outlook is so bleak that canned pork pudding is making a comeback, then you can count on disposable-dollar-dependent artists to be among the first in the ramen-soup line. To start and sustain a business selling non-necessities in today's climate, you need more than just creativity or talent. You'd need a bold vision, and a little hype couldn't hurt.

At least, that's what I expect the owners of Bold Hype are hoping. Jason Blanchard, one of the co-owners of Orlando's newest "art gallery + shop," e-mailed us a polite invite to their opening show (so much nicer than the threats and accusations we usually get). So, on the way to Peacock Room last Friday to wish artist Doug Rhodehamel a happy birthday, I stopped by see what the Hype is all about.

Pulling into the parking lot that Bold Hype shares with Stardust Video & Coffee, the parking shortage signaled strong attendance; since the cinephilic caffeinery was uncrowded, the congestion must have been for the gallery. Or it could have had something to do with the parking spots stanchioned off to create sidewalk sitting room. Mod white molded-plastic sofas (some resembling oversized teeth) and an orange shag rug on asphalt would have been absurdist enough; add in an array of robotic security cameras observing the couch's occupants and it took on an ominous tone.

Those eerie electronic eyes tied into the title of the show, Surrounded, which provided a tenuous theme to link the dozen diverse artists represented inside. The variety of styles and subjects resisted my efforts to find a unifying thread, but enough of the works fall under a loose label of "perverse portraiture" for me to infer (if I squint) a common connection of post-modern paranoia. Upon entering, you are confronted by Cake's glamorous-grotesque acrylic pinups next to Charles Marklin's multilayered migraine-lion and Dustin Orlando's mixed-media mashup. Other artists sample from surrealism (Scott Scheidly's "Octo-Pina" exudes expressionism with a cartoon twist), cubism (Andrew Spear's pencils fracture faces into posterized planes), illustration (Dennis Hansbury's drawings are like pages from the children's book of my nightmares), psychedelia (Johannah O'Donnell's fantasy flesh tones) and even anime (Patrick Fatica's exaggerated ocular anatomy), without fitting firmly in any defining genre. And if you're looking for something so meta your mind will melt, gruesome graffiti artist Dolla spray-paints skulls on boxes that hold cans of spray-paint (also skull-sprayed).

The new gallery and shop is cleanly designed, amply lit and very small. Half an hour was plenty of time to scope out the score or so of works, snag a slice of sushi roll and squeeze out past the continually entering crowd. While the art was offered at reasonable prices (see, still under construction), and I spotted a few "sold" tags, I fear even modest three-figure rates are too rich for today's economy. That's where this outlet for oddities comes in, fulfilling the middle clause of Bold Hype's "Pop-Surrealism, Lowbrow, and Urban Contemporary" tagline. The design style shoots for "European smart"; some of the merchandise, like the liquor flask in a Bible and ironic ashtrays, makes it feel like a hipster version of Spencer's Gifts (official headquarters of "American Dumb"). If you ever wanted a limited edition T-shirt featuring a line drawing of Venetian blinds, this is the place to shop. I'm saving up for the iPod speaker shaped like an antique gramophone dipped in wax, so I'll have something to listen to while I eat my gelatinous, spiced ham treat.

Now allow me, if I may be so bold, to lend a little hype to two shows that are closing this weekend. We don't often publicize school productions, but Seminole Community College's production of Hair deserves attention. Director John DiDonna, choreographer Casey Saxon and musical director Tod Kimbro (all folks I've had the pleasure of working with) have assembled an enormous ensemble to embody the "tribe" of hapless hippies. They are led by Corey Volence (featured in my recent Waiting for Godot) as Burger, whose itchy loose-limbed physicality recalls Capt. Jack Sparrow on Benzedrine.

DiDonna fills the space with his signature swarm of energetic youth, nearly compensating for the inescapable fact that the tissue-paper plot and AM rock tunes haven't aged well. The best surprise (with the exception of the excised full-frontal) is that SCC hasn't bowdlerized the play's pro-sex-and-drugs sentiment. Today's youth will be forgiven for wondering what the self-indulgent fuss was all about; but if you were there the first time around, this show is a great way to remind yourself of what you probably can't remember.

Meanwhile, my friends John Bateman, Josh Geoghagan and Kevin G. Becker are presenting Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman at Orlando Shakes. I fell in love with the script after seeing it on Broadway in 2005 with Jeff Goldblum and Billy Crudup in the leads, so I'm happy Orlando audiences have the chance to see the gut-wrenching pitch-black comedy. This production has a top cast (including Tommy Keesling and Stephen Lima), a terrific Tom Mangieri set and viciously visceral fight choreography by Bill Warriner. If you're up for three hours of totalitarianism and child torture, then you won't want to miss this one.


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