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Live Active Cultures

Seth reunites with old friends who have been absent from Orlando’s stages

Last Thursday, actor RobertHegyes – best known as Juan Luis Pedro Felipo de Huevos Epstein from Welcome Back, Kotter – went up to that great remedial classroom in the sky. In honor of the fallen Sweathog, this week’s column is dedicated to saying “welcome back” to old friends who have been absent from Orlando’s stages for a while.

Word carnival

On the night Hegyes passed away, I attended the Orlando debut of The Genghis Khan Guide To Etiquette, the latest one-man word-carnival from slam poet Rob Gee. Like Paul Strickland, who performed on the same Shakes stage a week earlier, Gee is a popular Fringe veteran who is touring under the Beth Marshall Presents banner, but unlike Strickland, Gee won’t be back for May’s festival.

Gee’s latest was billed as a “best of” collage of poems pulled together under the loose theme of lacking social skills. (As Gee winkingly disclaimed, “Don’t be fooled by the apparent lack of a thematic arc.”) Subjects spanned the world’s worst pickup lines, atypical love poetry, global apocalypse and a Remembrance Day poem which was commissioned, then banned, by BBC Radio.

While I preferred the stronger through-lines in his Fringe hits Fruitcake and SmartArse, Gee is a mesmerizing monologist in any format. Between his gangly, off-kilter gait and the way words erupt from his lips like saliva, Rob often appears on the verge of tripping over his own linguistic feet; while he always recovers to land the rhyme, watching him wobble is as thrilling as any high-wire act.

Mohawked mushmouth

Later that night, I visited the Peacock Room for the return of Truth or Dare With Pepe after a three-month hiatus. This semiregular series of live chat shows aimed at Orlando theater insiders is hosted by Pepe, the mohawked, mushmouthed, offensive-to-all character created by local actor-director Rob Ward. Along with co-host Baby Blue, who is best known as the choreographer behind Varietease, Pepe interviews and embarrasses local artists, while the crowd is kept well-lubricated with free shots from Chris “Mr. Gay Florida U.S. of A.” McIntyre.

For his first post-break guests, Pepe invited Beth Marshall and Michael Marinaccio, the past and present producers of the Orlando Fringe Festival. Dispelling lingering rumors of tension between the two, the pair sat on Pepe’s plush couch together and talked of “harmony and sweetness” and “passing the torch.” Marshall chose Pepe’s “truth” challenge and played “Never Did I Ever” against Pepe’s Kinsey-esque questioning, consuming a quantity of gin before the game ended. Marinaccio’s dare was supposed to involve eating a super-long beef stick, no-hands Lady and the Tramp-style, with an audience volunteer; luckily for him, no one could open the meat snack’s hermetic wrapper.

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