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Revenge Is Spicy 

Imperfect Scratchy still fun

If you find yourself bruised after watching Scratchy Scratcherton's Revenge, it's because you've been hit by the kitchen sink. Or you've been sitting in the front row at SouthEnd Performing Arts Center, perilously exposed to the lithe limbs of the hip-hop chorines who take the stage between scenes.

Playwright/director Stan Peal throws everything at us. Violence, comedy, satire, sci-fi, New Age mysticism, corporate greed, puppets, pizza, and Teletubbies are all in the mix with the rhyming, repeating soundtrack. All of that is to the good. But there's also a double-helping of confusion sprinkled over Peal's pie. Not so good.

For starters, what are these strange mutants employed at a Milwaukee pizzeria? Scratchy looks a little like a garlic clove -- but orange? -- in his wacky costume, and Pugo Stumplemeyer might be a roma tomato, inviting the verdict that Peal's planet is populated by Topping-Tubbies. But who ever heard of celery on a pizza? That's what our hero, Sticks Pickerwick, looked like to my wife -- as good a theory as any.

Clearly, a cosmic shift occurs -- more times than necessary to imprint the scene -- during a botched robbery at the pizzeria. How a volley of wholesome All-American gunplay can cause such an obscene breakout of primary tubby-colors (and idiotic names) is never explained. And who's the freaky figure whose head keeps falling off each time the robbery scene is replayed? You can find the answer in Charlotte Theatre magazine, but you won't find it onstage in this Epic Arts Repertory Theatre production.

Peal attracts a fine ensemble to his enterprise and deploys them brilliantly. The diminutive Paul Goodson brings a Napoleonic dementia to Scratchy's vendetta as he tyrannizes over the pizza parlor and plots the mass poisoning of Milwaukee. And there's nobody better in Charlotte for explaining the mystic lore of the sacred pepperoni tree -- or for shrugging off minor stomach wounds -- than Peter Smeal as Zen pizza master Pugo.

In his Charlotte debut, Joe Rux is perfection as Pugo's loyal disciple, Sticks, the skinny Galahad of the piece. Julie Janorschke and Laura Reed Goodson have a superb bizarro chemistry as roommates Blinky Bumbleshoes and Clinky O'Tackle, particularly in the early scene when Blinky becomes Scratchy's first poisoning victim -- while Clinky's dimwittedness is hilariously rewarded.

Orienting ourselves in this mad pepperoni world, of course, is part of the fun in exploring it. Jina Barragan makes a crimson splash as the enigmatic Wiggles Busterbottom, the most significant of the silly names, while Kristen Jones and Doug Spagnola consistently delight as Scratchy's lackeys. Special kudos go to Blue Moon Puppets, creators of the pizzeria's cheesy board of directors.

You'll be bombarded and bamboozled by Scratchy. It ain't perfect, but it's a high-energy, comedy hip-hop blast.

Eugene Ionesco's reputation for being abstract, apolitical and absurd holds up for most of the evening in The Farm's new adaptation of The Lesson. But suddenly toward the end of this fine 62-minute production, adopted and directed by Matt Cosper, we're abruptly reminded of the Franco-Rumanian playwright's deeply ingrained hatred of fascism.As the Professor and his Pupil, Mark Sutton and Cody Harding deftly transition from dopey comedy to sadistic horror. Cosper manufactures some inspired business at the outset, introducing us to the Professor in a fetal position on his parlor table. Soon the unstable sage dons a weird helmet bearing the diagram of a brain, topped by a contraption that is part astrolabe, part antenna, and maybe part weathervane.

While Sutton evolves from a dork to a slasher, Harding greets us giggling in high socks and short skirt, the archetypal prey of fairytale predators. We're bemused and beguiled by the pretty teen's plucky determination and wide-eyed optimism. Able to count to 16, she hopes to gain her doctoral degree in a matter of weeks. The toothpaste grin vanishes for good when the Pupil develops a toothache.

Beth Pierce, CL's reigning Actress of Year, lurks madly throughout the action as the Maid, delightfully transformed in Cosper's audacious adaptation. Technical polish, down in the catacombs of the Children's Theatre Black Box, is the equal of last year's Description Beggared, though I wish fewer of the props were mimed.

Cosper's most pointed stroke occurs after the Pupil's lesson is over when the Professor, at his Maid's prompting, alters his attire to justify the unfortunate outcome. Although the armband suddenly emphasizes the Hunnish aspect of the Professor's helmet, the insignia we see isn't "perhaps the Nazi swastika" that Ionesco originally suggested. No, no, no. This design strikes closer to home.

The two "really big shews" currently on the local theater scene fall prey to the same bugaboo: inconsistency. In NoDa, there are a couple of stunning performances that nearly redeem the Off-Tryon Theatre Company production of Our Country's Good from mediocrity.Eric Johnson brings dignity and visionary courage to Gov. Arthur Phillip, first ruler of the British Commonwealth of Australia back in 1789 when it was nothing more than a penal colony. Phillip had the notion that participation in a theatrical production might edify and socialize the convicts. So he decreed that 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Clark stage George Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer for the entertainment of the fledgling colony -- and any aborigines who might happen by to eavesdrop.

But it was Christy Basa who melted my heart as Liz Morden. The most debased of the castoffs and condemned to be hanged, Liz is civilized by the process, given a soul she never knew she had. And Basa makes it real.

Otherwise, the cast flounders through most of Act 1 with their accents, often unintelligible when the pace quickens, moribund when it doesn't. Worst is the meltdown of James Cartee as Clark's nemesis, Robert Sideway. Cartee's nonstop yelling turns a wicked menace into an irritation. Not one of director Glenn Griffin's best efforts.

CP Summer Theatre's revival of Cole Porter's Anything Goes doesn't make a rousing first impression. Design and costuming are rather drab for a luxury oceanliner, and the frontline players have rough sailing.

Olivia Edge doesn't rev up to her full confidence as cabaret pepperpot Reno Sweeney until she dazzles in "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" after intermission. The usually reliable Steve Bryan is a somewhat pallid Public Enemy #13 until deep into Act 2 when he mugs his way to glory disguised as a Chinese coolie. Patrick Ratchford applies his usual debonair charm to Billy Crocker -- totally wrong for our intrepid, maturing hero. And his "Easy to Love" is anything but easy, lying at least half an octave above his comfort zone.

Then again, Hope Harcourt isn't easy to love either in Lisa Smith's portrayal. Maybe it's those humdrum dresses, but this debutante always looks like she'd rather jump overboard.

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