Archive for October, 2014

The Best of Enemies

October 29, 2014
The Best of Enemies

The Best of Enemies

Mrs. LanceAround has a vivid memory of her first encounter with extreme prejudice.

When only 5-years-old and living in a poor southern town, Mrs. LanceAround’s poverty stricken family had to hire a young, inexpensive helper to assist her pregnant mother with household chores. One day, the kind, black female helper took Mrs. LanceAround onto a city bus. As she held her hand up the steep bus steps, the large elderly white bus driver, in a voice filled with anger and hatred, demanded the young black servant make a quick retreat to the back of the bus. He then leaned to put his face directly into the face of the scared, 5-year-old Mrs. LanceAround and, flushed with a hatred that caused him to appear more horrible than a misshaped Halloween devil mask, told the little, white girl, who had the audacity to hold the hand of a black woman, that she, too, must go to the back of the bus.

To this day, Mrs. LanceAround cannot understand how it is possible for one human to feel such contempt for another human simply based on the color of their skin. We were intrigued with the concept of a play based on the true story of  a female African-American activist and a hate-filled leader of the KKK who were asked to co-chair a committee to assist with the desegregation of schools in Durham, NC in 1971. Would it be possible to create enough of a story arc that would engage an audience for nearly two hours?

Orlando Shakes’ production of The Best of Enemies demonstrates it’s not only possible, it’s wonderful. The playwright has selected a topic that could have easily lent itself to simplistic stereotyping; yet somehow he created a script filled with moments that were at once humorous, deeply moving, educational and profane. The actors plumbed the depth of both pathos and humanity. The direction was crisp and well-paced. The simplistic sets and dynamic lighting created the perfect atmosphere as the production fully utilized the intimate theatre to draw the audience directly into several scenes within the story. There were even several times where the lack of dialogue provided the most insightful and touching moments; such as a scene where the two protagonists were silently stapling papers together, or when they were clapping during a gospel song. Such is the power of this story that even these moments had the audience riveted to their seats, soaking in every last morsel of action.

The Entire Cast Participated in the Talk Back

The Entire Cast Participated in the Talk Back

The spontaneous standing ovation mingled with the muted sobs of the audience at the end of the show indicated that everyone in the theatre experienced the same emotionally cathartic release as had Mrs. LanceAround and I. The matinee performance concluded with an audience “Talk Back” when Orlando Shakes Artistic Director, Jim Helsinger, led the entire cast in a Q & A with the audience.

The first person to speak was Darryl, a black man who attended the performance with his white girlfriend, Julie. Darryl didn’t ask a question. Instead, with tearful emotion in his voice, he thanked the entire production crew for staging a play of this importance in our local Orlando Theatre. Mrs. LanceAround was touched by the way he allowed himself to be so vulnerable with his comments. The applause of the audience told her she was not alone with her appreciation of Darryl’s courage.

Julie and Darryl Loved the Play

Julie and Darryl Loved the Play

I caught up with Darryl and Julie at the end of the Talk Back. Darryl explained that his mother was a member of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama that was bombed on Sunday September 15, 1961. Mercifully, his mother was not at the church on that day. For him, this play was personal. Based on the questions the audience asked and the answers given by the actors, it was obvious that everyone was touched by the powerful themes in this production.

Anna Carol, who played the wife of the KKK member, explained that she was born in 1985 in Minnesota. It was a much different world than the 1970’s of North Carolina. She had to do extensive research for her portrayal. She, and several audience members, discussed how they could relate to this issue by comparing it to the proliferation of bullying in schools today. Richard B. Watson who portrayed the KKK member, on the other hand, grew up in the south. He had only to recall conversations with his Aunt and Grandmother to help him create the voice and character of a someone struggling with desegregation. “The script is your Bible when creating a character,” he asserted, “What’s not in the script, you have to fill in.”

The Best of Enemies was produced in partnership with the Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida. It is, quite simply, another fantastic production by the talented people at Orlando Shakes. And for the lucky readers of my blog who come to Central Florida seeking more than a mouse™ it provides the perfect evening of entertainment to enhance your vacation plans. For our local friends, this play is a must see!

 

 

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The Face of God

October 14, 2014
LanceAround to Mrs. LanceAround, "To Love Another Person is to See the Face of God"

LanceAround and Mrs. LanceAround on Their Wedding Day in 1987.  “To Love Another Person is to See the Face of God.”


The Face of God

When Mrs. LanceAround and I married 27 years ago we wrote our own wedding vows. I don’t know that I can quote my entire vows verbatim, but I am absolutely certain of the last six lines.  As I gazed into Mrs. LanceAround’s eyes on the best day of my life I said to her:

“Take my hand
. . . And lead me to salvation

Take my love
. . . For love is everlasting

And remember the truth that once was spoken
. . . To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Undoubtedly many of you will recognize these as the last lines of the unforgettable musical Les Miserables. When we were dating, Mrs. LanceAround and I had the pleasure of seeing the original Broadway cast perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. before their Broadway opening. What an experience! To this day we consider it the greatest theatre experience we have ever had.

Grammy and Grandpop LanceAround baked a homemade cake for our wedding and on it they inscribed, “To Love Another Person is to See the Face of God.”

Les Miz–The Musical

Those of us who have come to love this musical often refer to it as “Les Miz”; which seems to fit it like a warm blanket snuggles you in winter. Over the years we have seen countless versions of Les Miz in many different cities (the theatre show–please don’t ask about last year’s movie.) Every time we see the show we both sob uncontrollably when Fantine, Eponine and Jean Valjean sing those last six lines.

When it was announced that our local theatre group from Orlando Shakes was opening their season with Les Miz, Mrs. LanceAround and I were a little concerned. The show is a historic epic, with a huge cast, large battle scene and complicated sets. The staging of the creation of the barricade from the student uprising of June 1832 in Paris is often referred to as the most memorable part of the original Broadway production. Could our small, regional theatre pull off such an ambitious production? Turns out they did with flying colors. (Do you hear the people sing?)

The Plot (No Spoilers)
For those unfamiliar with this popular adaptation of Victor Hugo’s tome, allow me to provide a brief, no spoilers, synopsis.

The center of the show revolves around the life of Jean Valjean, a poor French peasant who got caught stealing a loaf of bread in an effort to keep his young nephew from starving. He was sentenced to five years in the Toulon prison. His sentence ballooned to 19 years after several attempts to escape. Once he served his time, he was paroled, but had to carry a yellow parole card and present it to the authorities of every town he entered. This resulted in him becoming an outcast and, therefore, deciding to break his parole. An encounter with a very loving and forgiving Catholic Bishop ignites a spiritual transformation. In disguise, Valjean becomes a rich, well respected businessman.

Enter Fantine–A very pretty, young French peasant who was seduced by an upper class student. He subsequently dumps her before learning she was pregnant. Alone and with child, she did her best to earn a living but found the French society of the mid 1800’s to be very cruel to unmarried mothers. Desperate, she resorts to selling her belongings, her hair and, finally, her body to provide money for her child, Cosette, who lives with an opportunistic innkeeper couple and their preferred natural daughter Eponine. Fantine works in the factory owned by the disguised Jean Valjean. When she is unjustly terminated, she blames Valjean for failing to help her in her time of need. Realizing his blindness to her innocent plight, Valjean vows to raise Cosette as his own child.

Enter the Ahab-esque Javert–Who pursues Valjean throughout his entire life, determined to re-incarcerate him for breaking his parole. One can both admire and pity his simplistic, black & white fever pitched commitment to obeying the law and administering justice.

As Cosette and Eponine grow up, they both fall in love with Marius, a young revolutionary and idealistic student who, along with his friends, are sympathetic to the horrible living conditions of the Parisian peasants. All of this comes to a head on June 5, 1832, when the students build a barricade in a revolutionary attempt to take control of the city. This part of the tale is based on actual events. Meanwhile Javert finally catches up to Valjean while Eponine’s parents’ attempt to exact revenge on Valjean for taking Cosette from them.

It’s a sprawling, somewhat complicated and epic tale made even more powerful by the enchantingly haunting score with dozens of beautiful and memorable lyrics. Weaving throughout the story are dramatic moments of despair, revenge, idealism, passion, injustice, hope and, most of all, redemption. As Valjean sings to Cosette and Marius near the end of the show “…It’s the story of those who always loved you…” and shortly thereafter he concludes with “…And remember the truth that once was spoken, to love another person is to see the face of God!…

Beautiful yet heart wrenching!

Here’s a glimpse of the production at Orlando Shakes:

This powerful piece of theatre has been translated into 22 different languages, performed in 42 countries and over 319 cities. In 1989 in Australia over 125,000 people attended one performance in Sydney, making it the largest crowd to have ever attended a theatre show. To date, over 70 million people have seen a live, professional performance and many, many more have seen or heard a Les Miz movie, TV special, cast recording or song. Remember the Susan Boyle phenomenon from Britain’s Got Talent? Yes, that song was from Les Miz! The London production of Les Miz is the longest running musical of all time, celebrating its 10,000th performance in January of 2010.

Introducing Les Miz to Steve and Holly

With all this exposure, it’s a rare treat to find someone who has never seen the show or, at the very least, doesn’t know something about the story. We say it’s a treat because we love to introduce people to this incredible tale.

Our good friends, Steve & Holly, are well known and respected in the vacation rental home community. They have been an enormous help to us in our business. To say, “Thanks” to them, Mrs. LanceAround and I took them to the Orlando Shakes production of Les Miz on Thursday. Since I review shows in this blog, Orlando Shakes was kind enough to give us a comp ticket and we were then lucky enough to purchase the last three tickets available with seats beside each other. Mrs. LanceAround and I did not know Steve and Holly were completely unfamiliar with the story. But in an ironic twist, Holly’s father had seen this video of the Orlando Shakes cast performing in a flashmob at The Mall of Millenia in Orlando and he had emailed her this link:

To be honest, I was a little nervous about watching the show with Steve and Holly. I knew I would cry at the end. I always do. On the other hand, I told them I was jealous. I clearly remember that night, 27 years ago, when Mrs. LanceAround and I first walked into the Kennedy Center totally unfamiliar with the story of Les Miz. The lights dimmed and we sat spellbound for three hours as the most majestic theatre performance we had ever witnessed unfurled in front of us. The Orlando Shakes is a small, regional theatre. But it’s staging of Les Miz was just as fantastic; just as memorable. As I was penning this review, Steve sent me an email that said, “Holly and I were just talking about how much we enjoyed the other night. I can’t thank you enough. We are big fans of Les Miz now.”

After the show, we walked out to the lobby of the theatre and met the talented young actress who portrayed Fantine. She, along with other cast members, were collecting donations for a local HIV charity. As we made a donation, we enjoyed hearing her tell about the passion that everyone in the cast has for this musical and how spiritual an experience it is for them.

The Roughans from Ireland (Did You Know They Were Irish?)

While speaking with her, a delightful couple from Ireland named the Roughans saw my press pass and assumed I was associated with the theatre. They pulled me aside to tell me how much they loved the show. Several times they mentioned, with obvious pride, that it was an Irishman, Colm Wilkinson, who did the original portrayal of Jean Valjean on Broadway and in London. When I told them that Mrs. LanceAround and I had the privilege of seeing Colm in the Washington D.C. production they enthusiastically nodded their head and told me, again, that Colm was Irish. Mr. Roughan also mentioned that he saw Colm perform, in Ireland, before he became famous. “Did you know he was an Irishman?” he asked again.

The Winning Ticket
As the evening came to a close and our hearts were warmed by the fantastic production we had just witnessed, we were walking out of the theatre when I suddenly remembered that earlier in the evening I had purchased all of us a 50/50 raffle ticket to help support the theatre. Each evening they sell tickets with half the revenue going to the theatre and the other half going to the person who wins the raffle. We checked the winning number and, as if the stars had filled the darkness with order and light (sorry Javert), Holly held the winning ticket.

The run for Les Miz at Orlando Shakes is now closed. It has been a smash hit with sold out audiences. You may wonder why we even review a show that is no longer available to see? The answer is simple. The lucky readers of my blog need to know about this jewel of a theatre located in the heart of Orlando. It’s a wonderful organization that produces fantastic shows. If you are local to Central Florida, it should be a routine part of your entertainment plans. If you are visiting from out of town, check their website and schedule your trip to coincide with a show that is of interest to you. I guarantee it will make your vacation to Central Florida more enjoyable and more memorable.

Don’t Miss the Next Show
The next production at Orlando Shakes, The Best of Enemies, opens next week. It’s produced in partnership with the Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida. It tells the almost unbelievably true story of a radical KKK leader and an African-American civil rights activist who are forced to serve together during the racial desegregation of Durham SC schools in 1971. What happens next?

For goodness sake, go see the show. If it’s anything like other shows at Orlando Shakes you will thank me.

Oh, and please tell them LanceAround sent you.