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Capsule reviews of current shows

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, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed February 14.

Matt and Ben. Authors Brenda Withers and Mindy Kaling were classmates of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon's at Dartmouth, and they were apparently very, very jealous. So jealous that they wrote a play in which Matt and Ben, played by Kaling and Withers themselves in New York, were revealed as dumb and untalented dopes who hadn't, in fact, written Good Will Hunting at all. The script simply fell from the ceiling of Ben's grubby apartment as the actors wrestled with an entirely different creative project: a screen adaptation of J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. There's just about enough material in the guys' wrangling and reminiscing to sustain a ten-minute Saturday Night Live skit — but unfortunately, Matt and Ben goes on for over 75 minutes. The action is punctuated by two visitations: one from Gwyneth Paltrow and one from J.D. Salinger. Gwyneth drifts around, ecstatically licking the icing from a stray cupcake and dispensing advice on success to Matt, pausing only to admire a photograph of Ben. This scene at least genuflects to what we know — or think we do — about the real-life actress, but the Salinger bit is just plain weird. At least this production offers an almost perfect object lesson in two disparate styles of acting. You can tell that Laura Norman, who plays Ben, has imagined her way into the role. If Missy Moore had made Matt as specific, the evening might have worked — but Moore just lowers her voice and walks in a vaguely male way, and while she's sometimes funny and effective, the stereotype eventually wears as thin as the script. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through July 20, 1224 Washington Street, Golden, 303-935-3044, www.minersalley.com. Reviewed June 12.

THE MeLTING BRiDgE. Thaddeus Phillips, who visits Buntport every year or so, is one of the most interesting theatrical forces around. As his work with Lucidity Suitcase shows, all that's required for great theater is creativity, imagination and performers with guts, talent and integrity, like Phillips himself. But THE MeLTING BRiDgE — which is having a preview in Denver before it premieres in Philadelphia in September — is nowhere near ready for an audience. Phillips has bitten off a huge chunk of subject matter: the environmental crises we face and the contradictions inherent in the way we live, and he questions our very ability to continue surviving on our fragile blue planet. In search of answers, he explores the settling of the Americas and the continent's ancient civilizations, noting that the Mayan calendar predicts that the world will end on December 21, 2012. On one level, the melting bridge is the Bering Strait, the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska supposedly traveled by the migrants from Asia who first populated this continent less than 20,000 years ago. In the play, a business executive who works for a paper company learns that his father has vanished —- but not before leaving him a cryptic scroll and a phone message exhorting him to open himself to differing forms of reality. What follows is an archetypal transformative hero's journey, as the executive finds himself on subway platforms, traversing rivers, snowshoeing through Arctic snowdrifts and periodically encountering an enigmatic guide. There's always an element of the inexplicable in Lucidity Suitcase's work — scenes, images and symbols that require you to connect the dots and allow your own imagination to fill in meaning. But there's too much left unsaid here, too much left vague and amorphous. The ambitions behind this show go deep, and it could come together into something purely brilliant. But it could also sputter out in a welter of half-realized and insufficiently thought-through effects. Presented by Lucidity Suitcase through July 5, Buntport Theater, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, www.buntport.com. Reviewed June 12.

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