Also, dueling dance companies deliver
If you've spent any quality time with Six Feet Under, the acclaimed HBO series, you've already deduced that playwright/screenwriter Craig Wright is virulently averse to stereotypes. His morticians are far from moribund, and old folks aren't blandly retiring.
Peep in at Duke Power Theater, where Wright's Orange Flower Water plays through April 22, and you may be surprised to find that eccentricity isn't running riot. Instead, you will see the normal course of romance and marriage, intimately and realistically played out. Judging by reactions at Friday night's audience talkback, I'd say that was bizarre, provocative and disturbing enough.
One bed fits all in this distinctively theatrical piece. It's the hotel room where pharmacist David Calhoun and Beth Youngquist meet in a romantic tryst and cement their secret relationship. Then it becomes the bedrooms where they sever their marital ties.
Brad tries force and threats after Beth packs her bag on sudden impulse. Cathy tries an opposite tack.
Like the bed, the interknit couples are ever-present, withdrawing to upstage chairs when they'd normally exit to the wings. Everything that happens on or around this bed during the swap-out has a profound impact on all four principals. Yet the never-seen children of these broken marriages must be counted among the two primary factors that impel the action of this very adult drama.
Even here, Wright is never formulaic. Cathy confronts Beth at a soccer field, where their kids are on the same team, and winds up using David's sperm count as an argument for ending the affair.
Artistic director James Yost and his fellow BareBones Theatre Group guerillas have made previous downtown incursions, participating in the PAC's City Stage fringe fests during the past two summers. The edgy material that beckons to BBTG's core audience is continuing to attract strong actors to the cause as the company moves to Spirit Square more emphatically.
All those whom we've seen before -- Lee Thomas as David, Laurelei Ballard as Beth and Elise Wilkinson as Cathy -- turn in performances that equal or surpass anything they've previously done in Charlotte. I'd credit Wright nearly as much as Yost: There's a fascinating intricacy to all of his characters, peppered with fierce passion.
Thomas zealously adheres to David's selfish instincts while Ballard mopes with inward torment -- from religion, family obligations and making a life-changing decision -- until she tosses her qualms aside. Wilkinson nicely balances Cathy's pathetic clinging and desperation with her sudden upsurges of dignity and resentment.
Ironically, it was newcomer Dean Biasucci as Brad who seemed to impart the steadying influence at Duke Power last Friday. Brad is a bullying pig, only fractionally redeemed by his self-knowledge and appreciation for Beth. While Biasucci may strip Brad of his roughest edges, he totally inhabits this brash, bright douche bag.
Of course, the adulterers will also arouse their fair share of aversion. Compounded by their cuddliness.
FOR THEIR FIRST appearance in Halton Theater, Kim Robards Dance brought a pleasing mix of company members from Denver, students from a local dance studio and new professionals recruited to the company from here in Charlotte. Almost anything is welcome at CP's new performing arts palace these days, where bookings haven't been as abundant as the hall's charms.
Still, I wish there had been more variety onstage to chime with the cross-pollination of personnel -- and fully challenge their capabilities. While all of the music was off the beaten track (Wojciech Kilar and Terry Riley for starters), Robards seems addicted to string quartets in her choices. Furthermore, each of Robards' choreographies involved her full ensemble. Costuming prior to intermission was in a similar rut, all shades of gray and silver.
Although none of the Robards troupers seemed to need a breather -- including the 52-year-old Robards herself -- there was abundant fascination within each dance. Robards displays considerable fecundity in marshalling her ensemble, often calling for synchronous movement from a cluster of dancers in one quarter of the stage while planting individual or partnered movement in another. Certainly, she and her company have cultivated a fine unison and a sophisticated musical sensibility.
The new "Kym Gym Megalomania" offered the most promise, mixing aerobic and dramatic elements into the customary Robards vocabulary. Hopefully, as Robards settles into Charlotte (for it is her intent to base her company here and in Denver), she'll be inspired by the pace-setting work of our NC Dance Theatre. That could result in her including other fine choreographers in the company's repertoire -- and raising the barre in her own work.
IMMEDIATE INSPIRATION -- or intimidation -- may have besieged Robards earlier in the week when Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre staged a two-night stand at Belk Theater and filled the house on both nights. Although Ailey's famed Revelations was the rousing coda each night, leaving us irresistibly in the "Bosom of Abraham," the rest of the programs were completely different.
What united all of the work was the charisma of the principal dancers, their awesome athleticism and the celebratory go-for-broke energy seared into each dance. Love Stories, choreographed to the music of Stevie Wonder by Judith Jameson with Robert Battle and Rennie (Puremovement) Harris, was a wonderful intro to the company's kaleidoscopic capabilities.
In the midsection of Tuesday's show, we hearkened back to the music of J.S. Bach and the bravura of three male principals -- most notably, Clifton Brown -- in Hans van Manen's Solo. Then another ensemble explosion to the music of Earth, Wind & Fire, Shining Star, choreographed by David Parsons.
The corps of Ailey women is so superabundant that I only fitfully saw my faves. These were the strikingly statuesque Alicia Graf and the ultra-shimmying Dwana Adiaha Smallwood.
Love and joy filled the Belk, leaving no doubt that the Aileys will be invited back.
DON'T BELIEVE in levitation? Head over to ImaginOn, where Children's Theatre is presenting a musicalized version of Judith Viorst's Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. A slew of Charlotte's best actors and designers occasionally lift this flapdoodle off the ground under Jill Bloede's frantic direction. A labor worthy of Hercules.
Let's put it this way: Alexander repeats his title complaint so often that I almost had it memorized by the time I left McColl Family Theatre. Now it's quite possible that, given an extraordinarily spellbinding reader, an ankle biter could be held in thrall by the cumulative horrors of Alexander's day until the climactic breakdown of the protagonist's Mickey Mouse night-light.
Add the vapid music of Shelly Markham and we enter the frontier of futility. Surrounded by superb performers, Jason Barney proves himself worthier as Alexander than the first impression he made in the title role of Jesus Christ Superstar in February. But nothing about this peppy, colorful Alexander is great.