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THEATER CHATTER

A beauty of a cast
Susan Owen, who has already been wooed by a pretty scary character in productions of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera," will attract the love of another frightening suitor when "Beauty and the Beast" opens Tuesday in Shea's Performing Arts Center. Owen will star as Belle, the courageous beauty of the Disney musical. Grant NormanInvalid face will play the Beast. The musical will continue through Feb. 13.
Set for the future
For Martin McDonagh's "Beauty Queen of Leenane" at Studio Arena Theatre through Feb. 6, scenic designer G.W. Mercier gives a rough-hewn Irish cottage a three-foot-thick ceiling that projects ominously forward like a hovering slab of granite. There it is, like a literalization of the psychological burden that has for 20 years been hanging over the heads of the venomous mother and daughter of this grim comedy. Then, Mercier goes for the big contrast: The whole dingy, massive hovel rests on mounds covered in crushed auto glass, its blue and green chips sparkling like some particularly eerie Walt Disney fantasy. The good news is that the Tony-nominated designer will be back at Studio Arena in March with what promises to be an innovative design for the regional premiere of A.R. Gurney's latest, the highly-praised "Far East." The play by the Buffalo-born playwright will run from March 19 to April 16.
Live and wired
By usual definitions, theater is live or it is some uncategorizable hybrid form. Ever since 1967 when it first funded technology-based projects, the New York State Council on the Arts has been attempting to blur the line between live and media presentations. During the 1999-2000 funding year the council distributed 22 technology initiative grants, several of which will incorporate live dance or drama. One of the more intriguing is a $14,000 grant to the Builders Association in New York City for its "Extravaganza," a live performance with installation and recorded elements. Planned for later this year, the multimedia production will draw on the rich history of American theatrical entertainment, from early stage revues to the dance extravaganzas of the 1930s. Another grant, for $20,000, went to the St. Ann's Center for the Arts and Restoration in Brooklyn for a "digital opera" by cartoonist Art Spiegelman. Invalid face -- Richard Huntington

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