I've discovered another reason to dislike the Orlando Magic and the OPD. It seems they now block all the streets around the arena when the basketball game lets out. With Hughey Avenue closed, getting to a 10 p.m. SAK show is much more of a challenge than it ought to be, and a sound knowledge of back alleys is critical if you're not attending the early show. That's Orlando, a town with a solid commitment to the arts downtown.

OK, I was stressed when I arrived, but the parking garage was nearly empty and I grabbed a spot near the door to the box office. Things started a bit late as SAK waited for more of the parking-challenged to arrive, but soon enough the second installment of the long-form improvisational soap opera District of Desire began. It's set in "Orblando," a mythical company town dominated by Cereal World, a devilish milk-and-puffed-rice sort of place. True, it could be anywhere, but Orblando's leader is an airheaded mayor (Darren Vierday) and his evil assistant (Clark Canine). Thus, it's clearly not anywhere in the Orlando Weekly distribution area.

All soaps are basically farces filled with stereotypical people in absurd situations, so a mesh with improv is a natural fit. Still, things felt awkward, and District of Desire never really reached the level of manic energy the SAK-tors normally engender.

The show began with a short video recap of the previous week's installment. The mayor's son has disappeared (although lobby gossip has it that the actor went to Los Angeles for a few days) – that's cool, a missing person motivates as well as one hanging around. Meanwhile, Vivica Sharp (Robyn Pedretti) schemes to take over the amusement park while her daughter (Chrissy Kiehl) falls for boy band singer Case Monterrey (Chase Padgett). The mayor works toward legalizing murder, which would let his son return; and Peck Blazeheart (Keith Dickerson) refires his relations with Vivica, even though they've both had sex-change operations since the kid was born. Now, THAT'S soapy.

District of Desire seems weakest when the performers take improv suggestions from the audience. From time to time, the stage manager freezes the action and solicits suggestions, but they don't really seem to challenge this otherwise skilled crew, and the dodgy plot seems more important than on-the-spot madness. Still, flashes of insanity flew occasionally. Christian Damon, as Case's father, brought the biggest laughs on the most unpromising premises. Pedretti did her best work when props broke or were misplaced. Rob Ward handled a brilliant role as Juan Carlos, the overexuberant Latin lover with inside info from the coroner's office.

Have we captured our hometown angst here? Not quite. This city is much smaller than the four walls of a comedy club, but the raw material is bouncing around in there. There's an artistic decision for director John Hunter to make – struggle to direct a long, coherent story or aim for the ankles and the easy laughs? I vote for the easy laughs.

District of Desire
Through Dec. 17
SAK Comedy Lab


More by Al Pergande


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