The lessons of history 

Questions are bound to surround the $35 million Orange County Regional History Center, whose arrival last weekend in the old Orange County Courthouse building was the latest attempt to bring culture downtown.

Is it worth the cost? Will the predicted 75,000 first-year visitors show up? Is it more educational than, say, happy hour at

Don't be put off by the first floor's view of the Orange Dome, a hanging pastiche of local icons -- space shuttles, manatees, Universal Studios' King Kong -- that's pure FAO Schwarz. The upper levels house the meatier exhibits, including displays of Native American artifacts that complement a running story of forced relocation.

A neighboring display allows us to stand inside a replica of an actual sinkhole, a bit of geographic self-ribbing that continues as we travel downstairs: On the third floor, a monitor replays vintage TV commercials produced by the Florida Orange Growers.

When Anita Bryant walks in the door, tolerance goes out the window. Still, the second-floor " target="_blank"Creating Communities" gallery lauds our area as a demographic patchwork quilt. The results are mixed. The display of "whites only" signs is a sobering sight, but a description of the 1920 Ocoee riot is far too timid. Saying that the town "suffered racial violence" is less specific than other terms that could be used, like "massacre."

The shadow of Disney falls on a third-floor exhibit that marks Uncle Walt's discovery of Orlando with the ominous legend "The Day We Changed." Curious choices afflict the three-dimensional Central Florida map that rests a few feet away. It took a battery of center personnel to help me find Universal, which is represented by a mock-up of the (long-gone) "Psycho" house that's misplaced to the west of the Magic Kingdom. In contrast, Belz Factory Outlet is absurdly visible. (So where's the toy light-rail line?)

Almost as prominent is a model of International Drive's WonderWorks attraction. This is a landmark? It is to owner John Morgan, whose Morgan, Colling & Gilbert law firm is listed as both an annual and "Cornerstone Level" donor on the center's wall of contributors.

A sturdier legal tradition lives on in the restored Courtroom -- a nod to the building's origins -- which should prove a charming environment for promised mock trials and re-enactments. But after hours of rubbing elbows with the ghosts of lawyers and orange growers, the most interesting tidbit I picked up was this: Tattooing and body piercing are Florida traditions that date back to the Timucuan tribe. Read and learn, Madam Mayor.

Bovine hand

The Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival has come to the aid of the Mad Cow Theatre Company, inviting the troupe to stage its production of Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard Oct. 26 through Nov. 19 at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center in Loch Haven Park.

Plans to stage the play in the vacant space beneath BAR Orlando [The Green Room, Sept. 21] collapsed when the club's owners demanded payment to turn their music off during show times. Alan Bruun, Mad Cow's co-artistic director, says that the paid silence wouldn't have lasted past 10 p.m., forcing the Cows to begin performances at 7 p.m. or earlier.

After the Lowndes run ends, the company will resume its search for a permanent home. Bruun doesn't rule out a downtown location, but says he's gained "a good sense of the challenges" the city and the Central Florida Theatre Alliance face in making the area fit for theater.

The below-BAR space will instead become a gallery/studio for visual artists. And it comes with its own soundtrack!

General grumbling

When General Cinemas closed its four Orlando-area multiplexes last Friday, it didn't merely infringe on the public's right to a screening of "Space Cowboys" every 20 minutes. It deprived Maitland's Enzian Theater of a reliable secondary site for its annual Florida Film Festival -- a role GC's Colonial Promenade on East Colonial Drive played in four of the last five years.

"It's a loss," says Matthew Curtis, Enzian's program director. "Every year, the Promenade did better and better."

Moving across the street to AMC's Fashion Village 8, Curtis believes, would likely continue Colonial's success in attracting downtown and south-Orlando crowds. But the Regal Winter Park Village 20 is also "a very high option right now," he says. The theater lies just over a mile south of Enzian, promising speedy location-hopping to patrons and jurors.

The long shot? A return to the Annie Russell Theatre at Rollins College, which subbed for the Promenade in 1997. "Annie Russell was very expensive and time-intensive," Curtis recalls, "[but] I'd never say never again." His caution is justified; after eight more months of multiplex failures, he may have to look at Park Eleven.

Wake up and smell the coffin

If the news of General's pullout ruined your day, it also wrecked what was supposed to be a happy 24 hours for Ralph Clemente.

"In my horoscope, I had a 9," laments the inveterate moviegoer, who also serves as the director of the Valencia Community College film program.

Searching for a silver lining, Clemente hopes that one of the mothballed theaters will donate a 35mm projector to his school's East Campus Performing Arts Center. I don't know if I'd expect charity from GC right now, but at least the equipment would match the sprocket holes of Florida City, the 35mm drama that will be shown as a work-in-progress Saturday, Nov. 4., as the closing-night feature in this year's Valencia Film Celebration -- the annual showcase of high-gloss collaborations between students and industry pros.

A murder mystery set in the days before Pearl Harbor, "Florida City" is "a film I've been trying to make for 15 years," says Clemente, who directed. Friday's feature is a work-in-progress with a different slant: "Virgins" is a comedy about a sexually inexperienced 26-year-old. "It's actually quite clean," Clemente says. (Awwwww.)

A Q&A with "Florida City's" creative team is being mulled to goose the VFC's appeal. Parties at downtown clubs are another possibility -- including Tabu, where some "Virgins" scenes were shot.

We can hear it now: "Can I buy you a drink? Well, how about a projector?"

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