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Capsule reviews of current shows

An O. Henry Christmas. Amid the cascade of Christmas Carol remounts, Hallmark Card family shows and limp holiday parodies, this musical arrangement of two O. Henry short stories — "The Last Leaf" and "The Gift of the Magi," created by Peter Ekstrom — is a refreshing option. "The Gift of the Magi" is the shorter and more cheerful of the two; it has some very funny songs, including a tickle-giggle number reminiscent of "Adele's Laughing Song," from Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus, and a mock-operatic duet that begins with the husband's horrified exclamation "Your hair is gone!" There are also a couple of real clunkers, however, including a mournful ode sung by the husband to his watch. "The Last Leaf" is a more shadowed story. A pair of young women artists room together in a loft in New York's Greenwich Village. One of them, Johnsey, dreams of setting up her easel in Italy; Sue is more down-to-earth. Their neighbor, a comic drunken German by the name of Behrman, is himself a failed artist. When Johnsey develops pneumonia, Sue tends to her devotedly. But Johnsey is convinced she will die when the last leaf on the vine outside of their window drifts to earth. A miracle is needed, and you can probably figure out who provides it. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through December 21, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, www.minersalley.com. Reviewed November 20.

Anywhere But Rome. Ovid, otherwise known as Publius, has been banished from Rome and is traveling with Tiresias, standing at a crossroads, sticking out his thumb. They are joined by Io, the woman transformed into a cow by Zeus. A car pulls to a halt; seated inside is a contemporary couple: schoolteacher Louis and his wife, Carol. Neither of them seems surprised to find that they're transporting an ancient Roman poet and two mythical characters, but they have problems of their own. For example, Carol is slowly but surely transforming into a chicken. It's no surprise when references to Lewis Carroll and Franz Kafka surface: Transformational magic is exactly what Buntport's about, creating theater where objects become people and an ingenue becomes a goldfish. If mythological and realistic figures are to mingle, and writers to meet their own works of fiction, this stage is the place for it. But there's nothing heavy or pretentious about Anywhere But Rome. The play, an original Buntport creation, is lighthearted and good-humored and, like Ovid's original work, deals primarily with love. Five actors — Erik Edborg, Brian Colonna, Erin Rollman, Evan Weissman and Hannah Duggan (SamAnTha Schmitz is the non-performing member of the troupe) — effortlessly hold our attention through the hour and a half of playing time. The dialogue is fast, clever, very human and sometimes wonderfully petty in the face of the great mysteries being evoked. As for the acting, this troupe is at the pinnacle: All of its members are relaxed and full-throated and funny, and their timing is perfect. Erik Edborg is riveting as irritable, slightly out-of-it and sometimes profound Ovid. Brian Colonna, who can tear up the stage with cartoonish, squeaky-voiced antics when he wants to, makes Tiresias the wise, if kvetchy, center of the action. You never see Rollman's face, but her stumbling body as Io attempts to balance on her hooves speaks volumes, as do her low moos and moans. Hannah Duggan is perfect as loud, sad, loving Carol, and the monologue in which Evan Weissman explores Louis's shortcomings as a teacher and his possible role in his wife's transformation is nothing less than inspired. Presented by Buntport Theater through December 20, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, www.buntport.com. Reviewed November 20.

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 20, Acoma Center, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed November 13.

 
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