Culture 2 Go

Way beyond TMI
Through Sept. 19 at Greater Orlando Actors Theatre, 669 Cherry St.,
Winter Park; 407-872-8451

We know; love hurts. And watching it hurt, even from the next bistro table or a theater seat, hurts too. But the pain in Closer, the production of Patrick Marber's searing drama, went well over the top on opening night — again and again and again. As in the 2004 film based on the play (starring Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen and Jude Law), two couples meet and mix it up in ways at first unpredictable and then abrasively raw.

Obit writer Dan (John Bateman) picks up Alice (Bunny Fitzgerald), literally, after a London cab hits her. She meets dermatologist Larry (Wyatt Glover) when he passes her in the emergency room, on his way out for a smoke. Fast forward, in one of many hard-to-follow blinks in and out of real-time sequencing: Dan, now living with Alice, is in the photography studio of foxy Anna (Nikki Darden), posing for his new novel's jacket cover shot and acting the adolescent horndog.

Anna's eye-rolls don't keep her from falling for Dan, and a predictable — but also fiendishly clever — series of tangled webs are woven and torn apart as the couples fall in and out of love. The patterns are almost too intricate to follow; some of the changing scenes are far apart in time, others so close that they could not be closer. To bring Anna and Larry together — or was it to punish Anna for toying with him? — Dan plays an online sex game with the doctor, pretending to be a lusty Anna.

The two sit together on GOAT's black-box stage, surrounded by steep risers on three sides and picked out of the dark by sharp spotlights. Close because they are online together, we understand that they are in two different spaces — Dan at his obit desk, Larry at the hospital. The same arch trick is played when the two couples spar, literally side by side but in two separate living rooms, turning the audience into inadvertent and, a little too frequently, uncomfortable voyeurs.

Round and round the games go, revolving around issues of love and kindness but devolving into insults. These confrontations beg for the sort of betrayals that finally end the not-very-merry-go-round, as Alice disappears once again — this time not to a strip club but back to New York. It's a compelling series of vignettes, setting up situations and twisting them before demolishing them, but one that needs a fine balance between out-of-control agony and witty gamesmanship.

In a blank black box, with constant shifting of props and characters, director Paul Castaneda's Closer was doubly disconcerting: edgy and bold, with brilliant structure and piercing, insightful lines, it didn't go all the way. The emotions were out there, especially during the boo-hoo histrionics that finally made Bateman appear buffoonish, but only Glover's performance had the depth, and even ironic humor, to seem real. In the end, what hurt wasn't the pain onstage but how near Closer came to mining modern relationships; Castaneda just needs to get a little closer.

Laura Stewart

On the brink
11th Bi-annual Southeastern Photography Invitational: The Document
Through Oct. 24 at Crealdé School of Art
600 St. Andrews Blvd., Winter Park

Both aged and youthful faces peer out from this edition of Crealdé's twice-a-year photography invitational. Their peaceful presence dots the gallery otherwise full of sentimental portraits of our country's decaying infrastructure and nature both wild and managed. Photographers Daniel Biferie, Perry Dilbeck and Peter Singhofen add quite a few narrative elements of varying scales to complete their collaboration; each artist brings an individual sensibility, yet together they create a tranquil pause in the torrent of difficult times.

Singhofen's autobiographical journey along Florida's Highway 1 seeks out scenes once viewed in his youth, more than 40 years ago. Shot with a toy Holga camera, his psychological experiment tries to place his mind in the same framework as when he originally saw these places — freshly painted, busy with people — lending an eerie tone to each image. The time-warp effect is most intensely felt in the one-point perspective of a building in Gilbert, S.C., its aging face still beautiful and intact, yet forlorn, abandoned and forgotten.

Biferie boldly uses his own family as subject matter, and the series of portraits of his son from womb to puberty narrates the story of a serious, dark-eyed boy. Subtle image manipulation enhances the power of the pieces, yet the overwhelming sense of control — both of the images and the narrative — puts the artist squarely in the viewer's mind, more so than the story of the child. The dark, moody tones of the work, especially in "Robby With Frogs," turn a boy's natural fascination with creatures into a weird mad-scientist scene.

Dilbeck's documentary on Georgia truck farmers has a deliberate micro-scale quality, focusing on a handful of peas, a freezer and the dial of a scale among the dignified faces posed amidst their implements. While Dilbeck set out to document a vanishing lifestyle, he also imbues the scenes with a timeless quality. "Parker's Barn" could be a hundred years old, yet it remains fresh and beautiful in its simplicity.

Overall, there's a sense of endings in this collaboration, most poignantly evoked by Dilbeck's "Old Bahia Honda Bridge," which abruptly ends over the water facing the viewer. These well-composed images beg to connect the viewer with the greater endings affecting the world today, and leave a nostalgia for our late 20th-century existence.

Rex Thomas

Wild Wonderland in the works
Through Sept. 19 at Greater Orlando Actors Theatre, 669 Cherry St.,
Winter Park; 407-872-8451

In this version of Alice in Wonderland, it's Halloween night, and sullen student Maryann (Heather McClendon) is resigned to sitting at home with her little brother, Harold (Orlando Weekly staffer Trevor Fraser, appropriately anxious and annoying), while their codependent cougar mother (Cynthia McClendon) goes out on the prowl.

Maryann invites her friend Dee (Caitlin Bowden Carney) over for low-key libations, but Dee's dumbass boyfriend (Robert DelMedico) spreads the word to his gate-crashing buddies. Before she can evict the interlopers, someone slips Maryann a spiked drink and she tumbles down the rabbit hole, hallucinating that she is Alice in an acid-soaked Wonderland. She has tea (or not) with the Mad Hatter (Viet Nguyen in an umbrella beanie) and the March Hare (David McCarty, amusingly incomprehensible); engages in sapphic smooches with a slutty Cheshire Kat (Tara Corless); and gets molested by a creepy Caterpillar (E.J. Younes) — all before the Red Queen returns.

Alice is the first multi-hyphenated effort from author-director-producer-performer Terri Giannoutsos. She and co-writer McClendon have been kicking around various Alice in Wonderland for years. Their final product, while feeling unfinished, sets up an intriguing twist on the classic (with a few clever Lewis Carroll-isms, like a "Caucus-race").

Performances are uneven, but contain sparks: McClendon and Fraser bring snap to their sibling snarking, and Tiffany Spencer's cheese-doodle-devouring Dormouse is adorable. I appreciated the lighthearted winks at the low-tech effects and the absurd offer of an optional intermission. Alice needs some more rehearsal to alleviate an overall awkwardness, and a rewrite to smooth clunky transitions. But for $5, this trip through the looking glass makes a low-risk theatrical nightcap.

Seth Kubersky

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