In year 26 of everybody losing their minds in the Orlando theater scene for over a week, the Orlando Fringe once again brings the surprises and the guffaws – all the hurry-up-and-wait of queuing for your next aesthetic indulgence, along with the gratification of seeing some of your best friends, old and new, make theater an organic experience.
In many ways, this is Orlando’s centrifugal core for spinning and buttoning and ticketing your way toward bliss. As usual, there’s something for everybody: kids, teens, grown-ups, grown-ups who should know better. After a fantastic teaser show on April 17, appetites have been duly whetted, Excel charts and maps have been printed, the fiercest of the fierce are readying their Fringe game. There are hundreds of shiny things to see! Bring on May 16-29!
Things to remember: You’ll need a button which is easily procured at the point of entrance (or online at orlandofringe.org), you’ll need to purchase a ticket for each show (you can do this online, too), you’ll need a little patience, and, most of all, a sense of humor. These actors, writers, directors and producers are schlepping their wares in their spare time, often for little profit. This is performance for the sake of performance, art for the sake of art. And, well, if you’ve been, you know: It’s fabulous, messy, sometimes drunk and often poignant (and even gay!). Does this sound like you? Swipe right, then!
Judy Garland’s Stuck in a Bear Trap with Nothing to Wear
Presented by TheDailyCity.com/Judy Garland
In which the baby is thrown out with the bathwater and all hilarity ensues, really. The Daily City’s Mark Baratelli has made a martini splash on several occasions with his endearing and ridiculously over the top Judy Garland ramblings. We all know that when Judy was reaching the end of her rainbow, she would speak in stuff and nonsense. Baratelli in a Garland wig – which frees him of his often shy presence in the background – is a sight to behold and a story to be told, though. For years, he’s won hearts and, well, hair with his seemingly improvised ramblings as the aging songstress prior to her passing.
Pills, thrills and bellyaches are likely to abound as Judy wanders her way through an evening, this time with clothing problems and bears and the like. He makes it up as he goes along, and audiences lap it up because they should. There’s no doubt that this year’s Judy should be a hoot and a rainbow and a mess you would love to pick up.
Orange Venue, Lowndes Shakespeare Center
Presented by Orlando Gay Chorus
It may seem odd for such an esteemed organization as the Orlando Gay Chorus to be dipping its toes in the craziness of Orlando Fringe – though, apparently it has happened before, decades ago, but not as a theatrical show – but it’s a growing step, says the chorus’ artistic director James Rode.
Stage director Donald Rupe brought on former Florida state Rep. Joe Saunders, who has a fantastic voice, which makes this show an even bigger draw. Saunders joins 14 others in the cast. “It’s very different than what I’m used to,” Rode says. “My point when I came to the Orlando Gay Chorus was to promote performing arts. There’s no reason OGC shouldn’t do these kinds of things!”
Orange Venue, Lowndes Shakespeare Center
Presented by Unseen Images Theatre
The notion here is that everybody is in on some other level existence where Jack McFarland, Cher and Paul Lynde reign supreme in a naughty version of your favorite guilty obsession from dinner time or happy hour that you never talk about. Actually, it’s a little deeper than that, but therein lies the tone.
Unseen Images is pushing a Fringe envelope in a “raucous, decadent, no-holds-barred romp through gay pop culture categories where nothing is too taboo and no topic is off the table.”
What you do on the table is your own business.
“It’s ALL tea and ALL shade led by a boozed-up game show host, two kitschy queens and one Southern televangelist’s wife,” Unseen Images promises.
Silver Venue, Orlando REP
Everything I Need to Know I Learned from… Ethel Merman
Presented by Chrickey Productions
Everything’s coming up Merman! This show promises to bring the renowned Gypsy back into the spotlight as a means of helping viewers figure out just how it is that we get through this life, even when shunned by Bing Crosby. Ethel Merman’s trill makes up the backbone of many a gay theater or film enthusiast, so she does, as the sprinkling of divas populating our cultural history do, deserve to be heard – especially by a gay man channeling Ethel Merman. It’s a musical, but it’s more than that. It’s a big old gay good time.
“Come along on a showtune-filled, laughter inducing ‘one-man show’ about growing up gay in a Pentecostal household in the Bible Belt where his only saviors were community theater, an old record player and the vinyl recordings of Broadway’s greatest diva,” reads the release. Ooh, do tell!
“We feel this show will resound with anyone who understands the power of music, finding a personal anthem and just singing your heart out to get you through life’s trials,” they say.
That’s a tall order we’re willing to take a risk on.
Blue Venue, Lowndes Shakespeare Center
Joan Crawford’s House Party
Presented by Doug Ba’aser
Oh, dear. Somebody let Doug Ba’aser out of his house again and apparently Joan Crawford left her door unlocked. Hilarity is bound to ensue.
Ba’aser notably was noticed in note for having the “Best Fringe Show” for his desperate-but-not-serious Crawford crawl in the past. He’s set to be joined by Christina (Darling), probably some wire hangers, and an updated cast of uninvited people like Liza Minnelli, Adele and Kellyanne Conway (or reasonable facsimiles thereof). Oh, and there will be dancing gay boys, because there are always dancing gay boys.
“People kept asking me when we were going to bring it back, so we said ‘What the hell? It’s been five years!’ It’s fluffy and it’s funny and it’s camp. The Feud [television series about Crawford and Bette Davis] was just good timing,” Ba’aser says. “We lucked out with that. The show is definitely fresh, though, with some new guest stars and some fun new stuff. We have an amazing team!”
Ba’aser will also be resuscitating Wanzie’s Two Men Trapped in Women’s Bodies with Fringe legend Tommy Wooten.
“Michael Wanzie and I did this two-person show way back in 1998,” he says. “We literally put in for the Fringe having no idea what we were going to do. A month before opening Michael came up with a script about two old hippie women, and it turned out to be a hit! One of my favorite people to work with, Tommy Wooten, was looking for a project for he and I to do this year and we decided on this old gem. So it’s back at Fringe 19 years later! It is a wild ride. These old broads hold nothing back!”
Brown Venue, Lowndes Shakespeare Center
Wanzie with a Z
Presented by Wanzie Presents and D Squared Productions
First of all, it’s not a one-man show, even if it is about one man with a “Z” in his name. Wanzie with a Z is clearly a nod to gay icon and sparkling rambler Liza Minnelli, but most of that comes from its title. It’s three men, really. “A lot of people think it’s a one man show,” he says. “But it’s all three of us on stage at the same time. The three of us speak together as one voice.”
Those three – John Lefkowitz, Joshua Roth and Wanzie himself – portray three stages of Wanzie’s life, ages six to 60. There are bits about performing for hot dogs in Connecticut, playing the Skipper at Jungle Cruise at the Magic Kingdom, and it goes even deeper. Wanzie, who has never been afraid to put it all out there, grew from a self-proclaimed closet case into one of Orlando’s legendary gay activists. Now he’s mouthing off on Real Radio 104.1 in cinematic review flourishes. A Fringe legend, Wanzie always brings the laughs in his bawdy stage productions. This one, he says, isn’t necessarily going to be different, even if it traverses the territory of his speech impediment.
“It’s two-thirds funny,” he says. “Expect the unexpected.”
Orange Venue, Lowndes Shakespeare Center
Presented by BlueLaLa Entertainment at FatSTAR Productions
If you know Blue Star, then you know that she – like her performances – is a theme park unto herself. Over here is Small World Blue, Over there is water flume Blue, and if you venture into the outskirts, there’s Blue’s magical, rural kingdom of surprises. She’s a funhouse waiting to bend its mirrors and a Tinkerbell about to set flight. She is, in short, a Fringe staple. Well, like most dreams that often veer into the dark corners, Blue’s Fringe entrée this year is going to be a bit of choreographed madness about lost love and the hauntings that come with it.
In her collaboration with local artist Patrick Fatica, Haunted, Blue plays “the mother, of course,” she says,
“It’s set in the 1920s. Jazz is blossoming, New York is starting to live in that art deco world,” she says. “Most importantly, women have gained the right to vote.”
Costumed by her favorite vintage clothier Retromended in the Ivanhoe Village, Blue and company take viewers through the story of being haunted by a lost love, as one man tries to pick up the pieces and move on. It’s some heavy territory – “It’s a full, dark Varietease,” Blue says – but it’s timely as well.
Black Venue, 511 Virginia Dr.
Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead
Presented By Penguin Point Productions/Lake Howell High School
This legendary show tells the darker side of the old Peanuts story, and as such, was rooted in some odd licensing controversy with the estate of Charlie Brown creator Charles Schulz. That baseball game has been won in the ensuing years, leaving the plates dirty and the bats hard. Writer Bert V. Royal’s Dog Sees God: Confessions of Teenage Blockhead, tracks life after the death of “CB”’s beagle (see what they did there), and rips the already generally depressed tales known to many from their comic-strip corners and throws them into the maelstrom of adulthood. Except it’s performed by teens—high-school teens! LGBTQ themes are naturally included.
Lake Howell High School has been represented in Fringe since 2006, producing shows not typically made for younger audiences.
“We feel so lucky to be part of the third year of Teen Fringe,” producer James Brendlinger tells us, “which allows the one-act play competition winners form local Florida Thespian Festivals to bring their plays to the Orlando Fringe each year.”
Teen Thespian Showcase, Orlando REP
Presented by Beth Marshall Presents
Nothing light to be said about this one. Clay McLeod Chapman’s Commencement is ostensibly a reflection on the April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech shooting massacre that left 32 dead and 17 wounded. And while that shooting led to another shooting and then many more shootings, this is a personal way of telling the story from all sides, producer Beth Marshall says.
“It doesn’t even say Virginia Tech in the script,” she says. “It’s not a documentary play like [Marshall’s previous production on] Trayvon Martin. It could be any school, anywhere.”
Or the Pulse Massacre which helped inspire Marshall’s production.
And it could be anyone. Cast with three women, including Marshall, representing three sides of the violence equation, Commencement, she says, is in many ways a poetic metaphor.
“It’s told from the perspective of the mother of the shooter, the mother of the victim and one of the women who was a senior who was due to give a commencement speech,” Marshall says. “She, of course, never had the chance.”
“It’s about, ‘Who is the victim?’ Which then gets into who the victims really are, and it turns out that everyone is the victim,” she says.
Gold Venue, Orlando Museum of Art
Presented by Logan Donahoo
Everyone in Orlando loves Logan Donahoo, as brash as he may be to those viewers who are light on the tolerance level and heavy on the starch. His latest veers away from the field-guide theme that has made him a Fringe celebrity and veers, he says, into more of an activist frame of mind.
Unbelievable is dealing topically with what the LGBTQ community faces in a political and social world that has somehow spackled itself into the form of a red wall, or a pink bucket of water. You choose your Wonder Twin. But it’s also a field guide in Logan’s own way, just not in title.
“I wrote the show to give people a little hope, and a tool kit on how to fight back over the next few years,” he says.“I can’t tell people, ‘It will be OK,’ but what I CAN tell people is that there are ways that we can try to make it OK.”
Pink Venue, Lowndes Shakespeare Center