Impulse Theater. Basements and comedy go together like beer and nuts or toddlers and sandboxes. The basement of the Wynkoop Brewery where Impulse Theater performs is crowded, loud and energetic. Impulse does no prepared skits, nothing but pure improv -- which means that what you see changes every night, and so does the team of actors. These actors set up and follow certain rules and frameworks; they rely on audience suggestions to get these scenes going or to vary the action. Your level of enjoyment depends a lot on whether or not you like the players. Charm is a factor, and so is the ability to take risks. Fortunately, the performers are clever and fast on their feet, willing to throw themselves into the action but never betraying tension or anxiety, perfectly content to shrug off a piece that isn't coming together. The show is funny when the actors hit a groove, but equally funny when they get stymied. So, in a way, the improvisers -- and the audience -- can't lose. Presented by Impulse Theater in an open-ended run, Wynkoop Brewing Co., 18th and Wynkoop streets, 303-297-2111 or www.impulsetheater.com. Reviewed June 3.

The Mercy Seat. What kind of person would seize on a disaster of the magnitude of September 11 to further an extramarital affair? With New York in chaos around him, Ben Harcourt has seen an opportunity to leave his wife, who will assume he has died, and start a new life with his lover, Abby. He refers to the attack, without irony, as an opportunity that "fell right into our laps." Playwright Neil LaBute is best known for the film In the Company of Men, which depicts the amoral behavior of young men in the corporate world. He is famed for the savagery with which he explores the squirmier and more equivocal parts of the human psyche. In The Mercy Seat, he has created a couple of contemptible people; his genius is to have made them comprehensible, even intermittently likable. The play brilliantly catches the rhythms of a failing relationship, the words misinterpreted, the moments of compromise shattered by a clumsy observation or flash of malice. The usual jostling for power between lovers is exacerbated here by the fact that Abby is older than Ben, and is his boss. Paragon Theatre director Warren Sherrill has mounted a first-rate production of this refreshingly abrasive play. Presented by Paragon Theatre Company through July 2, Phoenix Theatre, 1124 Santa Fe Drive, 303-300-2210, www.paragontheatre.com. Reviewed June 9.

My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra. The Denver Center production of My Way features four attractive, energetic performers with strong and differing voices; 53 of the best twentieth-century songs; a set that's beautifully designed both to please the contemporary eye and to evoke the period, with softened Formica colors flowing into each other and elegant forms; witty, attractive costumes; and three excellent musicians. So if you're entertaining a business client or out on a date, this is the show for you. But it's essentially a commercial enterprise rather than an evening of theater. The performers don't just sing the songs, they sell them. They're full of energy. They bounce. They emote. They never allow a moment of reflection or understatement. Sinatra was the guy sitting alone on a barstool in a pool of light, shadows pressing in on him, the rakish angle of his hat belying the world-weariness of his soul. This seems an odd way to pay him homage. Presented in an open-ended run by Denver Center Attractions, Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed June 9.

Newsical. This show is bright, clever and fun, with catchy song rhythms, witty lyrics and very talented performers, but it has absolutely no edge. How much guts and originality does it take to beat up on Michael Jackson and demonize Martha Stewart -- particularly with huge fat targets like John Bolton and Tom DeLay wandering the public arena? But, of course, the producers plan to make money in both red and blue states, and we all know how tetchy everyone is about politics these days. So here's a song about Botox, and another about a family addicted to prescription drugs. Here are three loopy, drooly guys who lose their fear of flying by booking with Hooters Air. Several of the skits and songs are enjoyable. "W. Rides Again" features the drunken Bush girls celebrating their dad's election victory. A trio of old ladies trills about the joys of being felt up at the airport. There's a hilarious imitation of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and another of the new pope wearing stylish lederhosen. Newsical is a taste tantalizer rather than a meal, but it goes down well with a couple of glasses of wine. Presented in an open-ended run by the New Denver Civic Theatre, Black Box Cabaret, 721 Santa Fe Drive, 303-309-3773. Reviewed May 19.

Parallel Lives. Parellel Lives begins promisingly, with two heavenly beings designing the human race. They discuss skin color -- red, tan, yellow -- and worry that those humans with ordinary white skin may feel left out or inferior. They decide that procreation will occur through sex and that women will bear the babies, but they fear the latter privilege may make the male of the species jealous. "Let's just give him as much ego as possible and hope for the best," sighs one. So far, so funny. But then things degenerate. Many of the pieces that make up this program seem absolutely pointless. Some have a point, but it's not worth more than a moment's consideration. A few sketches are funny or interesting, but several keep going long after you've savored whatever comedic nourishment they provide. Presented by the Avenue Theater through June 26, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed May 26.

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