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

Freeline Media Review: “The Toxic Avenger Musical”

This is the final weekend for “The Toxic Avenger Musical.”

ORLANDO — Watching the zany antics of the cast in “The Toxic Avenger Musical,” you might start thinking that the content of this nerdy-Jewish-boy-turned-green-slime-crusader show raises topical questions in your mind, like … do we tend to underrate toxic waste when it has the capability of transforming Melvin Ferd into a kind of Incredible Hulk in Woody Allen land?
Actually, I couldn’t help but think about something else. If he was sitting next to me in the Mandell Theater at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, watching this play, what would Chris Christie think?
Sure, the outgoing governor might object to the play’s portrayal of his home state of Joi-see as a hotbed of corruption, crime, violence and peee-yew pollution, and maybe even jump on the stage to protest. Or maybe Christie would appreciate the fact that in our hero Melvin, there’s something more toxic than his approval ratings. Hard to say. Continue reading

Freeline Media Review: “Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some)”

Christopher Patrick Mullen, Timothy Williams, and Michael Daly star in Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s production of "Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!)." (Photo by Tony Firriolo.)

Christopher Patrick Mullen, Timothy Williams, and Michael Daly star in Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s production of “Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!).” (Photo by Tony Firriolo.)

ORLANDO — If there’s one thing that the holiday production at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater amply proves, it’s that the Christmas season has, for centuries, inspired writers, filmmakers, animators and other storytellers to create their own holiday epic, aimed at happily entrancing audiences into the spirit of the season.
If there’s one thing that guides so many of these creative efforts — Charles Dickens’ short story “A Christmas Story,” Frank Capra’s 1946 movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” or the 1964 children’s TV movie “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” among many others — it’s heavy doses of sentimentality and exquisitely warm and fuzzy happy endings. Put your troubles aside, these sagas seem to say, and revel in the joyous spirit of Christmas time.
Orlando Shakes has done its share of sentimental holiday productions in the past, from an elaborate version of “A Christmas Carol” to a radio version of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” where skillful dramatic actors did their best to wring a nostalgic and tender tear from the eyes of audience members. Continue reading

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