On Oct. 18, the Orlando arts community bade a sad farewell to a beloved member who passed away. If you've attended a local theater event in the last decade — be it the Orlando Repertory Theatre, Theatre Downtown, Sleuths, Fringe or others — you were likely touched by the amazing creative spirit that was Peni Lotoza. The standing-room-only audience that packed the Rep's Edyth Bush Theatre at last Sunday's memorial service probably would have pleased Peni. But more likely, she would have rolled her eyes at the outpouring of emotion on her behalf, made one of her trademark sarcastic quips and sneaked out for a smoke.
So, it seemed appropriate for me to take an unpaid half-day off work last Friday (shhh, don't tell the boss) and join some of her closest friends for an indulgent around-the-world escapade in her honor. The afternoon at Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival, a long-running tradition of ours, naturally included copious amounts of drinking, eating and unseemly immaturity; in other words, exactly the sort of irreverent irresponsibility Peni would have appreciated.
So, I thought, why not cap a perfect day of venial vulgarity with an evening of equally ignoble entertainment? Luckily, an e-mail arrived earlier that day inviting me to 7 Deadly Sins, an eclectic, multidisciplinary art experiment inspired by the Catholic Church's collection of moral must-nots. The first sign of what was in store appeared in the window as I approached the Cameo Theatre: Local performance artist/mad genius Brian Feldman, sprawled in a ratty recliner replete with convenience food, staring listlessly at a static-choked television screen. Ladies and gentlemen, here was the living embodiment of "sloth" — one of the deadlies. Never one to do things halfway when full-on bat-shit nuts is an option, Feldman declared his intention to stay seated for a solid 30 hours. I declined to inquire whether the Pampers coupons at his feet were for show or sanitation; there are things I'd just rather not know.
Inside the venue of vice, a respectable crowd churned beneath a canopy of purple twinkle lights to a soundtrack of Philip Glass-ian Sturm und Drang. I grabbed a Guinness from the bar (had to get in the spirit) and sampled passion fruit water ice from Tropical Delight. (The Crepe Company was in attendance too, but I was feeling sweet, not savory.) Scattered throughout the warehouse-size space stood seven members of Emotions Dance Company, the sponsoring organization. Each was barely dressed and bathed in body paint (courtesy of Tim Hiatt and Angel Rivera of Mystifying Ink) befitting their assigned sin; "envy" was green, "wrath" flaming red and "greed" emblazoned with dollar signs. Jeff Wirth (of UCF's Interactive Performance Lab) stood in the center, serving as sinister MC in a tux and rakishly angled ringmaster's top hat.
Every 15 minutes, a thunderstorm sound effect signaled the start of another short performance. Each member of Emotions took a solo turn: "Sloth" slowly slithered across the space, "pride" preened and postured, "wrath" writhed and released wrenching wails. Poet Tod Caviness performed suitable selections of his spoken-word soliloquies, including a Southern-fried sequel to the classic Charlie Daniels tune "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" and another involving Tila Tequila getting nailed over Oscar the Grouch's trash can on a PBS telethon (don't ask, you had to be there). Halfway through the night, self-proclaimed "singer/songwriter/actor/whatever" Jamesson Beane sang three songs to electronic backing tracks (including one produced by Ricky Diamond, also in attendance) while vice vixens gyrated around him.
An hour later I sat in the Social Chameleon sipping a 13 percent alcohol ale (they've got the best beer list in town, but don't order the 22-ounce He'Brew Jewbelation Bar Mitzvah unless you've brought a spare liver) and trying to sort through my mixed feelings about the event. I admire creators Larissa Humiston and Tisse Mallon for their ambition in bringing together such a variety of artists. But like several similar multimedia ventures I've viewed this year, the whole ultimately fell short of the sum of its parts.
On one end of the spectrum you had Caviness, whose cleverly concise turns of phrase left me craving more. On the other was Beane, who owes it to himself (and his cadre of devotees) to develop his vocal control and stage presence before he achieves the stardom for which he's aiming. In the middle fell the Emotions dancers; while I admired their commitment to exploring their characters, few of them possess the technical prowess needed to elevate Humiston's choreography, which too often falls into repetitive clichés.
But the biggest miss for me was the awkward emphasis on sexuality. I'm no prude (I've directed fetish fashion shows, for chrissake), but I'd prefer not to pay $5 for a photo with a mostly nekkid chick. Apparently I'm not alone, as the barely clad model spent most of the night looking lonely and bored. Now that's a real firstname.lastname@example.org