Mugging the Mayor

Rattlebrain mostly clicks when it picks on Hick.

Rattlebrain Theater Company consists of a group of highly talented and appealing actors with loads of stage presence. Director Dave Shirley, who also writes much of the material, keeps things buzzing along and utilizes music and video clips to great effect. In It's Hickenlooper's World, the troupe's target is Denver and the city's relatively new mayor.

Some of the skits are very clever and others only mildly amusing, but the cast performs with such enthusiasm and panache that almost everything works. One of the most effective sketches mocks Denver's provincialism, as a news report by Tom Brokaw is juxtaposed with one on a local television station. Brokaw announces a series of miracles that begins with the signing of a Middle East peace treaty. The Denver broadcasters, fishing for a local connection, find the man who runs the mill that manufactured the paper on which the treaty was written. For them, the capture of Osama bin Laden comes in a poor second to a John Elway sighting. They punctuate these non-news items with vacuous quips and laughter. In another excellent parody, Jeff Kosloski plays the Godcity -- that is, Denver -- with regal bearing and a Brando-like mumble. One by one, his subordinates -- Boulder, Littleton, Lakewood and the other suburban cities --enter to seek his favor, and he responds with a mixture of paternalism and threat.

In "Welcome to Colorado," a couple of newcomers to Denver are given tips by their neighbors on how to fit in. Either there's not much to parody about the town, or Rattlebrain hasn't dug deep enough, because this is pretty thin stuff: Presumably many cities have traffic problems, in-jokes and a veneration for sports.

Marilyn Musgrave is an obvious target for satire, and so is Tom Tancredo. The Musgrave skit is well performed by Ashley Vinson and has great cameos by Jane Shirley and Christopher Todd Grundy, but the writing isn't sharp. My companion whispered to me afterward that when her sons were seven and ten years old, they had done a comic tape about a product to help gay people become heterosexual called "Been-Gay" -- which struck me as funnier that Rattlebrain's Homo Cure. And while it's great to see Tancredo hustled unceremoniously off the stage, nothing in this piece illustrates the true noxiousness of his immigration politics. This is, after all, the man who responded to the struggle of a young Mexican honors student to get into the University of Colorado with an attempt to deport both the student and his family.

The second act begins with a takeoff on the Country Dinner Playhouse's Barnstormers that's wonderfully disruptive and approaches the all-stops-out zaniness of the shenanigans at the Heritage Square Opera House. Then there's a skit about a Highlands Ranch family preparing for the terrifying trek into Denver, where they will encounter people who don't live in covenanted neighborhoods, and even people of color. Here the concept is better than the execution. A piece in which ex-mayor Wellington Webb appears as action hero Webman, with consumer reporter Tom Martino in tow as his sidekick, mixes flat moments with others that are gut-wrenchingly funny -- particularly the video footage showing our two heroes in action.

On the night I attended, Darrin Schroeder stood in for Eric Mather, and he held up his end of things pretty well. I imagine it would take a few more performances for him to attain the relaxed polish of the Rattlebrain regulars, who are all first-rate. Shirley glides effortlessly from role to role, whether she's playing a butch lesbian or a breathlessly naive housewife. Kosloski also inhabits his characters fully and gives them a piercing comic intensity. Vinson exudes a natural warmth and humor, and Grundy invites us into his lunatic universe with smooth assurance.

The players topped off the evening off with some improvisation, slamming ideas back and forth with their happy, noisy audience, then acting out audience suggestions. In all, they came across as vital, unpretentious, gently humorous and willing to try just about anything once -- which, come to think of it, sounds a lot like Denver.

 
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