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Panty Power 

BareBones offers sexy silliness

Back in the dark ages of women's rights, when the only formidable power wielded by the fair sex was the Crown of England, women wore so much clothing in so many layers that it was difficult to discern -- or remember -- the concupiscence that lay beneath. The starchiness of the Victorian Age was brilliantly skewered in Carl Sternheim's 1911 farce, The Underpants, showing us that the leering prudishness of London and Boston was alive and well in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Steve Martin, who had previously taken us to pre-WW1 Europe in his own Picasso at the Lapin Agile, took a new view of the old sod when he adapted Sternheim's sturdy farce in 2002 as part of a "Reimagining the Classics" series off-Broadway. It's a particularly apt choice for BareBones Theatre Group director Chad Calvert, who did such a fine job last season with The Illusion, a Tony Kushner adaptation of a Pierre Corneille comedy.

Our heroine Louise Maske is a young and attractive bourgeois housewife, only marginally beyond virginity when she falls victim to a scandalous accident. During the annual king's parade, as the monarch himself was passing along the main thoroughfare, Louise's underpants have unfastened from their moorings and fallen shockingly to the ground. While she hopes the cataclysmic event has gone unnoticed, it quickly becomes evident that Louise's disapproving husband is not the only man in Dusseldorf who spied the sexy silk. Two young bucks form a queue to rent the vacant room at the Maskes' apartment, eager to worship Louise and cuckold her husband. Hoodwinking Herr Theo Maske shouldn't be much of a problem, since he's less aroused by Louise's wayward panties than worried over how the scandal will impact his civil service career.

In Aaron Moore's irritatingly loud portrayal, you could probably hear Theo from the SouthEnd Performing Arts stage clear across Rampart Street. No doubt Theo is intended to be loud, but if Moore was worried over whether his Theo was sufficiently repellent, director Calvert should reassure him that Theo's male chauvinism and frank anti-Semitism will supply ample alienation of our affections even at reduced volume.

Cody Harding is not nearly as exaggerated in sketching Louise's ignorance and naivete. Each glimmer of mirth that furtively crosses her Breck-girl features discloses the libido lurking beneath. And who better to fan the flames as Gertrude, a hilariously voyeuristic neighbor, than Nicia Carla, CL's reigning Actress of the Year?

The ardor of the conniving boarders, played by Victor Sayegh and Glenn Hutchinson, hearkens back to the ethereal neurotics of Henry James and Flaubert. Rounding out the cast are Merritt Wheeler as an irreproachable scientist and a revolving guest artist who each week dons the most absurd of mustaches.

All in all, a supremely silly beginning to BBTG's sixth season.

Who said that Charlotte Shout was nothing more than a vast, indiscriminate marketing umbrella? At last Friday's glitzy kickoff for Charlotte's "month of art and soul," Shout proved otherwise by producing a near-sellout concert featuring the hot new OperaBabes duo backed by the Charlotte Philharmonic Orchestra and maestro Albert E. Moehring.Left to fend for themselves without their sound studio dance mixes and their techno-house vocal backup, the Brit babes -- tattooed soprano Rebecca Knight and mezzo-soprano Karen England -- looked genuinely surprised to discover how well the hook-up with the Phil played to the Charlotte audience. In some ways, their astonishment was justified.

England, though a certified babe to this critic, is a rather bland and humdrum opera singer. Vocally, Knight carries the duo and possesses the keener musical intelligence. But paradoxically, she's the less self-assured OperaBabe, suffering lapses in concentration and breaks in character.

Still, when the Babes harmonize together, they become truly special.

Up in High Point, Steve Umberger is directing A Midsummer Night's Dream at the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival -- in a Cirque du Soleil style that will quickly remind you of the version he piloted at Theatre Charlotte earlier this year. Karl Baumann is back as his acrobatic Puck, but this time around, costumes and set are more Elizabethan. The Actor's Equity production features two former CL Actors of the Year, Brian Robinson and Jeff Gaffga, as the lovestruck Athenians -- plus five other distinguished Rep alums.Baumann still steals the show, flying higher in High Point.

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