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14 December 2007

Wonderful Life

This show rehearsed locally and closes locally, but in between has toured all over the state. I thought this would be a great opportunity to compare reviewers (both professional and APAR-based) from around the region. I'll just post a sampling here, starting with this from The Charlotte Observer; I'm sure NCSC and itp will post the rest on their websites. Hope you enjoy.

From The Charlotte Observer, Sunday 2nd December 2007

Classic tale, fresh approach
Radio-style staging, sound effects add charm to `Wonderful Life'

"You've been given a great gift, Charlotte: a chance to see what the world would be like if you'd never lost your professional regional theater."

At least I think that's what the angel said ...

Could the fine production of "It's a Wonderful Life" now at Spirit Square be a divine visitation meant to keep Charlotte's most depressed theater fans from jumping off a bridge? I know I felt better Saturday, after the first of four performances this weekend by N.C. Stage, a professional company on loan from Asheville. The traveling show, a co-production with Asheville-based immediate theatre project, must lift spirits wherever it plays -- but especially here.

In this 1940s-style, "live radio" stage adaptation by Joe Landry, five gifted and engaging actors in vintage costumes voice the many familiar characters from Frank Capra's Christmas classic: George Bailey, a small-town banker blind to his own worth. His devoted wife, Mary, and their four adorable kids. His uncle Billy, whose dottiness, combined with the greed of town boss Mr. Potter, nearly brings disaster down on the Bailey Building and Loan. Clarence, the apprentice angel assigned to save George from suicide. Ernie the cabbie, Bert the cop, Vi the blond bombshell and all the others in tiny Bedford Falls whose lives would have been poorer, in some cases tragically so, if George had never been born.

Do we really need to experience this story again? Of course.

There's a reason "It's a Wonderful Life" remains an immortal TV presence in December, and this pared-down stage version reminds us of everything we love about the movie, often in surprising ways. How is it possible that an adult actor pretending to be little Zuzu ("Not a smidgen of temperature!") could tug at our hearts even more than 6-year-old Karolyn Grimes does on screen? Or that watching another actor mimic the crack of ice with a branch of bamboo could help us feel the chill of the lake that almost claims George's kid brother, Harry?

That's theater.

Asheville director Hans Meyer -- he also plays Clarence and other parts in the show -- keeps his fellow actors busy scoring this "Playhouse of the Air," as the faux broadcast is billed, with low-tech sound effects. A hand slapping an eggplant: That's Mr. Welch, the teacher's husband, slugging a distraught George in Martini's bar. Sure, it's a gimmick, but Landry's radio-theater approach fits the period and, far from distracting us, refreshes dialogue most viewers already know by heart.

The production's staging might be cute, but the portrayals are clear, earnest and deeply felt. Actor Willie Repoley makes the leading role his own, neither imitating nor departing radically from James Stewart's iconic screen performance. Repoley gets strong support from Lauren Fortuna (Mary), Kathryn Temple (Vi, Zuzu and others) and especially Joe Sturgeon, a man of a thousand voices (from God on down) who would have had a lucrative radio-theater career in another era.

True, Charlotte should be producing more of its own high-quality theater, not importing it from Asheville. But as George learns on that fateful Christmas Eve, when in need, there's no shame in accepting gifts from well-meaning friends. Let's accept this sweet little show as George does his own miracle, with open hearts, and be thankful that the members of N.C. Stage will be using their newly earned wings to fly back to Charlotte soon: In April, they'll bring another play with cinematic roots, Ron Hutchinson's "Gone With the Wind"-inspired comedy, "Moonlight and Magnolias," and in June, Lee Blessing's smart satire of politics and dogs, "Chesapeake."


Virginia Woolf at HART

I recently came across a blog called wnctheatre.livejournal.com and was delighted to find some reviews of local shows. I have no idea who the blogger is or how to get in touch, so for now I'm posting these without permission. If anyone knows the blogger, please check and see if they mind!
Bernhard Grier--

Who's Vaguely Perturbed by Virginia Woolf

Haywood Arts Repertory Theatre's recently-closed production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf left me to answer the titular question with, “Eh, not I.” I am left, perhaps, a little gassy by Virginia Woolf. To be fair, I seemed to be relatively alone in this feeling, as most of the audience exited the theatre in awe, utterly enchanted by this adequate interpretation of the iconic Albee classic. Additionally, several members of the crowd were absolutely guffawing at George and Martha’s acerbic repartee and Martha’s drunken swagger and frequent mugging. While I certainly find the play to be pithy and the dialogue as witty as it is scathing, I’m not sure if the full-out cackle is really the intended effect. If it is, I think the directors and actors certainly incorrectly ascertained the spirit of the show. Several people also commented at being completely riveted the entire three hours plus, while I found myself checking my watch with increasing frequency towards the end of the second act. So take that as you will.

Upon entering the theatre, many of us were struck by the beautiful and detailed set, which included a rather exquisite bar I intend to steal and cram into my tiny apartment (after strapping it to the top of my tiny car) as soon as the show closes. Don’t tell. Aesthetically speaking, the show was quite lovely, if the physical casting a bit odd. Mickey Hanley, portraying Martha with an abundance of sass and attitude, is striking in the role, but we are constantly reminded by Albee’s text that she is to be six years older than her husband, which she very clearly is not. To me, she generally lacked the subtle vulnerability that gives Martha her essential humanity, which leaves us with primarily a caricature of bravado and bluster, followed by an impressive complete emotional breakdown at the end of the show. I wouldn’t say she missed the mark of the character entirely, but there were some dimensions left unexplored. She captured the comedy of the role magnificently and, when the character did finally crack, the effect was fairly devastating. David Hopes was solid as George, unwavering in matching Martha in verbal spars, albeit a bit level and detached. Have these two ever had affection for each other? Do they now? It seems from the end of the show that they still share an emotional bond, but they come across more as a petulant child and her persevering guardian a great deal of the time. Some pacing difficulties here and there, perhaps in part due to the wordiness of the script. Trinity Smith was unassumingly charming as Honey, and Ben Marks a decent foil as her quick-tempered, upstart young husband.

This work is a challenging one to tackle, to be sure. It is rather easy to do an okay production of it, and very difficult to do an excellent one. I feel here we saw a lot of the surface of the relationships, while I wanted to see the subtext and intricacies that make human interaction so fascinating at large, and specifically intriguing in Albee’s opus.


Jingle Taps

This is from the C-T

‘Jingle Taps’ dances in the holidays
by Jim Cavener, take 5 Correspondent
published December 14, 2007 12:15 am

When N.C. Stage Company added a show called “Jingle Taps” to its Catalyst roster for this winter, it was a tad confusing, since the theater often hosts riotous comedy or stunning drama. But we attended “Jingle Taps” on the opening weekend, and it was a good decision.

The first act is a series of vignettes with a lame story line meant to hold together an interesting series of body movement loosely classified as dance. A rhythmic percussive element opens the show with Santa’s Irish elves becoming shoe- and boot-makers, using hammers and tools, hands, thighs and feet to create the bang.

Despite the silly theme and the striped stockings, the range of dance was impressive and exquisitely executed. Still, there is too much contrivance and too many conceits.

In the second act, all is forgiven when the troupe of six skilled dancers re-emerge in less contrived costumes, yet still managing to evoke the season. The fun begins with this intense and high-energy troupe blasting off in classic clog dancing form, with the bounce and flash one has come to expect of competent clogging.

The short set at the finish of this barely hourlong presentation is simply stunning. Six young dancers, with two “spares” rotating in performance give a world-class demonstration of the best of clog dancing.

This high-powered clutch of foot-stompers grew out of Mars Hill College’s award-winning Bailey Mountain Cloggers, with all but one of the crew either current students or recent alums. One is only a 17-year-old who will enroll at Mars Hill next year. The directors of the show, Heidi Kulas and Cheryl Renfro, are members of the All-American Clogging Team and have vast professional clogging experience.

The rest of the team includes Misty Searcy, Joseph Quattlebaum, Tyler Mercereau, Meghan McCartney, Matthew Kupstas and Leah Cunningham. Cunningham and Quattlebaum were the two who were missing at the performance reviewed but will perform this week.

Jim Cavener writes for the Citizen-Times.

07 December 2007


From MX

Theater Review: Romance
by Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt on 12/06/2007

This holiday season, Zealot Productions decided not to launch the typical Christmas play — indeed they decided to do just the opposite. Romance, a comedy by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet, is set in a courtroom and follows a trial that’s literally gone crazy. With a pollen-sensitive judge popping antihistamines, an anti-Semitic lawyer defending a Jewish chiropractor and a homosexual prosecutor caught in a relationship crisis with his flamboyant boyfriend, this play isn’t for the faint hearted.

If you’re not familiar with the most recent developments in derogatory name-calling, this unabashedly non-P.C. play will bring you up to date, and in doing so it will leave you bent over your seat in a fit of laughter. The small amount of order that the trial begins with quickly collapses, resulting is a disorderly and intensely funny debate between these broadly painted characters as they poses many worthy questions: What will resolve conflict in the Middle East? Was Shakespeare a Jew… was he gay? What do homosexuals really… do? What will happen if a man takes too many of his allergy pills?

Zealot’s cast of seven is strong, and the play’s director, Ryan Madden, seems to know that his cast shines on stage. In a theater made to hold 50 people, the BeBe enhances the feeling of being a part of the play’s dysfunctional trial. If you want to laugh this holiday season, don’t miss Zealot’s production of Romance. However, be sure to leave the kids at home.

Romance will at the BeBe Theatre till Dec. 8th and begins at 7:30 p.m.

— Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt, listings assistant