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Humana Festival 2003

Winners and losers in the annual national festival

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Humana's production in the new Bingham Theatre was absolutely definitive, successfully masking the drama's only problem. By putting Suzie's roundtable and all the dinner party on a slowly revolving turntable, director Will Frears enabled the arena stage audience to see all the characters without resorting to overly busy blocking. Culinary delicacies rose from the floor in elegant glass cases, and staircases leading downward appeared and disappeared luxuriously in Paul Owen's superb scenic solution. In a larger, more conventional venue, I>OmniumP> might appear static.

Certainly the climactic fight scene livens things up. That's where Charlotte's Robert Lee Simmons distinguished himself. Known hereabouts for his leading roles in I>SubUrbia, TracersP>, and I>SteambathP>, Simmons was at the right place at the right time in the festival's Acting Apprentice Program. When a back injury sidelined the original terrorist during rehearsals, Simmons took over as Mohammed and opened in the role. Not only did he deliver a compelling portrait of the volatile zealot, he sprang on top of the table and pounced upon his adversary without turning any of the glassware into dangerous projectiles.

As the lights at Suzie's chalet flickered and died for the last time, I>OmniumP> left us with much to ponder about the destiny of our wealthy, arrogant republic. An exciting, entertaining, and deeply rewarding 93 minutes. GRADE: A

B>The Faculty RoomP> by Bridget Carpenter -- If you've kept pace with the sensational assaults and sieges that have gobbled up headlines in recent years, you know that today's schools bear little resemblance to the fabled "little old schoolhouses" of yesteryear. Apparently, that's true way out in America's heartland at Madison-Feury High School, where gay teacher Carver Duran seeks to resurrect his teaching career after his stint at an inner city school in New York went up in flames -- literally.

He's bunkered at a campus where so many weapons appear daily that teachers casually toss them in a disposal designed for that purpose. And he finds himself in the middle of the hot chemistry between Zoe Bartholemhew and Adam Younger. She's a red-headed chain-smoking theatre teacher, he's a vain long-haired lit guru, and the two of them have a love-hate history as twisted and diseased as any weed that's grown in academe since I>Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?P> Amicably divorced, they delight in goading each other to paroxysms of jealousy, recruiting students each year to be their paramours in a vile and lecherous competition.

Action and dialogue are refreshing and quirky. To heighten her appeal to her students, Zoe alters herself physically in ways that progress from amusing and ridiculous to desperate and neurotic. Adam embraces the yearning for the apocalyptic Rapture merchandised by a series of best-selling novels that his unlettered students adore. Meanwhile, Carver tries to rouse the warring couple's enthusiasm for pep projects like Spirit Day and his new arrangement of the school anthem. He even challenges Zoe and Adam to recover their zeal for teaching, something they stopped believing in years ago.

To deliver the atmosphere of a depressing public school lounge, Carpenter gives us the disembodied voice of Principal Dennis over the intercom -- and the oddly timed visits of Bill the ethics teacher, who says absolutely nothing until the actual onset of bloodshed and Rapture.

That's not nearly enough to convincingly populate a faculty lounge for an entire school year. While I believed Zoe's schizoid tendencies, Adam's seemed driven by the exigencies of Carpenter's visionary plot. But the games they play -- and the revelation of how the games began -- are hot stuff. Rebecca Wisocky and Michael Lawrence delivered the right blends of jadedness, conceit, vulnerability, and infantile malice as the self-immolating lovers. Greg McFadden registered all the right newcomer reactions as Carver.

Perhaps America hasn't reached the physical, spiritual, and intellectual ruin that strikes Madison-Feury at the end of I>The Faculty RoomP>. But it feels disturbingly close. GRADE: A-

B>Orange Lemon Egg CanaryP> by Rinne Groff -- At an arena stage, the audience surrounds the actors on all four sides. You don't expect a proscenium or a curtain. Scenic designer Paul Owen surprised us from the moment we entered Bingham Theatre. He suspended a thick four-sided curtain from the ceiling, shielding the entire stage in the same way a magician casts a kerchief over an apparatus out of which rabbits and other wonders will appear.

A perfect scenic concept for an engrossing drama subtitled I>A Trick in Four ActsP>. Our roguish protagonist, Great, comes from a family that has long ago entered the esoteric world of magical arts, protected their secrets, and passed them along to succeeding generations. Great is our charming passport to the crossroads between illusion, belief, and authentic magic. With him come strong whiffs of hypnotic mystery and sensuality.

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