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Capsule reviews of current shows

The Baseball Show. Evil, malaprop-prone Vincent Vascombe, owner of the Beloit Bulldogs, is determined to hold on to his star player, Bill "The Bomber" Dawson. But Dawson -- aided by his smart, competent fiancée, Helen -- has plans for the majors, and there's a talent scout hanging around. So Vascombe hatches a plot to kidnap Helen, hoping this will throw Dawson off his game. Vascombe can barely speak a word without mangling it -- "Let me induce myself"; "for a stifling fee"; "a talent for stating the oblivious" -- and T.J. Mullin delivers the dialogue with his usual low-key and unflappable aplomb. Most of the other characters find his speech impenetrable; the only person who can translate is the hired muscle, Sid -- as played by Alex Crawford, a wry, peaceful sort of fellow who prefers minding his own business to breaking bones for the boss. Annie Dwyer is irresistible as Vascombe's moll, Rose Louise Romberg; variously bewigged, a crazed amalgam of tough broad and breathy Marilyn Monroe, pouncing and preening, she owns the stage every time she sashays onto it. This show is one of Heritage's best -- for its good humor, flying Nerf balls and the fun, fast musical medley that concludes the evening. Presented by Heritage Square Music Hall through May 18, 18301 West Colfax Avenue, Golden, 303-279-7800, Reviewed March 13.

Gee's Bend. There is one intensely effective passage in Elyzabeth Wilder's play about the quilters of Gee's Bend, a remote region of Alabama. Against her husband's wishes, Sadie has gone to Selma to march with Martin Luther King Jr. She returns, bloodied and half blinded by tear gas, to find that her husband has locked her out of the house. He remains seated in the half dark while she beats on the door and begs him to let her in; the scene is accompanied by the mournful strains of a beautifully sung spiritual. But this is the highlight of what is essentially a banal and emotionally manipulative play — one that should have been much, much better, because the story of Gee's Bend and the women who created its famed quilts is a fascinating one. Wilder, who was commissioned to write Gee's Bend by Denver Center artistic director Kent Thompson, based the play on conversations with the quilters, and says she used their words. Still, it's hard to believe these women were always as stereotypically wise, noble, long-suffering or cutely funny as she shows them to be. It doesn't help that director Kent Gash has his actors work in a twinkly-eyed, over-energetic style, or that he seems as keen as the author to make sure we understand that everything we're seeing — absolutely everything — is freighted with profound meaning and symbolism. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through April 19, Space Theatre, 303-893-4100, Reviewed April 3.

The Last Five Years. This intimate two-person musical involves the breakup of a marriage. When Jamie and Cathy met in New York, he was an aspiring writer and she an actress. Success came for him fast, while she continued to inhabit the dreary, ego-pummeling world of auditions and summer stock — with predictable results for their relationship. The songs — solos, with one exception — reveal a triumphant Jamie noticing his effect on other women and fighting the desire to utilize it, with a sulky Cathy refusing to attend his publishing party. He resents her neediness and insecurity, she his arrogance and self-involvement. Playwright Jason Robert Brown has hit on an interesting device to make this relatively commonplace story more poignant and more complex: While Jamie relates events as they happened, Cathy reveals them backwards. At the very beginning, she weeps over Jamie's goodbye letter, and minutes later, he erupts onto the scene singing rapturously about the "shiksa goddess" he's just met. Chris Crouch and Shannan Steele are both terrific performers, brimming with energy, poised and charismatic, possessed of lovely, expressive voices. Crouch makes Jamie real and funny and quirky, and Steele is often touching as Cathy — though I wish both would avoid that awful, dissolving-into-self-pitying-tears style that's come to dominate singing in musicals these days. Still, this is an emotionally exuberant production, staged in a smooth, comfortable style, and enjoyable even though it's far from thought-provoking. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through June 29 at the Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, Reviewed February 14.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore. The bloody action begins with a dead cat belonging to Padraic, a crazed killer who was kicked out of the IRA and formed a splinter group, the Irish National Liberation Army, in response. Terrified of Padraic's violent temper, his father, Donny, tries to persuade an epicene young neighbor, Davey, to admit he killed the animal. Even as they debate, Padraic is busy torturing a drug dealer; he interrupts his work to take their call on his mobile. Plot complications include the machinations of three other INLA members who have turned against Padraic, and the coming to sexual maturity of Davey's psychotic sister, Mairead, who likes to fondle guns and sing Republican songs, and who has been honing her revolutionary edge by shooting out the eyes of local cows. There's nothing scattershot about the way the script is constructed; it's tight and clean, and the dialogue startles you into open-throated laughter again and again. What makes the play so funny is the contrasts it presents -- between high-minded rants about a free Ireland and the pettiness of the men's violence, between Padraic's sadism and the blubbering sentimentality that has him seated on the ground weeping for his cat while his torture victim dangles beside him. Chip Walton's direction couldn't be better; all of the action is fully realized and meticulously timed, and he's assembled an excellent cast. Gene Gillette is mesmerizing as Padraic, as steely and scary as he is ridiculous. Anthony Powell and Matt Zambrano anchor the action as Donny and Davey, respectively, Powell with cringing resignation, Zambrano making Davey a gnome in a shiny, feminine wig. With her long-legged stride and red hair, Laura Jo Trexler is a striking Mairead, and there are stellar performances from Steven Cole Hughes, Geoffrey Kent and Michael Morgan. Thomas the Cat plays Wee Thomas the cat with a wide-eyed aplomb that brings down the house. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through April 19, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, Reviewed March 13.

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