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Brief reviews of current shows

Red Scare. This is a hit-and-miss proposition, with mildly amusing moments alternating with laugh-yourself-silly skits and a few out-and-out clunkers. There's nothing particularly sophisticated, surprising or cutting-edge about the renowned Second City's Red Scare, but there is some funny stuff. In one scene, a teacher in a rough school comes into her classroom after hours to find a student planning to rifle her purse -- but in the end, he tells her in song, he couldn't steal from her because "I Saw Your Paycheck." In another, a suicidal Shakespearean heroine is talked out of her despair by a sassy gay friend. There's a good sketch about the exaggerated way white people talk to their black co-workers; a sad-funny bit involving a coach and his cancer-stricken wife; a monologue in which the talented Amber Ruffin gives grandmotherly advice about marriage and childbirth. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through May 21, Garner Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed February 16.

The Smell of the Kill. >Nicky, Molly and Debra are thrown together once a month because their husbands are friends. On this particular occasion, they cluster in the kitchen of Nicky's million-dollar home while the men practice their golf putts in the living room. The women don't particularly like each other at the beginning of the play and they're the closest friends imaginable by the end, so you could call this a female-bonding drama. Except that there's no hugging, and nary a tear in sight. And the bonding arises from a prolonged and far-from-theoretical debate about whether the women's husbands should be allowed to stay alive. Perhaps it should be troubling that by the play's end we're all rooting for a triple homicide, but how can an evening that provides so much malicious fun be wrong? Presented by the Avenue Theater through April 15, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed February 23.

The War Anthology. There are some evocative moments in The War Anthology, a show comprised of songs, photographs, music and short plays, but it doesn't stand up as either an evening of theater or a trenchant commentary. There's an odd lifelessness to it; there's no throughline, no rhythm or momentum, no center, no integrating concept. And the individual plays feel innocent, detached, as if the authors had taken the ideas for them from history books, movie and television plots or someone else's reminiscences. The best segment is Tony Kushner's "Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy," and Paula Vogel's "The Closest I've Been to War" is also touching. But there are many things in this odd assemblage that simply don't work. In "Rain of Ruin," for example, a love affair between a Mexican-American woman and a Japanese man frames questions about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the love story seems to trivialize the horror of the bombs -- perhaps because the film and photographs so essential to this piece are fuzzy and hard to decipher. Presented by Curious Theater Company through April 29, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curious theatre.org. Reviewed March 16.

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