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.
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