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Brief reviews of current shows

 A Bright Room Called Day. Tony Kushner, author of the brilliant Angels in America, clearly wrote A Bright Room Called Day in a state of agitation. Kushner sensed the blot of fascism spreading across America, and he drew an analogy -- by no means original -- between 1930s Germany and Reagan's United States. Much of Bright Room is set in 1932-'33, and dramatizes Germany's descent into darkness. A young, contemporary woman, Zillah Katz, is our guide on this journey. She strides about the stage, exhorting the audience to greater awareness; she's become riveted by the face of a woman in an old photograph. This frames a series of scenes featuring the woman in the photo -- whose name, we learn, is Agnes -- and her friends. When an artist of Kushner's stature sounds the alarm (he's urged theater companies to update the play to reflect current realities), we ought to listen, even if there's not really an idea or analogy in Bright Room that most thinking people haven't already entertained. Nonetheless, this is an important play, and an excellent production. Presented by OpenStage Theatre & Company through February 4, Lincoln Center, 417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins, 1-970-221-6730, www.openstage.com. Reviewed January 19.

Frozen. It's hard to deal with murder -- particularly the rape, murder and dismemberment of a child -- without being exploitative. It's hard to explore the issue of forgiveness without sentimentality. But Bryony Lavery's Frozen succeeds on both counts. The title of the three-character play -- involving the child murderer, Ralph; Nancy, the mother of one of his victims; and a psychiatrist, Agnetha, who studies serial killers -- refers both to the morally and emotionally frozen world in which such killers live, and to Nancy's life, which has essentially stopped since the death of her ten-year-old daughter, Rhona. The play begins with a series of monologues, and it's clear each of the characters feels atomized and alone. When Agnetha gives a presentation, Ralph serves as an apparently non-sentient model while she points out various aspects of his cranium. It's only after this that the two of them speak, and the build begins to the scene we know is inevitable, the scene when Nancy and Ralph meet. (William Hahn is riveting as Ralph.) With the exception of a couple of key scenes, the feeling in Frozen is deliberately tamped down, but Lavery's distancing allows us to take in subject matter that would otherwise swamp the senses. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through February 25, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524. www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed January 19.

Marx in Soho. When the Soviet Union fell on Christmas Day 1991, politicians and pundits in the West began insisting that Marxism was dead. Historian Howard Zinn's play argues otherwise. Zinn weaves together political ideas and biographical elements, providing humorous interludes, moments of bitter regret and sorrow, and segments that verge on agitprop. He is not a Marxist, this Marx insists, and he goes on to condemn the power-mad thugs who terrorized Russia and China in his name. He describes his belief system as essentially humanistic, a blueprint for a classless society in which everyone is free of want and able to develop fully as a human being. Zinn doesn't deal with Marxism's flaws, which is a weakness in the play (as is its talkiness), but the critique of capitalism is spot-on, and this production is both provocative and absorbing. Christopher Kendall plays the title role with conviction and ironic humor. Presented by the Mercury Motley Players, January 27, Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street, 303-294-9258, www.mercurycafe.com. Reviewed January 12.

Menage ŗ Dix, The Honeymoon Period Is Officially Over and Leela's Wheel. Gemma Wilcox wrote all three of these pieces, and in each of them she plays several characters -- male and female, young and old -- as well as birds, fish and animals. Menage à Dix is the strongest of the trio; it follows Sarah and her mother on vacation sometime after the death of Sarah's father. Honeymoon shows Sarah a few years later, in a marriage that's already becoming problematic. In Leela's Wheel, Sarah's marriage comes to an end -- with some help from a cat, a hamster and a visit from her Menage boyfriend. For all Wilcox's skill with accents and characterization and her charm as a performer, the evening doesn't quite add up -- although the moment when she turns into a peacock is glorious. Through January 28 at Buntport Theater, 717 Lipan Street, 720-212-5001. Reviewed January 19.

Party of 1. This is a good play to go to with a date, or to attend in hopes of finding one. The show is a sequence of cabaret songs dedicated to the joys and pains of singlehood, slightly reminiscent of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, though without the monologues; fizzier and more light-hearted than Sex and the City, but less weighted with ego and pretension. Four appealing people spin through songs with topics ranging from the insecurities raised by meet-and-mingle functions through concerns about bad breath to the intense ambivalence you feel when someone with whom you're having a great relationship actually takes the next step and moves into your apartment. Party of 1 ran forever in the Bay Area, where writer-composer Morris Bobrow is famed for his clever lyrics and bright, listenable tunes. Good-natured and enjoyable, with just an edge of grown-up irony, the show deserves its popularity. Presented by the Playwright Theatre through January 31, 2119 East 17th Avenue, 303-499-0383, www.playwrighttheatre.com. Reviewed November 17.

 
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