Dougherty Arts Center Theatre, through May 24.
Running Time: 2 hrs, 45 min.

There is a magic zone that happens every night between 2am and sunrise. The rest of the world is asleep and their prying eyes are shut. You are free to act as you wish. There are no witnesses once the front door is shut. Couple this atmosphere with a few pints of gin and a horrifically brutal marriage of convenience, and you've cooked up an Edward Albee play.

The biggest problem with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is that it is so easy to do so badly. Turn the production into nothing but Martha's shrewish rantings and George's mindless meanderings, and you have yourself almost three hours of sheer torture. Albee is just so easy to approach in the wrong frame of mind, with an attitude which never digs beneath the surface of his words. It is the undercurrent, however, where the heart of this play lurks.

This G-Ray Production, directed by Jerry Marco, does an amazing job of tapping into that undercurrent and pointing out the interesting bits of emotional flotsam as they stream by. Plus, this version really does capture the feeling of one long, dark night in George and Martha's even longer and darker marriage. You leave the theatre emotionally drained, as if you, like guests Honey and Nick, found yourself trapped in this emotional maelstrom.

The performances are what make this piece so successful. While the set, light, and costumes do play their own supporting roles, they are kept to a minimum, which allows the actors here to shine. Gary Payne is George and seems to have taken on this character with skilled abandon, almost

becoming this natty college professor with few prospects. As Nick, Larry Averill gives a confident and engaging performance while still managing to appear as if he would rather gnaw off his own leg than be used as a pawn in George and Martha's game. Holly Hepp plays Honey with a touch of calculating ditz, while Robin Carbone's Martha grates on your last nerve, just as she should.

Anything can happen on this bleak night, behind closed doors. And you just can't help but watch.

-- Adrienne Martini


McCallum Fine Arts Academy Theatre, through May 18.
Running time: 1 hr

Thundering cats! Just when you were sure that Bayport was nothing but a sleepy little burg on the coast, suddenly the place explodes with odd occurrences -- a strange death in the old mansion on the cliff, lights that shine in its windows even after it has been deserted, unfamiliar boats in Barmet Bay that appear and disappear in an instant, and a secretive stranger that someone is desperately trying to kill! What's up with all these mysterious goings-on? That's what Frank and Joe Hardy want to find out, and no sooner do these inquisitive teens start hunting for clues than they're up to their magnifying glasses in adventure: getting spooked by ghostly laughter in the deserted mansion, saving the life of the secretive stranger, exploring a cove and uncovering a smuggling ring right in their quiet little hometown. Quiet? Jeepers! This place is thrill on top of thrill on top of thrill.

Those Hardy Boys stories are nothing if not packed with exciting action, and in bringing the intrepid Frank and Joe Hardy to the stage, playwright Jon Klein has preserved that aspect of the books. Indeed, he's intensified it, jamming almost as many suspenseful moments into his hourlong adaptation of The House on the Cliff as could be found in the original novel. He throws a new tension-filled set-piece at us literally every few minutes, and when the show is staged at a good clip -- as this Austin Theatre for Youth production, directed by Rick Schiller, is -- it can inspire in the viewer that adrenaline-infused giddiness of a carnival thrill ride.

That may be making this throwback to old-style juvenile adventure sound more intense than it is. In fact, Klein keeps the violence to a minimum -- some wrestling, some threatening guns (that never get fired), and, if you can believe it, a swordfight -- and he lays on thick the comic relief, with three of the 10 characters played for laughs, and broad ones. Mostly, it's fun, just good old fun. The original 1920s setting that Klein retains provides an amusingly nostalgic air (of which costume designer Pamela Anson takes rich advantage, in criss-cross patterns and stylish headgear). The trio of young heroes -- Klein expands the role of female pal Callie Shaw into that of full partner of the Hardys, making her an ersatz Nancy Drew -- are portrayed as real stand-up kids (and Michael Lee Joplin, Mark Saunders Corbin, and Eliza Wren, as Frank, Joe, and Callie, fill out the parts with "aw-shucks" sincerity and investigative pluck). There is an appealing enthusiasm among the cast, with Doug Taylor relishing the menace of his evil smuggler and Ev Lunning, Jr. cheerfully radiating paternal strength and warmth as the Hardy Boys' dad. And the atmosphere is thick with mystery, most of which here comes from scenic designer Christopher McCollum and lighting designer John Ore, who provide eerily moonlit haunted houses, claustrophobic smugglers' closets, dark underground rivers, and more, with inventive theatricality and sublime craftsmanship. Thundering cats! It's a journey back to a time when adventure could excite without alarming, when it raised the hairs on your neck and a smile at the same time. You don't have to be a detective to figure out that that's a good thing.

-- Robert Faires

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