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Brief reviews of current shows

 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.

Jesus Hates Me. Ethan lives with his religion-obsessed mother, Annie, in a trailer on a Jesus-themed golf course in rural Texas, where Jesus and his apostles are represented by appropriately dressed (or undressed) store dummies. The sheriff, Trane, is African-American and Ethan's best friend; he's on the hunt for the kidnapper of a little Vietnamese girl. There's also Lizzy, with whom Ethan once had sex; dopey Boone, who ends up in bed with Annie; and Georgie, who tried to kill himself during high school graduation and now -- in one of the script's truly inspired bits -- speaks through a voice box in a strange, low-pitched, mechanized tone that never fails to get a laugh. Parts of the play, now in a world premiere at the Denver Center Theatre Company, are very funny. Other moments sound soggy and Hollywoodish, too sitcom-sincere for the would-be outrageous setting. The action lurches from the rollicking hijinks of the twenty-somethings to the closet scene from Hamlet -- son accusing mother, mother accusing son, incestuous overtones. It's hard to care about the characters, and there's something seriously wrong when the protagonist is feeling more pity for himself than you can muster up for him. Presented through March 11 at the Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed January 26.

The King and I. Some of the problems with this production are inherent in the show itself. With its emphasis on strong women and abhorrence of anything resembling slavery, The King and I was progressive for its time, but no artist can entirely escape the myths and preconceptions of his own culture. So Rodgers and Hammerstein showed the people of Thailand as caricatures -- the women seductive and giggly, the men stiff as cardboard cutouts. The King -- in some ways and on his own terms a wonderfully humorous and quixotic character -- is still in need of civilizing. And who best to do it but a white, upper-class Englishwoman? The songs endure. No one ever wrote better love songs than Rodgers and Hammerstein. Shelly Cox-Robie makes Anna charming and radiant, and her voice is sweet and pure. Wayne Kennedy does sterling service as the King, though he makes the character funny and cuddly; there's no hint here of the dangerous, mercurial figure we expect, and that would jolt the plot into life. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through March 26, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.theatreinboulder.com. Reviewed November 10.

The Man Himself. The setting is simple: a white chair dead center, a set of coveralls suspended from a hanger to its right, a table holding sound equipment to its left. A man putters quietly around the stage while bouncy tunes fill the air: "What the World Needs Now," "You've Got a Friend" and "I Got You, Babe." The coveralls and the tunes are connected: Michael, the puttering man, works for a corporation called Component and Supply Incorporated Electrical Supplies, which is also the creator of Happitunes supermarket and elevator music. He's a stickler for procedure, and his co-workers dislike him for it. Eventually we learn a little about his childhood, his non-believer father and the mother who made him take Communion. Some of his lines are particularly telling: "I am only doing what I am told"; "Compassion has nothing to do with it. There are rules." Michael is troubled by Latino hoodlums and the Muslim couple in his apartment building, who drink beer and play loud Arabic rap music. He dislikes unions. In an increasingly demanding and multicultural world, he's unable to find his footing. But he does have a friend, Richard, an evangelical Lutheran who slipped a flier beneath his door one evening. The Man Himself was written by Alan Drury, an Englishman, as a study of how an ordinary person becomes drawn to fascism. Israeli actor and director Ami Dayan has adapted the text with Drury's permission, setting it in Denver and substituting contemporary American evangelism for fascism, and he gives a riveting and intensely authoritative performance as Michael. Presented through March 18 at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, 1750 13th Street, Boulder, 303-443-2122, www.bmoca.org. Reviewed August 25, 2005.

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