Encore

A Lovely Sunday at Creve Coeur. This play contains all the well-known Tennessee Williams motifs -- the allusions to a universal and existential loneliness, the sense that the characters are trapped inside their own skins -- but though these strains add a familiar resonance, the characters haven't stepped from the pages of A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or Orpheus Descending. They're broadly drawn comic originals. And they're brought to pitch-perfect life by four of the Denver Center Theatre Company's best actresses. Creve Coeur was written toward the end of Williams's life, in 1978, but it is set during the Depression, when single women had few career choices and lived in constant fear of destitution. Williams was still examining the issues of class that had preoccupied him thirty years earlier in Streetcar -- the presumed vitality of the working class, the increasing irrelevance of educated, upper-class women. However, the working stiff is no longer represented by gorgeous, muscled Stanley Kowalski, but by an offstage character called Buddy, a fat German who likes sausages and beer, as well as by Buddy's equally zaftig sister, Bodey, who bustles about the apartment she shares with schoolteacher Dorothea and plots to bring Buddy and Dorothea together. And there's another basic difference. Stanley was seductive, but he was also a vicious destroyer. Buddy and Bodey are good-hearted; they represent life, maybe even salvation. True, it's a sad, limited kind of salvation, but salvation is nothing to sneer at, particularly during a depression. The work of Williams's last years has often been dismissed as a thin echo of his powerful early plays, yet it's clear from this lovely piece that he continued to develop as an artist. It speaks volumes, too, that his lost and broken characters have discovered that the only way to survive is to take care of each other. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through March 12. The Jones Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed February 3.

Oedipus Rex. Director Anthony Powell is using masks for this production, presumably to universalize the play, add a touch of grandeur, show that the script is concerned with more than the small lives of individual characters, that it explores the state of the entire body politic and, beyond that, the relationship of humankind to the universe. But it's hard, watching, to take your attention from these masks, which muffle some voices and make a few of the actors look like swollen-cheeked infants. The cast is powerful, the production succeeds in probing the key questions of the play, and the final scenes are moving, evoking not the deep grief you feel at the end of King Lear, but some sadness and a little solemnity. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through February 26, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed February 10.

Paul Robeson. Phillip Hayes Dean's Paul Robesonis a one-man play and has the limitations of its genre. Nonetheless, it provides a wonderful evening of theater. At the play's beginning, Robeson, aged 75, is preparing a tape to send to an event being held at Carnegie Hall in his honor. We learn about Robeson's difficulties with racism while a student and football player at Rutgers; his participation in the Harlem Renaissance; his work with Eugene O'Neill. The musical Showboat took him to London, where he found a culture more congenial than his own. In 1934, Robeson suffered a terrifying encounter with Hitler's Brownshirts, and he spent much of the rest of his life fighting fascism. Robeson was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1956 and eventually blacklisted. The result was "my being erased from the consciousness of the American people." Russell Costen's performance in the title role is superb -- highly skilled, and a generous and open-hearted act of tribute. Presented by Shadow Theatre Company through March 5. Ralph Waldo Emerson Center, 1420 Ogden Street, 303-837-9355, www.shadowtheatre.com. Reviewed February 17.

A Raisin in the Sun. Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun originally opened on Broadway in 1959 -- before the civil-rights movement found its full momentum. While it tells the tale of an African-American family's struggles in Chicago, it's not so much the plot that gives the play its power as the web of meaning beneath it. Laura K. Love's detailed, evocative set, with its brick walls and blank windows framing the cluttered apartment, adds texture to the production. For the most part, however, the actors lack the necessary authority for their roles. Gabrielle Goyette has emotional traction as Lena, but everything from her walk to her line readings feels externally added rather than the result of an inner impulse. Cajardo Rameer Lindsey brings humor and some intelligent underplaying to the role of Walter Lee, but you don't really feel much for the character until the play's climax. Kamaria King's Beneatha is vivid and sprightly, if narrowly drawn. Chaz Grundy makes Joseph Asagai so slow-moving and oddly accented that the character is almost cartoonish. Adrienne Martin-Fullwood is a warm, empathetic Ruth. Nervous, equivocating, fiddling with his shiny pen, Michael McNeill creates a strong impression as the white racist who -- under the guise of friendly advice -- warns the Youngers not to move into his neighborhood. Presented by the Arvada Center through March 6, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200, www.arvadacenter.org. Reviewed February 17.

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