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Onstage 7.27.05 

Making characters human | Living up to its name

Making characters human

This season at Stratford artistic director Richard Monette completes his presentation of the entire Shakespeare canon --- as well as continues his expansion of the contemporary repertoire.

Jonathan Goad, whom I have admired as an excitingly developing young actor, brings Dostoevsky's passionate Dmitry to pulsing life in Jason Sherman's The Brothers Karamazov. Whether that complex meganovel really lends itself to the stage is a matter of taste. The haunting philosophical and religious questions evoked by the wildly different four Karamazov brothers, the meanings of the mystery of their father's murder, and the heartbreaking fraternal relationships between the three legitimate brothers are probably too much to get fully from frequent readings of the novel, much less from a few hours in a theater. But Sherman certainly condensesThe Brothers Karamazov into a compelling drama.

Only because his role is smaller does Scott Wentworth's dynamic father, Fyodor Karamazov, seize the imagination less potently than Goad's tormented Dmitry. Shane Carty is believable (no small achievement) as the freakily erratic, intellectual brother Ivan.

Director Richard Rose's typically gimmicky staging makes almost symbolic use of the rearrangement of chairs by the mostly onstage large cast, and Charlotte Dean's costumes suit Graeme S. Thomson's dark designs for sets and lighting to maintain a rather Gothic atmosphere.

Those who know the first five Wingfield plays recognize that Dan Needles' Wingfield's Inferno is a comedy. But it is also a thoughtful, sometimes moving, original Canadian play.

Walt Wingfield, former stockbroker and now rural Ontario farmer, writes dryly comic letters to a nearby newspaper about his experiences among quirky and very human neighbors. This time Walt tells about the machinations necessary to "restore" a burned-down community hall. His baby girl's deafness-threatening ear infections, attempts to train a filly to be a racehorse although reins and a bridle terrify her, and other problems are all connected through the topics of bureaucratic cupidity and insurance. As in all the Wingfield plays, actor Rod Beattie portrays Walt, his editor, and all the zany characters, this time also voicing Walt's wife and his baby girl.

Rod Beattie's brother Douglas again directs invisibly. And, however special or cute or limited they may seem in description, all six plays are delightful gems worthy of repeated viewings in major theaters, and continue to win international awards to prove that statement. Beattie alone is a whole community of engrossing characters.

--- Herbert M. Simpson

You should go if you want to see new life in Dostoevsky, or for a comedy with thought and wit. The Brothers Karamazov through September 24 and Wingfield's Inferno through August 14 | Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ontario, Canada | $18.85 to $91.16 US dollars | 800-567-1600,

Living up to its name

The elusive triple threat: stunning singer, delightful dancer, and able actor. Who could have guessed that a collection of these rare creatures would assemble in Auburn, New York?

The historic Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, set in beautifully groomed Emerson Park and adorned with gorgeous chandeliers hanging from the preserved wooden ceiling, is a unique theater environment without a bad seat.

Crazy For You is classic Gershwin: over the top, sappy, convoluted, and wonderful. Bobby Child, a reluctant big-shot banker, dreams of stardom, but his demanding mother and overbearing fiancée insist that he pursue business, requiring him to foreclose on a family theater in Nevada. When he arrives in the ghost town, he falls madly in love with the owner's daughter, Polly.

Love is never easy, especially in musical comedy. Think I Love Lucy meets the Wild West and you'll have some idea of the hilarity that ensues. Only Gershwin could get away with asking a character to sincerely deliver the line, "I'll stop this show if it's the last thing I ever do!"

Josh Walden (Bobby) is a versatile character actor and talented physical comedian, singer, and dancer. Ellen Zolezzi skillfully plays Polly with a tough exterior that immediately melts when she yearns for that "Someone to Watch Over Me."

The impressive cast whirls through dizzying choreography while singing with abandon. Smoldering performances (Yes, Gershwin can be sexy!) are delivered by dancers Andrea Davey and Melanie Waldron who have, respectively, the appeal of Ginger Rogers and Claudette Colbert.

Despite wig fiascoes, shaky sets, and a somewhat anticlimactic ending, this vibrant production is worth the drive. Director Ed Sayles, musical director Christopher Babbage, and choreographer Jennifer Turey have succeeded in creating "Broadway in the Finger Lakes."

--- by Erin Morrison-Fortunato

You should goif you like slapstick, classic show tunes, lovely ladies in tiny costumes, and lots of talented actors. Crazy For You through August 4 | Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, 17 William Street, Auburn | $31-$35 | 315-255-1785,

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