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

Did the book “Bloody Rabbit” predict the Trump Era?

"Bloody Rabbit" follows one man's terrifying journey from hopelessness to a new start -- in a world spinning out of control.

“Bloody Rabbit” follows one man’s terrifying journey from hopelessness to a new start — in a world spinning out of control.

“It was pouring out when R.T. Robeson jumped on the bus that would carry him from downtown Orlando to the building in an older, somewhat less fashionable section of the city. He had never visited the building before, but a Miss Gardenia was expecting him …”

So begins “Bloody Rabbit,” a book that explores the fiery hot anger that erupts following an economic crash, and the subsequent rise in nationalism as more and more people lose their jobs. The book sounds like a harbinger of the Trump Era that started in 2016. And yet this book by author Michael W. Freeman was written early in 2013, long before Donald Trump had even become a presidential candidate, let alone one taken seriously by the pundits.
In many ways, though, “Bloody Rabbit” offers a glimpse into the roots of Trump’s historic victory at the polls — and at the blue collar workers who watched their jobs, livelihood, and sense of optimism get shattered by the lingering impact of the Great Recession, and who ended up looking for someone to listen to and champion them.
It starts in a world familiar to us all: the struggle to cope during an economic downturn. The book slow builds to an even more terrifying situation: the persecution of those who become an angry society’s scapegoats.
Set in the author’s home city of Orlando and loosely based on the author’s own experiences after being downsized in 2011 and his slow climb back up the economic ladder, “Bloody Rabbit” is a tense, haunting and sometimes grotesquely funny look at how quickly social norms crumble when times get tough. 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

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