Best Of 2014

Best of the fest
Oyster Boy photo courtesy of Haste Theatre

We’ve reviewed dozens of shows currently playing at the Orlando International Fringe Festival – just head over to blogs.orlandoweekly.com to see the evidence – and we’ll review more shows opening after we go to press on this issue. But we’ve gathered our favorites so far here for you – the don’t-miss-’em best of the fest.

Oyster Boy

British company Haste Theatre’s Oyster Boy, inspired by the Tim Burton character, tells the mirthfully melancholy tale of Jim (Valeria Compagnoni), a guileless gelato vendor who meets cute with Alice (Anna Plasberg-Hill) along the seashore.

Following a fishy wedding feast, she gives birth to a boy with a shellfish skull, embodied by a charmingly crude rag-doll puppet. Shunned by noxious nosy neighbors and prodded by presumptuous physicians, Oyster Boy battles loneliness before finally returning to his oceanic origins.

An all-female quartet (Elly Beaman-Brinklow, Elena Costanzi, Jesse Dupré and ukulele-strumming Sophie Taylor) serves as a Greek chorus, narrating the fable with doo-wop-flavored harmonies and Americana folk tunes.

Staging (collectively directed by the ensemble) is elegantly inventive in its naiveté, with a simple sheet representing rippling water or a restaurant table. The balance of improv-like freshness and scripted polish reminded me of La Putain Avec les Fleurs, an old Fringe favorite that shared a similar vaudevillian sensibility.

Oyster Boy is a gentle, intimate gem awash in playful whimsy, seasoned with a splash of acidic darkness. Its magic occasionally gets a little lost in the large Silver venue (the show would be better served in Pink or Green), but it’s well worth straining your ears to hear this finely wrought fable. (60 minutes; Silver Venue; $10) – Seth Kubersky

Mark Twain’s ‘Is Shakespeare Dead?’

For the second consecutive year, Montreal’s Keir Cutler offers one of the smartest, most thought-provoking shows at Fringe. Adapting the 1909 book Is Shakespeare Dead? by Mark Twain, Cutler – using Twain’s trademark intelligence and wit – makes the strongest argument possible that William Shakespeare did not write the works credited to him.

This is no stodgy period performance of Twain. Instead, Cutler himself – attired in formal lawyer’s garb – painstakingly makes the argument to us, the jury, not just that the greatest collection of works in the English language were written by people other than Will, but that we’re “surmisers” and “troglodytes” who have been tricked into believing a laughable myth. This reviewer has neither the time nor credentials to fully refute Twain, except to note that facts, even when correct on their face, can be woven together in such a way as to present inaccuracy. But without a Shakespearean scholar to mount the stage upon Cutler’s exit and take to task Twain’s claims, one must admit that his arguments are breathtakingly convincing and will leave you scrambling for your history books.

That Cutler’s show provokes us and challenges our cherished assumptions is a credit not just to the genius of the works of Shakespeare, regardless of who penned them, but to Cutler’s command of his topic and his audience. The production is not quite as polished or powerful as last year’s Teaching Shakespeare, but it’s still one of the few must-sees of the festival. And though Cutler skewers Shakespeare the man, it’s to his credit that he fully embraces the canon. (45 minutes; Red Venue; $11) – Cameron Meier

The Surprise

Martin Dockery isn’t comfortable with the label “storyteller,” yet that’s what he is. Oh, not the sock-puppets-and-kiddies type of storyteller that he’s sure you imagine when you hear the word; no, Dockery is one of those guys who can pluck a moment out of life’s sprawling randomness and, with his keenly stylized delivery, find the meaning in it and shape it into a gem.

Dockery is a longtime Orlando Fringe favorite, one of four traveling storytellers we profiled in last week’s Fringe preview. His offering at this year’s festival tells the story of his discovery that his very repressed father has, upon retiring, remarried and begun a new family. In Vietnam. Without telling anyone. In other words, Dockery has a brand-new set of siblings, and they’re 36 years younger than he is — and half-Vietnamese. This discovery is interwoven with the realization that his relationship is either on the point of dissolving or deepening; neither he nor his girlfriend is sure yet which it will be.

As Dockery expounds in his utterly unique voice – by turns raspy, yelpy, growly, half-strangled – upon the “epic game of emotional chicken” his father is playing (which, in fact, he and his girlfriend are also playing), we realize that the surprise of the sudden half-siblings is not the titular surprise. Rather, the ways people act, their essential unknowability, the unpredictable nature of love – that’s the surprise. That’s always the surprise. (60 minutes;Yellow Venue; $11) – Jessica Bryce Young

My Brooklyn Hamlet: A Meshugenah True Story

Brenda Adelman has a story to tell – and it is totally meshugenah. In 1995, Adelman’s mother was shot dead under mysterious circumstances. The only suspect was her father, a charming womanizer whose turbulent relationship with her mother was a hallmark of Adelman’s childhood. He claimed no memory of what happened, and Adelman (something of a daddy’s girl) initially put her trust in him. Within six months, her father married her mother’s sister and refused to acknowledge what he called “the past.” Even after he was released from prison after serving more than two years for manslaughter, he refused to talk about what really happened. As a result, Adelman spent much of her adult life haunted by self-doubt – unhappy, stressed and angry.

This one-woman show illustrates how intensely family dysfunction impacted Adelman’s perception of the world. She tells her story through dark, wickedly funny anecdotes that are laugh-out-loud hilarious, but also gut-wrenching. Adelman punctuates her narrative sparingly with passages from Hamlet – a daring move, since it places her in danger of moving into cliché territory. But Adelman’s delivery of the Bard’s lines is skillful and emotionally moving, bringing a fresh perspective to the centuries-old words and giving Adelman a way to express true despair without alienating her audience.

Adelman’s story isn’t entirely a tragedy. Despite the resentment she harbored for many years – and the final fuck-you doled out by her father after he died – her story is more of a celebration than a dirge. In addition to documenting some of the darkest moments of her past, she also tells the story of how she dragged herself out of anguish and pieced her life together again.

Adelman’s delivery is full of little imperfections, but somehow her quirks and stumbles are more endearing than annoying, reminding us that this play is based on real life – and like real life, some of its beauty can be found in its imperfections. (60 minutes; Blue Venue; $10) – Erin Sullivan

Local comedy showcases
Spacebar, 2428 E. Robinson St., 407-228-0804, facebook.com/spacebarcomedy
Bull and Bush, 2408 E. Robinson St., 407-896-7546, bullandbushorlando.com
The Peacock Room, 1321 N. Mills Ave., 407-228-0048, thepeacockroom.com

No longer relegated to opening for touring comedians at clubs like the Improv or networks like Bonkerz, Orlando comedians have harnessed their punk-rock DIY spirit and created their own vibrant scene. Tying it all together are the showcases put on at local bars. Whether at Spacebar’s weekly Wednesday night, Bull and Bush’s bi-weekly Saturday Shit Sandwich or the Peacock Room’s Dead Parrot Comedy Showcase, there’s hardly a night that goes by that you can’t see some quality stand-up comedy in this town for free.

Best Crash Course in Contemporary Art
MEL BOCHNER, ‘Blah Blah Blah’ (2013) image Courtesy of the Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art at Rollins College

The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art
The Alfond Inn, 300 E. New England Ave., Winter Park, 407-998-8090, thealfondinn.com

Conceived as a “visual syllabus” by its donors, Barbara and Ted Alfond, the art at Rollins College’s new on-site hotel continues the school’s mission of education. Works by established masters such as Mel Bochner and Philip-Lorca diCorcia join edgier pieces by Tracey Emin, Juan Travieso and Lalla Essaydi on walls throughout the Alfond Inn – more than 100 pieces in all, offering a free class in modern art history to anyone who takes the time to look.

Nov. 6, 2014
Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, 455 S. Magnolia Ave., 407-839-0119, drphillipscenter.org

After many delays, the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts finally announced its opening date: Nov. 6, 2014. “They’ve thrown down the gauntlet,” Mayor Buddy Dyer said, rather ominously. “That date is set in stone,” Dr. Phillips Center president Kathy Ramsberger assured us, her jaw set resolutely. The Aloft Hotel XYZ bar hosting the presser duly echoed with the sound of reporters double- and triple-underlining the date “Nov. 6, 2014” (actually, we’re kidding – reporters started fumbling with their phones as they tried to switch over from voice recorder to jab that date into their calendars). The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts has finally buckled down to finish building the buildings in which Orlando will be treated to such offerings as Newsies, Book of Mormon (again, yay!), trumpeter Chris Botti and Orlando Ballet’s Vampire’s Ball. “This November, we’re on!” promised Ramsberger. We’re ready!

FamiLab
1355 Bennett Drive, Longwood, 407-406-5946, familab.org

For MineCon addicts, steampunks and hackers of all types, FamiLab is the unofficial local meeting space. It’s in a crappy old warehouse near Lyman High, full of strange, buzzing machines and guys muttering over a tangle of wires and parts from Skycraft. But it is getting national attention for its not-for-profit collaborative atmosphere, and has already earned Orlando a spot in the worldwide maker movement. (Proof: This year Orlando hosts one of just 15 official Maker Faires in the world.) If you happen to have a chip implant with your credit card number, you need only gesture at the vending machine for a bag of Doritos.

Best Heavy Metal Visual Artist
PHOTO COURTESY OF BRANDON GEURTS

Brandon Geurts
brandongeurts.com

Brandon Geurts’ work is part Ralph Bakshi scenic art and part hand-biting Necronomicon – ripe with cow skulls and bloody-kneed virgin sacrifices, floating in subterranean caverns full of whispered secrets. Which is probably why his art was chosen to grace the cover of one copy of Black Sabbath’s limited-edition “Age of Reason” single, released on Record Store Day 2014. (Like we said, limited edition.) With dark, moody ink washes emphasized by delicate line work, Geurts has developed a hauntingly surreal style that makes his work memorable and instantly recognizable. He’s moving to Tampa this fall to get his MFA, but no matter where he goes, he’ll still be one of Orlando’s best.

Orlando Ballet
Loch Haven Community Center, 610 N. Lake Formosa Drive, 407-426-1733, orlandoballet.org

The Orlando Ballet, our area’s leading professional classical dance company, navigated some tricky choreography over the past year. First they were evicted from their Orange Avenue home, the 113-year-old OUC power plant that had been their base of operations since 1992. Then interim executive director Ron Legler departed for Baltimore. But the Ballet bounced back and stuck their landing by appointing new executive director Jim Mitchell, finding a new home for the Orlando Ballet School at the corner of Princeton and McRae, and, best of all, securing the Loch Haven Community Center for the OBC’s future multimillion-dollar facility. To top it off, a financial grant will allow the Ballet to grace the big stage next season at downtown’s new Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Bravo!

Best Local Nerdy Artist
PHOTO COURTESY OF JAIME MARGARY

Jaime Margary
margary.net

Jaime Margary is a local multimedia artist whose pop-culture-focused work is gaining attention outside our city limits. His video game sculptures (“Pakku Rotundus, aka Realistic Pac-Man,” “Piranha Plant” and “Super Mario Mushroom”) blazed through Kotaku.com a couple of years ago; since then, he’s kept busy making an animated music video for Roadkill Ghost Choir’s “Bird in My Window,” designing the cover of the Plush Monsters’ new album, creating a couple of our favorite Nyan Cat videos (“Schrödinger’s Nyan Cat” and “Nyan Cat – Punk”), self-publishing a web comic at Margary.net and printing T-shirts with portraits of characters from Netflix political melodrama House of Cards and HBO bloodbath Game of Thrones. (Don’t worry, no spoilers.)

Best Local TV Breakout
PHOTO COURTESY OF FX

Jessy Lynn Martens as Cherlene on Archer

America doesn’t know her face yet, but after this season of FX’s Archer, they know her big voice. Local songbird Jessy Lynn Martens was the mighty wind that powered the country-star persona of Cheryl Tunt on the animated show. And under the direction of Drivin’ N Cryin’s Kevn Kinney, an entire album was made that – despite the show’s famous lack of seriousness – surprised the music world with its quality and garnered lots of positive reviews.

Best Local-ish TV Star
Eddie Huang BY Atisha Paulson; ‘Fresh off the Boat’ still courtesy ABC-TV

Eddie Huang

Your boy Eddie Huang? This is his year. Yeah, we’ve said it before, but for real – the Rollins grad/restaurateur/sneaker pimp/memoirist/based FOB has finally cracked the big big time by breaking into the wide-beam, lowest-common-denominator bastion of mediocrity that is network TV. The trailer for ABC’s series based on Fresh off the Boat, Huang’s tale of growing up Asian and hip-hop-mad in Windermere, dropped in May, whetting appetites with excerpts from the pilot starring Randall Park (Veep) and Constance Wu (Torchwood), but the premiere remains to be scheduled. Huang’s also got a cooking-battle show on MTV called Snack-off and a news talk show on Pivot with Meghan McCain (Take Part), but neither of those offers the same full-blast megaphone to America that the ABC show does. From the get, Huang has been trying to get the Asian-American experience into the mainstream, and there’s no better way than a half-hour network comedy. (Hey, it’s been 20 years since Margaret Cho tried … maybe we’re finally ready.)

 

Orlando Philharmonic buys the Plaza Live

One of Central Florida’s most confusing development conundrums over the past few years has revolved around the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and the local arts groups that the center was originally intended to house. In the ensuing seven years since the ink dried on the venues deal, some of those groups (including the Orlando Opera) have closed down under recessionary financial pressure. Meanwhile, the arts center had to break up its development into phases; those phases left both the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orlando Ballet in a headquartering lurch. Fortunately for the Phil (and not so much for the struggling ballet), budget figures remained in the black throughout. Last August, the orchestra purchased the old Plaza Live on Bumby Avenue for $3.4 million, creating its own small performance space and expanded headquarters. The show will go on.