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A sexy Macbeth from Actor's Gym

The peripatetic Actor's Gym has been mixing wanton female allure with several dramatic genres over the years. Over at the Johnson Brewery, there was the award-winning Vampire Love in 2000. The famed pajama version of A Midsummer Night's Dream followed in 2002 at the Off-Tryon Theatre; and last year, company founder Tony Wright unveiled his original all-babe sci-fi adventure, Alpha, at SPAC.

Now at the Carolina Actors Studio Theatre, Wright is tossing in multiple scoops of the same sexy ingredient into the Gym version of Macbeth. Even hidebound traditionalists can accept a seductive Lady Macbeth plying her charms on the uxorious Thane of Cawdor as she steels his determination to perform the regicide that will fulfill the Weird Sisters' prophecy.

But sexy Sisters vamping the valorous Macbeth aren't usually a part of the Bard's brew. One version I saw recently had the Sisters draped in beards! Wright's youthful, ultrafeminine concept still has a clear logic behind it. Why shouldn't the Witches wield the same kind of tender persuasion as the scheming Lady Macbeth -- particularly if her husband is so susceptible to it?

Directing and starring in the production, Wright actually places one of the Sisters, Casey Gogolin, in a lurid tartan skirt, the most Scottish costume in the entire production. Bonny lass though she is, Gogolin's jejune acting skills were more attuned to the camp qualities of Alpha and Midsummer.

With Kelli Harkney and Wright's wife, Courtney Wright, as the other sensuous Sisters, there's never quite enough hormonal heat on the blasted heath. Nor, for all his Shakespearean prowess, is Tony Wright the sort of hunk who might have added an extra spark. While there's plenty of depth and coherence to his Macbeth, it's clear that the more cunning and cerebral Iago -- whom he portrayed in the Gym's Othello last year -- is better suited to Wright's gifts.

Wright the director makes resourceful use of the CAST space, even contriving some striking entrances from the outdoors. Costuming is relatively modern without erring toward corporate, and with a couple of "bodyguards" injected into the dramatis personae, we get the interesting impression that King Duncan ruled with a fascist fist. Unfortunately, that powerful idea isn't backed by a powerful performance from Don McManus. Although she continues to improve, Amy Laughter also needs more arrogance to be the regal Lady Macbeth; nor is her disintegration at all affecting.

Wright engineers some exciting, if insufficiently varied, fight choreography, and he uncovers some promising new talent in two major roles -- Sean Foley as Banquo and T.J. Durham as Macduff. Overall, however, the lack of voltage from the women and the lack of experience from the men make this a grim Gym effort.

Carolina Pro Musica has toiled in the vineyards of early music for 27 years without attracting the notice, the respect, or the support they deserve. The versatile quartet performed their final Charlotte concert of the 2003-04 season, The Language of Love, at cozy St. Martin's Episcopal last Friday and presented a fresh bouquet of 18th century delights that no other symphonic or chamber group in town can deliver. The program offered an intriguing sampling of familiar baroque composers such as Telemann, Couperin, and Handel. Mixed in were reclamations of compositions by men who have faded from most music lovers' radar, including a trio for two flutes by Johann Adolph Hasse, a gamba sonata by Karl Friedrich Abel, and a brace of Scottish folksong transcriptions by Franceso Barsanti.

Pro Musica's star performers are vocalist Rebecca Miller Saunders and multi-instrumentalist Edward Ferell. Saunders' attack and intonation were suspect in Handel's "The Soft Complaining Flute," and lyrics from Dryden's "Ode for St. Cecelia's Day" were largely unintelligible, an occupational hazard for sopranos. But the voice in full flight is a thing of sweet beauty, and Saunders excelled in her breath control. Her Scottish accent had a ruddy grit in the folk adaptations of Barsanti and Robert Burns.

Ferell got the evening off to a lively start playing the baroque recorder in a Telemann trio backed by Karen Hite Jacob on harpsichord and Holly Wright Maurer on bass viol. For the Hasse piece, both Ferell and Maurer switched to wooden traverso flutes and harmonized divinely.

Jacob, in her brief stint in the spotlight, proved a bland soloist on the Couperin, and Maurer's work on the viol faltered slightly on the most virtuosic passages of the Abel sonata. Both Jacob and Maurer, however, proved to be solid accompanists throughout the delicious concert.

Pro Musica's informality and Jacob's cordiality as hostess are infectious. You'll probably need to wait until September for the quartet's next Charlotte appearance, but you can peep in on them over in Belmont on April 16. At the reverberant Belmont Abbey Basilica, Pro Musica will offer a free concert, "Harmonies of Earth and Heaven," inspired by 12th Century composer Hildegard of Bingen.

The mad, mad mimes of Omimeo surpassed themselves last weekend, celebrating their 25th anniversary at McGlohon Theatre with an immensely crowd-pleasing Charlotte Mime Festival and Circus. Not only did Omimeo mainstays Eddie Williams and Hardin Minor trot out their choicest buffoonery, they welcomed some superb guests -- hugely expanding their variety.

Kenny Raskin, who originated the role of Lefou in the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast, was probably the most distinguished visitor. The frequent Cirque du Soleil performer boasts a unique skill set, including the ability to play two flutes at the same time -- through his nostrils! Rankin also led a bell choir without ever uttering a word and provided the mime classic of the program as he simulated the conflict between two guys on a park bench.

No less hilarious was Sean Emery, whose spectacular spills and collisions had me wincing more than once. He shamelessly -- and effectively -- mixed genuine speech into his act and made good on his boast that he could jump rope on a unicycle. A native Charlottean, Emery led a veritable family invasion into McGlohon, including his wife Meg Elias-Emery's aerial work which, solo or with protege Nina Black, was pure enchantment, reviving memories of Cirque du Soleil's Quidam.

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