Complex, challenging and darkly perceptive: “The Rimers of Eldritch” still delivers.

SANFORD – In Lanford Wilson’s “The Rimers of Eldritch,” a trial is going on, to determine the traumatic incident that happened to a young girl, and led to a violent death. But if you dig a little deeper, you get the sense that it’s small town America that’s really on trial.
Wilson’s play, which is now being performed at Seminole State College, is set in the mid-20th century in Eldritch, Missouri. Once a prosperous coal mining town, Eldritch is now a decaying part of the old Bible Belt. The trial focuses on a death, and what role the young woman’s attack played in it all.
The trial is presided over by a local preacher who warns of the dangers of eternal damnation to his shrinking flock. But there’s no question that the beneath the surface, there are plenty of dark secrets going on. The initial appearances – the faithful members of the church, the innocent teenager faces, those hard-working families – slowly start to unravel. The play was written and produced in 1966, but watching it today, it’s hard not to think about a movie like “Blue Velvet,” David Lynch’s 1986 drama, which tackles remarkably similar territory.
Seminole State College revives the play in a production directed by John DiDonna, who in the program book notes that what attracted him to this piece was “Secrets that live in the house next door, beyond the fields out back, in the diner on the corner. Secrets that linger in the eyes of your neighbors, the hearts of your family, and the gossip on the porch.”
The play, he added, “is an incredible weave of secrets and half truths, perceptions and misperceptions, betrayals and maybe – just maybe – the truth. But each time the strings stretch enough for us to almost see … the weave closes tight again.”
DiDonna and Seminole State take on an interesting challenge in “Rimers of Eldritch,” and not just in putting 17 actors on the stage. The story isn’t linear – it moves back and forth between the past and present, meaning that Wilson is far more demanding of his audience than the likes of “The Sound of Music” ever will be.
Likewise, the stage inside the college’s theater isn’t an especially large one, so there’s no attempt to segment past and present across different parts of the stage – making it easier for the audience to follow the shift from current day to what lead up to the attack on the young woman. The actors move in close proximity to one another, so past and present often blur. This is not a play where you sit back, relax, and wait to be entertained in light, airy ways.
On the other hand, the buildup to the tense and shocking climax makes the ride worth it, especially in the hands of a talented cast that allows DiDonna to guide them on this brooding, episodic journey.
At the heart of the play is the sexual awakening of two teenagers – yet another reminder of the parallels with “Blue Velvet,” and the sexual tension hiding beneath the surface of small town “innocence” — beautifully played by Zachary Lane as Robert Conklin and Nichole Auger as Eva Jackson. Both are students at Seminole State, another pleasant reminder of Central Florida’s unique position as a magnet for genuine acting talent.
Paul Luby also does an excellent job as Skelly Mannor, the homeless derelict who at times seems a bit scary, while at other moments the harassment he endures is cruel — and hardly befitting of a good “Christian” town. Another fine performance comes from Gloria Duggan as Mary Windrod, the dotty old woman who seems to fly off on rampling tangents. Then again, the entire cast works seamlessly together.
“The Rimers of Eldritch” has often been compared to Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” which also features a large cast operating in small town America. But Wilder’s play is much more innocent, and, again, I wonder sometimes if David Lynch didn’t see Wilson’s play and think about it while writing the script for “Blue Velvet.” In any event, Wilson’s challenging script, brought to life by a very creative director and an energetic cast, makes it a tough form of entertainment to beat.
“The Rimers of Eldritch” is being performed at Seminole State College this weekend, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. The college is at 100 Weldon Boulevard in Sanford. For reservations, call 407-708-2040.

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Is it acting … or sales? It could be a little of both.

Sandler Training Institute in Maitland will host acting teacher Anthony Vincent Bova on Friday and Saturday.

ORLANDO – For years, Paul Castaneda has been involved in theater in Central Florida, as both an actor and director.
As the executive director of the Greater Orlando Actors Theatre, or GOAT, Castaneda knows what it’s like to get up on the stage and perform before a crowded audience, and to guide the actors who bring the roles in each production to life.
“For me as an actor, in order to do any role that I’ve ever done, I have to understand the motivation of the characters, where they’re coming from, and I have to be able to find something to like about playing the character, even if I’m playing a villain,” he said.
In addition to being in the theater world, Castaneda also runs his own business, Castaneda Sales and Marketing, which helps companies find ways to maximize their sales potential.
It’s a field where Castaneda has found that his background in acting comes in quite handy.
“When it comes to sales, it’s a similar thing,” he said. “You have to understand what your motivations are as a sales person. You have to learn to like yourself as a sales person.”
This weekend, Castaneda is helping to bring two acting classes to the Sandler Training Institute at 1057 Maitland Center Common Boulevard, Suite 102, in Maitland. The first one is ideally suited to those who, like Castaneda, have started their own business and want to know how to improve the bottom line: sales.
To engage his clients, Castaneda has brought in Anthony Vincent Bova, the acting teacher who runs the Bova Actors Workshop at the New York Training Center of the Eric Morris System. Bova is the artistic director there and has years of experience guiding people who want to learn the techniques of acting. But Bova also knows how to apply those techniques to people who have no ambitions whatsoever to get up on a stage or in front of a movie camera.
“He’s actually doing a class that he does periodically with Sandler training sites, where he teaches acting for business people, how to incorporate the techniques we have in the world of acting,” Castaneda said. “He meets with business people and helps them incorporate it into what they do. He wanted to introduce this methodology that he is allowed to teach by Eric Morris, and he wanted to introduce it to the Orlando community. It was introduced to me because I run GOAT, and I teach acting myself from time to time.”
The class will be held on Friday from 9-11 a.m., and is called “What Can the Business World Learn from the Arts: Learn to act, Learn to sell.” Acting, Castaneda said, is not that far a stretch from closing a business deal.
“Every sales call is a one act play,” Castaneda said, adding that taking the course can help sales people become more confident, and will “get you to take control of the human dynamics process.”
Ordinarily priced at $499, the course is being offered to Sandler students for $299.
As Castaneda noted, even when playing a villain onstage, he felt compelled to find some redeeming aspects of the character in order to create the most realistic portrayal possible. Likewise, he said sales people have to overcome a similar image problem.
“A lot of people have a really bad opinion of sales people, and that’s been ingrained in them for years,” Castaneda said. “But if you’re trying to promote your business, then promotion is sales. And what this class teaches you is how do you do what you have to do in order in survive?”
To learn more about the class, call Sandler Training at 407-740-SELL.
Bova will stick around and offer another acting class on Saturday, March 26, but this one will be specifically geared toward … well, actors. Bova is offering a two hour introductory class to acting techniques for people now working in Central Florida’s theater community.
“Saturday’s class is really focused on theatrical actors,” Castaneda said.
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It’s no mystery why Sleuth’s is doing so well.

Sleuth's Mystery Dinner Theatre kills someone every night.

ORLANDO – If diversification is the key to helping businesses growth and thrive, then a dinner theater in Central Florida may be setting an example for all live stage shows.
“I don’t know if people are aware of how much stuff is going on under our roof,” said Laurel Clark, executive director of the Sleuth’s Mystery Dinner Theatre on International Drive.
Known as the place where someone gets killed every night, Sleuth’s has 10 different shows in three theaters, and is open 370 days a year.
Ongoing shows have included “Lord Mansfield’s Fox Hunt Banquet,” “Kim and Scott Tie The Knot,” “Squires Inn,” and “Roast ’em and Toast ’em,” and the shows come with a meal. Before the shows begin, guests get a salad, assorted crackers with a cheese spread, dinner rolls and hot and cold hors d’oeuvres.
The meal during the show includes a choice between honey-glazed Cornish game hen, prime rib dinner or four cheese lasagna. Drinks include everything from soda, iced tea and coffee to Bud Light, Budweiser, White Zinfindel, Chablis, and Merlot.
It’s a two and a half hour show with food and drink.
“We have a different murder mystery every night of the year,” said Ben Wavell, Sleuth’s former sales manager. “We kill someone every night. It’s been a lot of fun.”
“You can always come and see something offbeat at Sleuth’s, and I don’t think people know about that,” Clark said.
But now Sleuth’s is expanding its offerings. Fans of late night comedy can visit Sleuth’s on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays for Mama’s Comedy Club, an interactive improv show which has been extended indefinitely at Sleuth’s.
Kevin White hosts “Stand Up Comedy” on Saturday nights, and tomorrow night, Sleuth’s is hosting the premiere of Yasmina Reza’s French play “Art,” which is being produced by the Random Magic Theatre Co.
“ ‘Art’ is running this weekend,” Clark said.
As if all that wasn’t enough, “Come summer, and only in the summertime now, we’ll have our Baker Street Detective School,” Clark said. “It’s one of the funniest kids shows, and it’s a little bit of a mystery for kids.”
Another change is that Sleuth’s now has a kid’s menu for the young ones who don’t like prime rib or Cornish game hen.
“We never had kid’s food before,” Clark said. “Now we can offer it at night,” including a serving or macaroni and cheese or chicken tenders.
Clark said Sleuth’s has endured, despite some rocky times that have in the passt decade that have presented a major challenge to the region’s lucrative tourism industry. That includes the weeks following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, which led to an unprecedented shutdown of the nation’s air space to boost security measures. That meant the local tourism industry had to rely heavily on the “drive-through” market, or people who drive to the region from neighboring states or other parts of Florida.
An even bigger challenge, she said, was the busy hurricane season in 2004, when three hurricanes struck Central Florida in August and September.
“It took about a year of there being no hurricanes in Florida to get people back,” Clark said.
Of course, the national recession also took a toll on the tourism industry in 2009, but Clark said the opening of the Wizardening World of Harry Potter theme park at Universal Studios Orlando last June brought a lot of visitors to this region, and Sleuth’s bounced back in 2010.
In 2011, she added, Sleuth’s plans to continue to tap into the diverse acting talent across Central Florida, and present a wide variety of comedy and mystery shows.
Sleuth’s is at 8267 International Drive, and there’s plenty of parking available. To learn more, call 407-363-1985 or log on to

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