Arts » Performing Arts

Slacker on the Spot

The ethics of authority

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Honor and truth are tested -- and repeatedly abused -- in Kenneth Lonergan's richly provocative Lobby Hero by four people who, at first sight, seem to have dedicated their lives to upholding law and order. The three men and one woman whose betrayals are so intricately interconnected have one blatant trait in common. All wear uniforms: Two cops and two security guards.

Director Lon Bumgarner is wise to give the tedious spells in the late-night action their due weight between the sudden salvos of comedy, romance, and antagonism. Jeremy Blain's spacious, uncluttered set design further accentuates and depersonalizes that tedium in this smartly mounted Actor's Theatre of Charlotte production.

None of Lonergan's characters quite measures up to the ethics we expect from the uniforms they wear. Bill, the erstwhile supercop, is the worst renegade -- and the most eager to shed his uniform. He feels that he's climbing the ladder to a hoped-for promotion to detective because he has several past commendations. He has the admiration of his pretty rookie partner, Dawn, who looks up to him as a role model -- even after sleeping with him.

Yet that doesn't stop Bill from riding the elevator up to Apt. 22J in the middle of his shift and satisfying his lust while his partner cools her heels in the lobby. Confronted with his infidelity, Bill turns domineering instead of apologetic, threatening to withdraw his support from Dawn at an upcoming police brutality hearing that could cost the rookie her badge.

William, the roaming security guard captain, comes by his hypocrisy far more reluctantly. Devoutly by-the-book, he has no compunction about recently firing a longtime employee who was weeks from retirement. But when his brother is accused of participating in a sensational murder, William finds himself reconsidering his rectitude after meeting with the clueless court-appointed attorney. Maybe he should follow the prompting of his brother's girlfriend and back up his bogus alibi.

William's big mistake is consulting Jeff, our slacker protagonist. Even after his discharge from the Navy for smoking pot, Jeff still hasn't gotten his act together. He sneaks contraband food behind his messy desk, dozes off behind his newspaper, cracks wise to his boss, and generally seeks the slacker's way out. Until he falls for Dawn. That gives him a dangerous glint of aspiration when he should be covering for William and keeping his mouth shut.

Mark Scarborough gives a superbly nuanced account of Jeff, low-key and ordinary in his by-play with his boss, earnest and awkward in his overtures to Dawn. Through Scarborough, we find something appealing and redemptive in Jeff's slacker priorities.

All the characters are nicely rounded, but Bumgarner can't coax a truly layered performance from William Brown as Capt. William, the only serious weakness in the production.

Brett Gentile, on the other hand, is utterly riveting in his Charlotte debut as Bill, shy and imploring toward Dawn at first, then arrogant and menacing in the blink of an eye.

As Dawn, Chandler McIntyre continues the stunning series of portrayals that began when she and Bumgarner first teamed up in The Laramie Project 17 months ago. You do believe she's cop material and, like her, sometimes you're afraid she hasn't got a prayer.

With associate artistic director Patricia McBride serving as midwife and wet nurse, North Carolina Dance Theatre served up A Balanchine Centennial Celebration that evoked McBride's glory days at the New York City Ballet. But while McBride first danced each of these pieces for the legendary Mr. B some 40 years ago, the prevailing feeling wasn't nostalgia as NCDT tore into these classics for the first time.Quite the contrary in the opening piece last Thursday at Belk Theater. Both the music and choreography of Agon could be premiered tomorrow and seem perfectly up-to-date, if not pioneering. The three-part score by Igor Stravinsky, percussive and breezy by turns, presented metrical challenges to both the dancers and the Charlotte Symphony.

But the corps responded impressively, actually illuminating the music with their precision as Symphony played crisply under the baton of Alan Yamamoto. The pas de deux was particularly luscious as Uri Sands danced with his usual swagger partnering Traci Gilchrest.

If Gilchrest's newfound gravitas was a pleasant surprise, then Kati Hanlon's camped-up patriotism was pure revelation as she danced the Liberty Bell role in the Stars and Stripes pas de deux to music by Sousa. Saluting with authentic Barbi-doll vacuousness, Hanlon totally upstaged poor Sasha Janes, who had nothing to offer as El Capitan but stellar technique.

The wonders of A Midsummer Night's Dream, choreographed to Mendelssohn's famed incidental music, were manifold. Costumes and scenery on loan from Ballet Santiago made the occasion nearly as lavish as NCDT's Nutcracker, and McBride's staging proved that Balanchine had a flair for storytelling. Gilchrest and Servy Gallardo were suitably majestic as Shakespeare's fairy royalty, Titania and Oberon. But the most winsome magic came from Ayisha McMillan as Butterfly and scene-stealing Jason Jacobs as the mischievous Puck.

There's much treasure in the Balanchine vaults that Charlotte has never beheld. NCDT has now proven decisively that they have the combination.

Calling the acoustics at First United Methodist Church warm would be a tad generous. But Charlotte Civic Orchestra brought the ideal complement to this sonic swamp last Saturday when they played Hovhaness' Mysterious Mountain.The rich string harmonies of the opening andante simulate an organ even when the sonics are dry as a bone. In the First Meth they reverberated majestically over ominous rumblings of timpani, and the ensuing winds had a similar effect, topped with ethereal harp and bells -- a true cathedral of sound.

Civic's new music director, Alexander Kordzaia, sells the music nicely both on the podium or chatting up his audience. For the most part, he has the orchestra playing alertly and enjoying the new curios he introduces, including splashes of Paliashvili and Ippolitov-Ivanov.

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