Live Active Cultures 

Any city can slap together a silent auction and hors d'oeuvres and call it a gala. But where else can you stand beneath a life-size dinosaur skeleton with loincloth-clad staff hovering as you sift sand for a diamond ring? Or bid on a date with the "Renowned Margot Knight of United Arts" ("Value: Priceless")? Last weekend's Neanderthal Ball to benefit the Orlando Science Center was just another example of how there's always something different in Orlando.

Yet still I hear plaintive wails of "There's never anything to do." Well, here comes the local theater community to serve the whiners a big bowl of STFU. Let's say you've already seen every show continuing from last weekend, including Jekyll & Hyde at GOAT and Holy Crap at the Parliament House. And we'll set aside high-dollar events like the Festival of Trees opening-night party at Orlando Museum of Art, featuring the Orlando Philharmonic, Voci Dance and $100 admission. You still have six different productions opening Friday the 13th — all tickets $20 and under. If you can't find something to see, you're just not trying.

Breakthrough Theatre of Winter Park, the recently opened brainchild of artistic director Wade Hair, hasn't yet broken through my overbooked schedule with their slate of musical cabarets, but their latest "On the Edge" productions may finally pull me in the door. The "mature audiences only" play series kicks off this weekend with KickAss Plays for Women, a trio of short pieces that mark the local premiere of award-winning playwright-artist-actress Jane Shepard. In Nine, directed by Laurel Clark (The Dream Jar), two women (Alia Laurence and Sarah Lee Dobbs) chained in a cell together engage in life-or-death mind games. Clark also directs Christine Robison and Michelle Kepner-Prueitt in Commencing, a black comedy about straight women unwittingly set up on a same-sex blind date. Finally, Robison directs Friend of the Deceased, in which an angry widow (Caroline Ross) confronts her late husband's teenage mistress (Samantha O'Hare) over the man's gravesite. Great directors, some of my favorite performers and fresh material make this a must-see for me.

Checkerboard Productions is the theater company founded by a bunch of high-school kids (Dominique Minor, Adwoa Manu and Regina Postrekhina) and run solely by students. But if you saw their Patron's Pick-winning production of Elegies for Angels, Punks, and Raging Queens at the 2009 Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, you know there's nothing amateurish about their efforts. Their latest show is Songs From an Unmade Bed, a monologue musical directed by Steven MacKinnon. Christopher McCabe stars as a gay man facing "trials and victories in life, love and everything in between" by singing songs composed by 18 different songwriters (most notably Duncan Sheik's Spring Awakening). Checkerboard is being hosted at Mad Cow Theatre for this single-weekend engagement, and a part of the proceeds will benefit the Human Rights Campaign.

If you know Beth Marshall only as the colorful producer of the edgy Orlando Fringe, you might not think her a sucker for schmaltz. Would you be surprised to learn she's got a sizable sideline presenting golden oldies to a considerably older demographic? Following last March's production of the Thornton Wilder classic Our Town, Beth Marshall Presents brings Beth Henley's 1979 tragicomedy Crimes of the Heart to Winter Garden's Garden Theatre. Aradhana Tiwari directs the Pulitzer-winning play about a trio of sisters (Meggin Weaver, Jennifer Bonner, Britni Leslie) dealing with their dysfunctional lives. Jason Horne, William Hagaman and Marshall herself round out the cast. With a Tom Mangeri set and sound by John Valines, you know the trek will be worth the tolls.

On the college front, Rollins reopens the renovated Annie Russell Theatre with Cabaret, Kander and Ebb's ever-contemporary entertainment about ascendent fascism. The production is directed by visiting teacher Kevin Gray, a veteran of Broadway's Phantom and Lion King tours, and choreographed by "Thomas P. Johnson Distinguished Visiting Artist" Dodie Pettit. Farther east, Seminole State College opens Stephen Sondheim's Assassins, directed by my producing partner John DiDonna. He's got an intriguing interpretation of this notoriously difficult show and a cast mixing students with local professionals (including Kevin Sigman).

For a nightcap, the Enzian is holding a midnight screening of Repo! The Genetic Opera, the so-bad-it's-worse goth-rock musical starring Paris Hilton and Buffy's Anthony Head, with local "shadow cast" Keyboard Samurai performing in-person accompaniment. Normally I'd get all competitive, since my Rich Weirdoes Rocky Horror Picture Show cast has the market cornered on dressing bizarrely and lip-synching to awful movies. But the Samurai are "Orlando's Official" Repo re-enacters, so who am I to argue? The world always needs more freaks to geek out over messed-up shit. Check it out, but order a beer or three at the Eden Bar first.


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