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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.

Bee-luther-hatchee. Shelita is a poised and successful book editor, a young black woman determined to bring the urgent voices of her history and her people to life. A memoir she's published by a reclusive 72-year-old woman has become a phenomenon, achieving bestseller status and winning a major award. After picking up that award, Shelita decides to deliver it to the author in person — and discovers that Libby Price is not whom she purports to be. There have been all kinds of mini-scandals recently about memoirs whose authors claimed experiences that weren't rightfully theirs, so this is a hot topic. As written by Thomas Gibbons, Bee-luther-hatchee is intelligent and articulate, but it succeeds more as an intellectual exercise than a play. Although it contains some interesting metaphors and devices, there's never much real drama. People keep talking at and past each other; no one communicates or changes; there are no unexpected character turns. And eventually you start wondering just how much juice really remains in these once-so-explosive ideas. Presented by Modern Muse Theatre through May 4, Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street, 303-780-7836, Reviewed April 17.

The Birthday Party. The intimate Germinal Stage is a perfect venue for Harold Pinter's claustrophobic puzzler of a play. We're inside an English bed-and-breakfast run by a very odd couple: phlegmatic Petey and his wife, Meg. Every morning, Meg gives Petey his breakfast of cereal, fried bread and coffee, serving it up with a stream of placid banalities to which he responds perfunctorily while reading the paper. Petey and Meg have one lodger, Stanley, who lives in his pajamas. Stanley is silent but hardly meek, a disheveled little terrier of a man who periodically shows his teeth. He says he was once a pianist — or, at least, that he once gave a concert. This stagnant life is disturbed when two men arrive at the house asking for rooms. McCann is all violent possibility; Goldberg is more sinister and more complex. The two are looking for Stanley, and he's clearly terrified of them, but we never really know why. The narrative keeps shifting; even the names change. It either is or isn't Stanley's birthday, and everyone is planning a party for him, but the real action is subterranean, taking place somewhere deep beneath the characters' chatter. And that action is the destruction of a human being. It's no stretch to imagine that Pinter — a Jew born in 1930 — had fascism in mind when he wrote The Birthday Party in the 1950s, despite the fact that one of Stanley's tormenters is himself Jewish. Director Ed Baierlein's deep familiarity with Pinter's work — he has produced several Pinter plays — is evident in his skillful direction, and all of the performances are first-rate.  Presented by Germinal Stage Denver through May 4, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 303-455-7108, Reviewed April 24.

Doubt. John Patrick Shanley's Doubt is a short, brilliantly constructed, engrossing play that, on the surface, seems straightforward. But there's a lot going on beneath that surface. The action begins with a voice speaking in the dark. When the lights come up, we see that this voice belongs to Father Flynn, who's standing in the pulpit reciting a parable on the theme of certainty and doubt. Then we're in the study of Sister Aloysius, head of a Catholic school in the Bronx. Sister Aloysius is anything but one-dimensional. A powerful and entirely original character, she may believe in doing good in the world, but it's an abstract, lofty, pure and absolute kind of good, the kind that has nothing to do with comforting a lonely child or encouraging an insecure young colleague. She becomes convinced on only the slightest evidence that Father Flynn is a pederast, and  you watch in horror as she pursues the man like an avenging fury through scene after scene. Except that periodically, you decide there's truth to her accusations. Isn't Father Flynn just a little too glib and charming? Doesn't he seem a touch narcissistic? Shanley doesn't tip his hand on this. He defies the desire for certainty that all of us feel, reminding us that not only is doubt inescapable, it's also a rich state of mind, the source of endless permutations of thought and imagination, a deep soil from which vibrant new shapes can appear. Jeanne Paulsen is magnificent as Aloysius, and Sam Gregory is fine as Father Flynn. There's also an extraordinary performance by Kim Staunton as the mother of the boy Sister Aloysius believes is being abused. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through May 17, Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, Reviewed April 17.

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