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Excavating For A Bard 

Also, new looks at Cinderella and Atticus Finch

Bellying up to the Bard seems to be an inspiration. If you can pick up beers and casual sex at a bar, why not a smattering of culture? Collaborative Arts is bringing its first production ever, Tavern Shakespeare, to RiRa Irish Pub on Thursday nights.

This freewheeling revue of canonical scenes -- from Taming of the Shrew, Romeo & Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream and others -- serves as a nice launching pad for a planned outdoor Collaborative exploit this summer. But if beer-and-the-Bard is an idea whose time has come, RiRa doesn't always prove to be the right place.

The upstairs, where the able Collaborative company performs, has obviously been laid out as an entertainment venue. There's a makeshift stage at the rear with a sound system neatly tucked in alongside it. Two aisles traverse the floor, nicely marking out booths on one wall, intimate tables on the opposite wall and an island of tables in the middle.

As the actors and actresses move up and down these aisles, they can shift thoroughfares without seriously impeding the wait staff. That continuing traffic flow is both the blessing and the curse of Tavern Shakespeare. Business and dining continue throughout the show, creating a buzz that an amped-up music combo could rise above more easily.

So it's a good idea to think of Tavern Shakespeare as a throwback to the Elizabethan Age, when the Bard's newly hatched masterworks played before a mix of well-heeled nobles and rowdy groundlings. The first Romeo and Juliet probably had to project much more loudly than a whisper for their fledgling balcony flirtations to be heard.

At RiRa, we can detect that Romeo has issues with this marriage thing. Scenes from Shrew and Midsummer have a roughhouse patina that will ring truer to died-in-the-wool bardolators.

I felt rather fortunate to be tending to the necessities of dinner as the rambunctious company unfurled the flimsy skein that holds all these disparate vignettes together. The Dating Game and speed dating? Socialization skills taught by the Witches Three?

Some of what you'll see is lame, but nothing is overlong. Dave Holland, Joanna Gerdy, Andrea King, Beth Yost, Robby Lutfy and Jocelyn Rose all prove to be deft Shakespeareans in a presentation that's high on hijinx. Clowning and salacious innuendo are provided at no extra charge. Tips are solicited, however, at this free show.

If Opera Carolina could marry mezzo soprano Vivica Genaux, I'm sure they would. But she already has a husband, I'm told, and she's quite intimate with a composer named Rossini. Last week's triumph in the title role of Cinderella (nee La Cenerentola) was even more impressive than her previous conquest as Rosina in The Barber of Seville.

Nothing's wrong with The Barber, mind you. But last Thursday's performance began at 7:30pm, and Genaux needed to have plenty left in her larynx three hours later for the glorious vocal fireworks that explode after her royal apotheosis. She never stinted along the way, nor did the diamond-studded finale lack any of the bell-like tones that we'd heard back when Genaux made her first scullery entrance.

Stage director Jay Lesenger overlaid plenty of broad slapstick comedy, yet compared to the vaudeville I beheld at La Scala when I saw this jocund opera in Milan, the Charlotte production was a model of elegance and restraint. Rhonda Overman and Dawn Pierce were gawky and repellent enough as Cindy's sisters, but they didn't rock the laugh meter as lustily or consistently as bass baritone Dale Travis in the role of their vain, dissolute dad, Don Magnifico.

Actually, the comedy from the "Baron of Mountflagon" was so intoxicating that Genaux and her prince, Bradley Williams, had to gush honey out of all of their vocals not to be upstaged. Williams wasn't quite as powerful or agile as our heroine, but he was mighty enough to rule at her side.

We've seen To Kill a Mockingbird before in Charlotte in winsome productions at Children's Theatre starring Steve Umberger and Duke Ernsberger. Hugh Loomis doesn't always measure up in the deceptively demanding role of Atticus Finch, the windmill-tilting attorney who defends a hapless black man accused of rape in the days of Jim Crow segregation.

Nor does Theatre Charlotte sport the technical expertise to smooth out the transition from young Scout's porch to her eyrie at the courthouse. But the problem that really vanquishes director Martin Thompson is Christopher Sergel's stage adaptation. Children's Theatre took liberties. More decisively, they cut out the longueurs by keeping their productions to the hallowed one-hour length demanded by our school system.

More lib and more surgery might have spared this Mockingbird.

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