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Brief reviews of current shows

Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead. Apparently major changes occurred when members of Charles Schulz's well-loved Peanuts gang reached their teens: Pigpen became a sex-obsessed, homophobic jock; Lucy entered a psych ward after setting the little red-haired girl's hair on fire; Linus morphed into a dazed pothead; Schroeder became gay. And Snoopy died of rabies. Although this play uses none of the actual names from the strip, it's pretty easy to tell who represents whom. And despite the sex and drugs, despite a sudden and unexpected turn into violence, Dog Sees Godis less a sendup than an affectionate tribute, as essentially sweet-natured as the cartoon strip itself. The play does have flaws — an inconsistency in some of the characters, the occasional stereotypical comment or action. But as directed by Nick Sugar, it makes for a funny, endearing and occasionally touching evening. Presented by Avenue Theater through June 9, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed May 17.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. This hoary old Broadway musical is a cartoon of a show set in ancient Rome, inspired by Plautus and with an overlay of Borscht Belt humor. In case that's not enough, the show's slaves, eunuchs, courtesans, dumb and/or lascivious old men, requisite battle-ax of a wife and dopey ingenue couple are depicted in the flattened, brightly colored strokes we associate with the early '60s. Pseudolus is a slave who longs for his freedom. When his master, Hero, falls in love with a beautiful young courtesan he's spied through the window of the neighboring brothel, he sees his chance. He will acquire the lovely Philia for Hero in exchange for freedom. But, naturally, many pitfalls appear. Though the plot seems episodic at first, it's tightly constructed, with every element clicking tightly into place by the end. The first-rate cast is obviously having a great time, and there's not a weak link in it. Particularly noteworthy is the return of Denver favorite Kathleen M. Brady, who plays Domina. In all, this is a mildly enjoyable evening, and would be especially enjoyable after a good dinner and a glass of wine. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through July 8, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed May 31.

Lobby Hero. The title of the play is ironic, as you might guess, since the lobby hero is Jeff, a security guard for a Manhattan apartment building. As the play opens, Jeff is engaged in conversation with his supervisor, William, a stickler for rules. But William's brother has been accused of a crime and has asked him to provide an alibi. The conflict between his profound respect for the law and his desire to help his brother is tearing William apart. And this conflict between truth and loyalty — along with a more general question about what constitutes an ethical life — is at the heart of the play. Between memories of his bullying but heroic father and his interactions with the other characters, Jeff searches for a role model. Still, Lobby Herois anything but a moral treatise. It's a very funny play filled with wonderfully quirky dialogue and peopled by multi-dimensional characters, and Terry Dodd has mounted an excellent production. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through June 17, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, www.minersalley.com. Reviewed May 24.

Mall*Mart, the Musical! Curious Theatre's Mall*Mart, the Musical! seems to break into two different productions. The first act details the life of one Walt Samson — a stand-in for Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart — and shows his rise to wealth and prominence, as well as the wreckage he left in his wake. The script is flat and the acting execrable. But after the intermission, something miraculous happens. The script gets lively and clever. The very same performers spring to life, becoming humorous, eccentric, even touching people — caricatures still, but also real human beings: tired workers, wolfish business execs, a young couple torn apart by the husband's shopaholism. This is telling social commentary but also terrific theater, replete with a slew of great songs by Bruce Barthol. You've heard all the arguments against Wal-Mart, and author Joan Holden makes them all again here, but from her affectionate parody of old-hippie, stoner bands to her weird AA-style shopaholic support group, the tone is stylish and good-humored. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through June 9, Acoma Center, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed May 10.

The Threepenny Opera. Intended as a satire that inverted social values and suggested that the predatory world of thieves, murderers and prostitutes was in fact a distorted mirror of bourgeois Germany society, The Threepenny Opera is likely to be seen by contemporary audiences as pure entertainment. The piece is set in 1838 London, just before the coronation of Queen Victoria, and the central figure is Macheath, who runs an underworld empire as violent and ruthless as any Tony Soprano ever dreamed of. In this production, director Denise Burson Freestone is re-creating the Berlin cabaret where Threepenny was introduced to the world in 1928, and the stage at Fort Collins's Lincoln Center crawls with angry whores. A ballad singer gazes at us balefully while providing explanations of time and place; Jenny Diver spits defiance in "Solomon's Song." There's a lot of energy here, and sometimes a lot of power, but much of the singing is uncertain, and the interactions among cast members feel ragged. A major problem is the thick Cockney accent that the cast adopts, which makes a good bit of the dialogue completely incomprehensible. Presented by OpenStage Theatre & Company through June 23, Lincoln Center, 417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins, 1-970-221-6730, www.openstage.org. Reviewed May 31.

 
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