Encore

Angels in America: Part I: Millennium Approaches. Tony Kushner's Angels in America is a complex, seven-hour masterwork about the lives of two couples and one quintessentially evil historical figure, and the inextricable way in which politics, history and private life intertwine. There's also an angel, along with other supernatural and hallucinatory manifestations. In Part I: Millennium Approaches, she's constantly threatening to erupt into the action until, with a great crash, she does. The play starts with a rabbi speaking over the coffin of an elderly Jewish woman, an immigrant from Russia, who "carried the old world on her back" to America and bequeathed it to her descendants. Journeying is a key theme in Angels, as is Jewishness. Louis, a secular Jew who nonetheless identifies strongly with his people, leaves his AIDS-ravaged lover, Prior, and is tormented by guilt. Roy Cohn, the prosecutor whose sleazy machinations ensured Ethel and Julius Rosenberg's 1953 execution, is a different kind of Jew altogether: a blustering bully who feels no guilt because he's essentially rootless, loosed from all the bonds and norms of his own culture. When Cohn develops AIDS, however, his agony is witnessed by Ethel Rosenberg herself, a nice Jewish mother returned from the dead. The AIDS epidemic is front and center in Angels (which is set in the 1980s) and fuels a sense of impending apocalypse. The break-up of Prior and Louis is paralleled by the troubles of a second couple, Joe and the pill-popping, hallucinating Harper, both of them Mormons. Despite its serious themes, Angels in America is actually almost cozy, filled with the familiar rhythms of gay and Jewish New York humor, and director Laura Jones has assembled an excellent and sometimes inspired cast. Presented in rotation with Part II: Perestroikaby Bas Bleu Theatre in collaboration with OpenStage Theatre and Company through November 20, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, 1-970-498-8949, www.basbleu.org. Reviewed October 21.

Anything Goes. When the work of a knowing sophisticate like Cole Porter is staged at an old-fashioned venue like this, what it loses in nuance, it gains in good nature and high-octane -- if sometimes mindless -- energy. Not that there's much nuance to Anything Goes. The show is a trifle, intended primarily to showcase Porter's songs, and the nugatory plot serves only to get a cast of stock characters on board an ocean liner headed for England. There's the pretty debutante; her charming, resourceful young suitor; a small-time crook who wishes he were big-time, though he really wouldn't hurt a fly; the sex-shy English lord; and, of course, the Ethel Merman role: the broad with a great big belt. On a certain level, this production is fun. The cast is seasoned, and conductor-keyboardist Wendell L. Vaughn comes up with a good sound. No one's voice is a knockout, but most are decent, and a couple are better than that. Porter's songs -- "You're the Top," "It's Delovely," "Friendship," "Anything Goes" -- still hold their charm, though it's unfortunate that no one ever stands still for a second during a musical number or pauses long enough for a phrase to register. Presented by the Country Dinner Playhouse through November 14, 6875 South Clinton Street, Greenwood Village, 303-799-1410, www.countrydinnerplayhouse.com. Reviewed October 7.

Cabaret.Cabaret is grim and distressing, and there's not a hint of redemption anywhere in it. Quite the contrary. But this is a bloody good production, the kind of production that could -- and should -- attract all kinds of people who might never think of setting foot in a conventional dinner theater: shop owners and professionals and scientists and parents and college students out on a date. Anyone, in fact, who responds viscerally to fantastic music, deft staging and vivid, emotionally honest performance. Cabaret is loosely based on English writer Christopher Isherwood's account of his life in Berlin between 1929 and 1933. It centers on Sally Bowles, a singer who lives on charm, manipulation, willful eccentricity and the distribution of sexual favors, and her affair with an American writer. There's a second love story involving a middle-aged landlady and a Jewish grocer who brings her fruit. But the show's heart lies in the decadent Kit-Kat Klub, where a leering, epicene Emcee oversees all the acts. In time, as the shadow of fascism deepens, he seems to oversee the entire city of Berlin as well. Presented by Boulder Dinner Theatre through November 7, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.theatreinboulder.com. Reviewed July 15.

Dirty Story. John Patrick Shanley's play is an allegory about the struggle between Israel and Palestine. It begins, however, as an urbane treatise on writing and the function of narrative, as an eager young graduate student, Wanda, interrogates Brutus, an older writer she admires -- one of those writers who has had a brilliant career, but done nothing worthwhile in years -- about his opinion on her novel. That interrogation morphs into a sadomasochistic sexual relationship. Wanda tells Brutus she has never been able to settle down anywhere because her roommates always dislike her, and she dreams of a permanent home. Brutus tricks Wanda into donning a blond curly wig so she'll look like Pearl White in The Perils of Pauline, and then he pounces, tying her up and threatening her with a chainsaw. All of a sudden, a great lolloping cowboy tromps to the rescue. "Call me Israel," Wanda says, pointing the cowboy's gun at Brutus's head. From now on, Brutus and Wanda will struggle for control, each asserting a historic claim to the apartment. Dirty Story begins with the stories Israelis and Palestinians tell themselves about who they are and their place in the world, and ends up with devils cavorting on the stage as the two protagonists are locked in endless battle. Expertly staged, acted and directed, this is a hot, angry, wicked, funny play that keeps both your intellect and your emotions on the boil. There's no possible response but a howl of horrified laughter. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through November 13. Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis Streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed October 28.

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