BWW Reviews: Orlando Shakes' CORTEZ METHOD is All Sound & Fury, Signifying Nothing

Make no mistake about it, Shakespeare's plays, despite their intellectual reputation, are filled with content that, if written today, would draw the ire of many parents. However, when Shakespeare used rape, drugs and alcohol, and murder in his plays, it was always as a vehicle to serve the larger story. When his plays featured lies, betrayals, and manipulations, they were always motivated by the unique psychology of the individual characters. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for "The Cortez Method," running through September 22nd at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater.

Despite the classic plots and revolutionary use of language, the reason that the Bard's plays endure half a millennia after they were written, is his unprecedented understanding of human nature. Long before Freud, Shakespeare wrote characters whose unthinkable acts felt not only logical, but unavoidable. In "The Cortez Method," a world premiere by Rob Keefe, I understood all of the dialogue; I understood each bizarre plot twist; but what I didn't understand, was why.

As I was walking into the theater, an usher said to the patron in front of me, "Do you watch the TV show 'Breaking Bad?' This show is like that." Though, like "Game of Thrones," "Breaking Bad" is a series that somehow has escaped my DVR, I understand the comparison. An average man gets drawn into a world of drugs and crime, and must deal with the often ugly and bloody ramifications of his choices.

However, I have a feeling that the highly-acclaimed, Emmy-nominated AMC drama doesn't suffer from the same heavy-handed, pretentious treatment that this production, directed by Mark Routhier, does.

The surprisingly short First Act is a whirlwind of profanity and screaming with the same plot points rehashed over and over. Though the act ends with a revelation that I thought might eventually bear fruit, it became just another confusing and ill-developed plot point. The new play won a full production as part of Orlando Shakes' 2012 Playfest! competition, a program that I commend them for running.

The story of "The Cortez Method" centers on two brothers, Walter (Riley Clermont) and Bill (Paul Bernardo), whose futures took very different turns after one fateful night, and the more fortunate brother has been paying for that good fortune ever since. Clermont plays Walter as a dark, drug-riddled amalgamation of Lenny Small and Harold Hill. While Bernardo did approach Bill with more humanity, what the character does and does not choose to believe often feels more contrived than natural; especially the decision, which I will not spoil, that leads to the story's jarring resolution. With no communicated rationale, the character draws the more dramatic conclusion, despite all of the evidence seemingly leaning in the opposite direction.

Throughout the show, Walter's authenticity is often called into question. Unfortunately, the show, like Bill's big brother, has very little.

The one character that does maintain some consistency for the majority of the show is Bill's wife, Sara, played by Suzanne O'Donnell. After numerous failed pregnancies, Sara persuades her husband to move out of the "Death House" where they lived, and to renovate a country home outside of Louisville, in hopes of finding a more fertile environment to grow their family. Her seemingly singular focus on this end leads her to a number of horrific decisions.

The show's final character, played by Melanie Whipple, is Odette, Bill's dim-witted, hillbilly Oxy supplier. I will admit that Whipple was funny, but her character seemed to be from a completely different play. It was as if a Meth-addicted Falstaff was casually walking through Inverness Castle just as Macbeth and his wife were plotting to kill Duncan.

Lest you think that the dark content of the show is what turned me off to "Cortez," after seeing the show, I went home and watched an episode of "American Horror Story: Asylum" which, like the play, consisted of drug use, rape, and murder, but still maintained more than a modicum of artistic reality. Furthermore, one of the most rewarding evenings that I have ever spent at the theatre was at the 2012 ALLIANCE THEATRE production of Tracy Lett's Pulitzer Prize-winning dark and unbalanced comedy, "August: Osage County," which is undoubtedly the progenitor of what this play was hoping to be. While I didn't really like the show, I loved what it was trying to be; and I hope that in future productions, Keefe is able to get more to the ugly reality of this story.

Though this was the first show that I have seen at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater since moving to Central Florida, I am well aware of their sterling reputation for quality classics and cutting-edge new plays. I know that for me, this show will not dissuade me from seeing other productions there, as I applaud their ambition in taking on a show with such difficult subject matter. I, for one, am especially excited for Orlando Shakespeare's "Wild West" adaptation of "Taming of the Shrew," which opens on September 11th. I also sincerely hope that if you are unfamiliar with this renowned company, that you do not judge them on this misstep, whether you have seen the show or not.

While I hate giving unfavorable reviews, I do want to give credit where it is due. The set, Bill and Sara's half-renovated kitchen designed by Robert Watts, is a spot-on recreation of a house in the middle of an episode of "Property Brothers," complete with sample backsplash tiles and test paint on the walls.

The show runs an hour and 45 minutes, with a wholly unnecessary intermission. At this point, I am sure that it is redundant to say that this show is recommended specifically for an adult audience, but it bears repeating. If despite my warnings, you would like to purchase tickets for "The Cortez Method," or better yet, for "Taming of the Shrew," call 407-447-1700, or visit their website.

Photo: Suzanne O'Donnell, Paul Bernardo, Riley Clermont, Melanie Whipple
Photo Credit: Tony Firriolo

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From This Author Matthew Allen

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