Onward, Fringe soldier 

Opening weekend was a whirlwind for our team of Fringe reviewers, and a portion of the write-ups are below. The rest are posted on our Culture 2 Go blog (www.orlandoweekly.com/blog/c2g.asp).

Cary From the Cock
Cary Curran Presents
Red Venue

Here we have another of those "self-confessional" shows endemic to the Fringe. Writer-performer Cary Curran takes us through key aspects of her life, from her religious upbringing in Littleton, Colo., to her current status as one of America's greatest fag hags, solid advice for up-and-coming fag hags included: "Never sleep with your fag, unless you want a baby."

All of which would feel tired and self-absorbed were it not for Curran's wry sense of humor, lively stage presence and, of course, propensity to take her clothes off. How can you not love someone who nails an interpretative liturgical pole dance to Air Supply in honor of Mother Teresa?

Bob Whitby

Department of Angels
Schave & Reilly
Green Venue

Department of Angels is a show that makes you want to hug someone — namely, the show's stars, Ben Schave and Caitlin Reilly. They've come here from Austin, Texas, with a sumptuous sliver of silent-screen slapstick that is silly, unapologetically sentimental and utterly charming. Graduates of the fabled former Ringling Bros. clown college, Schave & Reilly portray a pair of administrative angels in a bureaucratic beyond.

After a meet-cute worthy of Mr. Magoo, they spend their celestial workday looking down from a cardboard cloud, shredding files of naughty thoughts and dousing humanity with buckets of peace, love and happiness whenever the Big Guy's red phone rings. Their physical schtick would do Keaton and Lloyd proud, and the haunting ending adds unexpected emotional heft. Don't skip this show; your soul will thank me later.

Seth Kubersky

Duelling Divas: The Battle Begins!
Duelling Divas LLC
Orange Venue

Duelling Divas is an enormously agreeable 85 minutes of classic arias from the repertoire of such composers as Rossini, Puccini, Lehár, Strauss, Verdi, Wagner, Mozart, Donizetti and others. And all are admirably sung by sopranos Birgit Fioravante and Wendy Reynolds, with musical direction by Heather Coltman.

The evening's conceit is pointlessly silly — two divas battle one another for stage time and the audience's approbation — but it is carried out with complete and utter fidelity by the show's two superb performers, whose tongues are firmly planted in cheek and whose glottises are always in gear.

For those who doubt that opera is the highest of all the performing arts, Duelling Divas is an eye-opener. This show's music is sublime and its two stars shine exceedingly bright.

Al Krulick

Elegies: For Angels,
Punks and Raging Queens
Checkerboard Productions
Red Venue

This year's Fringe hit a high note — or, really, a series of them by some of the best belters this side of Broadway, all in just the right key — with the searing Elegies: For Angels, Punks and Raging Queens.

In just one hour — hold the applause for the show-stoppers — the revue put the victims, survivors, heroes and collateral damaged of AIDS front and center. It was a heroic, full-throttle performance by the soloists and an outstanding ensemble, as one "voice" after another stepped up and dropped his or her bombshell.

There were the usual suspects: the junkie, pallid and sullen; the angry sociopath with the die-for bod infecting everyone else at the baths; the pretty queen in pearls and high heels; prancing men — Dominique Minor and Keith Kirkwood, pitch-perfect — who insisted (with a hilarious bump-and-grind) that they "Don't Do That Anymore."

Then there was the collateral damage: the Iowa mom who lost her children and hemophiliac husband, then shot the chickens, set the house on fire and burned herself alive; the nurse "pricked" on her last day in the AIDS ward; the mother who passed out flowers; the Latina who broke down telling about her dead child.

Strong stuff, true and over-the-top in just the right way. Standouts include Melissa Mason, Laura Hodos, Kirkwood and Minor in the savage "Spend It While You Can" (and die before the bills come); Kevin Kelly, whose haunting tenor made "And the Rain Keeps Falling Down" piercing; and Minor leading the rousing finale.

Laura Stewart

Me, Ray Charles and Sammy Davis Jr.
Movin' Melvin Brown
Silver Venue

When I met Movin' Melvin Brown some 15 years ago at a Canadian Street Performers Festival, he carried a small wooden board with him, and whenever and wherever he could find an audience of any age or size, he would drop the board and start tapping away — always with a broad smile on his face, and always with that fierce musical drive that emanated from his loving heart right down to his constantly moving feet.

So how wonderful it was to see him again — this time on a wide stage in a dark theater with a three-piece combo backing up his rhythmic and melodic fantasias. And in Me, Ray Charles and Sammy Davis Jr., Melvin simply grabs the opportunity to continue his lifelong love of singing, dancing, laughing and telling jokes, all in his engaging and inimitable style. While he can sound a little like Louis Armstrong, nothing like Sammy Davis, Jr. and a whole lot like Ray Charles, Melvin is really at his best when he sings and dances as himself. After all these years, he hasn't changed a bit.


Pie-Face: The Adventures of Anita Bryant
Kangagirl Productions
Yellow Venue

Recent gay history in mind, writer/actor David Lee was wise to resurrect his 2005 Fringe tour de force, Pie-Face, for this year's festivities. These are, after all, the days of Milk and Prejean, rendering the story's narrative — that of dimwitted '70s beauty queen Anita Bryant spewing her saccharine homophobia like so much Florida orange juice over the better judgment of our home state's social ineptitude — strikingly evergreen.

With a simple stage set of two chairs and two multibulbed bendy lamps, Lee and director Kenny Howard craft a camp story arc that mirrors both the amazing camaraderie groundswell and the tear-soaked frustration of the burgeoning gay rights movement. Effectively a one-man show, Lee's Pie-Face is ironically indebted to the one-woman fright mission of Bryant; by knowingly reducing her visage to that of an incoherent drag persona, Lee is able to communicate the relevance of his message without too heavy a hand.

In the end, Pie-Face blends its surface wit with a fair helping of tenderness, resulting in a flavor that tastes suspiciously like a banana cream surprise. Delicious.

Billy Manes

Waiting for Maupin
Water on the Brain Productions
Pink Venue

Witty, well-acted and still just rough enough around the edges, Waiting for Maupin is a very local parody of Christopher Guest's Waiting for Guffman. The slapstick comedy by Andy Haynes (with contributions from Lori McCaskill, who also co-directed) goes behind the scenes at a dreary, dutiful history of Orlando (This Land is … Ourlando).

There, we find a hilariously self-congratulatory company waiting for kudos from the theater critic (Elizabeth Maupin of the Orlando Sentinel), swinging wildly between preening and nail-biting. Along the way, of course, there is the show — and it does go on, detailing with wide-eyed enthusiasm Orlando's not-especially-heroic past in grainy videos, school-play vignettes, plummy voice-overs and sidesplitting spoofs.

Sets (by Nik Gromoll and James Erwin) and equally over-the-top costumes (Gromoll and McCaskill) underline fine — and finely ridiculous, always on the verge of teetering totally out of control — performances by Kevin Bee, Andrea Daveline, Steve Hurst, John Kelly, Josh Paul and Kimberly Shader.

The show's high point is its frenzied tribute to the back-to-back 2004 hurricanes, as the cast twirls and careens in "She's a Hurricane" ("She's a Maniac"), the pulsing disco fighting with the sounds of howling winds and the cast's ragged shouts.

The show-within-a-show was to captivate a critic, but Waiting for Maupin instead left its audience weak from laughter. Critic or no critic, this silly, sly, super-musical is the thing, enough all by itself to make Fringe fabulous.




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