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Piccolo preview chatter plus comedy comings, goings

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You won't hear an official announcement on Piccolo Spoleto's lineup for this spring's festival for another three weeks or so, until the program guide has been put to bed. In the meantime, series coordinators for the Kong-sized cultural event are discouraged from blabbing about what they have on the docket until the Office of Cultural Affairs has sent its reams of hyperbolic press releases winging their way across the region.

But there's always chatter among local performance and technical types at this time of year, especially at the tail end of a few beers. And that kind of talk has a tendency to truthfulness.

One of the few certainties about this year's program is that with their huge new home on Meeting Street above The Bicycle Shoppe, Theatre 99 will be bringing an entirely new performance space to Piccolo's regular mix. For the past two years, The Have Nots! have programmed their Theatre 99 Fringe series at the American Theater on King Street, which they've stuffed full of comedy acts from their own extended family and from across the nation. It looks like they'll be using both venues to program this year's Fringe — which is shaping up to include some hellacious good stuff. Word is they're bringing back Casey Wilson and June Raphael with their two-woman sketch comedy act Rode Hard and Put Away Wet — the runaway hit of the 2004 Charleston Comedy Festival. There's also chatter that their lineup might include an encore of Charlie Ross' amazing One Man Star Wars Trilogy, which last appeared here in 2004 and afterward went on to Lucas-esque success Off-Broadway in New York. And for those who caught Aziz Ansari's stupendous standup act at this year's Comedy Festival, it seems he'll be returning this spring with comedy compatriots Paul Scheer and Rob Huebel (who starred with Aziz in his short film Shutterbugs).

Sheri Grace Wenger will take over the underused Charleston Music Hall again this spring, apparently, just as she did last year, with a mélange of theatre and music acts. She declined to talk about specifics, preferring to wait until the OCA makes its announcement, but word on the street has her bringing back her popular Rock 'n' Roll Heaven show as well as the Lovell Sisters from last year. And the chatter also hints at — interestingly — an acoustical music gig featuring film actor Jeff Daniels. Go figure.

There's also talk that PURE Theatre at the Cigar Factory will become another new Piccolo space with a reprise of last season's remarkable one-man show Underneath the Lintel, and perhaps another appearance from 2006 Best Actor David Mandel in the provocative A Number. Finally, a new black and Hispanic theatre group from Columbia may be putting up Suzan-Lori Parks' Pulitzer Prize-winning Topdog/Underdog.

Back to Theatre 99 for a moment: with the relocation of ensemble members Camille Lowman and John Brennan to Chicago in recent months, that company has seen two of its most successful side projects — Mary Kay Has a Posse and Big Dicktionary, respectively — go on indefinite hiatus. For the moment, The Have Nots! have only two other running projects to help them fill the weekly comedy schedule at the theatre: the new sketch-based show A Short History of Charleston for Morons, and long-form improv group Moral Fixation (which you can catch Wed. night). Given that each side project usually performs once a month on Wednesday nights following the first improv set, Have Not! Greg Tavares says there's room for at least two new groups at the moment. One recently formed collective of new ensemble members, the Sofa Kings, doesn't have a standing gig at the theatre yet, Tavares remarks, but they're gunning hard for one. For the time being, he says, they're still "auditioning" during the after sets following occasional Wednesday night shows, as is another loose collective that's still nameless.

"We're always percolating over here. Every theatre in the world is only as good as the new stuff," Tavares says. "So we're always working on new stuff and creating new groups. Sometimes pieces go up and they're based on experiments in long-form improv, like Moral Fixation. And they're great." He laughs. "And then some don't work as well, and we call them 'exercises.'"

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