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The color of money

Green Is Universal

If you tuned into local station WESH-TV last week, you probably couldn’t help but notice that the Peacock Network had shed its usual Technicolor plumage for a more verdant hue. The NBC Universal multinational media conglomerate declared that “Green Is Universal,” starting with a week of eco-friendly sloganeering shoehorned into their regularly scheduled programming. The results ran the gamut from perplexing (The Today Show’s Al Roker live from the equator?) to pathetic (ER’s clumsy introduction of an “energy manager”) to profoundly parodic (David Schwimmer’s spokesfreak, “Greenzo,” on 30 Rock). And since corporate synergy knows no bounds, the effects of this Earth-friendly endeavor may still be felt locally long after the Scrubs pro-euthanasia PSA is but a painful memory.

Universal Orlando Resort has proudly announced that, in a “historic move for the theme park industry,” they will use “green” and “alternative” fuels in all of their service vehicles and mobile equipment. Diesel-powered engines will run on biodiesel, while gasoline will be replaced with ethanol blends. This, combined with a stronger emphasis on ongoing recycling and energy-conservation programs, is part of Universal’s effort to position itself as a more environmentally aware attraction.

CityWalk celebrated this savvy stroke of moral marketing Nov. 5-10 with a GreenFest that included the Nov. 10 Green Fair Street Festival, featuring organic food and eco-friendly vendors. This campaign could prove a clever way for Universal to wrest mindshare from its bigger neighbor, while at the same time doing some genuine good. But the devil is in the details, many of which are not yet available.

Ethanol can be eco-cost-effective, as Brazil has proven by becoming the Saudi Arabia of sugarcane. But in America, the ethanol industry is beholden to corn, thanks to tariffs and federal farm subsidy sops to agri-giants like Archer Daniels Midland. Corn is an inefficient fuel source compared to sugarcane or hemp, and its increased use as ethanol is contributing to mounting worldwide food prices. Still, it’s a step in the right direction in an industry that doesn’t often see farther than next quarter’s bottom line. Hopefully, the unintended consequences of Universal’s good intentions will at least balance out, leaving the company’s carbon footprint no larger than before.

— Seth Kubersky

Keys of life

The Piano Lesson
Through Nov. 18
UCF Conservatory Theatre
$15; 407-823-1500

The dead have a pact with the living. That’s both the central idea of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson and a lyrical refrain delivered by the unseen gospel choir in UCF’s handsome new production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play. In this, the fourth installment of Wilson’s 10-part “Pittsburgh Cycle,” siblings Boy Willie (David Tate) and Berniece (Sidonie Smith) struggle over the sale of an ancestral upright piano. Willie wants to sell the instrument so that he can buy the land he sharecrops, land owned by the descendant of those who once enslaved their family. Berniece clings to it out of respect for that same blood legacy, a history that is literally carved into the piano’s wood.

Their battle of wills threatens to wake the uneasy dead of ancient oppression, whose folk-art faces peer down on us from behind the peeling wallpaper of designer William Boles’ magic-realist set. Director Belinda Boyd has assembled a well-balanced cast, painting a naturalist portrait of working-class African-Americans at the nadir of the Great Depression. Tate holds nothing back in embodying a man determined to leave his mark on the world; Smith is equally passionate, perilously trapped between her reverence for precedent and her fear of the future. The rest of the cast gives strong support, with Michael Baugh’s endearingly oily Lymon and Alex Lewis’s magnanimous mooch Wining Boy providing much-needed mirth, and A.C. Sanford grounding things with grumbling gravitas.

At times The Piano Lesson feels like Long Day’s Journey Into Night with more ghosts and fewer narcotics; both dramas have a three-hour length and are circular in their rehashing of familial failures. That repetition comes in handy when the authentic-feeling dialects overwhelm enunciation. But, as in much of Wilson’s work, the music is often more important than the text: The music of ancient ivories yearning to be played, of an impromptu work-chant thumped out over rotgut whiskey, or just the song of the past, whispering insistently to the present that it will not be forgotten. — SK

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