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Rep's Play Fest Gets Makeover 

A Coming Out Party for In-The-Works

If you've been to the New Plays in America Festival in past years, you'll notice huge differences in this year's In-The-Works makeover. Beginning next Monday, the 17th annual festival will voyage to venues where no Charlotte Rep production has trekked before. Performance times will sidle into late afternoon, inviting uptown employees of all collar colors to linger and watch reading stage productions of scripts that are facing the public for the first time. Two of the six newborns will be musicals. Admission to all festival events will be free.But if you're a faithful Charlotte theatergoer -- or if you've been tracking our theatre scene from afar in Creative Loafing -- the names and faces of most of the performers at In-the-Works will be quite familiar.

So why is the revamped festival coming out of its customary home in Booth Playhouse? "I think new work is best evaluated when the audience and the play itself are in the same room," says Rep producing director Michael Bush. "A formal theater space like the Booth is really looking at something happening in another room that's separated by that frame. That's what you do to a picture. You put a frame on it, you put it on the wall, and you say, "OK, I'm ready to be judged.'"

New performance venues will include the Levine Museum of the New South, the Light Factory at Spirit Square, the Mint Museum of Craft and Design, and the Lesbian and Gay Center on Central Avenue. Four of the new shows will have repeat performances later in the festival, but if you want to see the reprises of James McLure's Calvary or Wendy Hammond's Absence, you'll need to hit the highway up to Davidson College.

New Hammond scripts have often been a fixture at Rep's new play rites. Bush met her for the first time last year at the American Playwrights Project, where former Rep artistic director Mark Woods nurtures the creative process. The Woods connection also introduced Bush to the talents of McLure and John Love. The other playwrights and composers come from Bush's existing circle.

"I actually think it's about relationships," Bush insists. "It's about investing in a writer that you believe in whether you think this piece is the one or not. These are writers and talent that I believe in over a long-term period of time. Even if in this play festival it doesn't turn out that this is the one play that I feel is right for Charlotte Rep to produce, I still want to support them as writers. So hopefully down the road, they will deliver a play to me that I do want to produce."

While Rep is somewhat hamstrung on its choice of performers for mainstage productions -- under its LORT contract, the company must hire Actor's Equity members -- Bush is looking toward forging more relationships with Charlotte's homegrown acting and singing talent. Some of the local actors and singers who make their Rep debuts holding scripts and scores during the next two weeks could be making Rep mainstage debuts as early as next fall.

The inaugural In-The-Works ends on May 1 with a single performance of Bonnie and Clyde at Booth Playhouse. But what about that newly outlawed frame? Bush is toying with the idea of seating the audience onstage at the Booth with the actors and musicians.

Here's the lineup:

Calvary by James McLure - A small-town Southern lawyer defends an unrepentant racist criminal during the 1950s. The lawyer's path is further complicated by his feelings for an African American woman and by small-town politics. The cast includes Randell Haynes, Kim Watson Brooks, Jim Gloster, Terrell Dulin, Polly Adkins, and John Hartness.

April 21 at 6pm (Levine Museum of the New South), April 27 at 3pm (Davidson College ).

Absence by Wendy Hammond - The bond of love formed between Peter and Mary is tested by family, politics, espionage, Mormonism, and cooking. That strong bond holds -- for 50 years, anyway -- unique yet universal. Mark Scarborough and Nicia Carla, square off in this two-hander.

April 22 at 6pm (The Light Factory at Spirit Square), April 26 at 1pm (Davidson College).

The Succulent Walk by John Love - Winner of two CL acting awards, plus a special 1992 citation for achievement in performance art, Love brings his latest one-man performance piece home. Walking Love's Walk, we follow the journey of a man whose shattered psyche assigns myth and persona to details he encounters during his daily walk -- on the fateful day he loses his mind.

April 23 at 8pm (Mint Museum of Craft & Design), April 30 at 8:45pm (Lesbian and Gay Center, 1401 Central Avenue).

Will's Women by Amanda McBroom and Joel Silberman - McBroom delivers a one-woman musical that explores the crises of a writer who she finds herself blocked, both emotionally and artistically. Who does the author of "The Rose" turn to for inspiration and advice? Enter the heroines of William Shakespeare.

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