Saved by sorcery 

With several Sept. 11 charity efforts being met by outraged cries of "scam," where can a would-be donor safely place his or her trust? In a Goth, of course. Thursday, Nov. 29, at downtown's Cairo nightclub, a coterie of nocturnal crusaders will indulge their most mystical leanings in the name of terrorism relief.

The night's "Crystal Ball" masquerade bash will see Cairo's sarcophaguslike premises transformed into a fantasy playland modeled after the 1986 movie "Labyrinth." (Remember that one? It starred David Bowie and the Muppets, who at the time were relatively easy to tell apart.) According to co-organizer Sarah Newman, who cooked up the project with some friends in an Internet cabal called Florida Coven, the benefit's appeal will extend beyond the standard Goth crowd to Renaissance-fair habitués and fantasy fans -- anyone willing to dress up for a worthy occasion.

"We really wanted to make it something great," Newman says. "And there's no better ball than the ballroom scene in "Labyrinth." We're encouraging people to wear masks and elaborate face paints."

In addition to ornate decor and finery, the party will feature alternative fashion shows (complete with a stilt-walking demonstration), vendor booths, DJ tunes and live music by Gothic and industrial bands. Avoiding a mistake other recent fund-raisers have made, Newman and her circle have set admission at affordable price points: Tickets range from $15 to $30. (Go to or the DiVersions store in the Fashion Square Mall for advance tickets.)

Proceeds will be divided between the Heart of Central Florida United Way and the family of Carl Asaro, a fallen New York firefighter. According to Newman, Asaro's widow and seven children have already been victimized by one "charity" flim-flam. How appropriate that their new heroes wear capes.

How you doin'? Speaking of the Big Apple, two New York-bred, Orlando-based artists will host a Monday, Dec. 3, reception to inaugurate a monthlong exhibit of their work at the Dexter's restaurant in Thornton Park. Charles Marklin will display the fruits of an unconventional technique that involves painting in Venetian plaster on wood; Marklin's work tends to follow "women-in-distress" motifs, says his roommate, Andrew Spear, who gifts the show with large-scale images rendered in colored pencil. Spear's latest pieces explore escalating urban paranoia, and his voice drips with Noo Yawk 'tude as he tells how he failed out of Sarasota's Ringling School of Art & Design, where his chosen medium wasn't considered "serious" enough. Since then, his colored-pencil forays have become larger and more extensive.

"It started as a big 'fuck you,' and it's kind of turned into my own thing," Spear says. (The best things in life invariably do.)

Later the same evening, tongue-in-cheek conceptual artist Doug Rhödehamel decorates Stardust Video & Coffee with the follow-up to his warmly received Frankenshow of October. "Dangermobiles," it's called -- a name that denotes vicious-looking hanging arrangements, not nasty vehicles of some sort. To avoid cutting each other's throats (as it were), Rhödehamel and the Spear/Marklin team are busily cross-promoting, urging patrons to show up at Dexter's first, then proceed to Stardust to top off the evening. This is that "cooperative art" idea you hear bandied about every so often, but in its purest, simplest form: There's no hidden agenda and not a tax dollar was spent.

Fringe 4 less

The ticket price for the Monday, Dec. 3, Orlando Internation-al Fringe Festival fund-raiser at The Peacock Room is substantially lower than the $50 per person that was initially (and inaccurately) announced. Actual cost is $25 in advance and $30 at the door; couples' rates are $40 and $50. The fabulous OOPS Guys, who will perform at the Peacock benefit, are working on a sequel to their smash-hit revue, "Asian Sings the Blues," which they will premiere Feb. 19-24, 2002, at SAK Comedy Lab's second annual "Foolfest" comedy festival. The new show's title? "Asian Sings Mo' Better Blues." Let's hear it for linear thinking.

Grade A

The band Upstairs was the winner of the theme-song competition staged by the producers of the forthcoming TV sitcom Making the Grade `The Green Room, Oct. 25`. An original track by the group will be heard during the show's opening credits when it begins airing as a paid program on WUPN-TV (Channel 65), probably in January 2002 ... A Nov. 16 invitation-only screening at Universal Studios Florida offered a first look at some short films by I-Wonder Productions, a private (and apparently well-funded) firm that's been shooting away in semisecrecy over the past few months. The material that was unveiled -- two shorts and a trailer for a planned feature, "The Food Shopping Network" -- was more than adequate from a technical standpoint, though a bit flabby on the writing side. Some smartly cast Orlando actors raised the shorts (and especially the trailer) to a higher plane; I-Wonder would do well to keep working with such capable locals instead of hurtling headlong into the courting of name stars, as I've heard the company intends to do.

Alice unchained

Venezuelan-born art promoter Alice Laughlin presents a show of abstract paintings and mixed-media works by Brazilian emigré Marraca Dec. 12 at Winter Park's Decor & Space Concepts. Laughlin's focus has been increasingly local since her 2000 online venture, -- which facilitated direct sales of works by international artists -- suspended U.S. operations. Laughlin sounds relieved to be promoting events at area galleries and museums instead of shoveling dollars into "the dot-com deal," which she, like many others, found to be a commercial sinkhole.

But on the plus side, the Web is still a great place to shop for a spouse.

It isn't?

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