Close Encounters of the Weird Kind Yvonne Suhor's tiny Art's Sake Studios in Winter Park inspires in its members a benignly cult-like devotion — more like Trekkies than Scientologists — but after seeing their biannual Play de Luna one-act series, one has to wonder what's in the Kool-Aid. Close Encounters of the Weird Kind is the title of this showcase for staff and students, and it's apt: These seven shorts feature characters at their most bizarrely theatrical, to the exclusion of genuine human connection. The scripts, which include works by Christopher Durang and David Lindsay-Abaire, feature subjects ranging from foot fetishists to gay-bar pickups and masturbatory fantasies.
There's some fine work on display: Lauren O'Quinn is affecting as a widow besieged by the world's worst mourner; Cynthia Murell is memorably pneumatic as a girl who really appreciates a good joke; Jeremy Wood is creepily amusing in a meet-cute with a stalker twist. The highlight of the evening is Marci Stringer's whip-crack comic timing as a potential godparent whose friends take sharing the miracle of birth too far.
These bright spots are overwhelmed by "turn it up to 11" overacting and clumsy blocking. The work on display here is heavy on shameless mugging and unmotivated shouting that wouldn't be out of place in a theme park; the end result is more migraine than Meisner. (8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, through Nov. 18 at Art's Sake Studios, Winter Park; $8; 407-625-0364; www.art-sake.com)
— Seth Kubersky
The Death of Little Ibsen
Halloween just ended, and something occurred to me: No one ever does a play by Henrik Ibsen as a seasonal production, even though the Norwegian was dark and obsessed with death. Ibsen's life and motivations were illuminated in this excellent entry in the second annual, just-completed Orlando Puppet Festival (Nov. 2-5), brought to us by the wonderfully named Wakka Wakka Productions at Mad Cow Theatre.
This Little Ibsen (Kirjan Waage) is about 12 inches tall and came out of his mother (Gwendolyn Warnock) with a full beard and balls. Always a precocious child, he began his literary career with a small slice of plagiarism, then spawned several children, devastated several women and fled the strictures of Norway — a fine life for an artiste. The production featured a mix of three live performers who interacted with and manipulated the cloth versions of their characters. Puppetry has some freedoms that are hard to come by in traditional theater — scenes and motivation jump instantly with no need for justification, and comic elements are interspersed with the serious without damaging either's emotional impact. Ibsen's girlfriends all sported distant, grand-opera personae, and a series of completely charming animals acted as an intimate counterpoint in his life. A goat bit his hand, and his first date had the audacity to become pregnant. If that's not enough inspiration to create 26 plays and earn a chest full of medals, there's no justice in Scandinavian arts funding.
The Death of Little Ibsen was one of the grown-up entries in this multiday festival, which needs to grow understanding of its imaginative concept and 20-show lineup. The Fringe-like bill of shows accommodates both G-fare for families and more challenging puppetry for adults. Get on the mailing list, so you'll be ready for next year. (www.orlandopuppetfestival.com)
— Al Pergande
Our Bodies: The Universe Within
Not to be confused with its competing sensation, Bodies: The Exhibition, this traveling anatomy exposé will nonetheless revitalize the Orlando Science Center's draw of tourists and locals alike. OSC takes a break from its cocktail parties and kid features to present Our Bodies: The Universe Within, a sterile collection of more than 200 body parts and 20 bodies preserved with metal alloys, latex, gelatin and wax — no blood, no gore, but disturbing. The bodies are situated in dynamic poses and displays — including two cadavers sliced horizontally and vertically, respectively — rather than behind glass like the organs and other tissues. Visitors get 360-degree views of each exhibit segment, whether it is a closer look at heart valves or the tendons of the foot. While the anatomical exhibits take center stage, supplemental explanations and an area called "Leonardo's Library" explain functions, proper names and the history of scientific studies of the human body. The exhibit is educational without being boring and interesting without being gross, but it may be too graphic for kids and the squeamish. It is definitely worth the extra $10.05 upgrade of the usual admission. (10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday-Tuesday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, through July; Orlando Science Center; $25; 407-514-2000; www.osc.org)
— Amber Foster
Out of the Box The performance stage on the second floor of the CityArts Factory got broken in Nov. 3-5 by the Voci modern dance company. The stage itself represents a fresh accomplishment on the part of the city in providing a core downtown facility that benefits local artistry of the visual and lively varieties. The medley of creative dance by Voci and spoken word by guest Christa Bell of Seattle represented the troupe's continuing climb into public consciousness. Still, as in several previous Voci productions, there was a distracting unevenness of skill among the dancers.
In the PR material, there was a mention that Out of the Box was part So You Think You Can Dance? — and dancers did strut their stuff in a playful, for-the-crowd manner. Were there a trio of judges, however, some feedback would have been brutal — floppy arms, overdone drama and a sore lack of rhythm. Other commentary would have been pointed to the shining lights, such as Emmial C. Fields, one of the leads in "People Are Strange," a sharp, semi-dark piece that was wrapped around a series of the Doors' best hits and choreographed by Mary Clymene B. Wilkins (also a dancer). Fields naturally flowed her stop-start movements into the music in a keen display of rhythm. "Just One More Step" was a self-choreographed solo performance by Tara Lee Burns set to the music of Jill Tracy. Burns is gifted with a movement style that appears as if her energy stems from a wild, primal source and is then tamed through her strength and direction.
The best of show: The empowering poetry spoken by Bell in her own mesmerizing rhythm, as the dancers brought action to the words, gave me goose bumps. In the finale, "She Takes Up Space," Bell and company make the case for ending the endless battle of the bulge. Executive director Kelli Cummins reminded the Sunday audience that it was OK not to understand the mesh of music, motion and words on stage, but just to sit back and take it in. Educating their audience as they develop their skill will continue to fuel the rise of Voci. (www.vocidance.com)
— Lindy T. Shepherdarts@orlandoweekly.com