Fringe Review: “La Reina Yolanda”

Orlando Fringe

“La Reina Yolanda” is a one-woman show by Leesa Castaneda being performed at the Orlando Fringe Festival.

ORLANDO – In a sense, it seems like a play about Alzheimer’s would naturally be dramatic and gripping, considering the turmoil and upheaval family members experience when a loved one gets this terrible diagnosis.
But that’s also the challenge of staging a play that deals at some point with Alzheimer’s: the subject matter scares people off. It’s depressing to think about, any one of us could go down that path, and it’s natural to want to avoid dealing with it, even in art.
So it sounds like a production dealing with Alzheimer’s would be too heavy, too downbeat, at a festival like Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, which has so many upbeat comedies to offer.
What’s so miraculous about the play “La Reina Yolanda,” written and performed by veteran actress Leesa Castaneda, is just how joyous an experience it is. A deeply moving piece, “La Reina Yolanda” chronicle the life of Yolanda, a woman born in Puerto Rico who comes to the United States as a child. She deals with a lot of hardship along the way, including an abusive first husband.
Then, when her life finally begins to settle down, and she revels in the joys that her children and then grandchildren bring to her life, she confronts an even more agonizing twist of fate, as she begins a slow battle with Alzheimer’s.
There’s even a harrowing moment when Yolanda feels like she can no longer endure her husband’s abuse, thinks she’s trapped and can’t escape, and contemplates suicide. Continue reading

Fringe Review: “Pillow Talk”

pillow talk

“Pillow Talk” looks at two straight guys who have to share a bed together — at the Orlando Fringe Festival, of all places.

ORLANDO — So what is it with those straight guys?
You know, the ones who are so freakin’ uptight about their masculinity, or what the lunkheads over at the roadhouse are going to think, that even something as simple as a little friendly hug is way off limits. Sheesh.
In this hip era of gay marriage, where we’re all so enlightened and even healthy majorities of Catholics and Protestants favor those non-traditional nuptials, can’t a couple of straight guys just show a tiny bit of affection for one another — you know, just as buds — without the whole world thinking they’re just a couple of homos?
And now we have the answer, folks, courtesy of playwright Peter Tolan’s play “Pillow Talk,” brought to us by director Jamie DeHay.
The answer is one big, fat, hilarious NO!
If you’re wondering why, catch “Pillow Talk” at the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival. When you notice that the only thing on the stage is a bed, and that the play features just two actors (Logan Ayala and Jonathan “Gyo” Gamble), you get a pretty good sense of where things are headed.
So — the plot. Aaron (Ayala) and Doug (Gamble) are best buddies doing a cross-country road trip together. They spend a night with Aaron’s grandma, who is nice enough to let them share her bed while she sleeps on the couch in the next room. So Aaron strips down to his shorts, hops in bed, and is ready to call it a night.
Only — Doug isn’t. Continue reading

Fringe Review: “Poe Man”

Poe Man Orlando Fringe

John Devennie recreates three classic tales of terror from Edgar Allan Poe in his show “Poe Man.”

ORLANDO — A pitch dark room, containing nothing but a single chair.
The curtains pull back and a man enters the stage. The lights do not rise, at least at first, and it’s difficult to make out his features.
And then .. he begins to speak … in an animated voice, almost excited, rather giddy.
“True!” he says. “Nervous — very very dreadfully nervous I had been and am. But why will you say that I am mad?”
If you’re a longtime fan of the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, as I am, chances are you’ll recognize the opening line to Poe’s classic tale of murder, insanity, and guilt — “The Tell-Tale heart.”
The lights rise, and our host, actor John Devennie, begins the first of three Poe tales as part of his show “Poe Man” at the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival.
Now, I’ll say this right off the bat: this nearly three-week long festival has plenty of solo shows, where the lone performers attempt everything from comedy to singing to magic tricks. In his solo show, Devennie brings to his audience truly excellent material. If you’ve never sat down on a dark and stormy evening, and read through a collection of Poe’s tales of terror, you’re really missing out. The American author of tales of horror, mystery and even the first detective story in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” died tragically young at age 40, under equally mysterious circumstances. But his writings seems as fresh, provocative and enjoyable today as it must have for audiences in his lifetime.
Devennie also happens to be an excellent performer. Playing the narrator and all of the characters in each piece, he’s versatile, funny, eerie and poignant at various times, with a skillful ability to convincingly shift from one persona to the next. There’s nothing else on the stage except that chair, but the combination of Poe’s superb writing and Devennie delivery guarantee nothing else is needed. Continue reading

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