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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dynamic ‘Carmen’ Brings Laughs

Theater Review

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Georges Bizet’s Carmen, based on a novella by a largely unknown author, offers a convoluted plot that naturally lends itself to comedy. Local author/director Charles Sommers brilliantly delivers on this comic potential in Wisconsin Hybrid Theater’s staging of the classic story.

A talented ensemble joins Wisconsin Hybrid Theater (WHT) regulars Jim Owczarski and Char Paulbicke in the role of actors from the golden age of radio who are broadcasting a live radio adaptation of the classic story. Beth Lewinski portrays radio actress Debra Burnham, who in turn plays Carmen. Burnham is an aggressive figure in the studio, and Lewinski has mastered the necessary comic intensity to make the role work. In a clever performance, Ruth Arnell plays the beautiful ingénue Mosey Wells, a character written to be an exceptionally bad actress, but also exceptionally sweet. There’s an art to deliberately acting poorly for comic effect, and Arnell executes it brilliantly.

Owczarski’s gruff professionalism as the male lead serves as a center to the presentation. Paulbicke’s comically contagious nervousness provides both sound effects and perpetually worried maternal stress. Sommers’ humor is never terribly deep or profound, but the comedy in the script is only part of the equation. In bringing together the right kind of talent and pointing it in the right direction, Sommers’ shows are always a great deal of fun.

Wisconsin Hybrid Theater’s Carmen runs through May 9 at the Alchemist Theatre (2569 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.).