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Brief reviews of current shows

Quartermaine's Terms. At first, Quartermaine's Terms seems like one of those gentle, wistful British comedies in which all the meaning lies beneath and around the actual lines. It's set at a school in Cambridge where foreign students come to learn English, and the action takes place in the staff room over a period of two years, during which the lives of seven teachers shift and change. Mark wants to be a novelist. He's so obsessed with his writing that, at the beginning of the play, his wife has left him, taking their child. Eventually, she will return. Another teacher, Henry, talks about his high-strung daughter; toward the play's end we realize just how troubled she is. The youngest member of the staff, accident-prone Derek, struggles to survive on his tiny paycheck. And in the center of things is St. John Quartermaine, a politely smiling empty vessel who has been at the school for decades and has long since given up any attempt at actual teaching. Although these people socialize together periodically, they never really see or hear each other, and the actors mock and display their characters rather than inhabiting them. The play may be all about subtext, but there doesn't seem to be anything going on beneath the surface here. Presented by Germinal Stage Denver through May 7, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 303-455-7108, Reviewed April 20.

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, Reviewed February 16.

Waitin' 2 End Hell. This play feels like the revenge fantasy of a man who's been dumped a few times too often. It tells the story of a career-minded black woman, Diane, who's cold and unfeeling toward her noble and long-suffering -- though quick-tempered -- working-class husband, Dante. Once Dante has left her for a warmer, sexier woman, Diane weeps alone on the sofa, finally realizing just what a bitch she's been. The women are paper-thin stereotypes: Diane is the cold-hearted sister who's succeeded in a white man's world; Shay's either a slut or a woman deeply in love with Dante -- depending on the kind of mouthpiece playwright William Parker needs at any particular moment; and Angela is the sweetly subservient Oriental woman who knows how to honor her man, giving him appreciation and lots of exotic sex. But there's vitality in the scenes where the men tease, mock or confide in each other, and when Waitin' 2 End Hell is funny, it works. When it goes for drama, though, it's obvious and excruciating. Presented by Shadow Theatre Company through May 6, Ralph Waldo Emerson Center, 1420 Ogden Street, 303-837-9355, Reviewed April 20.

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 Reviewed March 16.

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