Hate Mail delivers thanks to comic chops
Trying to extract satisfaction, or even sanity, from a customer-service representative is a Sisyphean task; ask anyone who's tried to cancel their AOL account. So it's not surprising that the attempt to return a broken Times Square souvenir transforms Preston Dennis Jr. (David Almeida) from buttoned-down fussbudget into wild-eyed lunatic. What is a little surprising is how much comedy the Jester Theater Company manages to extract from a "no refund" policy with Hate Mail, their latest production at the downtown Studio Theatre.
Preston's nemesis is Dahlia Markle (Trenell Mooring), an assistant manager/aspiring photographer whose very New York take on "the customer is always right" drives Preston to the Minneapolis equivalent of Bellevue. She derides him as a symbol of Midwestern bourgeois entitlement and mocks his increasingly desperate request letters at New School panel discussions. He calls her a pseudo-bohemian kitsch peddler and pursues his claim until her firing and public humiliation. Naturally, their hatred turns into respect, then codependence, then love — and finally back to hatred again.
The conceit of Hate Mail, written by Kira Obolensky and Bill Corbett (Crow T. Robot of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame) is that the story is told through the snail-mail the characters exchange. In an age of e-mail and texting, a postal-centric epistolary play seems quaintly anachronistic, a quirk that Markle acknowledges. Director Jay Hopkins' challenge is to build an emotional connection between actors who never directly interact, or even make eye contact. That isolation, combined with the characters' general unpleasantness, can wear on an audience. Luckily, Almeida and Mooring have the comic chops to keep things rolling, even when the script veers into darker territory like new-age cults and vitamin sales. Hate Mail is a worthy final love letter to Orlando from Jester Theater, and we'll be following their change-of-address to the renovated Garden Theatre in Winter Garden next year. (8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Studio Theatre; through July 7; $15; 407-927-5043; www.jestertheater.com)
— Seth Kubersky
Fight Girls unleashes belles of the brawl
G4 network's existing hot obstacle-course action, Women of Ninja Warrior, offers viewers some stiff competition, but newcomer Fight Girls is a fantasy premise that's hard to beat. The show's a voyeuristic look at a baker's dozen of young women, cohabitating in a fancy Vegas pad and working out at the gym where they diligently train in Muay Thai martial arts fighting techniques (a major component of mixed martial arts, or MMA). Surprisingly, all this takes place on the estrogen-powered tear factory of the Oxygen network. Oh! yes!
Each episode ends with a brutal chick fight (kicks, punches and knees to the midsection); the loser goes home in tears while the winner earns a trip to Thailand for — ahem — even more hard-core girl-on-girl action. Gentlemen, start your engines.
It's like Spike TV's The Ultimate Fighter, only with athletic, exotic babes in skimpy clothing, not afraid to talk shit and throw leather. And cry. They cry a lot. Sure, a few of the combatants suffer from WNBA Man-Head and bad fighter skin, but there's always another bikini-clad pool workout or clothing-light breakfast around the corner. Muay Thai coaching legend Master Toddy — looking more like a Thai Elvis impersonator than Mr. Miyagi — guides these skirted warriors through daunting regimens with ancient wisdom as only a man wearing a satin jumper can. (10:30 p.m. Tuesday, with replays throughout the week; www.oxygen.com/fightgirls)
— Mark Padgettarts@orlandoweekly.com