Justice Theater Project’s production of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America opens this weekend–in Cary, interestingly enough. Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2001 bestseller chronicled her undercover exploits through a series of minimum-wage jobs to see how low-end laborers were treated, and if she could make ends meet on what they earned. Joan Holden’s stage adaptation runs Saturday and Sunday, this weekend and next, at Cary Academy. But company officials abruptly realized last week that their ticket price for adults–$15–would likely prevent this region’s working poor from seeing a show about their plight. A $5 discount for seniors, students and military–but not for low-paid wage workers–suggested a disconnect between show content and company ethos.

So they’ve rushed to get the word out: Audience members making less than $8.00 an hour will be charged $5 a ticket throughout the run. (Pay stubs won’t be required: just ask for the discount.) Paralleling the $10 tickets for active military, teachers and workers in peace and justice organizations can also see the show for the same price.

Whatever you ultimately pay, a strong cast and director should make this show worth the price of admission. Call 845-7386 for more details and reservations.

Now, for a few dollars more… Moving from the cheap seats to the other end of the aisle, after our Oct. 27 column called the $93 (with service fee) top ticket for The Producers “one of the priciest shows of the season,” a longtime reader asked which production actually had the year’s most expensive seats.

Another one of Broadway Series South’s bus-and-truckers? Nope.

Think local. Think Carolina Ballet .

Top tix for The Nutcracker ‘s Dec. 17-24 performances sell for $108 on Ticketmaster. (That number and those below include all facility and convenience fees.) Those three-digit ducats mark a 66 percent jump over the production’s 2001 premiere. (Top tickets for that show? $65.)

So we did a little research. $108 not only trumps The Producers and that small September housewarming the North Carolina Symphony held for new conductor Grant Llewellyn. It also outbids this year’s most expensive Nutcracker seats at the New York City Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago, and the Moscow Ballet.

After a couple of hours on the Web, we could only find three Nutcrackers in the United States with top tickets more expensive than Carolina Ballet’s–but dozens of professional companies, including the famous three above, who charged less, at the most, for their sugar plum fairies.

That distinguished list includes the Miami City Ballet, Houston Ballet and San Jose Ballet; the Atlanta and Cincinnati Ballets; and the California, Colorado, Oregon and Pacific Northwest Ballets. Among many others.

Above us were the $135 box seats at the San Francisco Ballet, and Boston Ballet’s slightly cheaper top tix, pushed by convenience fees to $111.85. Those charges also gave Washington D.C.’s tour dates for the Joffrey Nutcracker the slightest edge. They were 41 cents more expensive than Raleigh’s. For premium box seats. At Kennedy Center.

What were Ethel Merman’s immortal words? Ah, yes: “Everything the traffic will allow… .”

Had to mention: David Klionsky’s vivid, urbane storytelling in Peace’s 65 Minutes of Terror Halloween week–pearls that were unprofitably cast before two finishing school dropouts in the audience, keeping tabs on the World Series on their cell phones throughout the performance.

****Love Letters , Temple Theatre–Call me old school, but I usually like to see the actors in a show before writing my review. The problem: Three different couples inhabit A.R. Gurney’s two-character play during the three weeks of Temple’s run. Though Serena Ebhardt and David zum Brunnen were sparkling, funny and poignant as Melissa and Andy, master actors Quinn Hawkesworth and James Fleming will occupy the roles when you read this. This review reflects three things: a grudging respect for Gurney’s heart-tugging script, which tracks two lifelong friends only by their written correspondence from childhood to old age; Ebhardt and zum Brunnen’s achievement on opening weekend; and what I fully expect from Hawkesworth and Fleming in week two. Regional legend Bo Thorpe and former Temple director Tim Morrissey close week three. (Thursday-Sunday through Nov. 21. $18-$10. 774-4155.)

***1/2 Boy Gets Girl , Deep Dish Theater–A lot of people truly need to see Rebecca Gilman’s issue play, which depicts how an intelligent woman can make the right moves and still have a stalker change her life. Director Hope Hynes takes us into skin-crawl territory from the start. But the soapbox posturing and forced character choices that also blighted Gilman’s Spinning Into Butter sabotage the art–and ethics–here, if not the therapy.

As the only robust character, stalkee Theresa (a strong Sherida McMullan) is surrounded by a stacked deck of straw men: a kindly, inept, old-school senior editor, a colleague who cites his one women’s studies class before starting an invasive article on the stalking, Tony the psycho–and Les, a guy clearly based on exploitation film director Russ Meyer. What’s he doing here? Theresa’s interviewing him. Conveniently.

After introducing Tony’s issues, Gilman keeps him at a distance–permanently off-stage. Demonized since his psyche is the only one unprobed on stage, if Tony’s effect is explored, his cause never is. Laughably fake guy talk also indicates a playwright whose quest for understanding lacks a few empathic leaps. We’re left with no less necessary–or problematic–a work. (Thursday-Sunday, through Nov. 20. $14-$10. 968-1515.)

***1/2 Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom , NC State University Theatre–We feel the frustration and poignance of intergenerational struggle in August Wilson’s 1920s chronicle. Blues diva Ma Rainey’s intransigence crushes trumpeter Levee’s new musical ideas–and insures her own career’s end a few years after this recording session. Patricia Caple and Anthony Hardison convince as Rainey and Levee, and newcomer Gregor McElvogue stands out as long-suffering agent Irvin. Fred Gorelick solidly supports as producer Sturdyvant and Ron Foreman nails the pseudo-intellect of Toledo, while Phil Reese II sustains the illusion of bandleader Cutler–until he tries to play that trombone. Still, we’re struck by the waste of human potential–not the last time in Wilson’s century cycle when old ways actively prevent the new. (Closed Nov. 7.)

***Dracula , Triad Stage–As a true fright fan, I hate–but have–to ask: What is more redundant than a production of Dracula? Scaring an audience with a story it already knows by heart is difficult. Still, everybody doing Shakespeare faces the same challenge: finding something new in something very old. On final preview night, vividly realized moments included a shaving scene where the Count longingly holds a straight razor against Harker’s jugular from behind, and the seduction of the innocent, including a doomed choirboy who disquiets (even though he surfaces one or two times too many during the show). His altered catechism ends: “Mother says there are no such things as monsters. Mother’s a liar.”

Although Dan Cordle’s martial tone gives considerable savor to Van Helsing and an old Dracula, a cast of only six insufficiently populates Stoker’s world. Plus, this interpretation adds little to the blood-religion-as-inverse-Christianity trope that’s been covered in recent literature and films. Still, gratifying scares and gross-outs bring this melodrama a measure of fresh blood. So to speak. (Tuesday-Sunday, through Nov. 14. $38-$12. 336-272-0160.)