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Beyond canis major 

Family show is dog-gone fun

Let us ponder the reason, embedded deep in the gestation of the cosmos, why Go, Dog. Go! must exist. Carried to this pinpoint in the charted universe after billions of years, we each emerge from the womb with a shared trait that makes brothers and sisters of us all.

Namely, we're born without the ability to read. The simple language and extravagant imagery of Go, Dog. Go! -- culminating in an orgiastic treetop doggie party -- are there to ferry us across the wide gulf between drooling ignorance and basic literacy. Or at least the first dogleg of that journey.

OK, so enough with the pondering. You certainly won't find yourself in a meditative frame of mind at the Children's Theatre stage version of P.D. Eastman's crib classic. A vast ocean of silliness, decreed by director Alan Poindexter, washes over us in wave after wave, skit after skit, casting us almost entirely adrift from text -- with only occasional islands of dialogue.

All pedagogical intent is jubilantly cast aside at the McColl Family Theatre. There's no music, either, in the opening sequence when Scott Helm enters clumsily as an audience member and is morphed into a floppy-eared pooch before our eyes. Once that happens, we're bombarded with sound, eye-popping color and a cornucopia of doggie dopiness.

The sudden shift from clownish mime to raucous chaos gives Poindexter and his professional cast a firm grip on the anklebiters' attention. Some tasty crumbs are also tossed to adults along the way, keeping this an enjoyable family affair before and after the intermission.

We're fed some musical scraps from E.T., Jaws, The Twilight Zone and -- grooviest of all -- West Side Story. Before howling harmoniously at the moon to strains of "Blue Moon," a trio of mongrel yowlers performs a similar desecration upon the "Blue Danube" waltz.

As MC Dog, Helm goes on to be a sort of canine foreman, overseeing a rainbow pack of fellow hounds as they work-dogs-work, eat-dogs-eat and sleep-dogs-sleep. Without fail, there are breaches in pack discipline, snarling disputes, backbiting and recurrences of rockin' chaos courtesy of Volatile Baby, reborn as a strolling cur band, thanks to Courtney Scott's pup-posterous costumes.

The semblance of a plot is injected into the chaotic medley when Hattie Dog, an aloof poodle-like dish portrayed by Barbi Van Schaick, sashays onto the scene and attempts to impress MC with her latest millinery atrocity. You cannot please MC with just any old bonnet.

Test driving the show with 5-year-old Liam and 11-year-old Rebecca, I found both kids relentlessly engaged. Liam declared the bearded Mark Sutton to be his favorite among the ensemble. Those perked-up Mercury ears do make Yellow Dog cool, complemented by scarves that seem to stretch out into the breeze, giving all the doggie drivers the élan of World War I fighter pilots.

THE BLUMENTHAL PAC has taken Carrie Ann's Kiss under its wing, and the move from Theatre Charlotte to the Booth Playhouse has done last year's surprise comedy hit nothing but good. The bigger hall is drawing out extra energy from director Jim Gloster and his winsome cast, and the cabaret seating has inspired them to bring some of the action out to the audience -- and to drag some of the audience onstage.

Tonya Shuffler's comedy, taking aim at the cultish Mary Kay Cosmetics business model with a nicely gauged mix of satire and empathy, retains its slight edge of youthful rebellion. But at the Booth last Friday night, there was extra electricity in the air, the kind that happens when a play finally reaches the right audience and clicks. The young professionals of Club Blume were eating it up with a spoon -- plus club sandwiches, desserts and highballs.

So without much visible tinkering with script, scenery or costumes, Carrie Ann's Kiss is a better show in the Center City than it was in Myers Park. Gloster has done a little masterful shuffling of his own, moving Tim Ross into the role of Terry Drake, the first-ever male finalist for the coveted Ruby Kiss, emblematic of Carrie Ann Cosmetics sales supremacy. Bringing in Brett Gentile to perform the comedy canapés is a treat.

So are all the returnees who scarfed up CL Theater Award nominations. Donna Scott, Mark Scarboro and Darlene Black are as fine as ever -- and Chandler McIntyre is even better.

IN SOME GIRL(S), now at the CAST revolving stage, we follow a generically named Guy around the country as he peeps in on five former lady friends before submitting to wedlock for the first time. Making amends for past mistakes is certainly a good thing. So are self-examination and self-criticism, which seem to be a huge chunk of playwright Neil Labute's intent as he makes Guy a writer who is beginning to taste success and critical acclaim.

But in several respects, the Carolina Actors Studio Theatre production is simply too much of a good thing. As Guy crisscrosses the country, from Seattle to Boston, there's an accumulation of past and present selfishness, irresponsibility, duplicity and misdeeds that short-circuits any hopes he or we might harbor for his reformation. Worse, it saps away our empathy long before he returns to Seattle.

Maybe if there were a more charismatic, irresistible actor than John Cunningham as Guy, the evening wouldn't seem like such a long trek. One less intermission, two less exes, and an hour less of playing time might also turn the trick for an evening that stretches past 10:30.

Leslie Beckham gives her most seductive performance yet as Tyler, Guy's plaything back in the days of his master's degree. Mellowest of the discards. More flaky and insecure, Amy Campbell captures the L.A. playfulness and vulnerability of Bobbi, raging at Guy one minute, messing with him the next.

The three injured/vengeful women are harder to take, each encounter painfully long. Collectively, they're an albatross, despite spirited efforts from Dana Ortt, Cynthia Farbman and Kristy Morley.

MY SEARCH AT didn't turn up any Gilbert & Sullivan for Dummies book titles, but Opera Carolina seemed to have found a performance edition when they brought The Pirates of Penzance to the PAC last week. Everything had to be boldfaced, triple underlined and dumbed down so that concentration wouldn't wander in the top balcony.

The crowd loved the shtickathon, and there were times -- like the snatch of "Caro nome" tossed into the coloratura of "Poor Wandering One," or when the silver top hats suddenly came out for an extra Chorus Line-styled repeat -- when one surrendered to the zaniness of it all. Still, I would rather have had a Mabel who could truly sing "Poor Wandring One" as Sir Arthur had composed it.

The straitlaced Marcus McConico made an excellent Frederic, the one character who should be somewhat of a simpleton, but there was no match elsewhere in the cast for his vocal excellence. Though guilty of laying it on too thick, Sean Cooper as the Pirate King and Keith Jurosko as the famed Major General provided able comic support.

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  • On Saturday, Oct. 21, hundreds gathered at Camp North End on Statesville Avenue for Charlotte's first black alternative music festival. We captured some of the bands in action on stage, but mostly we surveyed the grounds as fans, families, vendors and more lounged around the sprawling, colorful Camp North End site. It was a great day of music, food, fun, and sweet, autumn sunshine. (Photos by Mark Kemp)
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