Decadence on display in stage version of “Great Gatsby”

Christian Ryan is Tom Buchanan, Jacob Dresch as George Wilson, Madelyn James as Mrs. Michaelis, and Eric Eichenlaub as a cop in Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s production of “The Great Gatsby.” (Photo by Tony Firriolo.)

ORLANDO — Legend has it that author F. Scott Fitzgerald, who died in 1940, thought he had been a failure as a writer because his 1925 novel “The Great Gatsby” had sold poorly and gotten mediocre reviews when it was first released. Turns out the book was ahead of its time, and would later become acclaimed as a literary classic.
Brought to the stage at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, courtesy of an adaptation by Simon Levy, the theater provides a handsomely mounted and wonderfully acted saga that captures the feel of the Roaring Twenties and the rise of the Jazz age. It was a decade of great prosperity when lavish parties were the norm, and even though it was the era of Prohibition, booze flowed freely.
“The Great Gatsby” has traditionally been viewed as a book about how corrupting the pursuit of the American Dream can turn out to be, and it’s true that when young Nick Carraway, a Yale graduate from the Midwest and a World War I veteran, arrives in the town of West Egg, Long Island, he has a sense of wide-eyed optimism about his future in this economically booming decade. Continue reading

“Picasso at the Lapin Asile” is a wild and crazy Mad Cow play

Wesley Slade, Glenn Gover, and Robert Johnston star in Mad Cow Theatre’s production of “Picasso at the Lapin Asile.” (Photo courtesy of Mad Cow Theatre).

ORLANDO — Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Asile” is, well, a lot like Steve Martin in general: silly, light hearted, but sometimes deceptively so, with a surprising degree of sly social commentary popping up.
His 1993 play, which looks at the chance meeting between artist Pablo Picasso and scientist Albert Einstein in a bar in Paris, The Lapin Agile, is not a play concerned much about historical accuracy, history lessons, or becoming a character study of two legendary men. It’s really … well, Steve Martin, being goofy and often charming in the same way he was in the 1970s on all those “Saturday Night Live” episodes when he gave us the “wild and crazy guy.”
Martin has been a highly influential figure since the 1970s in stand up comedy, television and the movies, and he’s always demonstrated a particular gift for over-the-top physical comedy. Continue reading

Finding humor in a sad subject: “Blackberry Winter” at the Shakes

Suzanne O’Donnell as Vivienne stars in Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s production of Blackberry Winter. (Photo by Tony Firriolo.)

ORLANDO — There are certain subjects that seem completely off limits to comedy — until somebody comes along and proves that’s a total misconception.
Certainly, nobody would have thought it was possible to make a “comedy” dealing with a subject like the Holocaust, until Mel Brooks did it in his movie “The Producers,” or Roberto Benigni did it in “Life Is Beautiful.”
But trying to find absurdist humor in a sweeping historical subject is one thing; just noting that you’ve created a production around a serious health issue, whether as a comedy or drama, can be toxic for some audience members. If you say you have a play about cancer, chances are a lot of people will steer clear simply because they find the entire subject to be scary, or depressing, and it makes them uncomfortable, so they avoid it.
On the night I went to the Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s production of “Blackberry Winter,” the new play by Steve Yockey, I had a similar sense of unease when I learned it was about Alzheimer’s Disease. Mercifully, this is not an illness that’s impacted anyone I know, so I have no personal sense of what it’s like to watch someone you love succumb to this most common form of dementia. But I still felt like I needed to brace myself for what I expected would be a heavy, emotionally overwrought drama. Continue reading

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