The Fall of Man or the Laughs of Many? “Pandemonium” is Pure Fringe.

Milton, we hardly knew ya ...

ORLANDO — Satan may look ravishing in high heels and a corsette so tight it might rip open if she belched, but this devil is no lady.
Fowl-mouthed, conniving, exploitative and always looking for trouble, Satan is on a real tirade after being bounced from Heaven and forced to sepnd an eternity in Hell with her loathsome pals Beelzebub and Raphael. It’s awfully hot down there, for one thing; and as our trio is quick to note, there’s no sign of a good air conditioning unit down there — not a bad metaphor for a comedy-musical-dance production guaranteed to be deeply offensive to anyone who finds religion and Biblical concepts of Heaven and Hell to be off limits to crude scatology humor … but downright irresistable to the rest of us. It is, after all, May in Florida, when the 90s creep back in after months of sublimely mild temperatures, and we may be uniquely sympathetic to their plight.
It also doesn’t hurt, I suppose, that “Pandemonium,” the new play by the Greater Orlando Actors Theatre making its debut at the 20th Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival, opened on Friday, a day before the bold predictions that Judgment Day would arrive 7,000 years after God brought massive flooding to the world, sparing only Noah and his Ark. The date? Today, May 21. If you’re reading this, you might have noticed it didn’t quite work out that way. So if you enjoy all life has to offer, you might want to celebrate that fact by heading over to Fringe — which is at Loch Haven Park — for tonight’s performance of “Pandemonium” at 9:10. It’s an engagingly fun way to beat the “End is Near” blues.
Created by Paul Castaneda — who also directed — and Leesa Halstead — who plays Satan — “Pandemonium” is an update — expert trashing of? — Milton’s epic poem in blank verse, “Paradise Lost,” which follows the Christian story of the Fall of Man. There’s the temptation of Adam and Eve by fallen angel Satan, and their explusion from the Garden of Eden — all part of Milton’s effort to “justify the ways of God to men” by showing how wayward man got when given the option of free will.
The online encyclopedia Wikipedia notes that this poem is “generally considered one of the greatest works in the English language,” but not if you’re a high school student forced to read it and bang out a term paper about it. More than a few students, given the choice between video games and “Two and a Half Men” versus Milton, have probably considered this assignment a torture technique worthy of Guantanamo.
On the other hand, Milton purists would probably pass out after the first five minutes of “Pandemonium,” but I’m with GOAT on this one. If you’re going to show the Fall of Man, make it an irresistably entertaining ride. And here, GOAT delivers.
Annoyed to be banished to purgatory just for being evil, manipulating, back-stabbing, cruel and heartless, Satan decides the best revenge is a truly effective one, so she hops into the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve still have a radiant smile of innocence about them. Setting her sights on both man and woman, Satan introduces our happy-go-lucky couple to the concept of temptation; they soon discover the enormous influence the libido has over our thought processes. So let’s just say it’s not long before a certain apple is half-eaten.
Watching from above, God is fuming, realizing that this free will thing was probably a boo-boo. “What the hell was I thinking?” he grumbles.
Obviously not the stuff of biblical scholars, “Pandemonium” delivers quite a bit in its relatively short (just under an hour) time span, including jokes that run from cute to hilariously X-rated (Adam’s introduction to women with less puritanical standards is a riot), while employing contemporary songs (Katy Perry’s “Fireworks,” Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”) to propel the saga along.
“Pandemonium” is also a collabortation between GOAT and the Emotions Dance Company, which provides the extraordinarily well choreographed (by Larissa Humiston) dancers who gather on stage during the music numbers, keeping the proceedings quite lively.
It make not be enough to make you want to run to church at the end, but GOAT’s decision to hand out free tickets to the beer tent was a smart one, because “Pandemonium” sure leaves you feeling like a fine Bud Light as you’re laughing on your way over there.
The eight-member cast is uniformly good, although Halstead stands out as the wily, rough-and-tumble temptress Satan, and so does Michael Osowksi as the wide-eyed, happily naive Adam turned horny party boy. His expressions alone never failed to rack up some big belly laughs.
To sum it up, I’d say “Pandemonium” is PF (Pure Fringe), the perfect selection for a festival that celebrates the bizarre, unpredictable, zany and charmingly offbeat. The play is being performed at the Yellow Venue inside the Lowndes Shakespeare Theatre. Upcoming show times include Sunday (noon), Tuesday (7:40 p.m.), Wednesday (10:50 p.m.), and over the Memorial Day Weekend, next Saturday, May 28 (3:20 p.m.) and Sunday, May 29 (1:40 p.m.) You can buy tickets online at www.OrlandoFringe.org.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

It kicks off tomorrow: 13 days of Fabulous Fringe.

The 20th Annual Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival kicks off on Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Loch Haven Park.

ORLANDO – It’s wild.
Totally unpredictable.
Crazy.
It’s Fringe.
Wednesday is the official kickoff day of the 20th Annual Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival.
And what is Fringe? It’s a collection of more than 70 live shows inside the Lowndes Shakespeare Theatre and the Orlando Repertory Theatre, both located at Loch Haven Park at 812 E. Rollins St. in downtown Orlando. Tomorrow at 5 p.m. Fringe officially kicks off when the Beer Tent opens and rock musician John Lowbridge starts performing on the outdoor stage.
Then at 6 p.m., there’s a ribbon-cutting ceremony. City Commissioners Patty Sheehan and Phil Diamond will be on hand, and Mayor Buddy Dyer has already proclaimed this “Fringe Week” in the City Beautiful.
It’s the first of 13 days of Fringe fun, since the festival runs through May 30 into the Memorial Day Weekend.
To get into Fringe, just purchase an $8 2011 Fringe Button. The individual shows charge their own admission, and a full schedule of the events is available by logging on to www.OrlandoFringe.org.
For many of the artists, the excitement and adrenalin have been building all week.
“I’m just looking forward to relaxing and seeing a bunch of shows,” said director John DiDonna, who is working on two shows at Fringe this year, including The Grand Guignol Puppet Theatre’s “Punch and Judy,” which is being performed in the Brown Venue.
In typical Fringe fashion, this is a show for mature audiences, complete with adult language, sexual content, extreme bloody violence and, yes … puppet nudity.
“It’s actually been going very calmly right now,” DiDonna said on Tuesday. “That’s very cool. That doesn’t mean it will remain that way, though. We’re doing the final touches on the huge puppet stage we made. We have 24 different characters in the show, and each one needed its own puppets. So we’re going a little crazy.”
After a hectic schedule of rehearsals and last minute touches, DiDonna added, “I’m looking forward to the Fringe opening so I can relax.”
The Greater Orlando Actors Theatre, or GOAT, is producing “Pandemonium” in collaboration with the Emotions Dance Company in the Yellow Venue. A fairly non-traditional update of Milton’s epic “Paradise Lost,” it’s a mix of comedy, art, dance and music, with the tag line, “You may think you know the story – but you don’t!”
Paul Castaneda, the executive director of GOAT, called the production “ambitious, to say the least,” and said he was also looking forward to being a Fringe patron as well as an artist.
“I’m also looking forward to the puppet show that John DiDonna is putting up,” Castaneda said. “I’m looking forward to the beer tent. I’m looking forward to the vendors, as usual. I’m looking forward to being surprised at the shows. Fringe is just a smorgasboard. I’m looking forward to being exhausted over the next 13 days.”
Actor Jamie Cline wrote the play “The Supporting Cast” as the first production of his Think Tank Theatre Company. The show, being performed in the Brown Venue, follows Ben and Naomi as they try to get things right in the world of dating.
Cline said on the day before the official kickoff that the energy and electric charge of being a part of Fringe felt overwhelming.
“You can feel the excitement, there’s so many good things going on here,” he said. “It’s great to see new Fringe artists doing so many shows, and some veteran artists coming back. It really feels like this year has so much more electricity than any year in the past. I’m really excited for us this year, and for all of the artists in Orlando.”
Al Pergande wrote “Big Swinging Dick’s Topless Bar presents The Naked Drag Queen farting,” a comedy about a man who takes over a failing bar, and hopes to turn its fortunes around by making it into a strip club. It’s a Fringe show complete with female nudity, and is being performed in the Green Venue.
“This show was written specifically for Fringe,” Pergande said. “I’m trying to provide something for everyone. I got the idea on closing night of Fringe 2008. That was the year every show seemed to have gratuitous male nudity. A guy kept making out naked for no reason. So I said, ‘Let’s do a show called Big Swinging Dicks.’ Basically, it’s a love story. It’s set in Milwaukee in the 1960s. Dick has this bar. It’s his only livelihood. He’s tried everything to make it work, but now he’s desperate, so he wants to make it a strip club. It’s 50 minutes with musical numbers.”
And it’s Fringe.

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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.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

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