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Love At First Bite 

Putting the vamp back in vampires

We liked Vampire Love in its original incarnation at Johnson's Brewery in 2000, enough for us to proclaim Tony Wright's script CL's Best Original Show that year. The trashy, convoluted tale of deathless lust and adolescent rebellion seemed to roll out toward the roadhouse tables in the chthonic loft of the brewery with the quaint efficiency of a newly manufactured Model T Ford. Beverages weren't bad, either. So who knew that a nest of nocturnal creatures, long-in-the-tooth up in the mountains of Transylvania County, North Carolina, would actually outlive the malty vaults of their birth? Johnson's hopped away forever in 2001, replaced by a lighting fixture showroom that's a slick desecration of hallowed ground.

Meanwhile, the seedy Actor's Gym production, with Wright again starring and directing, is back from the undead through Saturday — resurfacing just two blocks further east on Central Avenue. Nestling in at 1118 Clement Avenue, Wright & Co. have taken advantage of the more advanced equipment at Carolina Actors Studio Theatre and the technical know-how that's a trademark of CAST's eponymous company.

Translation: With Michael Simmons as technical director, Actor's Gym has shed its guerrilla veneer. Lighting, sound, scenery, costumes, prosthetic canines and bloodletting are all fashioned at a higher professional level.

But I must confess there were times that I found myself yearning for the grubby funkitude of yore. Sometimes, theater works because it can't compete with film.

Wright and Simmons don't often get lost in the polish of this production, but occasionally it lacks the primitive improvisatory joy I imbibed at the brewery. Unaccountably, Wright seemed to nod off during the flashy ending when some of the disjointed plot threads should have been tied together. If I'd been seeing Vampire Love for the first time, I'd probably have left wondering how the frame of the story connected with the flashbacks

But overall those frame scenes, with David G. Holland as Quentin narrating the lurid past of The Abbey Castle to Amy Laughter as Victoria, are the most improved part of the revival at CAST. When Holland settles into the plush wingchair to our left, leafing through a tome plucked from the pompous bookcase behind him, his forays into narrative play like shabby travesties of Masterpiece Theatre.

Wright's greatcoat as the vampire Anthony borrows shamelessly from The Matrix, yet his pre-vampire Anthony in a subsequent scene is nearly as nerdy as Brad in Rocky Horror. After numerous action roles penned for her by her husband, Courtney Wright seems to be turning the corner as a stage vamp. Her viciousness and petulance as Valery, putting the bite on Anthony and succumbing to the allure of Virginia, make for another engrossing dualism. Karen Surprise' brattiness as Virginia is razor sharp, more comeuppance than even the vile Valery deserves.

Of course, if you've seen Mr. Wright's Alpha and Omega, you expect an orgy of pulchritude with the macabre action. This time, it's all short skirts, stiletto heels, gothic hose and S&M flavoring amid the mustiness of the crypt. Boogying on occasion to a heavy backbeat.

I hadn't noticed that Friday and Saturday evening performances of Vampire Love had been pushed back to 8:30pm. These really are creatures of the night! If you do arrive early at CAST, there's a nice assortment of candies and drinks at the bar.

After a heady invasion of modernized Shakespeare up at Davidson College, courtesy of the RSC, you could walk into Belk Theater last Monday evening and behold a truly wild adaptation of the Bard. Romeo and Juliet, danced by the St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre, added a Queen Mab to the dramtis personae : and deleted Friar Laurence!The resulting choreography and libretto by St. Pete artistic director Yuri Petukhov not only defies Shakespeare, it also flies in the face of composer Serge Prokofiev's own scenario for his 1938 ballet. While all of this might be disconcerting or distressing to card-carrying bardolators, I actually found it refreshing to witness this shopworn story without knowing what would happen next. Besides, Mab is mentioned in Act 1, Scene 4, in an extended soliloquy by Mercutio on dreams.

Mab turns the entire tragedy into a portentous unfolding of fatality, complete with medieval wheels of fortune and a sword that swung in her regal hands like a pendulum marking time. Repeatedly she split through the heart of scenes, emphasizing the rampaging dualities that make up the story's architecture: two houses, two star-crossed lovers, and the paired deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt that send the young lovers hurtling toward their doom.

Costumes by Yanis Chamalidi were every bit as stunning as Petukhov's audacious choreography and Prokofiev's haunting score. With a high-budget multimedia Tuscan Sun Festival still to go, the diamond jubilee season of the Carolinas Concert Association is building to a triumphant ending.

Look up in the sky. It's a bird! It's a plane! Nope, it's the Charlotte debut of Michael Daugherty's Metropolis Symphony. The composer himself was onstage at Belk Theater last Friday to introduce his creation to Symphony subscribers. In a flash, he was up in the grand tier as the orchestra began to play.Leaning out over the front row ledge, Daugherty looked like an eager kid marveling over a new train set. There certainly were enough whistles, sirens and quirky percussion in his surprise package to sustain that impression. Three of the six percussionists splayed across the stage for the frantic opening movement, "Lex," had whistles in their mouths as their hands were busy whacking various gongs, drums and mallet instruments. Meanwhile, concertmaster Calin Lupanu sawed away at his solos with a diabolical Lutheran glee.

No, this wasn't exactly Looney Tunes. But even as Superman's home planet of Krypton was about to explode — a catastrophe equivalent to the expulsion from Eden — the percussive pounding, the repeated siren, the weepy violins and the trombone glisses slyly reassured us that we were in a comic book universe and not a biblical one.

Clark's coupling with Lois had naughty whipcracks and ghoulish "Bald Mountain" rumblings. Even Supe's death was more tango than tragedy, mixing the scaffold guignol of Berlioz' Symphony Fantastique with the lascivious strains of Bizet's Carmen — and borrowing some syncopated brass blasts from Ravel's Bolero.

Resident conductor Alan Yamamoto and the CSO were at their best under the composer's watchful eye, justifying his delight. Yamamoto was clearly in his element, having added new sparkle to CSO's Lollipops Concerts over the past year. But he was also sensitive to the intricacies of Barber's "Adagio for Strings" opening the concert. Each of the sections was keenly alert, but I was particularly impressed with the violas' contribution.

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