Torch bearer turns on the heat 

It looks as if you can't put on live theater at the Parliament House these days without infighting and character assassination rearing their ugly heads. First the extended run of the two-character spoof "Trailer Trash Tabloid" came to an abrupt end amid a flurry of finger-pointing and legalese (The Green Room, Nov. 16). Now its replacement -- Torch Productions' staging of Charles Busch's "Times Square Angel," set to bow Dec. 8 -- is the subject of a bitter dispute of its own.

Producer/director Steve Gardiner alleges that his former stage manager and cast member, Winnie Wenglewick, tried to steal the show away from him -- and almost succeeded. Without his knowledge, Gardiner claims, Wenglewick secured rights from the Samuel French organization for a simultaneous production of the play, then announced to his cast that their contracts with Gardiner's Torch Productions were null and void. She also changed rehearsal locations without his OK, he maintains, ultimately "scaring off" his director and forcing Gardiner to grab those reins himself.

The controversy has its roots at Performance Space Orlando, the Mills Avenue black-box theater Wenglewick owned and operated until its closing this year. Gardiner came on board as a business partner last summer, but in September, PSO went under anyway. Gardiner stuck with Wenglewick to present an October production of "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom" at the Studio Theatre; by its completion, he estimates, he was $5,000 in the hole.

Gardiner says he still trusted Wenglewick implicitly -- until her attempted takeover of "Times Square Angel."

"She just saw it as the golden apple and tried to take it away," he charges.

Why his cast members would be susceptible to the alleged hijacking, and wouldn't ask for written proof that their contracts had been voided, Gardiner can't guess. But he volunteered to fax copies of the relevant paperwork (including Wenglewick's contracts as stage manager and featured actor) to my desk. At press time, they hadn't been received.

Wenglewick's comments so far? A brief message left on my answering machine from a phone in Denver, Colo. Describing Gardiner and Torch as "idiots," she promised to share her side of the story via a detailed e-mail in the near future. When that one comes in, get a seat down front.

You OBET your life:

In contrast, The Orlando Black Essential Theatre is the picture of wellness. Yes, the group did have to postpone its September production of "Flying West" until sometime next year; according to artistic/executive director Michelle Nicole Falana, an out-of-town emergency befell one of its cast members. But everything's a go for OBET to enact George C. Wolfe's "The Colored Museum" Dec. 8-10 at the Darden Theater in the Orlando Science Center.

At least the Dec. 8 and 9 performances are set in stone; the Sunday, Dec. 10, matinee is slightly up in the air. As Trilemma Productions discovered during its recently completed run of "Sister Calling My Name" -- the first of the Darden's forays into live theater -- daytime shows there are a sticky business. For the actors to be heard, a noisy air-conditioning system must be disengaged, thus depriving the entire facility of cool oxygen. The tug-of-war between Trilemma's artistic requirements and the comfort of the OSC's regular visitors had Sunday performances of "Sister" dropping in and out of the schedule at the 11th hour.

"I'm hoping that it's resolved by [December]," Falana says.

Whatever the upshot of the A/C wars, OBET and Trilemma will soon meet to discuss the possibility of splitting the Darden season between them; three or four shows by the former would alternate with three by the latter. In the meantime, the two companies will make a joint contribution to a holiday program for children of incarcerated parents that's set for Dec. 9 at Calvary Assembly Church in Winter Park. A quiet ceiling fan would be a nice touch.

Blowin' up:

The opening up of the Darden isn't the science center's only effort to overhaul its image. Now hanging in the fourth-floor TechWorks area is "Microscapes," a touring art exhibit that deliberately courts a more mature crowd, or at least one that's more scientifically inclined. (And if you think that a science center should by definition cater to the scientific mind, you don't know how basic some of the OSC's previous programs have been.)

In "Microscapes," high-magnification photographs expose the hidden details of natural processes and technological equipment. The results are startling not only in their aesthetic beauty but also in the similarity they display to objects in the macrocosm: Viewed large, a red-and-blue silicon chip becomes an American flag with its colors reversed, and an image of sulfur crystals magnified 6,600 times resembles anemone growing from a seabed. There's enough unexpected symmetry to support the belief that ours is an ordered universe, and enough color to raise strong suspicions that God is a third-semester art student.

A scanning electron microscope rests in the center of the gallery, allowing patrons to view and capture the innermost details of any random object they bring in for perusal. Their intimate portraits of rose petals, bee bodies and even bathroom tissue will take the place of "Microscapes'" 50 standard images when the exhibit moves on to New York next April.

Somebody, please bring in a hanging chad. I'm dying to know what one looks like up close.

Warsaw packed:

A flier hung outside Maitland's Enzian Theater invites the public to show up at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 2., for a free screening of "Clay," a local film that's said to feature a lead performance by "Polish actor Ted Chaski." Has target marketing gone too far? No, it's just the twisted sense of humor of writer/director Billy Holley, who rented the theater for his movie's premiere. Holley had planned to promote his star as a "polished" actor, but decided the ethnic variant was more of an eye-catcher. (It got him in this column.)

A 73-minute drama about one man's guilt over the long-ago death of his younger brother, Clay was written, shot and edited by Holley in a marathon creative session that began last July and ended on Election Day. "I will never do it all by myself again," says the first-time auteur, whose former output was limited to music videos and documentaries.

One of those nonfiction works may be shown with "Clay" at the Enzian. It's a 20-minute short made up of interviews with the "background actors" whose unknown mugs fill the frames of Central Florida film and TV productions. Holley knows the territory well, having logged supporting screen time in "From the Earth to the Moon," "Armageddon" and "The Waterboy."

"I have a real big feel for background actors," he says. Especially the Polish ones.

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