Lone Rangers

A master of the non sequitur, Borge has created an act that's all about contrast. His unique sense of humor regales us one moment, while his still-superb musicianship at the piano quiets us the next. Just when we think we're going to laugh at him yet again, Borge surprises us with several minutes of, say, Rachmaninoff. Then he disrupts our reverie with a story about the man who created 4 Up, 5 Up and 6 Up but died before inventing the product that would have surely won him fame and fortune. He enchants his audience with old favorites such as "Phonetic Punctuation," a story that he tells with audible commas, periods and exclamation points that are amusingly childish. He also increases each number found in the story to correspond with the seemingly natural phenomenon of price inflation and thereby begins his tale with "Twice upon a time." What would doom any other performer to hisses and uncomfortable silence is instead a hysterical comedy routine in the masterful hands of Borge.

In fact, a few Buell spectators who'd caught Borge's act as far back as the 1950s declared that he was as funny as he'd been in the days of Ed Sullivan--a remarkable feat that Borge has achieved without becoming a walking anachronism. In particular, he plays to children without pandering to them and appeals to the masses without resorting to base or crude jokes. He hems and haws a bit, but so do most politicians half his age, and with far less magnetism and appeal than Borge. And anyone who can sustain, as Borge does, a running joke of finding "Happy Birthday" in every classical tune from Beethoven's "Minuet in G" to Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" deserves all the applause he can get. Not to mention all the adoration he can possibly bear.

Sixty-something local Tony Church is the youngest of this trio of grand old men, though no less a household name as far as Denver theater audiences are concerned. The show he's put together might not be instantly recognizable: Give 'em a Bit of Mystery: Shakespeare and the Old Tradition was seen on November 9 in a one-night, invitation-only performance prior to embarking on a regional tour of universities and Shakespeare festivals. But it's a tour de force for the highly esteemed Denver Center Theatre Company performer, a two-hour performance that chronicles the acting styles and traditions of great Shakespearean actors.

Church's show relies on a detailed context that is sometimes above the head of the average theatergoer. Yet despite a jittery first twenty minutes in which he adjusted his efforts to the demands brought on by a capacity crowd in the Ricketson Theatre, the former Royal Shakespeare Company actor was in fine form on his day off from the DCTC's production of Misalliance. A graceful performer, Church wove stories of famous actors with several magnificent renderings of Shakespearean speeches, all the while guiding his audience through the evening with humorous, tongue-in-cheek commentary. He explained why the fingers of actors are spread apart in portraits taken before 1900: Candle and gaslight made illumination of the actor difficult, so performers made prominent use of their hands in order to be seen and recognized by spectators.

Church's greatest triumph occurred in the second half of the program, when he appeared to be on surer ground, as did his audience, which had little trouble recognizing the names of some of the actors he masterfully impersonates--John Gielgud, John Barrymore, Ralph Richardson and Laurence Olivier. Church also touched hearts with his personal remembrances of actresses Edith Evans and Peggy Ashcroft, both of whom he worked with in days gone by. And as he exquisitely re-created each speech (and each personality), we slowly gained a greater appreciation for his own talents, which may one day be accorded as high a place in the grand scheme of things as those of the actors he has lovingly brought to life in this gem of a show.

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