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Brief reviews of current shows

Red Herring. Set in 1952, when Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson were vying for the presidency, Senator Joe McCarthy was busy with his anti-Communist witch hunts, and America was humming songs from South Pacific, Oklahoma! and The King and I, Red Herring is a piece of wit that exists on several levels. It's a spoof on the era and an homage to film noir, featuring a square-jawed FBI agent called Frank and his tough but quietly smoldering sweetheart, Maggie, a detective. In addition, author Michael Hollinger has a thing or two that he wants to say about marriage, and he also tosses in several references to Moby-Dick. This is an ingenious and funny play, and Firehouse has fielded a fair amount of acting talent to serve it. But the production needs more specificity and finesse; though Trina Magness as Maggie and Ed Cord as Frank infuse their performances with a dry, self-referential wit, the actors are given to a bit too much flailing and yelling. Presented by Firehouse Theater Company through May 26, the John Hand Theater, CFU's Lowry Campus, 7653 First Place, 303-562-3232, www.johnhandtheater.com. Reviewed May 3.

Squall. The genre is familiar. There's a woman alone in a house on an island off the coast of Maine: Diana, a famous talk-show host. The pale face of a younger woman glimmers briefly at the storm-battered window. This is Cordelia, and, as we soon discover, she's barking mad. She won't leave. She won't allow Diana to leave. Slashed car tires come into play; phones are dismantled. Hello, Alfred Hitchcock. Hello, Stephen King. But playwright Elizabeth Hemmerdinger has more in mind than a simple thriller, and it's the psychological elements in her story that are compelling. This is less a play about murder than about two sadly damaged women, yearning, in very different ways, for the love and nurturing they never knew. The evening is riveting largely because of the inspired performances of Martha Harmon Pardee and Karen LaMoureaux, who work beautifully both individually and together. Pardee gives Diana an iron control that makes her eventual breakdown particularly shocking, and LaMoureaux's performance is a wonder: honest, naked, sad and frightening. Presented by Modern Muse Theatre Company through May 27, Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200, www.modernmusetheatre.com or www.arvadacenter.org. Reviewed May 10.

The Sweetest Swing in Baseball. Most fictional characters who find themselves in mental institutions struggle to get out, but when Dana Fielding, this play's artist-protagonist, arrives in one after a suicide attempt, she settles right in. Battered by the response to her latest exhibit, a couple of negative reviews and a general sense that her career is over -- not to mention the fact that her longtime lover has just left her -- Dana welcomes the shelter provided by the hospital. She quickly finds common ground with two fellow residents -- a homicidal psychotic named Gary, and Michael, a sweet-natured gay alcoholic. But Dana's insurance company will pay for no more than ten days of rehabilitation and, desperate to stay, she decides to pretend she's delusional. Helped by the advice of her new friends, she identifies herself to her therapist as Darryl Strawberry -- and impersonating the alcohol-plagued baseball star gives her courage and a sense of freedom. Director Wendy C. Goldberg has created a production as bright, clean and lively as a cartoon strip. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through May 26, Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed April 19.

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