Encore

The Long Christmas Ride Home. Paula Vogel's The Long Christmas Ride Homebegins as a tart-tender look at an overworked topic: the way family dynamics become exacerbated, for good or ill, at Christmas time. The play's defining feature, the thing that should have lifted it from the banal to the revelatory, is the use of Japanese images and devices: Bunraku puppets; Japanese screens; stylized, dance-like movements; characters represented by silhouettes or shadow puppets and inhuman, instrumental sounds; the concept of a floating world in which earthly sensations are to be enjoyed because they are fleeting. A man and a woman are in a car on their way to the woman's parents' house for Christmas dinner. Their children, Rebecca, Claire and Stephen, sit in the back; they are represented by white-faced puppets. The father is dreaming of his mistress. The mother is contemplating a revenge affair. The children punctuate their squabbling with unexpectedly hard blows. Later, the actors playing the children shed their puppet selves, and each has a monologue outside a locked door which has a rejecting lover behind it. These are all pretty simplistic stories. Vogel is going for universality, a significance that goes beyond transient human action and individual psychology. As a work in progress, Ride is evocative, but the play ends up foundering in sentimentality. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through December 18, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed November 11.

Menopause The Musical.Menopause The Musical is as much a phenomenon as a piece of theater. The plot is so fragile that even the cliche "whisper-thin" doesn't describe it. Four women -- no, four types -- meet at a lingerie sale at Bloomingdale's: Power Woman, Soap Star, Earth Mother and Iowa Housewife. They begin by bickering but discover that they have hot flashes, memory lapses and mood swings in common. They then proceed to sing parodies of iconic baby boomer songs. "Chain of Fools" becomes "Change, Change, Change"; the opening line of "Heat Wave" transforms into "I'm having a hot flash"; and, in one of the evening's most successful numbers, the women beg the doctor for Prozac to the tune of the Beach Boys' "Help Me, Rhonda." Most of the lyrics are not particularly clever, though "Good Vibrations" is put to hilarious use. For the most part, the show feels like a series of jingles advertising the possibility of a chipper menopause. The four actress-singers are all talented and give huge, vigorous performances, despite the fact that they are crudely and far too loudly miked. Presented by the New Denver Civic Theatre in an open-ended run, 721 Santa Fe Drive, 303-309-3773, www.denvercivic.com. Reviewed August 12.

Metamorphoses. Mary Zimmerman's play is a sometimes ironic and sometimes respectful take on Ovid's work of the same name. The cast assembles around a granite pool -- a miracle of design and engineering at the Avenue Theater -- that can be anything from a backyard pool to the Greeks' dangerous wine-dark sea, a medium for death, birth, baptism and transformation. Actors act out the myths or narrate them, sometimes addressing the audience, sometimes each other. The gods they portray are pretty much like the rest of us, vain or large-spirited, compassionate or cruel. Zimmerman may deserve all the praise she's earned for Metamorphoses, but the most powerful scenes rely on the words of Ovid and poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Still, Metamorphosesis a seductive combination of lighthearted pleasure and resonant, powerful theme. Presented by the Avenue Theater, through January 2, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed June 17.

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