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Still Batting 1.000 

Rising actor continues to impress

Sneaking out of town last month to see Winthrop University's production of Topdog/Underdog, I was greeted by a pleasant surprise. Jeremy Davis, last seen here at Actor's Theatre last fall, was topping the playbill again down in Rock Hill. Davis copped CL Theatre Award nominations for Best Dramatic Actor and Newcomer of the Year with his performance as Darren Lemming, the Jordanesque superstar who shocks the sports world in Take Me Out by announcing that he's gay. Instead of a cool centerfielder, this time around Davis was Lincoln — a former street hustler who hibernates as Abraham Lincoln at an amusement park arcade. After work in Suzan-Lori Parks' sardonic drama, Lincoln crashes at his brother Booth's seedy apartment, resuming the endgame of an archetypal sibling rivalry.

As much as I admired Davis as Lemming last September in Loaf's Show of the Year, his Lincoln was even better. And the kid is only a junior in college!

There's still plenty of talent that Davis hasn't shown yet to Charlotte audiences. Minoring in music with his theater major, the Winthrop whiz composed a song for Topdog at Johnson Studio Theatre to complement lyrics written by Parks — and whipped out a guitar to perform it as Lincoln.

Not a big stretch for Davis, whose music concentration is in guitar performance. While Actor's Theatre artistic director Chip Decker first spotted Davis a year ago in a Winthrop production of Mamet's American Buffalo, the aspiring actor sports a fair number of musicals in his resumé. Before arriving at Winthrop, Davis was involved in Guys and Dolls, Pippin, Grease, Into the Woods, and Oliver! down in Columbia.

Davis hails from Florence and is a lifetime Carolinian, but you couldn't tell by listening to him.

"A lot of that has to do with my mother," he says. "She was a Northern transplant hailing from Illinois. When I was born and started talking, I had a pretty bad Southern drawl. And she stopped me in one of my conversations — really stopped me flat and said, 'What did you just say?' I said, 'Y'all.' She said, 'Oh, no, no, no, no. We're going to stop that right now.' So she took quite some pains to knock the accent out of me."

On the other hand, as a longtime choral director at a church near Myrtle Beach, Ms. Davis also knocked plenty of music into her son, training him to sing in the choir.

Since age seven, Jeremy's mission has been to become an actor. He plans to stick around Charlotte for the next couple of years to see whether he can capitalize on the calling card he fashioned with his impressive debut at Actor's Theatre.

Then what?

"I'm hoping to branch out, maybe go out to LA, try my hand at film."

While the new Charlotte Summer Theatre and an expanded City Stage Fringe Festival are giving fresh life to the post-season on local stages, there's also a new mode of afterlife : for both our mainstream and fringe companies. It's the Stoneleaf Theatre Festival in Asheville, showcasing 26 shows in 10 days at various venues up thar beginning on May 27, presented by companies from across the state.No fewer than four local companies are in the mix.

Children's Theatre of Charlotte brings on its Tarradiddle troubadours in If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, May 28-29; Off-Tryon Theatre Company offers a slim-fast version of The Vagina Monologues on May 28-June 4; Grey Seal Puppets manipulate their Bathtub Pirates, May 30-June 4; and Northwest School of the Arts presents Cut on June 4.

"It's just kinda coming together quickly," Off-Tryon executive director John Hartness states. "This is a great opportunity for OTTC to spread the love to the mountains, and share our great work with a whole new audience!"

Children's Theatre decided long ago to bring their pesky Mouse back to the Morehead Street fantasy palace. In fact, the original run of encores sold out more than a month in advance, forcing CT to tack on two additional performances this Sunday. The company's 2004-05 brochure carries our declaration that The Commedia Princess and the Pea was the best Tarradiddle ever. But that was before we saw the mousiness of Nikki Adkins in her successful kitchen caper. Cookie conquers all!

To get details on the full scope of the Asheville event, funded by the NC Arts Council and the oft-maligned NEA, visit www.stoneleaftheatrefestival.com online.

Ever since Charlotte Rep folded back in February, people have been on the lookout to see what Steve Umberger might do to fill the void. After seeing the company he founded ground into the dust, would the once-Ubiquitous One have the stomach for a fresh start?Indications are that Umberger is positioning himself to swing back into action. Just how soon this might happen was indicated when Umberger's wife, actress Rebecca Koon, quit her role as Clairee in Steel Magnolias in the midst of a 78-performance national tour.

Koon is back in town. You can be sure the early husband-and-wife reunion signals that something is cooking with the Koonbergers.

ArtsPulse is a regular feature that takes a backstage look at current events on the theater scene.

Capsule Reviews

Cosi fan tutte — There was good news in Elizabeth as CP Opera bowed out at Pease Auditorium. The ebullient Alexander Kordzaia was in the orchestra pit for the first time, bringing 18 musicians from the Charlotte Civic Orchestra with him. That augurs well for future productions at the new building nearing completion across the street. So did Julie Landman's scenery, presuming that the future might hold a budget. Now if we can only get supertitles to the rescue! Except for venerable director Luther Wade, the singers were only occasionally intelligible in the English language production of Mozart's comedy.

From Two to Four — Some very able Charlotte Symphony musicians were moonlighting in the moonlight last Sunday at the final concert of this season's Providence United Methodist Church Chamber Music Series. I found Charles Rochester Young's "Song of the Lark" for harp and flute far more intriguing and pleasurable than Sandor Vaness' "Sonatina" for wind trio. But if the grayhairs in the pews were ruffled by the lark or the ersatz Bartok, a nicely sculpted Beethoven quartet, by four Symphony regulars, restored regularity.

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