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Brief reviews of current shows

 Ain't Misbehavin'. Five terrific performers and a slate of Fats Waller songs. How can you go wrong? Ain't Misbehavin', a jazzy, bluesy Waller showcase that brings the world of 1930s Harlem to life, is often staged in a broadly presentational style, with lots of humor, shtick, dancing and acting out, but the Country Dinner Playhouse version -- directed and choreographed by General McArthur Hambrick -- is so busy, jiggly, shrieky and jumpy that the production actually detracts from the music. Which is a shame, because the music is so full of life and brilliance, from the flirtatiousness of "Honeysuckle Rose" through the infectious rhythms of "The Joint Is Jumpin'" and the aching strains of "Black and Blue." And LaDonna Burns, Jayne Trinette, Kenny Moten, Eric Lee Johnson and Mary Louise Lee are not only wonderful singers, with voices full of poignance and power, but charming and seductive performers. Some of the most appealing songs come in the second act, which contains the earthy humor of "Your Feet's Too Big" and "Fat and Greasy," along with touching ballads such as "Mean to Me." The cast seems to find its feet here, too. Presented by Country Dinner Playhouse through October 30, 6875 South Clinton Street, Greenwood Village, 303-799-1410, www.countrydinnerplayhouse.com. Reviewed September 29.

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 through May 22, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed September 1.

Impulse Theater. Basements and comedy go together like beer and nuts or toddlers and sandboxes. The basement of the Wynkoop Brewing Co., 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.

Master Harold and the Boys. Athol Fugard's Master Harold and the Boys takes place in a teahouse in Port Elizabeth, South Africa during the time of apartheid. The Master Harold of the title is a seventeen-year-old boy; during the play his mother is manifest only as a voice on the phone; we learn that his hospitalized father is a raging, drunken cripple. Harold -- or Hally, as everyone calls him -- has been more or less raised by two black servants: the fatherly Sam, a waiter in the teahouse, and Willie, the janitor. As the action progresses, Fugard reveals how the racist apartheid system corrupted not only social and political realities, but even the most personal relationships. Sam is almost preternaturally wise and kind, a champion ballroom dancer who's coaching Willie for an upcoming contest. The relationship between Hally and the two men is warm and teasing, but the easy camaraderie is ruffled by jarring moments. When Hally learns that his loved and hated father is about to return home, he erupts into rage and turns on his spiritual father, Sam. The shattering fight that ensues imperils Hally's soul, stops time, taints the past and threatens to destroy the future. Although this production has flaws, it does bring this beautifully written theater piece to life. Presented by Bas Bleu Theatre Company through October 22. 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins. 970-498-8949. Reviewed October 6.

Misery. It's impossible not to know at least part of the story. Paul Sheldon, a successful writer of romance novels, is driving to the Colorado cabin where he likes to write, when he skids off the road. He wakes to find that his legs are mangled, and he's been kidnapped by a crazed woman, Annie Wilkes, who claims to be his number-one fan. Annie is controlling, needy and manipulative, giving him his painkillers or withholding them at will. When she purchases the latest installment in his series of novels and discovers that his heroine, Misery, has died in childbirth, she's incensed. Paul will write a new novel, Annie decrees, in which Misery returns to life. It's easy to see where King got the idea for this plot. He must have spent years contemplating the price of fame, the relationship of author to readers and the odd symbiosis between the two. All he had to do was imagine this relationship corrupted and carried to the extreme. Though the beginning scenes are a little static, things become pretty entertaining once a recovering Paul begins banging out Annie's requested novel. You can sense King parodying both romance fiction and his own work. In all, a well-done production. Presented by Paragon Theatre through October 29, Phoenix Theatre, 1124 Santa Fe Drive, 303-300-2210, www.paragontheatre.com. Reviewed October 13.

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