Arts » Performing Arts

Scott Strikes Rijn Gold

Plus, head off to see The Wizard



Tom Scott has a piercing voice that can cleave stone. As an actor, he wields a barely controlled frenzy that has injected hyper energy into local productions of Orphans, Wonder of the World and The Importance of Being Earnest. Now in the regional premiere of Tina Howe's Rembrandt's Gift at Carolina Actors Studio Theatre, Scott channels his intensity into an utterly unique portrait: a master Renaissance painter who is alternately terrified and amazed to find himself whisked into our modern world.

I'm not sure how well Scott has captured the spirit or artistic temperament of the great Dutch master. Nor does Howe's script package much aesthetic protein in her comedy fantasia. The successful conjuration is partly a matter of judiciously chosen costumes (no designer is listed in the CAST playbill), the right quirky headwear and the right do.

But the true magic comes from Scott himself, beginning with his Dutch accent, as abrasive as coarse sandpaper. What really sparks the uncanny portraiture, however, is the authenticity of this Rembrandt's disorientation. From first to last, we're sold on the simple proposition that he does not belong in our world.

Sadly, John Xenakis and Bogey Wingfield aren't nearly as believable in their more mundane contemporary roles. Wingfield is Polly Shaw, onetime hotshot photographer who can no longer find herself -- or her career -- amid the debris hoarded by her actor-husband Walter Paradise.

Walter's obsessive compulsive disorder has reached the point where he has not only installed multiple locks on the door to his Greenwich Village apartment, he feels compelled to recheck and relock those locks according to a precise routine. Although there's a mountain of stage costumes at the ready in his flat, Walter hasn't worked in years. Or auditioned. Were it not for Polly's presence, Walter might spend all his time shuttling between the door locks downstage and exiting upstage to perform his hand-washing ritual.

As irritating as Walter is in his paranoid self-absorption, I'm not sure Polly isn't more repellent with her passive, whining indulgence. An enabler, to be sure, until Van Rijn appears.

To her credit, Howe doesn't have her apparition dispensing bromides to the couple, who are on the brink of eviction. No, the lusty Rembrandt reminds Polly that she is an attractive woman, arousing Walter's jealousy and his long-dormant ardor.

But fundamentally, Polly's self-esteem is revived by what she discovers that she can give Rembrandt -- an elegant twist on Howe's title. Wingfield ultimately needs to cut down on her shrillness and establish some of the same harmony and chemistry with Walter that she achieves with Rembrandt. Not an easy task when paired with Xenakis, whose concept of Walter is no more individualistic than 1,000 renditions of egotistical actors we've seen before.

Spontaneity? Xenakis' cue pickup is only slighter quicker than paint drying.

Scott's exploits are all the more remarkable surrounded by such thickets of artificiality. He cuts through most hilariously by showing us how ravenously hungry he is after his journey across the centuries. His sword fight with his romantic rival, deftly choreographed by Tony Wright, is another welcome burst of action.

Artistic director Michael Simmons upholds his company's tradition of environmental staging. Entering the CAST lobby, you'll walk through a supersized replication of Polly's view camera lens where you'll find a carnival style preshow to celebrate Rembrandt's 400th birthday. Of the two "theatrics" capping your preshow experience, Samuel Beckett's "Act Without Words," performed by Tom Olson, was the decisive winner.

WITH A PROFUSION of high-flying effects, CPCC Summer Theatre's production of The Wizard of Oz truly is a wonder, an ideal way to introduce longtime subscribers to the company's new home at Halton Theater. In its old home at 12-foot-high Pease Auditorium, CP could barely hope to ride a cow. At Halton, it flies one.

All kinds of exuberance break loose in the new hall as Dennis Delamar directs a cast of more than 60 adults and Munchkins. Calling upon ZFX, the folks who fly Cathy Rigby, this edition of Oz flies two witches, two monkeys, the Tin Man, Dorothy, the Wizard and the nefarious Almira Gulch. It deploys the Good Witch of the North to an ethereal perch in an upper box where she negates the Wicked Witch's poppies with snow.

Halton's brave new stratosphere enables CP to unveil another new tech weapon in its arsenal, the big screen. When the Wizard is scaring the crap out of the Cowardly Lion, video technology makes it live and vivid. Similarly, CP can evoke the MGM classic when Dorothy longs for home while she's imprisoned by the Witch.

Taking its cue from the film, this adaptation prepared by John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company casts all the Kansas people in dual roles so that they appear in Dorothy's dream of Oz. Extra foreshadowing of those parallels yields extra pleasures in the sepia-toned prelude to the tornado.

CP devotees can be reassured that the 2006 company is loaded with local favorites. Susan Roberts Knowlson double dips with Auntie Em and Glinda, Katherine Goforth goes from Gulch to the Wicked Witch of the West, while Kevin Campbell morphs into the title role after beginning as Professor Marvel. The handymen, as usual, become Dorothy's companions on the Yellow Brick Road: Tad Hixson as Scarecrow, Patrick Ratchford as Tin Man and Craig Estep as the Cowardly Lion.

Notwithstanding ZFX's flawless expertise, what elevates this Wizard is newcomer Laura Hix as Dorothy in a stunning professional debut. We don't forget Judy Garland or her archetypal dreams as Hix sings "Over the Rainbow," but we do remember them more vividly. The resemblance occasionally became eerie as I watched the Huntersville phenom toting Toto.

During its history, CP Summer has had its technical triumphs -- most notably Tommy and Children of Eden -- during the Loaf Era. But CP hasn't sustained the same excellence across the full spectrum of technical theater that Children's Theatre has. With that in mind, CP is definitely overachieving as they acclimate to Halton and its greater capabilities for its first summer season.

Growing pains are visible nonetheless. They're most evident when some of the scenes are changing -- sometimes laboriously -- from one eye-popping spectacle to another. With a stage that boasts the size and equipment of the Belk, the Booth and the new McColl, expectations have risen to new heights on Elizabeth Avenue.

In past decades, we've taken for granted that CP would patiently nurture new generations of musical theater talent. Suddenly, we need to be patient as CP's able teachers learn their way in their first true theater facility. The Wizard of Oz is an auspicious start.

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