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Starving Artists cooks up The Birth again 

In his fifth season of presenting his stage adaptation of Frederick Buechner's The Birth, Nathan Rouse has plenty to celebrate. The Yuletide presentation has steadily grown in size, adding music and new audience along the way — despite swapping out the usual jollity, sentimentality and fabricated Santy Claus miracles for a simpler, contemplative dramatization of the biblical reason for the season. Rouse has not only been licensed to perform the work, he has been invited to serve on the Buechner Institute's national advisory board.

The show blipped on our radar for the first time last year, when it played at Actor's Theatre and earned a nomination for CL's Theater Event of the Year. For 2010, The Birth returns to its birthplace at Carolina Actors Studio Theatre, where it will open on Dec. 12 and run for 10 performances through Dec. 20.

A sense of completion marks the fifth edition. "Our energies became focused this year on turning all the live music into original pieces," says Rouse, "except for 'O Come, Emmanuel,' which is kind of an ancient classic." Sarah DeShields, who wrote two of the original songs for The Birth, will perform live in concert after the 6:30 p.m. show on Dec. 19 in a special 5th Anniversary Event.

But not immediately after. A talkback follows the hour-long show, featuring Rouse and the other cast members from The Birth, but also Dale Brown, author of The Book of Buechner and the head of The Buechner Institute. The reciprocity doesn't end there, for Rouse and his Starving Artist Productions company will journey to Bristol, Tenn., and perform their handiwork twice this weekend at the Institute.

Rouse's newfound importance in the Buechner firmament will result in a new blossoming of Starving Artist Productions.

"I'm really in a position," Rouse explains, "to be leveraging The Birth 2010 as a sort of launching pad for Starving Artists as a more fully fledged theater company and ultimately production company. Like next year, we are plotting a three-show season."

Included in the Starving Artists plot for 2011 — before The Birth returns for its sixth Yule — are the Charlotte premiere of Brian Friel's Faith Healer and the world premiere of Lion Country. Rouse has been given the green light to adapt the complete Bebb tetralogy, chronicling the life of Southern evangelist Leon Bebb. Lion Country, which earned Buechner a national Book Award nomination in 1971, is the most prestigious of the lot.

If Starving Artists continue to grow and prosper, the complete tetralogy figures to be finished in 2014, when Rouse hopes to roll out the whole lion pride together. Meanwhile full scheduling and ticketing details for The Birth are at thebirth.net.

Leave it James L. Yost and his Chaos Ensemble renegades from Providence High to set us straight: 'tis The Wrestling Season. Just a year ago, Chaos shook up Charlotte's sugary holiday slate with Columbinus, a rollicking sleigh ride back to the infamous Columbine massacre of 1999. The Laurie Brooks script is similarly occupied with the consequences of teen bullying — with lighter, gossipy artillery.

Two close friends, Matt and Luke, are at the heart of the story. Both are wrestlers, open game for the backbiting and rumor-mongering of teammates and classmates.

"It's about rumors, but it's also about sexual identity," Yost observes, "what a teenage girl feels she needs to do and say to be loved, and how guys act. High school guys can be the most misogynistic because they think they're supposed to be, and being sensitive isn't cool. When you think of wrestling, it's is a very masculine sport, but it's one of the few sports where you're rolling around on the floor with another guy. And I think Laurie Brooks did that on purpose."

Mix in a little homophobia, and things can get nasty on the mat. At Duke Energy Theatre, Dec. 16-19.

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