The women on South State Street have been writing. Perhaps you met them last August at the ArtsCenter, or in October at St. Mary’s School. These are the only times the members of the N.C. Women’s Prison Writing and Performance Project have been allowed out of the Raleigh Correctional Center for Women to perform their original, autobiographical stage piece, Doing More than Time.

Their monologues, sketches and songs gave a brief introduction to lives changed by childhood sexual and emotional abuse and adult domestic violence. We also heard women grown strong enough to take responsibility for acts that had derailed their lives.

Clearly, there was much more for them to tell.

“They have double the material they had in August,” producer Judith Reitman said when we spoke last week. The group is working on a new show that targets at-risk youth. And being featured on Tuesday’s edition of UNC-TV’s North Carolina Now is only likely to increase the interest in a group that prompted above-capacity crowds, with over 40 patrons turned away when they performed in Carrboro last August. If you’re interested in seeing them, call 929-2787.

In serendipitous timing, the Justice Theater Project also takes its death penalty moratorium tour of A Lesson Before Dying, Romulus Linney’s adaptation of Ernest Gaines’ novel to Durham this weekend, playing Sunday evening at Immaculate Conception at Holy Cross Church.

They’re two shows, building bridges made entirely of words. One leads prisoners back to society and makes their voices heard. The other leads North Carolina to join a civilized world in which governments don’t kill. EndBlock

Reviews & Openings

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act I, Carolina Ballet, Thursday-Sunday, May 16, $59-$10, $5 Student Rush, 719-0900; Jacques Brel is Alive & Well & Living in Paris, Raleigh Little Theater, Friday-Sunday through May 30, $15-$11, 821-3111; Romeo & Juliet, LiveWire Theatre, outdoors at Pullen Park, Saturday-Sunday at 6 p.m. through May 30, $8, 831-6126; Stammer, featuring Jaguaro, Artspace, Friday, May 14 at 9 p.m., $3-$4, 821-2787.


****1/2 Hedda Gabler, Triad Stage–Where Deep Dish’s November production deliberately left us with a prickly bouquet of question marks about the title character’s identity and motives, Preston Lane’s gothic-tinged, comparatively straight-no-chaser adaptation presents a general’s brilliant daughter waging a one-woman war all her own–sometimes through obscure strategies–in her search for a place of power, pleasure, and reciprocation in the stifling man’s world of Norway in 1890.

Jason Romney’s sound design and Howard Jones’ enigmatic set are nearly worth the trek to Greensboro by themselves. At times low lights and wind both illustrate the ghostly pages which symbolize rival Lovborg’s manuscript, hung almost as in accusation from the back of a chilly white and aqua set. Meanwhile, the dark imperatives of Romney’s brilliantly handcrafted sound montage (featuring Norwegian singer Sissel) propels us, willingly, further into shadows–a convincing fusion of stagecraft and theatrical art.

Krista Hoeppner cuts a severe, compelling figure in the title role, an effective and ruthless tactician who changes faces to get advantage: confidante and presumed peer to those with the power she craves, interrogator and nemesis to enemies defined.

In this production, Hedda meets more of a match in Judge Brack. David McCann ably portrays the two entirely different sides his character would have needed to pull off his ethical charade. With their game, a curious mix of chess and cat and mouse, so graphically defined, the consequences of loss are made transparent. (Tuesday-Sunday, through May 16. $32-$10. 336-272-0160.)

***1/2 Holiday, Deep Dish Theater–If Hell did not begin at home for the fabulously wealthy Setons, icy father Edward would insist it be imported. But since he’s the only one enjoying all the blue blood and old money in this unapologetic Philip Barry jazz-age soaper, nearly everybody else with common sense is trying to vacate the family estate with dispatch.

Daughter Julia wants a wedding–within a month–with Johnny, the boyfriend from the other side of the crust. Eccentric, educated sister Linda toys with the idea her passport renewed–not that dear old dad would ever actually let her get away. Meanwhile, brother Ned is busy on his own little bit of permanent relocation–to the inside of a bottle of hooch. So it goes when a Wall Street scion treats his grown-up kids like his board of directors.

A fairly dark setting for a romantic comedy? You bet–and director Tony Lea picks up on all of it. Since times have changed since the 1928 original, or George Kukor’s 1938 film with Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, Lea takes a somewhat more even hand in this production. Good call: we invest more when we can actually feel the bite of golden handcuffs, the leash of conscience and the overweening sense of cold entitlement that drives different characters.

We get all these in this production–and still wind up with laughs to spare. Pitch-perfect casting puts Scotty Cherryholmes as icy father Edward, while David Berberian convincingly caresses brother Ned’s bruised psyche. As things progress, Tracey Phillips catches the family chill as Julia.

John Allore is likable as a Johnny with his own ideas about society and business. Still, given the occasional excesses of Barry’s script, he seems at times about to break into a chorus of The Internationale. Katja Hill constructs the most complex character on stage as sister Linda–even if she was throwing away too many of Barry’s razor-sharp wisecracks on opening night. Memorable support came from Timothy Cole and Katie Flaherty as those insufferable social climbers, the Crams–and from Kevin Ferguson and Collette Rutherford as true friends Nick and Susan Potter. Full credit goes as well to Rob Hamilton’s magic set and Judy Chang’s historic costumes. (Thursday-Sunday, through May 15. $14-$10. 968-1515.)

**1/2 The Importance of Being Earnest, Arising Light Productions–Oscar Wilde’s a bit of a departure for this for-profit undergraduate Christian theater troupe, active for the last four years conducting summer Christian theater youth camps here and across the country and staging holiday church productions of A Christmas Carol.

This Earnest shows many of the same strengths and flaws we see in much of the area’s undergraduate theater: minimal sets and tech put the emphasis on acting, with strong roles at the center but considerably weaker work along the edges. What’s particularly noticeable here is the degree to which some of the younger actors, mostly from Campbell University, trump the older ones on stage.

Company co-founder Caleb Custer and his brother Luke both bring a pronounced–and basically delightful–British boy-band insouciance to the roles of Jack and Algernon, the two bachelors at the center of Earnest. Moreover, Caleb adds a lovely note of Monty Python to the proceedings whenever Jack gets rattled. Still, too fast a pace, the occasional mumble and inadequate surfing of the audience’s laughter combined causes Luke to throw away nearly one in every four of Wilde’s epigrams which riddle the work.

Laura Cate Harvey gleefully embraces the absurdity of Jack’s ward, Cecily, and she apparently relishes a good catfight as well, in her second act encounter with a tentative Jamie Hale as Gwendolen. But as directed here by Zachary Roberts, Lynne Sizemore’s uniformly sluggish, drawn-out line delivery made Lady Bracknell’s scenes ultimately more a gauntlet than a pleasure. In other supporting roles, Andie Lucas was a delight as a wincing Miss Prism, but Ed Roberts was all but totally inaudible as Lane the butler. (Townridge Shopping Center, 4112 Pleasant Valley Rd, Raleigh. Friday-Saturday, May 15 at 7 .pm.; Saturday matinee 2 p.m. $8-$5. 552-1947.)