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Crazy Love

In two Memphis theaters: visions of amore.

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Kyle Hatley, the talented young director behind Germantown Community Theatre's revisionist production of Romeo and Juliet, doesn't think Shakespeare's famous love story is really about love. Fair enough. Taken in full measure, Romeo and Juliet is an evergreen tragedy about the wars old men start and the babies who die finishing them. But there can be no denying that this play, a grim, unlikely paragon of perfect romance and youthful ardor, is driven by impatient hormonal urges compounded by repression, end-of-the-world desperation, and the allure of forbidden fruit. Desire is the gas in Shakespeare's hot rod, and it's the missing element in Hatley's otherwise gorgeous, thought-provoking take on the world's most celebrated double suicide.

Hatley's staging is sexy and dangerous, but from the top of Act I, Dylan Hunter's Romeo is too confused and depressed to get out of his own bed, let alone into anyone else's. And Ashley Davis' Juliet is entirely too mature, detached, and self-satisfied. But between the beautifully integrated video projection and the superb ensemble acting, these seemingly unforgivable errors become negligible.

In GCT's production, Benvolio (Jane Kilgore), Mercutio (Bob Arnold), and the Nurse (Lindsey Patrick) are the stars; Friar Lawrence (Matt Nelson) and Capulet (Ralph Hatley) are the outstanding and often surprising ensemble players. The title characters become little more than an excuse to give the secondary players a new life and an opportunity to shine.

The musical cast provides their own soundtrack by banging out swinging rhythms on the piano and blowing lonesome chords on the harmonica. That, along with the video, helps to make this R&J an especially sensual experience for the audience. In spite (or maybe because) of its one glaring error, this show is highly recommended. And Hatley is clearly a director to watch.

Through February 4th at Germantown Community Theatre

There was a time in the early '70s when you couldn't turn on the television without encountering a variety show with Bob Hope or some other aging Hollywood hipster dressed up like a hippie doing pot jokes and cracking wise about the hidden costs of free love. Even then the jokes were past due and a little embarrassing. Neil Simon's Last of the Red Hot Lovers aims to be a sophisticated look at the clash of generational values during the Vietnam era, in the mold of the wonderful Jack Lemmon film Save the Tiger. But it plays out like Bob Hope making a peace sign.

After a thrilling debut with Samm Art Williams' Home, the Hattiloo Theatre has hit something of an artistic speed bump. As they say, you can't put lipstick on a pig, and no matter how hard the cast works, they can't overcome the fact that their material hasn't aged well at all.

Lovers tells the story of Barney Cashman (the wonderful Tony Anderson), a good husband, father, and business owner who doesn't want to die without knowing what it feels like to be bad. Unfortunately, the poor guy doesn't have what it takes to have an affair -- even with his own wife. Anderson is performance anxiety personified as he spars with a libidinous, coughing nymphomaniac, a stoned mental case, and a sweet, injured lady, who prompts him to lash out in anger and frustration.

Lovers has its moments and (for those patient enough to wait for act three) contains some of Simon's best writing. But overall, it's like watching a "TV Land" salute to '70s sitcoms without the laugh track.

Through February 4th at Hattiloo Theatre

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