; The murky blue-gray vista of an alien world swims nauseatingly on the multistory screen in front of me, while exploding frag grenades pummel my tympanic membrane from behind. The match ends, the spectators politely applaud, and I stumble for the cinedome exit before the next motion sickness–inducing round can begin.


; This is the Professional Gaming League's Halo 2 tournament, one of the highlights of Otronicon. The 10-day event is billed as an exploration of "the science, art and culture of videogames." Translation: Orlando Science Center is crammed with the toys parents usually have to drag kids away from in order to get them inside a "science center."

;; There is legitimate edu- with -tainment here, including daily Full Sail workshops and nifty military simulators to check out. But the main draw is the consoles. If you want to know who's winning the next-gen war, just look at the gaming rooms. The Xbox 360 lounge is downstairs, and the inhabitants look like they've been playing Gears of War nonstop for weeks. At the flashy elevated Playstation 3 display, patrons mostly sit for a few minutes, shrug and move on. Meanwhile, the terrace tent is filled with grinning soccer moms who just WiiBowled their first strike.

;; It's a bummer that the vintage machines cost quarters, and playing The Act (a buggy but brilliant animated arcade experiment about reading social cues instead of killing) reminded me of what's broken about most modern games: Joyful simplicity has been replaced by violent esoterica. Then again, where else can you see a cheering crowd worship a virtual rock god jamming to Spinal Tap on faux-guitar with a giant amp turned up to 11? (continuing 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Thursday, 4 p.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday at Orlando Science Center; $14.95 daily, passes available; 407-514-2000;


;;— Seth Kubersky

;;‘Seven Guitars'

;; In August Wilson's Seven Guitars, the air is always full: the crow of the neighbor's rooster, the crack of the chopping block and the constant crackle of blues on the radio. The Peoples Theatre, under the direction of Rus Blackwell, renders this world with lyrical passion. The year is 1948, the midpoint of Wilson's acclaimed decalogue on the 20th-century African-American experience. Floyd "Schoolboy" Barton (Contona Thomas) is a musician with "a hit record, but no hit record money" who returns home to Pittsburgh after three months incarceration in the workhouse for "laziness." The Hill District courtyard he returns to (as detailed by designer Kristen Abel with meticulous decrepitude) is dominated by a blood- and feather-strewn butcher block and a small but hopeful garden.


; A family of friends gathers here to speak, drink and sing: Vera (Marci Stringer), the woman Floyd left behind and now seeks to reclaim; her protective neighbor, Louise (Avis-Marie Barnes); her fast-living niece, Ruby (Trenell Mooring); fellow musicians Red (Randall Jackson) and Canewell (Barry G. White); and King Hedley (Dennis Neal), a beaten but proud chicken-peddler with a touch of messianic mania.


; The story is fueled by Floyd and Hedley's doomed dreams of self-improvement. Floyd wants Vera to come to Chicago with him, where he has a second chance at recording stardom; King has visions of getting out from under the heel of the white man and buying a plantation where he can rule. Issues of self-esteem and self-destruction propel them towards a tragic collision, with their community caught in the crossfire.


; To be frank, there isn't enough plot here to sustain the two-hours-plus running time; this story is more about music than action — not just the R&B that Floyd and his friends all too fleetingly perform, but the music of Wilson's language, which gives urban patois a Shakespearean sweep. Blackwell is as much a conductor as a director and is a masterful maestro. If there's something unbalanced in this orchestra, it's that Thomas, though fine in the central role, is overwhelmed by the exceptional cast around him. Neal's dissipated yet still raging lion of Judah is particularly astonishing, and there are some climactic moments of violence that weren't staged to fully evoke the catharsis that is called for. But such flaws don't negate the joys of cornbread in the oven, moonshine in the jar and a song of Buddy Bolden in the air. (8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through Jan. 28 at the Orlando Repertory Theatre; $15; 407-426-0545;


;;— SK

;;‘King Lear'

;; I'll bet George Bush feels like old King Lear, played by Jonathan Epstein in the Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival's current production, directed by Paul Barnes. Lear justifies the decisions and banishes the naysayers, like Kent (Steve Patterson), but he still ends up camping in the rain without a tent by Act Two. Lear feels his age and splits the kingdom among his three daughters. Youngest daughter Cordelia's (Brittany Morgan) leaden tongue gets her nothing but exile. Conniving sisters Goneril (Anne Hering) and Regan (Catherine Stork) win the property and immediately marry two even sleazier guys and turn on dad. The only people faithful to Lear are those he treats badly, including Kent, who shaves his head to return to his old boss — that's all the disguise needed in this world of iambic pentameter.


; As Lear's power and status shrink, his throne becomes progressively smaller, until the monstrous piece of furniture the Fool (Jim Ireland) lugs around becomes a smallish juggling prop. Now everything is set up, and it's time to paint the stage red. The splatter zone covers the two front center rows, and the ensemble mops up between scenes so no one slips and falls.


; I drifted during a few second-act speeches, but there was always a sword fight or an eye-gouging lurking to brighten things up. The Texas Chain Sword Fight entertained, as did the hilarious abuse of servant Oswald (Donte Bonner) and the bone-jarring pratfalls of the Fool. Still, this is a dark story, suitable for dark times, and like carborundum on sandpaper, it glitters with dark humor in a rough world. Sometimes you need to follow your heart, and sometimes you need to do what Leno advises. Take my advice — take their advice. (7 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, ;8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 4 at Lowndes Shakespeare Center; $12-$35; 407-447-1700;


;;— Al Pergande

;;ArtsFest correction

; In the Jan. 11 Culture to Go, we reported that festivalgoers were limited to four tickets but didn't clarify that it was four tickets per event. You can attend as many events as you wish. Also, the hosting United Arts of Central Florida reports that if there are any difficulties reserving tickets online (, you can call the specific performing group's box office for help with reservations. Tickets are available 10 a.m. Jan. 26.

; [email protected]
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