It's always disorienting to come home after a long trip, but returning from Europe to Orlando in October can be downright disturbing. It isn't that I didn't appreciate the severed limb (complete with gore-spattered selfie stick) that Universal's Halloween Horror Nights media team left festering on my doorstep; but in the wake of school shootings and Syrian bombings, I'm not feeling my usual bloodthirsty self yet this season. So I was grateful last weekend to warm up with some untold adventures of a less graphic nature, to get into the trick-or-treat spirit before tackling the haunted houses.
Realms of the Untold: Picture, if you will, a small theater in the heart of Ivanhoe Village, standing in the shadow of imminent demolition and redevelopment. You've just crossed over into the Venue, where Dark Side of Saturn productions has staged playwright-director Corey Volence's six tales of the strange and supernatural that travel directly from ... the Realms of the Untold.
I grew up watching midnight reruns of The Twilight Zone on a tiny black-and-white TV in my bedroom, and reading Stephen King under the covers. Apparently I'm not the only one, since Volence (writer of the 2013 Orlando Fringe hit Key of E) has lovingly laced his eerie anthology with allusions – from the pitch-perfect Serling-esque interstitial voice-overs to nods to John Carpenter and the late Vic Morrow. But even if you don't know H.P. Lovecraft from The Outer Limits, these six "episodes" include enough clever conceits, sharp dialogue and impassioned performances to merit tuning in.
The cast is led by Ken Luzadder, who stars as an aging actor who owes his career to Satanic assistance; a professor driven mad by a glimpse at Cthulhu's home reality; and a colonel who loses his cool during a nuclear emergency. Luzadder exhibits impressive range in the roles, but he's hampered by accents that interfere with intelligibility. Likewise, Jan Taylor Hendricks tears her heart (and ours) out with an agonizing monster monologue, but her Blanche DuBois dialect distracts.
John Reid Adams is ideally unctuous as various oily incarnations of Evil, and Chaz Krivan and Monica Titus are sitcom-worthy as a Buffy-meets-American Pie couple contemplating "doing it" for the first time in forever. Finally, while the cast capably apes the amped-up acting styles of the 1960s sci-fi dramas they are paying tribute to, Miles Berman's too-small role as a stoned soldier offers refreshingly modern relief. Volence captures the tone of those shows, but not the crispness of their best installments; pacing is closer to Serling's later hour-long scripts than his 30-minute classics. But the scenes' themes are so sound that (after editing) I'd be eager to see a repeat broadcast.
Adventures in Charity: Last Saturday, Halloween came early to Lake Buena Vista, as nattily dressed Dapper Day devotees descended on Disney's Hollywood Studios by day and an Adventurers Club reunion invaded the Holiday Inn on 535 in the evening. Seven years after the beloved interactive watering hole at the heart of Pleasure Island was shuttered, Adventures in Charity is still keeping the Kungaloosh spirit alive with their sold-out annual event. A cocktail hour (serving frosty re-creations of the Club's signature drink), silent auction and VIP after-party were all on the agenda, but the main event was a multi-hour cabaret featuring many fan-favorite Club performers, who also happen to be among Orlando's best theater professionals. Karl Anthony Ockstadt and Allison DeCaro hosted in character as pompous professor Otis T. Wren and the club's piercing president, Pamelia Perkins, introducing a cavalcade of AC veterans, each of whom belted a tune or two and took to the couch for a Q&A session catching the crowd up on their careers. Alumni included Jay T. Becker, John Connon, Glen Gover, Mary Thompson Hunt, Meghan Moroney, Eric Pinder and Sheila Smith Ward, with Jim "Fingers" Roberts returning on piano and founding member Kris Truelsen phoning in from Toronto as "the Colonel."
It was great to hear some of the old songs and skits again (though Disney's lawyers forbade them from using copyrighted material); even better to see how much the ex-Adventurers Club cast continues to contribute to Orlando arts; and best of all to help raise more than $13,000 for area causes like A Better Life Pet Rescue, Zebra Coalition and Central Florida Community Arts. But I was also reminded of the insular in-jokes and inappropriate repeat guests that contributed to the Club's demise, and my after-party visit to its original location only reinforced how hard it is to go home again. The former Pleasure Island's new Indiana Jones-inspired Hangar Bar was filled to capacity without even the option to wait, while Morimoto Asia has replaced Mannequins' rotating dance floor with unexceptional sushi and spotty service at extravagant prices. And exiting Disney Springs' new parking garage? That's a tale more terrifying than anything old Rod ever wrote.