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Slut: Lewd from New York 

Plus, a fine education

You probably thought the word applied to the tart who wears too little clothing and too much make-up, that sweet girleen who is both easy on the eyes and easy on the virtue. But thanks to the pioneering efforts of Ben Winters and composer Stephen Sislen, Slut is so much more. Slutting is now a verb for women and their promiscuous male counterparts. In the form of sluttitude, it verges on philosophy.

Best of all (or worst, if you're of a prudish persuasion) the current Actor's Theatre production affirms that there is a special time for sluts to gather, liquor up and exchange bodily fluids. This new holiday has its own anthem.

Live from New York ... it's "Slutterday Night"!

Tommy Foster, who was the angst-ridden hero of Jonathan Larson's semi-autobiographical Tick, Tick ... BOOM! when it premiered on Stonewall Street in 2005, has no artistic pretensions as Adam Patterson. But the self-proclaimed slut is not without ambition, striving to seduce every loose wench in Manhattan. Nor is his sluttitude without principle, since he devoutly keeps to his rule of never bedding any woman more than once.

At a certain point, the legendary Adam finds there are no new fields to furrow in his native isle. So he sets sail aboard the S.S. Donkeyballs, bent on spearing a piece of pussy at every beach and port-of-call the seven seas have to offer.

By the time Adam embarks, there's a tinge of sadness coloring his quest. His best bud Dan had pledged to join him, but he has fallen under the spell of aspiring rock star Delia before achieving sufficient sluttitude to fully commit to the code of the one-night stand.

When he's wearing his glasses, Dan is a sensitive, vulnerable soul whose dreams of becoming a physician ran into a roadblock when his ex-girlfriend dumped him on the eve of his medical exams. Glasses come off when he splits with Delia, and Dan transforms into a debonair serial seducer. Not much more we can say about Dr. Dan, although he is clearly the deepest of Winters' creations.

The others are quickly summed up in a phrase or less: Veronica, the bimbo; Janey, a bride-to-be train wreck in progress; J-Dogg, an incurably white hip-hop wannabe; Doug, sensationally drunk when at all vertical; and Lilly, the genial bartender, patiently carrying a torch for Adam.

Now of course a rogues' gallery this debauched merits an unabashed rock score. Aside from Dan and Delia's love theme, "A Girl That You Meet in Bar," and the "Slutterday" anthem, Sislen hooks us with a few other nuggets. These would be "Lower the Bar," Lilly's sage counsel on curbing our expectations, and a sequence of laments by J-Dogg and Janey -- his about herpes and hers about cross-county dating in Long Island.

Typified by such couplets as "When you're down in the gutter, Even poop tastes like butter," Winters' lyrics reward listening even more frequently than the music. What's really impressive is the zest this stellar cast puts into this silliness under newcomer Kerry Ferguson's razor-sharp direction.

A college classmate of both Winters and Sislen at Washington U in St. Loo, Ferguson taps some additional talent from her current teaching gig over in Spartanburg. Tory Macomson, a recent Wofford College grad, brings a lowkey coolness to Delia that actually brings a modicum of suspense to the climactic moments of Slut -- will the ambitious rocker sleep with her trashy agent in her pursuit of fame and fortune? Liz Hutchens, a rising senior at Wofford, applies just the thinnest layer of world-weariness to her bartending chores as Lilly and absolutely torches her vocals.

Jon Parker Douglas, via UNC Greensboro, is no less eye-opening in his Actor's Theatre debut, nailing both the Clark Kent and superstud facets of Dr. Dan. Candace Neal and Elizabeth Simpson, slightly better known to dedicated Charlotte theatergoers, surface repeatedly -- and effectively -- after being discarded as Delia's bandmates.

Ryan Stamey, a prince of physical comedy excess, most memorably in ATC's The Great American Trailer Park Musical, gets to shower his super-amped energy on multiple cads, including J-Dogg, Janey's short-term spouse, and Delia's lechy agent. Stan Peal tops off the buffoonery, performing in an alcoholic haze most of the evening as Doug or Adam's goofball boatswain. Briefly, he gets to focus his eyes as Janey's dad, giving the newlyweds his course on "True Love."

Not exactly as Bing -- or even Elvis -- would have phrased it.

Free Shakespeare is difficult to ignore, particularly when it's presented as well as Collaborative Arts' Much Ado. So while it's distressing that few made the escape from free-dom over to Duke Energy Theatre for the opening of Queen City Theatre Company's Educating Rita, it's understandable. Now that Ado has bidden adieu to nearby McGlohon, undivided Spirit Square attention can be lavished on an equally fine comedy presentation.

Although she has discreetly changed Rita's age to 33, instead of the younger age prescribed by playwright Willy Russell, Christy Basa brings more freshness and breathless beguiling energy to the role than we've seen from her since her college days. This Rita is a handful when she enters Dr. Frank Bryant's office as his first Open University student, enamored with Rita Mae Brown and somewhat cowed by the mighty English literary canon.

Knottier difficulties await the actor who wishes to tackle the boozing, self-loathing teacher who manages to channel Rita's earthy chattering vivacity down the path to articulate critical thinking. Somehow, after an overly frosty start (his "I think you're marvelous" toward the end of Scene 1 snapped my head back a little), Rux straddles the tightrope between weak lush and firm mentor with admirable naturalness. As for forceful spontaneity, you don't want to miss Frank's blowup when the educated Rita praises his poetry.

Fortunately, I've never watched the Michael Caine film, so Rux's relative youth as Frank never bothered me -- and the laugh-out-loud moments hit with maximum surprise and delight. Director Glenn T. Griffin has this train running at an exhilarating pace, and it promises to be a truly well-oiled machine as it steams into its final two weeks.

Since the bygone days of Matt Cosper and his fellow guerillas of The Farm (2001-04), I don't remember a new group that has burst on the scene with such youth and self-assurance as the fledgling Yellow Bird Theatre Company. They hatched in the lobby of Theatre Charlotte last weekend with a two-performance run of Play on Words, a new play by Aubrey Nolan.

Nolan's drama, built on precisely observed vignettes at an arts-oriented high school, chronicles Colin McBride's obsessive crush on ultracool bisexual heartbreaker Nick Emerson. Just over 60 minutes from the first bell to college and the brink of marriage.

Characterization in Nolan's script, occasionally thin, wasn't quite as sharp as her ear for dialogue and her storytelling instincts. Yellow Bird's artistic director, Benjamin Brian McCarthy, kept it real -- impressing upon his cast that we needed to see high school even when the students were tootling in and out of their classroom.

Aside from longtime acting guru Dee Abdullah as Colin's mom, the lobby at the Queens Road barn was teeming with fresh meat. Brandon Curry gave his confessions a girlish touch when he edged the narrative along, a nice contrast to his more controlled demeanor when powwowing with mom or wooing Nick -- never so limp that we couldn't believe him scolding Nick for his various screw-ups and infidelities.

Jessica Lit kept Colin's best friend/Jiminy Cricket believable, and Wes Turner was tough-love credible as the drama teacher. But of course, Daniel Pietruszka plucked the true plum role as Nick ñ cool, manipulative, and stoned in the glow of Colin's idolatry, shrill and manic when things fell apart. The manic was a tad shaky, but the cool was dead-on.

Yellow Bird will definitely deserve a peep the next time they emerge from their nest.

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