Fringe feedback

2010 Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival
; Through Monday, May 31
; Lowndes Shakespeare Center and the Orlando Repertory Theatre
; Loch Haven Park
; 812 E. Rollins St.

Buttons $8; 
shows free-$10

A Brighter Shade of Blue
Paul Strickland
;Brown Venue
;5/26 WED 9:20 pm
;5/28 FRI 8:35 pm
;5/30 SUN 5:40 pm 

Paul Strickland's A Brighter Shade of Blue had the dubious honor of being the very first show of the 2010 Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival. So, while the VIPs were watching Patty Sheehan speechify and snacking on lamb chops at the opening ceremony, Strickland was pouring his heart out to a dozen patrons in the Brown Venue.

That kind of dissing seems par for the course for Strickland, a Louisville, Ky.-based stand-up comedian who has mined his divorce for material. Luckily for those of us in attendance, his comic monologue turned out to be a delectable Fringe appetizer.

Strickland weaves together episodic observations from his journey toward "learning to love the things you want to hate" into an elliptical but ultimately satisfying circle. He's got a way with words, and you can hear how his segments about Southern stupidity – "dangdurn" is a noun and verb, trailer park optimists are drunk at both 3:30s, and please don't skin deer in your motel room – would kill in a comedy club. 

But Strickland's show is more than a series of joke setups; he builds themes slowly but steadily through a series of blackout-punctuated arcs. Though his tale of being "downsized" by his wife gets a little cynical in the home stretch, the self-pity is leavened by laughter. In the end, Strickland comes across like a lighter, less-profane Kevin Smith. He could use a director to help break up some static stage blocking, but otherwise this is a solid pick for best male monologist not named TJ Dawe.

— Seth Kubersky

The Cody Rivers Show Presents – Right Back Where We Finished
Orange Venue 
;5/27 THU 10:30 pm
;5/28 FRI 6:40 pm
;5/29 SAT 6:55 pm

A recession-strapped football coach tries to explain the labyrinthian rules of rugby to his team with the rapid-fire patter of a car dealership disclaimer. A pair of trivia-spouting brothers competes in an epic roshambo face-off. A prairie dog and ant colony battle over the fate of an errant candy bar. These are but a handful of the inexplicable skits you'll experience in Right Back Where We Finished, the latest comic triumph from the Cody Rivers Show. Cody Rivers' head-spinning blend of verbal trickery and physical tomfoolery was the smash hit of the last two Fringes, and this year looks to be no different.

Creator/performers Mike Mathieu and Andrew Connor barely need to walk onstage to pull a laugh, with their matching mohawks and Epcot-style teal-and-orange outfits. Once they start in with their goofy yet deceptively graceful dancing, lexicographical absurdities (an entire scene in over-elaborate archaic English, with doors christened "hinge-wall-pass-through-hole-plug") and sudden, surreal scene shifts – well, I fell off my back-crack.

Whether engaging in an improv conversation with an audience member over a tin can telephone or telling the tale of Mittens the Forklift-Driving Snake through Mummenschanz-style puppet hands, Cody Rivers is never less than endlessly inventive. We can argue whether this year's edition is less thematically coherent than previous ones, but by they time they bust out into a percussive pantomime ping-pong kung-fu brawl, you'll be laughing too hard to care.

— Seth Kubersky

Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical
;Warren Acting Co.
;Silver Venue
;5/27 THU 10:20 pm
;5/29 SAT Noon
;5/30 SUN 5:20 pm

Little Shop of Horrors. Reefer Madness.  Evil Dead. In recent decades, a rash of no-budget cult classic films has been successfully reimagined as campy off-Broadway musicals. Add to that list the notorious 1978 porn film, Debbie Does Dallas, which Susan L. Schwartz and Andrew Sherman turned into a never-nude tuner for the 2002 New York Fringe. But, based on the version being presented by the Warren Acting Co., I'm not so sure about that "successfully" part. 

The musical follows the original skin flick's plot (such as it is) almost precisely. Debbie Benton (Melissa Mason), virginal captain of her high-school cheerleading team, has an audition to fulfill her fantasy of becoming a Texas Cowgirl Cheerleader. Only her blue-balled boyfriend (John Gracey) and a lack of traveling money stand between Debbie and her Dallas dreams. So her vampish "frenemy" Lisa (a hilariously hissing Katie Hammond) and fellow teammates help Debbie earn cash by creating a business called "Teen Services" (insert obligatory hand flourish here) and offering their ample abilities to any man with a Hamilton in his pocket. Along the way, they are engaged by lotharios like a tap-dancing Eric Pinder and a Don King–wigged Michael Carr in exuberant (if fully-clothed) orgies set to a pop-pastiche soundtrack. 

The score is serviceable if uninspired. Amanda Warren's choreography is appropriately awkward. And, much as he did with 2008's Reefer Madness: The Musical, director Joel Warren stuffs every scene and set change with sight gags, ranging from the silly (dancing stagehands who snag dropped props like Wimbledon ball boys) to the sickening (beware pubic protrusions and low-slung scrota). As the lead, Mason is as innocently sexy and (ahem) spunky as you could ask; though an awful opening-night sound mix did her fine voice no favors.

There is a solid 50-plus minutes of entertainment in this show; unfortunately it runs for 90 minutes. Funny bits lose their bite after the fourth or fifth repetition, and even the clever transitions set to '70s TV tunes grow tedious. With some severe pruning this show could make a polished hour's entertainment. As it is, Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical too closely resembles its cinematic antecedents: You'll get your fill of what you came for long before the credits roll.

— Seth Kubersky

The Dream Express
The Per4mAnts
;Yellow Venue
;5/27 THU 5:05 pm
;5/28 FRI 8:30 pm
;5/29 SAT 3:20 pm

This delightfully decadent cabaret features the talents of Joe Swanberg and Rebecca Fisher as an ex-husband-and-wife team of boozed-up, blissed-out and banged-around mini-talents. They pass through their professional lives in a down-and-out barroom, singing schlock rock tunes and dispensing inane psychological advice.

The book, by Len Jenkin, features some great writing, although many of the best lines are not family-friendly. David Lee's languorous direction allows Swanberg to slither around the stage like a python on Quaaludes or tickle his electric piano with all the studiousness of a ghost tripping out on magic mushrooms. Meanwhile, Fisher gets the chance to launch into ridiculous country, R&B, blues and bad disco versions of silly songs.

The Dream Express is escapist fun, especially if you like your amusements with an 80-proof kick that makes you wonder the next day what it was you actually did the night before.    

— Al Krulick

The Great American 
Trailer Park Musical
TheaterWorks Florida
;Silver Venue
;5/26 WED 6 pm
;5/28 FRI 8:10 pm
;5/29 SAT 11:20 pm
;5/30 SUN 7:30 pm

For sheer polish and pizzazz, it will be hard to top TheaterWorks Florida's production of The Great American Trailer Park Musical.  This is one of this year's biggest Fringe shows equipped with a real set, a live band and more than enough talent in the cast to fill the large Silver Venue at the Orlando Repertory Theatre. When I saw the musical, the room was packed with several hundred happy fans, and if word-of-mouth does its job, this production is headed for well-deserved sellouts.

The musical, with a book by Betsy Kelso, and music and lyrics by David Nehls, opened off-Broadway in 2005 and had its first regional presentation at the Hippodrome State Theatre in Gainesville in 2006. Its plot is silly, its language racy and profane and its politics un-PC. But there is a great amount of wit and self-parody in the material, and director Scott Cook's imaginative staging and choreography support a terrific cast of singers and comedians. It was great visiting y'all on the other side of the tracks.

— Al Krulick

Lucky 9
Big Sandwich/TJ Dawe
;Yellow Venue
;5/26 WED 11:50 pm
;5/28 FRI 6:50 pm
;5/29 SAT 10:50 pm

After all the years I've listened to TJ Dawe's monologues at the Fringe, I've come to think of him as a dear friend whose life story is somehow important to me. Although we've never actually met, and he doesn't have a clue as to who I am, I'm always anxious to hear how he's getting along and whether or not he's made any headway into achieving the happiness he so clearly deserves.

I'm glad to report that TJ is doing well and in Lucky 9, his latest theatrical incarnation, we learn that he's finally settled into his own apartment, managed to hold onto a steady girlfriend and made important inroads in communicating with his family. We also get some insight into TJ's latest intellectual pursuits as he regales us with a treatise on personality types, a tutorial on parenting, a lecture on addiction and an exegesis on an HBO series that I never watched myself but was glad to find out that it helped bring TJ and his father closer together. 

Trust me, if you want to discover what your friend TJ has been up to these past few years, catch Lucky 9.

— Al Krulick

Peg O'Keef Fixes the World
;DiDonna Productions/
;Empty Spaces Theatre Co.
;Brown Venue
;5/29 SAT 1:40PM
;5/30 SUN 7:10PM

OK, let's face it: One actress, even if she is practically a goddess, can't really do what's promised in this DiDonna Productions/Empty Spaces Theatre Co. hit: Peg O'Keef Fixes the World.

But just trying, with a kaleidoscope of characters, played by a team of veteran Orlando-area actors, is enough. Singled out to bring "a happy ending" to all tragedies – and they're biggies, from Cain's slaying of Abel to Romeo's suicide to the cinematic sinking of the Titanic – O'Keef travels through time by twirling in front of a projected Twilight Zone–style spiral.

At each stop, cast and audience revel in playwright Steve Schneider's nonstop in-jokes and groan-inducing puns, poking fun at everything from Bithlo to Gov. Crist. Dazed and confused, O'Keef whines to her new boss, the oracular voice-over she reaches via Blackberry who explains chuckles "we" took over from God. 

She gives Cain and Abel Grand Theft Auto to pacify them, rolling her eyes. She stops Romeo's dagger just in time, and then goes and takes matters into her own hands: She puts him and Juliet (Trenell Mooring as a giggling teen) on eHarmony and, finally, talks them out of their star-crossed romance. Whew!

So much for happy endings. Flaky, fast-paced, so giddily tacky that the beard President Lincoln (Marty Stonerock) wears keeps slipping and Juliet can't resist blowing kisses to her audience, the multimedia extravaganza is silly and a lot of goofball fun.

— Laura Stewart

… Some Other Day
Schave & Reilly
;Pink Venue
;5/28 FRI 5:05 pm
;5/29 SAT 8 pm
;5/30 SUN 3:20 pm

A man dressed in Depression-era duds tumbles onstage, tugged along by a spirited scarf. A woman also emerges, similarly ensnared. They lie down side-by-side, and then silently struggle to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Again and again they are bedeviled by bad weather, body odor and the odd ticking time bomb. Each time they fall, only to be revived by the summons of an ethereal gong. And so their slow-motion tango of tragedy trips endlessly along … or does it?

That distillation is the only plot summary I can supply for … Some Other Day, the second Orlando Fringe entry from vaudeville clown couple Schave & Reilly. The pair was my Fringe crush of 2009, and I'm still as in love with their talents as ever. Where last year's Department of Angels was a sweetly simple slapstick with a heartbreaking finale, … Some Other Day is the opposite: abstract and melancholy with just a ray of relief (or at least release) at the end. The nameless characters they play this time would be right at home in the world of Waiting for Godot.

It's hard to verbalize this team's ineffable appeal, but between their eclectic instrumental soundtrack and inspired imagery, they elevate mere physical comedy to the level of art. I'll confess that this year's show is a touch less polished than last; many segments (like a drunken tumbling routine) are technically impressive, but the episodic structure and sketchy characterizations stymie the emotional through line. 

I appreciated the existential issues the ending raises: Is this a meditation on reincarnation, a Jacob's Ladder–type dying reverie or a vision of purgatory? Any baggy-pants comedy that can make you ask questions like that is more than worth your 10 bucks.

— Seth Kubersky

The Shakespeare Show: Or, How an Illiterate Son of a Glover Became the Greatest Playwright in the World
;Orange Venue
;5/26 WED 9:35 pm
;5/28 FRI 8:20 pm
;5/29 SAT 9 pm

The duo that acted up a storm in The Shakespeare Show: Or, How an Illiterate Son of a Glover Became the Greatest Playwright in the World were pithy, witty and wonderful. The hour-long show put klieg lights on powerhouse talents. 

Ryan Gladstone not only played a nimble-tongued, brilliantly scatterbrained "Horse-Holder Will," a wide-eyed actor wannabe whose main gig is holding horses' reins – an Elizabethan valet – he also wrote the so-called Tragical History & Lamentable Comedy! And Tara Travis, like Gladstone, playing such a multitude of characters that it would have been easy to confuse them, also created the three-in-one Weird Sisters puppets that could have stolen the show. 

But Gladstone and Travis never lost control of the wacky, elegantly constructed farce, directed by Karen Hamm. Changing character at breakneck speed, they presented a series of outrageous – and outrageously fortunate – star turns. They were mime artists in the thumb-biting contest, a sly nod to Wild West shootouts, and they were drop-dead funny in the plague skit, literally. Travis was a howl as Elizabeth, in a red-velvet-and-pearl beehive, who forces William Shakespeare, the beard for the real playwright, Edward de Vere, to produce poems. And then, bug-eyed, she savors his drivel. 

Gladstone's sendup is exquisite, as was the May 22 treatment by the dynamic actors from RibbitREpublic of Vancouver, B.C. They didn't miss a beat, making the most of each fleeting nuance to its fullest and implying much more.

— Laura Stewart

Tod Kimbro: Robots
;Stole My Piano
Tod Kimbro
;Red Venue
;5/26 WED 6 pm
5/29 SAT 5:20 pm
;5/30 SUN 4 pm

Tod Kimbro is one Central Florida's most original musicians and maybe even one of the most talented, idiosyncratic and compelling talents ever to emerge from the Fringe scene. He is always interesting to listen to and great fun to watch. Whether he is pounding away on the keyboard like a punk Jerry Lee Lewis or covering songs by Billy Joel, Elton John or David Bowie, his piano stylings and rich vocals are constantly inventive and always abundantly theatrical.

When he performs his own compositions from various musicals he has written over the years, one truly gets a sense of his originality and the expansive breadth of his musical tastes. His electro-cabaret Tod Kimbro: Robots Stole My Piano, is simply another opportunity to check in with this deservedly celebrated local performer. Always ready to ramp the musical dial up a notch, don't miss the chance to see him perform a John Lennon tune accompanied on his I-phone.

— Al Krulick

(Find more reviews on the Culture 2 Go blog at

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