Encore

The Fourth Wall. Playwright A.R. Gurney is a courteous, upper-crust kind of guy, so when he found himself enraged by national politics, he didn't respond with agitprop or searing realism. Instead he imagined a comfortably middle-class housewife, Peggy, who -- by way of protest -- rearranges all the furniture in her living room so that it faces an imaginary theatrical fourth wall. Pretty soon, anyone entering Peggy's living room begins behaving like a character on a stage, and the resultant mix of realism and the actors' frantic bouts of self-aware staginess creates a cascade of evocative moments and clever jokes. There's also a piano that plays Cole Porter all by itself. As interior designer Julia preens and poses, Peggy's husband attempts to understand her and theater professor Floyd urges Peggy to explore new forms of theater, Peggy herself stays true to her vision. She believes that beyond her sheltered world there are people of every race and nationality who can be persuaded to march on Washington and halt the madness of George W. Bush's foreign policy. This production focuses more on surface comedy than on Peggy's rage and sadness, however, which makes it amusing but ultimately inconsequential. Presented by the Avenue Theater, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed September 1.

An Ideal Husband. The heretofore spotless reputation of Sir Robert Chiltern, a London politician, is put at risk when a mysterious Mrs. Chevely threatens to reveal the one dark stain on his reputation -- the dishonest manner in which he acquired his wealth. In return for keeping silent, she wants his support in parliament for a worthless scheme involving a canal in Argentina. The action also involves Sir Robert's loving and virtuous wife, Constance, and a friend, Lord Goring, who despite the fact that he spends most of his time contemplating the size and shape of his boutonniere, somehow manages to rescue Sir Robert and set everything to rights. None of this is particularly convincing, but there is a current of real feeling in the script, and this is where the otherwise admirable OpenStage production falls short. Still, it's a lot of fun to watch, well-acted and spoken with passable English accents. The sparring of Lord Goring and his beloved, Mabel, is particularly charming. Presented by OpenStage through September 17, The Lincoln Center, 417 Magnolia Street, Fort Collins. 970-484-5237, www.openstagetheatre.org. Reviewed September 1.

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., 1634 18th Street, 303-297-2111 or www.impulsetheater.com. Reviewed June 3.

Inherit the Wind. It's astonishing to realize that since 1955, when this play was written, the anti-Darwinists have regrouped full force, distorting public discussion of science to such an extent that, according to a poll last fall, more than half of all Americans do not believe that human beings developed from earlier species. Inherit the Wind is a fictionalized account of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, when John Scopes, a young teacher, was put on trial for teaching evolution. Money for his defense was put up by the Baltimore Sun, which sent its most famous reporter, H.L. Mencken, to cover the proceedings. In the courtroom, titans clashed as famed defense lawyer Clarence Darrow faced three-time presidential contender William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution. The script has weaknesses -- the ending, in particular, seems scattered and sentimental. Though the authors have tried to give him some depth, Brady (Bryan) often comes off as a buffoon. But despite these flaws, the play remains an exhilarating canter through Americana and a trenchant examination of some of the beliefs and contradictions at the nation's moral core. The acting is first-rate, and from the first moments -- which show a sexily body-stockinged Adam and Eve embracing on one side of the stage while an apelike hominid gazes at them from the other -- the production rivets. Presented by Modern Muse Theatre Company through September 18, Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street. 303-780-7836, www.modernmusetheatre.com. Reviewed September 1.

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 by Denver Center Attractions in an open-ended run, Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed June 9.

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