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Capsule reviews of current shows

Fat Pig. Neil LaBute's plays are nasty, but they usually contain subtext, irony and ambiguity. Fat Pig has none of these. It's flat and thin, a straightforward, almost schematic story with a quivering pink core. Tom, a shallow careerist male of the kind we remember from In the Company of Men, falls in love with Helen, a librarian. Helen is warm, sensual, life-loving — and overweight. Tom's co-workers mock him mercilessly, and the question that fuels the drama is whether he'll have the inner fortitude to stick by Helen in the face of this mockery — a question just deep enough to keep Carrie and her friends occupied through an episode of Sex and the City. The concept of the disconsonance between our inner and outer selves, of the ways in which we perceive ourselves and others, could be explored with depth and insight, but it isn't here. There are no real plot complications, unexpected turns or surprises, and there's also not a whole lot of thought. Why is Helen overweight? We don't know. Are there reasons, other than purely shallow ones, for Tom to think long and hard before taking on a partner with an eating problem? This production is competent, but it isn't vibrant enough to alleviate the problems of the script. Presented by the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company through November 23, Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder, 888-512-7469, www.boulderensembletheatre.org. Reviewed November 6.

Glengarry Glen Ross. Although David Mamet wrote Glengarry Glen Ross more than twenty years ago, this study of unscrupulous salesmen pitching worthless plots in Florida is still relevant. These salesmen spend their time jockeying for ascendance. They're desperate, but their desperation hasn't humanized them or increased their ability to empathize either with their victims or with a colleague who's losing his footing. As for that colleague, his teeth are as sharp as anyone else's. The only blameless figure is James Lingk, the mark of one of the salesmen, but he's a wuss, entirely dependent on orders from his wife. The action is tightly constructed, and the evening fizzes along swiftly, buoyed by strong, fast gusts of rage and incessant bubbles of profanity. Three vignettes, which take place in the red vinyl booths of a Chinese restaurant, serve as prologue. By the second scene, we're in the office, a robbery has been committed, and a cop is on the premises. Under his questioning eye, the men begin to fall to pieces. The play won a Pulitzer in 1984, and this first-rate cast does it justice with a sizzling production. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through November 22, Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed October 23.

November. It's a few days before the election, and Charles Smith, the sitting president, is hoping for a second term. The trouble is, his poll numbers are in the toilet, he's intensely incompetent, and he has no money for advertising. But he does have a kind of coarse, stupid venality, lots of energy, no conscience and a strong instinct for self-preservation. As the play opens, Smith is more interested in whether his wife can keep the Oval Office couch than in the fact that Iran has just launched a nuclear strike. He peppers his conversations with homophobic and xenophobic comments and makes several casual references to the Piggyplane, which flies anyone he decides to classify as a terrorist to torture and death in a secret Bulgarian prison. In addition to Smith's struggle to remain in power, the plot deals with his lesbian speechwriter's desire to marry her partner, and her belief that Smith can and should perform the ceremony. Playwright David Mamet almost always seems to be mocking his own characters, and this play's roster is particularly one-dimensional and farcical. November wants to be robust, H.L. Mencken-tinged, plague-on-all-your-political-houses-level satire, but it's too small-minded and thin a piece of work for that. Still, there's plenty of clever, funny dialogue here, and the many echoes of the Bush presidency rock the theater with laughter. Presented by the Avenue Theater through November 22, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed October 23.

Speech & Debate. Three misfit high-school students get together for the debate society. Solomon longs to be a professional reporter and wants to print the lowdown on the right-wing mayor's pederast activities in the school newspaper; Howie is a transfer student anxious to create a gay-straight alliance, and frustrated by his inability to get a teacher to sponsor it; and Diwata, the would-be diva, can't get a role in the school musical, so she's looking to bring down the drama teacher who failed to cast her. You may think you've seen something like this before — geeky, outsider high-schoolers, tormented by questions of identity, setting up their own eccentric little world, but whiz-kid playwright Stephen Karam has a humorous and original take on the situation. Speech & Debate is peppered with spurts of original humor and pierced by little darts of surprise, and the teens are interesting characters — spiky and self-obsessed as only teenagers can be, as ignorant about life's realities as they are technologically sophisticated and skilled at yanking each other's chains. Curious was smart to get in early on this sparky, original script, though there's an awful lot of over-acting. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through December 13, Acoma Center, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed November 13.

 
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