Last Thursday, actor RobertHegyes – best known as Juan Luis Pedro Felipo de Huevos Epstein from Welcome Back, Kotter – went up to that great remedial classroom in the sky. In honor of the fallen Sweathog, this week’s column is dedicated to saying “welcome back” to old friends who have been absent from Orlando’s stages for a while.
On the night Hegyes passed away, I attended the Orlando debut of The Genghis Khan Guide To Etiquette, the latest one-man word-carnival from slam poet Rob Gee. Like Paul Strickland, who performed on the same Shakes stage a week earlier, Gee is a popular Fringe veteran who is touring under the Beth Marshall Presents banner, but unlike Strickland, Gee won’t be back for May’s festival.
Gee’s latest was billed as a “best of” collage of poems pulled together under the loose theme of lacking social skills. (As Gee winkingly disclaimed, “Don’t be fooled by the apparent lack of a thematic arc.”) Subjects spanned the world’s worst pickup lines, atypical love poetry, global apocalypse and a Remembrance Day poem which was commissioned, then banned, by BBC Radio.
While I preferred the stronger through-lines in his Fringe hits Fruitcake and SmartArse, Gee is a mesmerizing monologist in any format. Between his gangly, off-kilter gait and the way words erupt from his lips like saliva, Rob often appears on the verge of tripping over his own linguistic feet; while he always recovers to land the rhyme, watching him wobble is as thrilling as any high-wire act.
Later that night, I visited the Peacock Room for the return of Truth or Dare With Pepe after a three-month hiatus. This semiregular series of live chat shows aimed at Orlando theater insiders is hosted by Pepe, the mohawked, mushmouthed, offensive-to-all character created by local actor-director Rob Ward. Along with co-host Baby Blue, who is best known as the choreographer behind Varietease, Pepe interviews and embarrasses local artists, while the crowd is kept well-lubricated with free shots from Chris “Mr. Gay Florida U.S. of A.” McIntyre.
For his first post-break guests, Pepe invited Beth Marshall and Michael Marinaccio, the past and present producers of the Orlando Fringe Festival. Dispelling lingering rumors of tension between the two, the pair sat on Pepe’s plush couch together and talked of “harmony and sweetness” and “passing the torch.” Marshall chose Pepe’s “truth” challenge and played “Never Did I Ever” against Pepe’s Kinsey-esque questioning, consuming a quantity of gin before the game ended. Marinaccio’s dare was supposed to involve eating a super-long beef stick, no-hands Lady and the Tramp-style, with an audience volunteer; luckily for him, no one could open the meat snack’s hermetic wrapper.
Musician Chase Padgett was on hand to play Paul Shaffer, and a contingent from GOAT’s Next to Normal (opening this Thursday) allegedly sang a sample of the soundtrack, but after the second round of shots I couldn’t swear to anything that happened.
Verse spewed like bile
My final reunion came the following night, when I visited the Colonial Drive Sam Flax art store for the first time since they moved into their new Mondrian-decorated digs. Along with the art supplies and oddities, my favorite element of their new location is the loft, a small upstairs area used for workshops, art shows and very intimate stage performances. It isn’t even big enough to be a black box, with seating for barely 30 and no theatrical lighting to speak of, but it was perfectly adequate for a staged reading of The Painter, a one-act play by actor Roger Floyd.
Floyd was last seen on a local stage in Mad Cow’s Rashomon but was forced to bow out of the show due to injury, so it was good to see him back on the boards. In a piece he tells me he’s been developing in various forms for 10 years, Floyd plays Walter Sickert, a British artist and popular suspect in the Jack the Ripper murders; he interprets Sickert as a hypersexual manic-depressive tortured by misogynistic rage and Catholic guilt. Sickert spews baroque verse like bile as he pummels the floor with passionate soliloquies on slaying, occasionally interrupted by erotically charged assaults on an anonymous escort (Samantha O’Hare).
I’d be interested in seeing Floyd turn this into a full production, if he can flesh out Sickert’s back story and restructure the somewhat circular plot. But even as is, this ghoulish morsel achieved its goal: It made me uncomfortable enough to want to go home and take a shower.