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Brief reviews of current shows

The Big Bang. Sometimes it's nice not to have to think too much, to just settle back and watch a couple of frenetically energetic guys working really hard to earn your good will -- and your entertainment dollars. Oh, and to make you laugh. The Big Bang posits the following scenario: Composer Jed Feuer, played by Ted Keunz, and writer-lyricist Boyd Graham, played by Chris Bogert, are in an expensive penthouse apartment, pitching a musical called The Big Bang to a group of possible backers -- that is, the audience. The show will cost $83.5 million, run twelve hours and feature a cast of hundreds. The Big Bang is just as clever as it needs to be -- sometimes very, sometimes not so much -- but never clever enough to make you stretch your brain. It's never tedious, either, as we're whizzed through the history of the world in a set of musical numbers. Among the funniest: The Virgin Mary and Mrs. Gandhi bitch about the travails of motherhood -- because who but a mother cleans up after the miracle of the loaves and fishes? And what an embarrassment to have a grown son still in diapers! Presented by Playwright Theatre through December 16, 2119 East 17th Avenue, 303-499-0383, www.playwrighttheatre.com. Reviewed October 19.

Hedda Gabler. Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, first published in 1890, is a play about the havoc wrought by an out-of-control woman, a woman who's driven by impulses she herself cannot understand. When you set her shenanigans in a 1950s context, as director Warren Sherrill does here, you no longer feel oceanic impulses moving beneath the text; instead, the action seems shaped by the sheer kitschiness of that strangest of decades. This interpretation works on its own terms. It rescues the play from the museum and makes the dialogue (a fluid translation by Doug Hughes) feel relevant and contemporary. Barbra Andrews gives us a skilled and fascinating Hedda, who comes across like one of those bitchy mean girls everyone hates in movies about high school. The soul in this production is supplied by two characters usually considered so boring as to be almost invisible: Josh Hartwell's George Tesman and Kate Avallone's Thea Elvsted. As these two begin their years-long task of piecing together Eilert Lovborg's lost manuscript, there's a sense that they're engaged in a genuine and important act of creation. If you can accept Hedda as black comedy rather than tragedy, you'll find this production loads of fun. Presented by Paragon Theatre, extended through November 4, Phoenix Theatre, 1124 Santa Fe Drive, 303-300-2210, www.paragontheatre.com. Reviewed October 12.

Someone Else's Life. Set on a motel patio, Someone Elses Life has neither momentum nor conflict, and the characters' tensions remain largely underground. Every now and then something spurts up like a guttering candle flame -- a flash of anger, irritation, a hint at a deeper emotion -- and then goes out. This play is not about narrative, not about action, but about a particular kind of feeling that all of us have had at one time or another: the feeling that we aren't leading the lives we were intended for, a complex nostalgia that encompasses our partners, careers, failures and successes, the things we've always wanted to do and haven't, the way we've mired ourselves in routine and dailiness until we can no longer see a way out. The plot is anchored by the middle-aged Rose and Alan, who seem reasonably contented, if mildly irritated with each other. There's also a pair of brothers, in town for their sister's wedding, and Amy, an escapee from another wedding -- that of her too-loved and too-cute younger sister. These people talk in twos and threes; wine is sipped and confidences shared and withheld. At the end, nothing much has happened; the significance is all in the texture and the subtext. Sometimes you want to scream at one of the characters, "For God's sake, do something!," but things finally click into place after the intermission. All of the performances are empathetic, and you can sense the actors' own dreams and memories sifting beneath the surface. Presented by Conundrum Productions through November 11, Buntport Theatre, 717 Lipan Street, 303-601-2640. Reviewed October 26.

The Weir.The Weir is set in a rural pub in County Leitrim, Ireland, a place populated by ghosts less terrifying than the blind, uncaring darkness outside. Photographs on the wall attest to a human history, and a few men congregate nightly for companionship. With the water from the weir dashing down the hillside outside and a fire burning in the pub's center, the scene feels almost primal. A woman, Valerie, enters the cozy male enclave. She has moved to this remote area for reasons we will learn only later, but her presence is galvanizing. The habitués compete for her attention, bicker, tease each other and regale her with stories. In some respects, the play is a tone poem, a low-key slice of life, but playwright Conor McPherson has actually woven it with great care. The men begin telling ghost stories, and Valerie, who's a good sport, listens. But when she finally tells her own tale, it opens an abyss so cold and deep, you feel it will swallow them all. Under Terry Dodd's sensitive direction and led by the luminous Laura Norman as Valerie, the cast does full justice to this quietly beautiful play. Presented by the Denver Victorian Playhouse through November 4, 4201 Hooker Street, 303-433-4343, www.denvervic.com. Reviewed October 19.

 
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