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Yankee Tavern
By Steven Dietz
October 14 - November 8, 2009
Orlando Shakespeare Theater

The mark of any good movie or play is when the audiences are challenged by the content and find themselves discussing it on the way home from the theater and even days later contemplating what they've seen. This happened to me recently. Set in a soon to be demolished New York City pub in 2006, Yankee Tavern is a conspiracy theory thriller centering on the disastrous events of September 11th. What is true? Can this be possible? Did that really happen? All things that were going through my mind after viewing this Ann Hering directed production by the Orlando Shakespeare Theater.

The play is performed in the intimate Goldman Theater which perfectly conveys the coziness of a small bar. The cast consists of: bar owner, Adam (Zack Robidas); Janet, Adam's fiancee (Katherine Skelton); Ray, bar regular and Adam's deceased father's best friend (Jim Ireland); and Palmer who is new to the bar (Tom Nowicki).

Ireland's slightly whacky but likable character Ray is chock-full of conspiracy theories. For instance, he believes that there was a moon landing, but not the one that was shone on TV. No, the real landing occurred on an invisible moon. He has a moon rock in his coat pocket to prove it. Eventually his crazy theories hone in on 9/11. The scary thing is that this theory starts to sound plausible. Ireland plays this character to the T. You soon forget that he is a much younger guy in wig and costume. He is a heavy drinking, shabbily dressed squatter who talks to ghosts. Of the entire cast, he is the most natural and at ease in the skin of his character.

The conspiracy theory thickens when Palmer, a rogue spook, is introduced into the plot and is pivotal to its progression. I almost didn't recognize Tom Nowicki - hair cut and in a suit. He spends most of the first act wearing a cap and unobtrusively sitting at the end of the bar sipping a beer. His subtle act of observation is true to life. He lulls you into a false sense of security and "boom" starts spewing theories so fast that your head spins.

Skelton and Robidas' performances seem forced at times. Skelton improves in scenes with Nowicki and Ireland by expressing relevant emotion. In this her debut season, she has made a promising start. However, Robidas seemed more interested in projecting his voice to the back of the theater (which really isn't that far) than connecting with the rest of the cast.

Herring keeps a brisk pace in this production - sometimes so brisk you miss some of the dialog. However, the content keeps you riveted. I also have to give props to Lighting Designer Kevin Griffin. Everytime the door to the bar is opened, it really looks like the sun is shining brightly outside. This impressed me everytime it happened. It's the little things in life. Yankee Tavern is definitely a thought-provoking play with some lighthearted moments. And it will thrill any conspiracy theory enthusiasts.


U2 360° TOUR
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL, US
Opening Act: Muse

With an alien space craft dwarfing the infield, U2 broke Super Bowl attendance records with 72,000+ fans filling Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on October 9th. This was not my first U2 concert, this was not my favorite U2 concert, but this was definitely my hottest U2 concert. Why did I think an autumn concert in Florida would be anything but sweltering? And I've got the sweat stains to prove it!

First, let's talk spaceship. It was the elephant in the room. I sat in the sun contemplating it for what seemed hours. It looked like a four-legged teal and orange sci-fi spider that would inevitably break its restraints and rampage through the unsuspecting crowd. The sheer scale was impressive - 170-tons, 360° runway (thus the tour name), rotating bridges, video screens, speakers, and a spire tower. Oh, did I forget to mention the disco ball? What it lacked in personality in the daylight, it more than made up for with spectacle in the dark.

Muse was the opening act. Who is Muse you may ask? Well, if you are a tween and a Twilight fanatic, you'll know. Actually I was first turned on to Muse by Stephanie Meyer's book playlists on her website. Meyer penned the Twilight Sagas. My interest in all things Twilight has waned, but my fondness for Muse has not. They did not disappoint other than they could have played longer. Thank goodness for satellite radio or I'd never hear them played over the air. Thank you Alt Nation! They opened their all too short set with "Uprising" from their just released album The Resistance. They followed with "Supermassive Black Hole" (yes, from the Twilight soundtrack). It seemed to garner the most crowd recognition. A few tunes later and they were sadly gone. As the inebriated woman behind me told her son on the phone, "I don't know who they are, but they are awesome." Apparently, the son was already in the know.

U2 opened the show with "Breathe" from their current album No Line on the Horizon - an unconventional choice, maybe. In fact, they covered half the album in the show - and that was almost 1/3 of the entire set. They quickly followed with "Get on Your Boots," and the crowd went wild. The set was at a fevered pitch and continued until the 9th song, "Elevation." Bono wisely took off his jacket. The audience sang along, danced, cheered and swayed.

Somewhere in the midst of things the show came to a screeching halt when Bono introduced Guy Laliberte (Cirque du Soleil founder) via a satellite link up to the International Space Station - amazing technology, yes, interesting, no. In a nutshell, preserve water! Then they hit another lull with "Until the End of the World" - not one of my favorites. They slowly came out of it with "City of Blinding Lights" and eventually had the crowd in a frenzy again with "Vertigo" and a remix of "I'll Go Crazy." Larry Mullen, Jr. was an iron man as he carried and played a bongo drum around the stage in the oppressive heat. Amazing stamina! They followed with the oldest tune in the show - War's "Sunday Bloody Sunday" - ah the memories! I was stoked when they segued into "MLK" but alas it was just a snippet. I was disappointed. Bono dedicated "Walk On" to Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi commemorating this with several children parading the runway wearing masks of her face. I have to say, a little creepy - maybe it's just me, I hate masks.

A video of Desmond Tutu introduced "One." (I just love him - such a positive guy! He exudes hope and love.) Although, for the most part, I really couldn't hear what he was saying. (This also happened with the little space alien cartoon figure - I have no earthly idea what it was saying.) And then, they performed my favorite U2 song of all time. It gives me chills just to think of it - leading in with a verse of "Amazing Grace" they performed "Where the Streets Have No Name." Loved it then, love it now, love it always. Outstanding!

They returned with an encore that was a little disappointing. "Ultraviolet" is not a standout in my opinion. Even with the special effects, this tune just didn't cut it. An encore should leave the audience wanting more, this one was a little bit of a downer. Finally the disco ball made an appearance as Bono requested the audience to turn on their phones and the lights were turned down. The stadium was turned into a sea of sparkling star-like lights as they performed "With or Without You." They closed the show with "Moment of Surrender," "I did not notice the passersby and they did not notice me." This seemed like a complete disconnection and a not too subtle goodbye. Could this be U2's last tour? Say it ain't so.

I must admit, I do find myself growing nostalgic for the U2 of old. I miss Bono doing his little squirmy dance and waxing political (he still does but it's more sophisticated now). I miss ending the show chanting "…how long to sing this song" over and over and over. I miss the old tunes - "I Will Follow", "Gloria," and "Electric Co." I miss Bono pulling a girl out of the audience to slow dance or a guy to play the guitar. Okay, Bono did pull someone from the audience - a boy who precariously straddled one of the rotating bridges until Bono managed to pull him over. Then they proceeded to jog around the 360° runway while the band broke into the opening chords of "City of Blinding Lights." But most of all I miss the intimacy of my first and favorite U2 concert, The Unforgettable Fire tour. Geez, am I getting old? Well, at least I'm younger than my boys (yeah, that's what I call U2).But my boys can still rock!

OK. The concert was the highlight of my time spent in Tampa. Now, let me tell you about the many (and I do mean many) lowlights. First off, Tampa is one of the absolute worst cities to get around in. I now remember why I hate going there. I live in one of the most visitor-friendly cities around, so I can tell the difference.

Before going to the concert I went to the Raymond James Stadium website to get directions, parking information and opening times. When we got to Tampa, there were electronic signs up that said for stadium parking take exit blah blah blah. This was completely different than the directions that the stadium website provided. Which to believe? We decided to follow the signs. We took the exit. When you got off the exit however, there were absolutely no further directions. Luckily we had a little map from the website to determine if we were to go straight, turn left or turn right. I'm glad I can read a map! We turned left.

Several blocks further and we could see the stadium. And suddenly more electronic signs. The signs told us to continue on past parking areas and turn left on Dale Mabry. We followed these directions. The stadium was on our left and we were in the left lane. What could go wrong? Suddenly another electronic sign, turn right for general parking. Right? But the stadium is on the left. We're in the far left lane. Some warning would have been nice. There was no way to get over to the far right lane at this late notice. We missed the turn off. We had to drive several blocks before we could u-turn back (turn off lanes blocked). We made the left turn down the street and followed the signs for general parking. We pulled up to the lot and were told it is closed - temporarily. There are plenty of spaces but we must turn around back the way we came and pull into another lot. Oh, let me clarify - a field.

We pull in and are greeted by an overly perky parking attendant that welcomes us to Raymond James Stadium. Isn't that blocks away? She must be confused. Perhaps she was getting a percentage of the outrageously priced $25 parking spaces. (Let's say that there were 2 people per car and over 72,000 people going to the concert. That's $900,000 in parking fees. GIVE ME A BREAK! I thought the Amway Arena's $10 parking fee was a joke.) We are directed to the farthest corner of the field in front of a power station (not to be confused with the police station next door). But luckily we are fairly close to the exit.

We walk blocks to Dale Mabry and wait at the congested intersection to cross. We make it to our gate and we have a little more than 30 minutes before the gates open. We find a sliver of shade that a palm tree will allow and we wait. At 5 pm gate attendants line up at the tables, the gates are opened and…we wait, and we wait and we wait until nearly 6 pm in 90+ degrees and 100%+ humidity. Makeup slides off my face, my hair frizzes, sweat soaks through my clothes, and I wilt. I think I can now recite the informational recording at the gate.

We finally make it inside and cruise the concessions. This is dinner, after all. I was expecting more. This is fair food. I am not impressed. Thank goodness at least they serve Coke products. I decide on a giant bucket of popcorn and a soda. I ask for a straw. Apparently, they aren't allowed (even though I spot several people sporting them in their drinks when I get out to my seat). Did you know that you can't keep the top to a water bottle? It can be used as a weapon. Unless you have a sling shot, I do not know how. Oh, did I mention we were sitting on the sunny side of the stadium?

During the show I sat behind a very tall boy - I'm petite. He never sat down. He always had his arms stretched to the sky swaying as if he were at a Baptist tent revival. I could hardly see a thing. Thank goodness for video screens. After the encore, we made it down the steps and out onto the street.

People were everywhere. We walked the blocks back to our parking "lot" and found that the convenient exit was closed. Hmm… is there another exit? I still don't know the answer to that. We pulled out into traffic that snaked and snaked and snaked through what seemed an unending grassy field but never moved. People on foot streamed by our car for a good hour, but we never ever moved. No one did. I decided to get out and walk to the front of the line to see what was up. It was a long walk. There was very little action. By the time I got back to the car, everyone was turning around to head out of the exit that had been closed. An hour later, we escaped. A week later, I'm sure there are still people in that lot trying to figure out how to get out.

Luckily we had TomTom with us - our sometimes trusty GPS. It directed us exactly where we needed to get - on the road back home. We got there around 2 am.


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Orlando museum, Orlando symphony, Orlando ballet, Orlando theater, Orlando broadway, Orlando concert
Orlando museum, Orlando symphony, Orlando ballet, Orlando theater, Orlando broadway, Orlando concert
Orlando museum, Orlando symphony, Orlando ballet, Orlando theater, Orlando broadway, Orlando concert
Orlando museum, Orlando symphony, Orlando ballet, Orlando theater, Orlando broadway, Orlando concert
Orlando museum, Orlando symphony, Orlando ballet, Orlando theater, Orlando broadway, Orlando concert
Orlando museum, Orlando symphony, Orlando ballet, Orlando theater, Orlando broadway, Orlando concert
Orlando museum, Orlando symphony, Orlando ballet, Orlando theater, Orlando broadway, Orlando concert
Orlando museum, Orlando symphony, Orlando ballet, Orlando theater, Orlando broadway, Orlando concert
Orlando museum, Orlando symphony, Orlando ballet, Orlando theater, Orlando broadway, Orlando concert
Orlando museum, Orlando symphony, Orlando ballet, Orlando theater, Orlando broadway, Orlando concert
Orlando museum, Orlando symphony, Orlando ballet, Orlando theater, Orlando broadway, Orlando concert
Orlando museum, Orlando symphony, Orlando ballet, Orlando theater, Orlando broadway, Orlando concert
Orlando museum, Orlando symphony, Orlando ballet, Orlando theater, Orlando broadway, Orlando concert
Orlando museum, Orlando symphony, Orlando ballet, Orlando theater, Orlando broadway, Orlando concert
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Florida museum, Florida symphony, Florida ballet, Florida theater, Florida broadway, Florida concert, Florida opera
Florida museum, Florida symphony, Florida ballet, Florida theater, Florida broadway, Florida concert, Florida opera
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Florida museum, Florida symphony, Florida ballet, Florida theater, Florida broadway, Florida concert, Florida opera
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Florida museum, Florida symphony, Florida ballet, Florida theater, Florida broadway, Florida concert, Florida opera
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