Live Active Cultures

Three new shows that make great post-Valentine's Day outings

Last week I warned you about three theatrical offerings that probably wouldn't help you have an amorous evening. As the flip side to my pre-Cupid cautions, here's another trio of shows that all qualify as great post-Valentine's outings – depending on what kind of romance you have in mind.

Cornerstone presents Five Women Wearing the Same Dress at Orlando Shakes

I've been finagled into wearing some funky formal wear (see: my baby-blue ruffled '70s tux shirt) but as a man, I've never had to don anything quite as awful as the purple failures foisted on the titular quintet in Five Women Wearing the Same Dress. In this mashup of Bridesmaids and Waiting for Godot, Tennessee bridezilla Tracy never appears onstage; instead, we spend her wedding reception hiding out in little sister Meredith's (Krista Delong) room with her mismatched retinue: über-Christian cousin Frances (Toni Clair), slutty Southern belle Trisha (Janae Riha), melodramatic alcoholic Georgeanne (Lauren Culver) and talky lesbian Mindy (Tiana Marie Akers). The only thing these ladies have in common is their contempt for the bride they are supposedly there to support.

This was the first show I've seen from Cornerstone Theatre Company, which debuted in Orlando last year, and I was pleased by how professional and polished the production was. Director-designer Nicholas Murphy's set is one of the more substantial I've seen on the Shakes' Goldman stage, from faux-hardwood flooring to crown molding. Likewise, his attractive cast has an easy chemistry as they boozily bond over bad fashion and worse men. Delong is the standout as a loudmouth whose longing for "something really sick and fucked up to happen" hides her wounded heart, though each of the ladies gets a moment or two to shine.

An early script by screenwriter Alan Ball, Five Women is mostly in his sitcom mode, with a few slides into American Beauty-style depravity. The dialogue has a distinctly '90s feel despite the "Obama 2012" poster on the wall, and the late introduction of Trisha's bland suitor, Tripp (Garrett Jurss), pulls focus from the fascinating Meredith. Still, the show ends with the optimistic view that even self-sabotaging sex addicts can find love. And any guy taking a date to an estrogen-soaked show like this earns instant points.

Beth Marshall Presents Biloxi Blues at the Garden Theatre

I know the vets who won World War II are our "Greatest Generation," but if Neil Simon's comic memoir of his G.I. exploits is accurate, it's amazing we aren't all speaking German. In Biloxi Blues, part two of his quasi-autobiographical trilogy, Simon's stand-in, Eugene (Carl Krickmire), is sent to boot camp in Mississippi, where he hopes to get laid, fall in love and not die (not necessarily in that order). His comrades-in-arms are bullies and bozos – priapic jerk Wykowski (Michael Osowski), hotheaded Selridge (Stephen Pugh), goofy giant Carney (Andy Haynes) – whose outrages he eagerly journals. Eugene may be the narrator, but the play revolves around the battle of wills between unhinged drill instructor Sgt. Toomey (Tyler Cravens) and insubordinate intellectual Epstein (C.K. Anderson), who obstinately refuses to conform to Army illogic.

Director Rob Anderson's solid, handsome (if leisurely, at almost three hours) retelling of this frequently staged script captures much of Simon's comedy, but not all his darker notes. C.K. is exceptional as Epstein, exploring the anger buried under his effete exterior, but his near-fatal confrontation with a pickled Toomey plays too slapstick to be scary – though nobody could out-psycho Christopher Walken's cinematic interpretation, Cravens' melodious drawl is more Ernest P. Worrell than R. Lee Ermey. Similarly, Anderson emphasizes the laughs when brothel beauty Rowena (costume designer Jennifer Bonner) awkwardly deflowers Eugene, undermining the humanity of their encounter. But overall, this commendable cast makes Biloxi's mix of manly gross-out gags and nostalgic romance a good date-night bet.

Pepe's Truth or Dare Dating Gayme at the Venue

After a many-month absence, Orlando's favorite mohawked Jewrican has returned with a queertastic matchmaking game show co-hosted by Venue proprietress Baby Blue. Strawberry-kiwi lube tasting, tandem banana eating, an obligatory spanking and more awkward activities entertained Pepe's inebriated audience during the surreally sloppy show. (Did I mention the multiple rounds of free Jell-O shots?) Bring the right – or oh-so-wrong – date to Pepe's next appearance, and you're practically guaranteed a happy ending.


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