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Byron Woods

Many happy returns



'Five shows in four days this past week," I mused to myself, "from one end of the region to the other. And that would only be the iceberg's tip: Eight openings this week, 12 in the next." So I snuggled just a little deeper in my aisle seat, and sighed contentedly. They're right, you know: After the holidays, it is always great to get back home.

Our returns from the January groundswell are below. Before them, one observation from the Friday night performance at the North Carolina Dance Festival at Meredith College.

If anything, Robin Harris' "Solo," from her operatic dance cycle, Songs, becomes more enigmatic on repeat viewings. Megan Marvel's technique suits the choreographer's style well; her sudden, sharp, angular slices and arcs punctuating a stillness in places that's just as profound. (Marvel has her own night at N.C. State this week when she presents a free performance--her thesis concert--Thursday night at Stewart Theater.)

In "Solo," we are confronted with the riddle of the dancer's mouth, which remains wide open throughout, though the performer is always silent.

First her facial expression is taken as a mockery of the recorded opera singer, as the open-mouthed dancer theatrically clasps a hand to her breast. A second wave of laughter from the audience then reveals it as a yawn.

But as the laughter fades, the neutral--or slightly sad--visage registers on different levels. The image suggests a number of things: a vessel that cannot stop outpouring; a silent groan that never stops; a hollowed shell, nearly empty; a creature who can communicate, but only indirectly, through music.

We learn in voice class that the chambers of the upper body resonate when the mouth is open. Harris' inscrutable--and multivalent--image similarly resonates, long after the viewing.

*** My Fair Lady, N.C. Theater-- For those who'd grown accustomed to an older face in the role of Henry Higgins, actor David Staller's youthful take will be either a refreshment or a shock. Staller's marvelous voice sounds a lot like Orson Welles, but his incongruous, impromptu choreography--mid-sentence leaps, japes and other busy business across the stage--suggest a man who's momentarily traded My Fair Lady for Peter Pan.

Still, without all that energy, an already lengthy show would have likely seemed much longer. This, despite the first rate work of Elena Shaddow who captivates in the title role, Donna Wandrey who plays Henry's mom with highest dudgeon, and James Donegan's yeoman take as the besotted Freddy. By contrast, even with choral assistance, Robert Lydiard never fills the stage as ne'er-do-well Alfred Doolittle.

As always, McCrae Hardy's orchestra is in full bloom, but the pacing and the chemistry here--altered, perhaps, by Staller's unconventional character choices--makes this Lady overstay her welcome. (Now through Sunday, Feb. 8. BTI Center, Raleigh. $60-$20, or 831-6950.)

(Sliding Scale--see review) I Do! I Do!, Temple Theater--Some shows should have a minimum age requirement: A six-year-old really doesn't need to see O Calcutta, and eleven's probably still a bit too young for that kitchen scene in Wait Until Dark.

The minimum age required to actually enjoy this 1966 Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt musical? Somewhere around 60, I'd say.

Times have changed, and this inoffensive, sentimental two-person song cycle now constitutes a perfectly preserved time capsule of mid-century American mores about marriage, the traditional roles of the sexes and the middle-class life cycle. Donna Shannon and Martin Thompson do justice as the naive couple who slowly segue from sheltered innocence to a maturity that in some ways was, in retrospect, just as sheltered.

While scenesters in their 20s will want to flee the theater by intermission, their grandparents are a lot more likely to find on stage a mirror that reflects what once were some of their most heartfelt desires, beliefs and aspirations.

Thus our Sliding Scale rating for this show: For every five years you are over 50, add one-half * to our base rating of **1/2 stars. For every five years under 35, subtract one-half *.

Yes, my 65-year-old aunt would probably find this show a ****1/2 wowzer. Meanwhile, her 18-year-old granddaughter would be climbing the * walls. Your experience is likely to fall somewhere between the two. (Thursday through Sunday, through Feb. 15. 118 Carthage St., Sanford. $18-$10. 774-4155.)

*** Debunked, Triad Stage --It's hard to say which is more astounding: that no less than three famous pairs of Siamese twins from across the globe made North Carolina their final home--or that playwright Alexander Woo's comedy based on such an eerie portent has to work so hard for the laughs it gets. Billed as a cross between Frankenstein and Gone With the Wind, Debunked focuses--if that is the word--on a mad scientist's hair-brained scheme to liberate a wealthy Southern matron's conjoined daughters and make a mint in live entertainment at the same time through radical elective surgery.

The plot's absurd mechanics ultimately involve a head-and-body-swapping daisy chain that includes the two sisters, a couple of young Asian men, a wealthy widow--and the family dog, Napoleon.

The more outlandish things become, the more amusing, but the play gains limited buoyancy from the cadre of Eccentrics from the Old South assembled here. As sent up by Kirtan Coan, Mrs. Colonel Kincaid might have been the original steel magnolia. But an entertaining Mark Boyett is saddled with too much dialogue--and a surplus character twist or two--as the very windy Dr. Beauregard.

Eric Bondoc and Steven Eng give savor as the hapless Asian contributors to the doctor's hermaphroditic Siamese twin showbiz kit (some assembly still required). But if Debunked's weight in words were significantly reduced, this vehicle would likely get a lot more comic mileage. (Tuesday through Sunday, through Feb. 15. 232 S. Elm St., Greensboro, $37-$12. 336-274-0067.) EndBlock

Reviews & Openings
A Perfect Ganesh, Wendell Theater Co., Sheafer Theater, Feb. 5-7, $9-$7,email for reservations; The Chosen, Theater Or, Feb.7-8, Judea Reform Congregation, Durham; Feb. 14-15, Beth Meyer Synagogue, Raleigh. $20-$10, or 990-1994; An Evening of Chekhov, Duke Players Lab Theatre, Branson Theater, Feb. 5-8. $8-$6, 684-4444; Glengarry Glen Ross, Lab! Theater, Kenan Theater, UNC Center for Dramatic Art, Feb. 6-10, Free,; Megan Marvel, Thesis Dance Concert, Stewart Theater, N.C. State, Feb. 5, Free, 515-7034; Mornings at Seven, Raleigh Little Theater, Feb. 6-22, $19-$5, 821-3111; Shorts in Winter: Love UnCovered Ten-Minute Play Festival, Carrboro ArtsCenter, Feb. 5-14, $14-$12, 929-ARTS; Shirley Valentine, Ghost & Spice Theater, Wellness Partners in the Arts, Durham, Fri-Sun, Feb. 6-15; $12-$10, 680-2562. Via Dolorosa, Deep Dish Theater, University Mall, Chapel Hill, Thu-Sun, Feb. 5-28, $14-$10, Pay-what-you-can Feb. 8, 968-1515.

****1/2 King Lear (First Folio version), Playmakers Rep--Director Mark Wing-Davey's robust achievement continues Playmakers' January tradition of benchmark shows that set new standards for the coming year. On a cold, industrial shipbuilding set, scenic designer Narelle Sissons, costumier Marinia Draghici, sound designer M. Anthony Reimer and Mary Louise Geiger's lights all substantially contribute to Wing-Davey's Darwinian take on nature, and the necessity of social change. Michael Winters' finely-nuanced inaugural Lear avoids the carpet-chewing histrionics of predecessors; his feet falter only briefly at the top of this Everest of a role. Karen Walsh brightens the darkness as Cordelia, and Ronn Carroll does yeoman's work as Gloucester, while Rebecca Wisocky makes a brittle Gonerill. One of the most satisfying dramatic meals we've had in months; a work of vivid, epic imagination and systemic artistic accomplishment. Just be sure to hit the restroom before the two-hour first act starts. (Alternates with King Lear, (Abridged version), through Feb. 8. UNC Center for Dramatic Art, Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill. $32-$10. or 962-7529.)

* King Lear (Abridged version), Playmakers Rep--Playmakers falls from the sublime to the ridiculous in this truly wretched abbreviation of Wing-Davey's full-length Lear. Presumably created to salvage school-student matinees (and conservative subscribers who couldn't countenance the brief full-frontal male nudity), the stripped tech cues, sloppy cut-and-paste of reordered scenes, and undignified, racetrack pacing suggest a rush job that was apparently abandoned three-fourths of the way toward completion. With character establishment and development, continuity, plot points and coherency sacrificed on the altar of dispatch, the result is a student version of limited use, at best, to any students who might be actually watching. (Alternates with King Lear, (Full Folio version), through Feb. 6. UNC Center for Dramatic Art, Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill. $32-$10. or 962-7529.)

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