The popular perception that summertime is slow season for Orlando theater has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, resulting in a performance pause in the period between Independence and Labor days. This year several upstarts are bucking the seasonal paralysis to which their more-established siblings succumb. And for some reason, they're all in Winter Park.
Last weekend, Rob Yoho and Aléa Figueroa-Yoho (who appeared in my 2005 Oedipus) inaugurated their Eyes Pry'd Open Theatre Company with Danny and the Deep Blue Sea. The 1983 play, by prize-winning Doubt and Moonstruck playwright John Patrick Shanley, brings together two desperate drunken loners (Dustin Schwab and J. Hannah White) for a night of conversation, copulation and possibly human connection. Under the motto "Theatre in a Found Space," the Yohos staged this liquor-soaked script inside Paddy McGee's in Winter Park, an actual bar. Despite a few acting and acoustic miscues, they made great use of the authentic setting, cleverly blurring the line between patron and performer.
A few miles west on Fairbanks Avenue, the Breakthrough Theatre opened around the corner from the freshly expanded Winter Park Playhouse. Performances begin Wednesday, July 22-26, with a teen summer camp staging of Godspell, followed by the Welcome to the 60's musical revue in August. Breakthrough, the brainchild of longtime Orange County high school drama teacher Wade Hair, is a "non-Equity community theater" with a mission to "provide a communal presence to help local performers thrive, and unlock the artistic potential of every Central Florida resident." They'll pursue that through a mainstage season of musical comedy, including A … My Name Will Always Be Alice in September, Quilt: A Musical Celebration in November and Neil Simon's Jake's Women in January.
Elsewhere in the 32789, the big news in theatrical real estate is Greater Orlando Actors Theatre's new Cherry Street theater. Last October, GOAT settled into the former Cruises Only building on Colonial Drive. They put considerable effort into rehabilitating the space and resurrecting the historic "Cameo Theatre" name, so it was surprising when GOAT announced their evacuation. As GOAT co-founder Paul Castaneda tells me, the move was motivated by the inability to control outsiders' access; it's hard to put on a play when you arrive pre-show to find your risers rearranged, lights refocused and property puked on.
The move a few I-4 exits east to a commercial block south of Fairbanks appears positive for the GOAT group. They've got a professional-looking ticketing area and an ample lobby with a bar offering Blue Moon (always a plus). In the theater space, Castaneda and crew have worked miracles: The birds' nest of extension cords in the ceiling may raise a fire inspector's eyebrow, but the three-quarter-round seating has unobstructed sightlines, unlike their pillar-ridden last location.
The space is ideal for their stage adaptation of Quentin Tarantino's seminal indie crime film Reservoir Dogs. With its pitch-perfect blend of profane pop-culture comedy and nail-biting diamond-heist thrills, Dogs is one of my favorite flicks, and I once pursued producing it myself, only to be dissuaded by Q.T.'s layers of lawyers. David Strauss, GOAT's script adapter, deduced that while the performance rights are not formally available, previous nonprofit groups who have chosen forgiveness over permission haven't been sued. It's not quite illegal art, but GOAT is wading in intellectual-property gray water.
Strauss' adaptation sticks faithfully to Tarantino's words but reshuffles scenes; Act One flows swiftly from the botched robbery's aftermath to the infamous ear-slicing, with all the expository flashbacks shifted after intermission. The cast includes several actors I've admired: Castaneda brings appropriate Keitel-ian gravitas to world-weary veteran thief Mr. White, and Brett Carson (cast against his usual jovial type) is so voluble as the gravel-voiced godfather Joe Cabot that I feared for his vocal cords. Steve Hurst is most successful at crafting a unique interpretation -— his oily, vaguely effeminate Mr. Blonde is entirely different from (but no less terrifying than) Michael Madsen's laconic psychopath.
As the gut-shot undercover cop Mr. Orange, Stephen Pugh writhes in agony admirably, and his American accent is better than Tim Roth's. But his pivotal marijuana monologue is undermined by constant blackouts in a misguided attempt to re-create cinematic cutting. While Leesa Halstead's "Director's Note" insists the show is "not a remake or an impersonation," too many elements resemble pale reflections of the original. Rob DelMedico's Mr. Pink has Steve Buscemi's ratlike appearance but none of his agitated, animated essence. The climactic Mexican standoff is inherently thrilling, but awkward staging and endless scene changes throughout drain the tension and testosterone.
GOAT has announced their season through the fall, starting with Closer in late August. They'll also play landlord to Playwrights' Round Table's Summer Shorts in August, and Wallflower Productions (a new company from local actress Kimberly Luffman) opens Larry Stallings' Sex Times Three in late July.[email protected]