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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, Reviewed September 29.

All My Sons. Joe Keller, the protagonist in All My Sons, has sacrificed everything -- including his ethics -- to build up his business and support his family. He ran a factory during the war when productivity was key, and he allowed a shipment of defective parts to be sent out; the result was the death of 21 young American pilots. But Keller was able to shift blame for the crime onto his former partner, Steve Deever, who is serving time as the play opens, while Keller seems to be living a good, all-American, small-town life -- even though his eldest son, Larry, was killed in the war. Keller is popular with his neighbors and gets on well with his surviving son, Chris. But Keller's wife, Kate, has never accepted her son's death, and when Chris makes it known that he intends to marry Ann Deever, Steve's daughter and Larry's one-time fiancée, she employs every trick of tongue and piece of manipulation she can muster to separate the young couple and -- as she sees it -- keep her family intact. The issues examined in Arthur Miller's play are cogent and wide-reaching, and they seem particularly relevant now. There are some creaking plot devices and melodramatic sequences, but there are also moments of humor, eccentricity and surprise, and the play remains riveting throughout. This is a strong, clean, well-acted production. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through November 5, Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, Reviewed October 20.

A Flea in Her Ear. It's amazing really, the amount of sheer hard work and the level of perfectionism required to keep this bright bouncing balloon of a farce aloft. The plot concerns Victor Emmanuel Chandebise, a solid householder whose inability to perform in bed causes him to avoid his wife, Raymonde. She becomes convinced that he is having an affair. It's something she herself intends to do with the suave Romain Tournel. Enlisting the help of a friend, Lucienne, Raymonde sets a trap for her husband, involving the Hotel Coq D'Or and an unsigned, perfume-soused note written by Lucienne. But Lucienne's husband, Carlos, has a murderously jealous temperament, and he knows his wife's handwriting. And Victor, receiving the note, believes it must really be intended for Tournel. So you can imagine the cases of mistaken identity, the hiding and scuttling, the tossings and tumblings, that ensue. New artistic director Kent Thompson has assembled a group of the Denver Center's strongest actors, and mixed in a few newcomers, and every loony character is played to the hilt. Feydeau's farce is brilliantly constructed to keep the froth and innuendo bubbling while he lampoons national characteristics (the repressed, violent Teuton, the sex-obsessed French, the mad Spaniard), generates laughs about class differences and, most of all, mocks the games men and women play in pursuit of that ego-affirming and -deflating old bugaboo, sex. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through November 5, The Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, Reviewed October 27.

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, Reviewed September 1.

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