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Stump Chumps

Pre-Halloween jitters hit the stage

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Ideas at Moving Poets tend to gestate, mutate, and evolve in an unending sequence, producing works newly embarking on the process for our delectation right alongside radically transformed old works returning after prolonged absences. The whole rep for Poets' two-week Halloween extravaganza was a harvesting of the company's unique husbandry.

Dracula, the company's signature fusion of theatre and dance, invaded Theatre 36 at the Hart-Witzen Gallery for the first time. A double bill time-shared with the exhumed Count. Casanova Frankenstein, though legitimately offered as a world premiere, was actually the unlikely outgrowth of a short piece first presented at Poets' Satirical 6/15 last year. That film featured actor Mike Harris as a mad scientist and talkshow meister Mike Collins sharing his ectoplasm. Completing the tri-headed organism was mother-to-be Jean Splicing, soon to be impregnated with a genetically engineered embryo.

After a rerun of this brief "It's So Elegant" talkshow, we flashed forward a number of years -- probably not enough to qualify Jean's offspring for the presidency, but that's showbiz -- and found that Harris' mad Dr. Franky has moved into politics. He and his lab assistant Igor are cranking out candidates formulated to appeal to the dubious intelligence of the American electorate.

Naturally, every one of these candidates is a monster, curiously resembling politicians who are either preening themselves to capture our fancy for the first time or long since established in high office!

Poets was having too much fun to simply hatch two candidates for our consideration. No, we must have freaks spouting biblical and Bushical non sequiturs, a country bumpkin in overalls, and a tango-dancing white-haired Casanova Clinton. We're fortunate to have Rob Simmons saddling up on Shrub W's most nonsensical pronouncements, both in his presidential and cowboy personas. Just as luckily, lecherous hunchbacked Igor is the toady role Kevin Campbell was born for.

Dressing Phillip Sprinkle in a loincloth and having him prophesy as Isaiah may have carried election-year lampooning a tad too far, but in political satire, it's best to err on the side of excess. So my disappointments in Casanova occurred when the Moving Poets writing team failed to keep the screws of scrutiny turned tightly enough.

The Casanova Clinton danced seductively yet never spoke, and slimy Igor never resembled the real-life slugs who tote the candidates' hair tonic or serve as pollsters. Then there was far too little of Poets founder Till Schmidt-Rimpler's pumped-up impersonation of Arnold Schwarzennegger.

Paired with Casanova and directed by Robert Tolan, A Beautiful Murder radically changed Poets' previous Murder Woyzeck and brought it closer to playwright Georg Buchner's original concept. If Simmons seemed detached as the suave monster of Frankenstein, here we had the opportunity to see him totally immersed in the crazed Woyzeck. Schmidt-Rimpler's dance appearances as the drum major Woyzeck imagines cuckolding him were perhaps his most effective yet.

A beautiful cast was still waiting to appreciate its own strengths in the new Theatre Charlotte production of Steve Martin's clever and fanciful Picasso at the Lapin Agile. The comedy would be humming along merrily when somebody would bobble a line, jump prematurely on a cue, or let a cue languish a beat before picking it up.That's a pity because Vito Abate is often curly perfection as Albert Einstein, and if Allen Todd doesn't quite capture Pablo Picasso's sexy duende, he's often capable of a youthful, magisterial arrogance. While the set design and the technical exploits come nowhere near matching the award-winning Charlotte Rep production of 1998, Rep alum Randell Haynes uses the stage -- and the aisle -- with laudable resourcefulness.

Taking us back to an imaginary summit of giants in 1904, Picasso rewards repeated viewings if you pay attention to the flow of embryonic ideas, the wild speculations on the dawning of the 20th Century, and Martin's craftsmanship.

Hopefully, the pre-Halloween jumpiness of opening night will evaporate. Bill Mazella will probably still seem miscast as flash-in-the-pan Charles Dabernow Schmendiman, but the polish of Brian Holloway as art dealer Sagot should certainly be equaled -- and eclipsed -- by Joe Copley as the barkeep, Annette Saunders as his wife, and Cody Harding as the paramours of the geniuses.

Whether spelled by stars in the sky or the brightest star in Vegas, Martin develops the zany idea that E=20th Century. Ingeniously.

Halloween really seemed to spook CPCC Theatre's new production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Some poltergeist might be blamed when Stella spilled some of the implements from her vanity table onto the streets of N'awlins, but that was a minor mishap in actress Leslie Beckham's haunted evening. Earlier, her dress caught on the vanity chair, forcing her to drag the chair with her across the Kowalski boudoir and into the bath. Witches and ghosts were likely howling with glee at this catastrophe. More than a few audience members certainly were. Sadly, the rest of the production isn't the stuff of legend. Laurie Riffe is a fresh new talent to watch off her richly textured portrayal of Blanche DuBois, but the Chi-town transplant's accent could stand some seasoning.An explosive Tony Wright as the infamous Stanley, and Glenn Hutchinson as Mitch, give manful performances. But Tennessee Williams is largely about the tragic triumph of materialism and vulgarity over spirituality and refinement. So there's a huge dent in Streetcar whenever Stanley's muscular brutality and Mitch's sweaty bulk remain on back order.

The sharply focused acting, deftly directed by Tom Hollis, does eventually render Blanche's destruction powerfully. Suzy Hartness' fine gallery of costumes captures the vitality and voodoo of N'awlins. You might even find Beckham's Stella to your liking if she can grab hold of a good luck charm.

Harp virtuoso Catrin Finch launched an unusual parade of guest artists with Charlotte Symphony Orchestra last week. For three successive Fridays and Saturdays, women rule at the Belk. Susan B. Anthony leads an opera-in-concert performance this week, playing the title role in Beethoven's Fidelio, and violinist Kyoko Takezawa returns to centerstage next week to spearhead CSO's first- ever performance of Stravinsky's Violin Concerto.Lift-off was a success with revelatory playing from Finch, sustained excellence from the ensemble on three modern compositions, and a personable outing by resident conductor Alan Yamamoto in his Classics Series debut. Finch's bravura on the Ginastera Harp Concerto, particularly in the multicolored moderato movement, was the obvious highlight. For the brave subscribers who faced up to the all-20th Century lineup, Christopher Theofanidis' Rainbow Body was a pleasurable gateway to the shifting moods of Ginastera and his imposing battery of percussion.

As a reward to her intrepid listeners, Finch offered a lollipop entitled "The Kentucky Fried Chicken Rag." No further seduction was required.

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