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DREAM Act deferred 

Plus, firm convictions with Shakespeare Carolina's Richard III

There's a scrappy, cut-and-paste quality to Glenn Hutchinson's new play, Limbo, premiering at Carolina Actors Studio Theatre. Yet the kaleidoscopic, rushed and exuberant qualities of this collaboration by CAST and the Hispanic Cultural Center of Charlotte are perfectly in tune with the urgency of the subject.

The clock is ticking on the protagonist of Limbo, Marie Gonzalez, a "legally illegal" immigrant whose time in the United States runs out when the clock strikes midnight on July 31, 2009. Her parents, who brought Marie to America from her native Costa Rica when she was 5, trusted a lawyer to navigate the labyrinth of Immigration and Naturalization, a terrible mistake that caught up with them after they had built what they thought was a stable life in Jefferson City, Mo.

Acting on an anonymous tip, the Feds -- "La Migra" -- showed up at the Gonzalezes' doorstep in 2002. Forget that Papa was a courier for the governor and had been a restauranteur, he and wife Marina faced deportation after three years of lobbying and legal appeals. Largely because of her dogged determination to get a college education, Marie has been allowed to remain behind.

As you may know, real-life Marie Gonzalez has not been a passive victim of her poignant plight. Adversity has transformed her into an activist, one of the most compelling proponents of the DREAM Act bill, sponsored by Democratic Majority Whip, Sen. Richard Durbin. If DREAM passes (it stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), it would pave the road to conditional legal status for 360,000 current high school graduates -- plus 715,000 younger students now in our public schools.

One in over a million, the real-life Marie was at CAST last Friday and Saturday nights, facing sell-out Charlotte audiences in talkbacks after we had faced the ordeal our broken system is putting her through. Already, Limbo is a political event in a city whose leadership is shutting the doors of our community colleges to the sons and daughters we've welcomed into our elementary and secondary schools.

It's also a coming-out block party for the Hispanic talent that dwells in our midst. Actors, singers and dancers we've never seen before in Charlotte's gringo theater companies were very saucily showing off their gifts under the adroit direction of Michael Simmons. Most prominent among these was Brenda Giraldo as Marie, upbeat, quietly determined, vulnerable and free of affectation. Simmons has caught the documentary vein of Hutchinson's script -- with interwoven Spanish and Spanglish translations by Claudia Lemus Farnandez -- and enriched it with projected videos directed by Jay Thomas, a generous sprinkling of live salsa and merengue, and an explosion of glorious mural art from Carlos Herrera Burgos.

Hutchinson's script has a lot going on in its own right, sketching three intersecting arcs while advocating Marie's cause. First, there's Marie's story, of course. But the activist thrust of Limbo demands that we see the wider dimensions of the problems that cry out for new thinking and legislation.

On top of that, we get the documentary frame, the adventure of getting Marie's story. Hutchinson splits himself into two goofball film students, Miguel and Nathan, who choose Marie's crusade as the subject for their joint school project. Juan Carlos Piedrahita as Miguel and Bob Glahn as Nathan give a grungy, quixotic edge to the filmmakers' journey to Mizzou, disclosing an amusing amount of greenness as Miguel fires questions and operates the camera while Nathan holds a boom mike and kibitzes.

Frank Dominguez and Delia Rabah are Marie's parents in the flashbacks that form the sinew of her story, staunchly middle class without surrendering their ethnicity. Cristina Layana is Danielle, the illegal who treads on eggshells, and Elena Mateus is her best friend Isabel, able to pursue her dream of becoming a dancer -- and trying not to feel guilty about it.

Christy Edney and Jonavan Adams complete the mix as La Migra, neither brutal nor totally heartless. Just morally rigid upholders of the law.

Limbo may not succeed in altering Marie Gonzalez' future -- or even CP's admissions policy. But it is undoubtedly an awakening, galvanizing event for Charlotte's Hispanic community and a watershed for the local theater scene. Kudos to our Arts & Science Council for supporting it with grant money.

Shakespeare Carolina is rolling into the rep part of their season with some encouraging momentum. Richard III is SC's best production at Theatre Charlotte in the two summers that they've been there.

The reason can be expressed in two words: Hank West. From the moment he first appears -- with alarming malignity, thanks in part to Cyd Knight's lighting -- we know that we're in for a wild ride. Dressing the guys in camo and giving the four key women more than their usual emphasis, director Chris O'Neill is working with a strong concept and firm convictions.

As a surgeon, O'Neill is not so nifty. Ricky 3 would be a full 475 lines longer than Lear if he didn't operate. So you might experience vertigo trying to keep track of all the men the royal women are bemoaning, castigating and cursing.

But what exquisite bemoaning we get from Carrie Anne Hunt as Lady Anne, for whom marriage to Richard is an ultimate humiliation -- and an only choice. Castigations from Iesha Hoffman as the Duchess of York and Karen Surprise as Queen Elizabeth crackle with spite. As for the mighty curses delivered by Stephanie Howieson as Queen Margaret, I'd lock her in a tower myself if it could ensure that the Concord resident would deliver more of her thunderbolts in Charlotte.

It's the twisted physicality of the humpbacked monster that West does best -- and the nonchalant arrogance of Richard's command. Brian Willard has some excellent moments as Buckingham, the kingmaker who fatally wavers in his loyalty, and Tom Ollis seems to be having a blast in multiple roles, most conspicuously as the bloodthirsty axman Ratcliffe.

Nick Iammatteo as Richmond is satisfyingly stirring as he delivers his inspirational oration before the climactic battle even if it sounds like Sinatra has wandered onto Bosworth Field. Truth is, there's a whiff of Tennessee Williams coming from West's side of the battle lines.

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