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Freeze-Frame 

Riffs On Mt. Rushmore Gallery play definitely worth a look

At Louisville's famed Humana Play Festival, groups of American playwrights are often invited to contribute short pieces on the pre-selected theme. For the 2001 festival, playwrights were turned loose on heaven and hell in the spirit of Dante's Divine Comedy. This year, 16 playwrights riffed on the theme of Mt. Rushmore.Snapshot, Warehouse Theatre's inaugural presentation at the Hart-Witzen Gallery, is more than the sum of its parts. The 19 vignettes are presented continuously in the format of a guided tour of the National Monument. As the lights come up on each sketch, characters frozen like museum pieces come to life. They end up in similar freeze-frame, giving a unique mechanical quality to their fictitiousness.

What the project aspires to is nothing less than a guided tour of the American psyche, as outsized in its vulgarity as the carved heads of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt on the side of the mountain. You'll probably find the range of proficiency among the playwrights a little too broad for comfort at times.

The bickering newlyweds of "Little Pezidents," making their points via Pez dispensers, are a tad too precious. A couple of other sketches stray into preachiness, and a few more are flecked with cliches. But you'll probably dig Annie Weisman's eBay update of O. Henry, "Thrift of the Magi," showcasing Casey Goglin and Pat Moran as the sacrificing lovebirds. David Lyndsay-Abaire's "History Lesson" features the most entertaining of Snapshot's crazies, a bitter ranger gal (Danielle Pardue) who peppers her last park lecture with bogus facts and poisoned barbs aimed at the boyfriend who fired her, our ranger host.

As Ranger Victor Collins, Tony Jambon brings an aura of stability each time he takes control of our tour -- quite welcome considering the unevenness of the cast. Jambon is particularly effective when he loses control in the final scene, Craig Wright's "Bomb Squad." There he's teamed with a mystical body-painted kook, nicely acted -- and hilariously danced -- by Moran.

Snapshot is easily the most unusual theater experience in Charlotte since Fefu and Her Friends opened in NoDa early last year. Under Anthony Cerrato's able direction, all difficulties are negotiated effortlessly. It's an auspicious, audacious beginning for Warehouse Theatre that catapults Hart-Witzen Gallery to the forefront of uptown arts venues.

If you thought all of CPCC's top guns had been commandeered for Theatre Charlotte's diamond jubilee Showboat, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the new production of The Fantasticks at panoramic Pease Auditorium -- if you can tap into the short supply of unsold tickets. Jamey Varnadore's direction isn't always sufficiently heedful of the delicate magic contained in the legendary Tom Jones/Harvey Schmidt musical. Nor does the second act detonate with quite the satiric bite I've seen in other productions.But the singing onstage is superb, backed by the exquisite duo of musical director William Congdon on piano and Christina Van Arnsdale at the harp. Comedy is exemplary, with veterans James K. Flynn and Dana Alderman as the scheming fathers of our romantic fledglings and Kevin Campbell paired with Steve Bryan as the seedy troubadours.

Trouble is, we're saddled with the saccharine pop stylings of Mark Bing as our narrator -- and El Gallo -- all evening long. Watching his intermittent charm and swashbuckling machismo, neither of which comes close to fulfilling the promise of his swarthy good looks, I'm haunted by the premonition that Bing will be tabbed for the lead for Theatre Charlotte's upcoming Man of La Mancha. I'll be sure to fabricate an emergency if that happens, one that takes me far from the Queen City.

Scenery replicates the humble set-up on Sullivan Street where The Fantasticks was a Greenwich Village institution for over 40 years. Hardcore CP subscribers, bless "em, took the lack of pizzazz in stride. More than a couple of the bluehairs gurgled with delight as they discovered the hummable tunes, including two immortalized on Barbra Streisand's first album -- back in the ancient days of vinyl.

Gasps of surprise and pleasure greeted each new twist and tune. Maybe it really was the first time they were hearing "Try to Remember." Or maybe they just couldn't anymore.

Charlotte Symphony began its 2002-03 season by taking its subscribers on a daring musical journey, premiering Donald Crockett's Blue Earth, a five-part sinfonia concertante. The four outer movements were easy enough to like for anyone receptive to modernism. True to its name, Blue Earth covered a wide range of instrumental and orchestral textures. The middle movement, chaotic and cacophonous, may need a couple more listenings for me to properly digest.With two lesser-known Rossini overtures framing the program, the medicine went down smoothly. Schubert's Unfinished added gravity.

Predictably, CSO maestro Christoff Perick's Teutonic approach worked best with the Schubert. But the regularity of his readings, the cumulative effect of the long Rossinian builds in tempo and volume, and the clean ensemble playing were a consistent delight in the overtures. Aside from a slightly clumsy entrance on the Thieving Magpie Overture, the brass -- particularly the trombones -- played with newfound confidence and power.

After dropping three new works scheduled for later this year in favor of two familiar oldies, NC Dance Theatre may be taking their subscribers for a ride. Nonetheless, their Fall Trilogy a couple of weeks back should be rated a triumph.Rank and file warmed most readily to Balanchine's Four Temperaments and the world premiere of Mark Godden's melodramatic Constructing Juliet. The finale, Nicolo Fonte's Spoken in Red in its US premiere, was more to my liking. Men and women careening off each other's bodies -- without truly connecting in the lurid darkness -- had all the cold beauty and mystery of atomic particles. This may be as close as we come all season to seeing the face of 21st century dance, particularly after the cancellation of Nacho Duato's Na Floresta.

The most recentpantaloon revel from Children's Theatre, The Commedia Puss in Boots, is a winner. So is the new edition of Tarradiddle Players, directed by Jill Bloede, which now takes the show on the road. Making her Tarradiddle debut, Greta Marie Zandstra is ultra-pert in her courtly garb, a nearly purr-fect Puss. Common as dirt, Travis Creston is an apt beneficiary of Puss's noblesse. Holdovers Nicia Carla and Steven Ivey carry off the remainder of the slapstick. Good to see that Sandra Gray is fashioning the fine costumes and portable scenery, presumably back in the company's good graces.Among Shakespeare's major tragedies, Macbeth is unsurpassed for its brevity, over 1,000 lines shorter than Hamlet, Othello and Lear. Lady Macbeth's famed sleepwalk and her lord's reaction to her ensuing death fairly zip across the page. Onstage, they're over before most of the Bard's famed scenes and soliloquies have reached full throttle.Well, Dov Weinstein has taken "The Scottish Play" to new lack-of-heights. Under Weinstein's shameless direction, the Tiny Ninja Theater version up at Off-Tryon Theatre pared the story of Macbeth down to its bare essentials -- and then discarded two-thirds of that. Actors in the 37-minute extravaganza were abbreviated even more radically. Except for the venerable Weinstein himself, all the cast were recruited from vending machines, none taller than my index finger.

The director performs all the voices of the plastic ninjas, moves the scenery, cues or performs the sound effects, and works the teensy lighting rig that arches over the stage. The principals glide across the darkened stage, sometimes guided by a magnet that Weinstein slides underneath his portable Scotland. Other times, they're pasted in groups onto miniature black sledges or moved directly by Weinstein's black-gloved ninja hands. All the world's a stage, but in this case, it's smaller than a folding poker table.

There's a childlike quality to this reduction, which is, after all, a gifted grownup playing with his toys. Yet there's an imaginative validity to the hilarious transformation. Magnified by the infantile magic, Weinstein's Macbeth (played by Mr. Smile) is often more lordly than NC Shakespeare's up in High Point, and his Lady Macbeth (Smile + hair ribbon) is a hoot.

Only 25 spectators, outfitted with cheap-o vending machine binoculars, can attend a Tiny Ninja performance. I heartily recommend being among the lucky few when Weinstein & Co. return to Charlotte or Piccolo Spoleto.

Up in High Point, where they don't do Macbeth as well as the tiny ninjas, NC Shakespeare Festival is ending its 26th season on a high note. To cap his 15-year tenure as NCSF artistic director, Louis Rackoff has symbolically chosen the Bard's lyrical valedictory, The Tempest.It's a romance that Rackoff does well, as he proved all too recently. If you haven't seen Rackoff's take on Tempest before, the current cast makes up in charm what the production lacks in dazzle.

Mark Kincaid's Prospero brims with the dignity and confidence of a national patriarch, at times nearly Mosaic. Meanwhile, Kim Stauffer, the naive Miranda, and Dan Colman, the prince of her "brave new world," both shimmer with promise for the future.

What delighted me most was the slithery, comical, conniving and sometimes even cuddly Caliban delivered by yet another newcomer, Kevin Brewer. His skintight costume is the best among many fine designs by Brenda Dartt. Brilliant debut for Brewer. Classy curtain call for Rackoff.

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