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Auntie Maimed

Hell hath no fury like this biting play

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There are comedies by women that discreetly question or refute traditional world views perpetuated by men. Satires written by women have put these same self-serving paternalistic views to ridicule and scorn. Beyond comedy and satire lies Lisa Loomer's The Waiting Room, a dark, venomous concoction incubated in seething spite and hatched in vengeful fury.Toss in a large dollop of self-loathing in the current Actor's Theatre production and you have a fairly corrosive evening at Spirit Square under Jeannie Woods' skillfully modulated direction. And why not? Loomer is raising her voice, on behalf of women, against millennia of exploitation, subjugation and insensitivity. At the same time, she's demonstrating that women's reactions to male domination rarely rise beyond the intensity of staunch passive aggression.

Loomer's attack is honed to a laser-sharp edge by concentrating strictly on the bodily mortifications imposed on the fair sex. The indignities of past and present centuries intersect in the Manhattan waiting room of Dr. Douglas McCaskill. His first patient, hailing from the Far East, is the delectable Forgiveness from Heaven -- delectable if, like her husband, you savor the aroma and flavor of the putrefaction emanating from her feet, bound since early childhood. Not familiar with foot binding? Graphic descriptions are generously provided.

Next we have Victoria, an upright (and excruciatingly corseted) Brit diagnosed with hysteria, who is coming to Dr. McCaskill for the proper Victorian cure endorsed by her surgeon husband: removal of her uterus.

Wanda is the most dynamic -- and vulgar -- of McCaskill's three patients, journeying across the Hudson from "Joisey" for a routine check-up. She's the dubious beneficiary of three boob jobs, none of which has elevated her to the bliss of matrimony. Unfortunately, the silicone of her latest implant has impeded detection of the tumor blossoming beneath her bosom. So she treks along the deadly trail leading from mammogram to biopsy to mastectomy/lumpectomy to chemo.

Jeannie Woods gets beautifully shaded performances from all the supporting males onstage, more than enough caricature to reassure us that the actors portraying these scoundrels look down on them. And she gets the best performance from her husband Dan Woods, as McCaskill, that I've seen outside of the Winthrop University campus (where both Woodses are longtime faculty).

Sheila Snow Proctor has demonstrated that she can possess a stage with a smirking sensuality and a savvy cynicism. Now she waddles toward us as Wanda and proves she can be equally commanding when she radiates coarseness and vulgarity.

Hopefully, the other protagonists will come closer to matching Proctor's power as this production ripens. XiaoSong He was particularly worrisome last Friday as Forgiveness, bobbling lines and cues in her Charlotte debut. But she's perfection when she recovers. Karen Lamb is less promising in her maiden Charlotte effort, giving us Victoria's diffidence without her patrician dignity. Ranging ably from Jamaica to Ireland in various subordinate roles, Tanya McClellan poaches more than her share of the laughs.

If Loomis didn't burn her bridges with the men in her life before penning The Waiting Room, it likely happened soon afterwards. Whatever else you might call Actor's Theatre's current production, it's not your ideal date play.

After unveiling two stunning long works over the past two seasons, A Streetcar Named Desire and Hamlet, choreographer Mark Diamond has crashed spectacularly in his latest original for North Carolina Dance Theatre. They Shoot Horses, Don't They? certainly seemed like a viable project for NCDT's resident genius. Desperately aspiring dancers are at the core of this cruelly Darwinian tale of survival in a Depression Era dance marathon contest. No problem at all for company members to identify with the protagonists and their competitors.But Diamond's piece fails abysmally at building up the tension of the contest -- or the exhaustion of the contestants. Nor is his storytelling as resourceful as in the past. Most fatal is the unimaginative soundtrack, a nonstop cavalcade of Tin Pan Alley artifacts.

Sad to say, despite Mia Cunningham's praiseworthy histrionics, Horses wound up looking like a depressed version of Paul Taylor's Company B. Diamond's letdown stood out in bolder relief when it was followed by a reprise of the late Salvatore Aiello's The Rite of Spring.

Over on Queens Road, you may detect some trashy tropical heat amid winter's persistent, chilly grip. Restless and rapacious, Maggie the Cat has returned to Theatre Charlotte, the most indomitable and exuberant of Tennessee Williams' Delta darlings.As Cat on a Hot Tin Roof unfolds, with Maggie attempting to reawaken husband Brick's ambition -- and libido -- I also suspected that the sexy siren is the most talkative of Tennessee's creations. So in his local directorial debut, John Paul Fischbach is mightily challenged to keep the action from bogging down.

With slender, shapely Beth Pierce as his wanton Cat, Fischbach is only a partial success. He keeps Maggie and her hobbled hubby moving around their boudoir inventively, and Pierce contributes an accent as thick as Mississippi molasses. But Pierce's pacing is too slow to fully stir the undercurrent of Maggie's panic.

Luke Sanford, in his TC debut as Brick, gets little to do beside looking bored and handsome. But when Cedric Guthrie finally appears onstage as Big Daddy in Act 2 -- bringing most of the patriarch's earthy decrepitude along with him -- we find that the statuesque Sanford can actually act.

Overall, this is a well-crafted production, quite pleasurable when it finally revs up to cruising speed.

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