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What the Puck? Sympathy for the jobless 

Taking chances with Shakespeare

We had to go nearly three whole weeks without seeing the star-crossed lovers of Verona, and a politically corrected Annie Oakley and Frank Butler are back to aggravating each other after what seems like a century. Can it get any better than those classic couples declaiming and singing their deathless devotion?

You bet. Head over to Duke Energy Theatre at Spirit Square, and you'll find another orgy of coupling, bickering, misunderstanding, and blissful reconciliation in Collaborative Arts' A Midsummer Night's Musical. Yes, of course, it's Oberon quarreling with Titania over some silly changeling and triumphing with his imp-in-the-hole, Puck. It's Hermia and Lysander running off in the wood, pursued by Demetrius and Helena -- all of them confounded by Puck's magical mischief.

Best of all, it's Laura Depta modernizing the Bard's pentameters and couplets, directing the frenetic action, and transforming the Duke so very dreamily in a smashing set designing debut. Jack shall have Jill, of course, but Laura has husband Stan Peal hamming it up as Bottom the weaver -- and as composer of the original music.

The latest blossoming of the Depta-Peal duo filled the Duke on opening night, so complacency about obtaining tickets is ill-advised. Midsummer Musical is not only attracting audiences, it's rather radiant with talent. William Boyer and Amy Van Looy are sensational as Oberon and his Fairy Queen, not in the least because of the finery that costume designer Amy Holroyd has draped upon them. Looy is a veritable peacock while Boyer veers toward venison, both godly in lighting designer Stephen Clifford's bosky moonshine.

Surprisingly saturnine and pagan for those who might not remember Epic Arts' solstice revels in A Mad, Mad Madrigal. There are actually satanic colorations to Barbi Van Schaick's cat-like portrait of the Puck -- the comical aspects of Robin Goodfellow's mistakes are somewhat muted as Van Schaick cowers or purrs at her master's hooves. Likewise, Helena's height advantage over Hermia is excised from the merriment during the climactic scrap. Shon Wilson is still wearing high heels as Helena, so I'm guessing the latter cut came late in the production cycle.

I won't call Depta's casting colorblind, but Wilson must be when she declares she's every bit as fair as Paula Schmitt's Hermia. When these mortals are most foolish -- when Joe Rux as Demetrius spurns Helena for Hermia, and Gerard Hazelton as Lysander idolizes Helena in his dream state -- the men are besotted by females of their own race. Divine order is restored when chocolate shall have vanilla. Completing the triple wedding is another mixed-race couple, Michael Dane as Theseus, the Duke of Athens, and Tanya McClellan as Queen Hippolyta, his betrothed.

Although Peal's impulse to give every Jack and Jill onstage some music is laudable, less would have been more, particularly when the score lapses into recitative. Van Schaick, Dane and Peal aren't the only formidable singers in this cast, but they're favored with the best material.

Even without the usual braying while he's wearing the ass's head, Peal's Bottom is top-notch. What really stands out in this grassroots Midsummer is its pictorial opulence. Comedy, fantasy and majesty are all in balance, wedded with fairy magic.

Motorcycles, heat and cranes, oh my! Collaborative Arts is star-crossed, weather-crossed and motor-crossed as it brings Romeo and Juliet Uptown for its third annual sojourn at The Green. Revving motorcycles, wailing ambulances and whirring construction cranes might have been absurd in Shakespeare's Verona, so it is fortunate that director Elise Wilkinson has chosen to do this outdoor production in modern dress. Montagues and Capulets alike can also be thankful they're not decked out in medieval gowns and robes.

When the sun went down on the opening night performance, and the birds ceased twittering in the trees, the breeze died down as well, blunting all relief for the audience. It may have actually been worse for the actors when stage lights replaced sunlight as the mercury hovered in the high 90s.

Greta Marie Zandstra seemed oblivious to all the difficulties and distractions, a timeless, blushingly energized Juliet. As Romeo, Chaz Pofahl is no less poised, but his energies seem corrupted by too many leading roles at Children's Theatre. Instead of living Romeo through his words, Pofahl usually sounds like he's explaining him. This intelligible, understandable Romeo isn't credibly passionate in love or in combat.

Like Pofahl's Romeo, Corlis Hayes gives us a Nurse that is as big as the great outdoors without sufficient softness or nuance. As for Robert Simmons' take on the sardonic Mercutio, I doubt even the Roman Coliseum would be big enough to contain it. Far better is Joe Copley as the tyrannical Capulet, his best Shakespearean performance to date, and Peter Smeal is nothing short of sublime as Friar Lawrence, kind and soft as mother's milk.


Charlie is an unemployed New York actor who stands at a confused crossroads. Should he try schmoozing his way back to choice roles and trendy celebrity, or should he turn his back on the whole showbiz party scene and set off in a new direction? Brian Robinson, who opened in previews over the weekend as Charlie in Theresa Rebeck's The Scene, is about as successful as it gets for local actors these days.

Two CL Actor of the Year crowns. A multitude of plum roles with Charlotte Rep, Flat Rock Playhouse, NC Shakespeare, Playmakers Rep, and Children's Theatre. Three big roles in the current Actor's Theatre season, including our 2007 Show of the Year, The Pillowman.

So can Robinson truly empathize with a fame-hungry washout?

"What happens to Charlie perhaps is something that I've dealt with in my career," Robinson asserts. "In this business, people want to peg you into a niche and pigeonhole you as a type. If I ask five different people what sort of roles they see me playing, I'll get five different answers. That's what I think is happening with Charlie -- he's in between types, as they say. Early on in his career, he fit a certain kind of archetype and had success in a TV sitcom. Now he has sort of aged out of that. People don't know what to do with him. That's something that I have dealt with."

It was that sort of crisis, in fact, that sent Robinson to grad school late in the 1990s in search of himself. Three years of hell in Chapel Hill, but he's still very glad he took the time to fortify his creds and get his bearings. Charlie's crisis, on the other hand, makes him the prey of Clea, a predatory seductress from the Midwest.

"This 20-something bombshell wants to be in the scene, not so much as an actress but in that world of excitement and passion. She and Charlie cross paths, and fireworks ensue, which threatens Charlie's marriage and his way of life -- and pretty much his sanity."

Dave Blamy is the other familiar face in this cast, last seen as Otto Frank at Theatre Charlotte. Here he's Charlie's best friend, Lewis. The women in Charlie's life are newer to the Charlotte scene. Allison Lamb will be Charlie's wife, Stella, and Davidson College jailbait Kelsey Anne Formost will be Clea, imported to Charlotte by the venerable Ann Marie Costa, who directs.

Perry covers the whole Oakley-Butler shooting match at Halton as Annie Get Your Gun launches the CPCC Summer season.

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