“Just because you are a character doesn’t mean that you have character.” – Harvey Keitel as Winston “The Wolf” Wolfe in Pulp Fiction.
That movie moment came to mind more than once this past weekend as I wended my way through the weird side of our city. I won’t delve into the question of whether Orlando has character, but there’s no contesting that it has plenty of characters, creatures and other curiosities – half of whom seemed to cross my path in a single 24-hour period.
Let’s start with my closing-weekend visit to Epcot’s 2011 International Food & Wine Festival. This year, Disney’s annual drink and eat ’round-the-world orgy featured better prices, some bold new tastes and the biggest crowds I’ve seen in 15 years. On the final Friday afternoon of this year’s event, I found a line more than 100 people long just for the Ireland booth. Their chocolate lava cake is good, but not that good. I’ll be back next year, but only on a Tuesday. While such crowded conditions aren’t conducive to getting drunk (on $5 thimbles of booze), my anthropologist side appreciates the exotic wildlife. Animal Kingdom’s inhabitants have nothing on Epcot’s roving packs of chanting Brazilian teenbeasts, pods of pasty, portly path-blockers and the unfortunately far-from-extinct walking armpits.
These nomadic herds proved a harbinger of the strange native species surrounding me late Friday night. First safari was the Red Fox Lounge, which may be Central Florida’s gravitational center for colorful characters. For more than 20 years, singers Mark Wayne and Lorna Lambey have reigned at the Best Western Mount Vernon lounge; by now I shouldn’t have to sell you on their “so square they’re super-hip” style. Suffice it to say that if you’re fond of Sinatra (Frank or Nancy) filtered through a drum synth, Mark and Lorna can give you your fill. And if you missed their eerie similarity to Marty and Bobbi Culp, the late-’90s SNL characters created by Will Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer, Mark and Lorna will happily hand you a font-challenged photostat pointing it out.
Half the Red Fox fun is seeing the amazing diversity of the crowd this musical duo draws. I’m not just talking about the range of ages, complexions and occupations on hand – middle-aged middle managers, hipster artists, frat boys and seniors – but the unclassifiable demographics you discover. This week there were several specimens straight out of the ’70s, including an admiral straight off the Love Boat and a dancing girl in boots and an Indian headband (an accidental Village People homage?). I guess I’m a member of that genus too, since I was coaxed onstage and had “Fever” crooned to me at uncomfortably close range.
Second stop was the following morning’s Festival of the Masters at Downtown Disney. I learned long ago to cut to the chase at this massive annual art fair by heading straight to the House of Blues for the fest’s Folk Art area, where the freshest, freest work is always found. It’s also where you’ll encounter copious creatures, both earthly (images of cats seem staggeringly popular, whether in recycled steel or razor-blade-applied acrylics) and otherworldly (local painter Dawn Schreiner’s portraits of Star Wars aliens in Victorian gowns were a hit).
If you couldn’t make it, you still have opportunities to meet two of my favorite creature creators who were there. Melissa Menzer, who sculpts personality-packed memory jars, is teaching a workshop on how to make them at Sanford’s Jeanine Taylor Folk Art (9:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 10; $85). And noted visionary collage artist Missionary Mary Proctor, whose action-figure assemblage is the highlight of my art collection, has an exhibition at Crealdé School of Art’s Hannibal Square Heritage Center gallery opening Jan. 20.
For a finale, I finished with more Orlando Puppet Festival fun. Saturday night’s Action Puppet Force Puppet Slam at Urban ReThink brought out a cavalcade of first-class characters, both onstage and among the standing-room audience who patiently waited more than an hour for the curtain. Slams of any sort are always uneven, but there were at least three standout segments. In “Morning Toast,” Marta Mozelle MacRostie displayed masterful manipulation skills in illustrating an epic tragedy of burnt bread. New York puppeteer Honey Goodenough brought an empty baby blanket to heartbreaking life in “Sweet Dreams.” And oversized interdimensional eggplant “Godrick” (aka local artist Jack Fields) was a deliriously depressing emcee, deftly covering between-act dead spots with deadpan non sequiturs.