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Brief reviews of current shows

 Cabaret. This musical follows a very young English chanteuse by the name of Sally Bowles, who sings in a seedy Berlin nightclub called the Kit Kat Klub in the early 1930s and meets up with an aspiring American novelist -- the usual innocent abroad -- named Clifford Bradshaw. She's a waif and a naif, ignorant of politics, greedily self-absorbed, and he finds her fascinating. Still, the central figure is the sexually ambiguous, apparently all-powerful Emcee, played here by Nick Sugar, who also choreographs and directs this production. Sugar might have been born to play the role. He makes the character a mocking, sexually ravenous omnivore: Boys, girls, men, women -- it's all the same to him. Although most of the songs, by John Kander and Fred Ebb, are bouncily irresistible, they're also debauched, with an unsettling undertone of menace. On number is particularly hard to watch. The Emcee dances with a gorilla while singing what sounds like a sweet song about tolerating differences. It's comic. The audience laughs. At the end he explains that the gorilla is a Jew, and they realize just what they've been laughing at. This is a depth charge of a production, powered both by Sugar's performance and the kick-ass music of Donna Debreceni and her band. Presented by Town Hall Arts Center through October 22, 2450 West Main Street, Littleton, 303-794-2787, www.townhallartscenter.com

The Dresser. The year is 1942, and England is at war. A revered but aging actor, identified only as Sir, is traveling the country, bringing Shakespeare to the provinces. To complicate things further, the actor is moving swiftly into dementia. The action begins an hour or two before the curtain for King Lear, and he has just been retrieved, weeping, from an aimless peregrination around town during which he began taking off his clothes. The sensible stage manager, Madge, wants to cancel the evening's performance. Sir's common-law wife -- referred to as Her Ladyship -- is torn. But the devoted dresser, Norman, is determined the show will go on. The first act of Ronald Harwood's play is more compelling than the second because it's focused tightly on the relationship between Sir and Norman and unified around the urgent question of whether Sir will be able to perform the role he has inhabited so many times before; there are a few too many plot complications in the second act. But the central characters are fascinating: Sir, whose egotism is so all-encompassing that it sometimes edges on magnificence; and waspish, funny, tender Norman, a man with no life of his own. This production is blessed with a strong cast. As Sir, Jonathan Farwell has the manner of an old-fashioned English Shakespearean actor down pat. And Leonard E. Barrett, one of the most interesting actors around, makes Norman both a sad clown and the strong spine of the action. Presented by Bas Bleu Theatre Company through October 21, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, 1-970-498-8949. www.basbleu.org.

I Am My Own Wife. The subject of I Am My Own Wife is German transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, born Lothar Berfelde in 1928 Berlin, a collector of antiques who survived both World War II and the Communist years in East Germany. But the play is as much about author Doug Wright's relationship with von Mahlsdorf and the fascination he felt on first encountering her in the early 1990s and touring her Grunderzeit Museum. For Wright, von Mahlsdorf was a gay icon of sorts, a keeper and cherisher of history, someone who had "navigated a path between the two most repressive regimes the Western World has ever known -- the Nazis and the Communists -- in a pair of heels." But he eventually discovered that von Mahlsdorf had served as an informer for the Stasi, providing the information that sent a fellow antique collector to prison -- and this cast an ambiguous light backward on everything he knew about her. Actor Erik Sandvold's performance is amazing, and his careful, pressed-lipped characterization reminds us that von Mahlsdorf could only have survived by presenting a meticulously constructed exterior to the world. But the problem with the play is that we never really feel we know her. She never appears as engaging or as heroic as she apparently did to Wright, and her fall from grace doesn't seem particularly astonishing, either. Still, there is something deeply interesting in the spectacle of a unique individual life buffeted by history and the endless acts of accommodation, greed and self-protection required to survive. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through October 14, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curious theatre.org.

Living Out. Everything that playwright Lisa Loomer says about the blindness of the middle class -- even the kindest and most liberal-minded among them -- to the problems of the people who work for them is true and desperately needs saying. She explores these issues through the relationship between Ana, a Salvadoran nanny, and her employer, Nancy, a high-powered entertainment lawyer married to a public defender. Nancy knows nothing about the life Ana has fled, and she harbors many of the usual stereotypes about Latinos. But she's a decent enough sort, and the play raises the possibility that a real friendship might develop between these women. The beginning of Living Out can be funny, and Loomer's points are worth making -- but argument isn't drama, and the characters seem to have been created solely as the playwright's mouthpieces. We've met affluent liberals like Nancy and her husband before, and a lot of the dialogue is at a sitcom level. As for Ana, she's purely sad and saintly. Like the dialogue, the direction lacks urgency and the action feels slow. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through October 28, Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org.

 
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