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Capsule reviews of current shows

The Show-Off. This is a dated 1920s piece that's neither funny nor insightful, and doesn't even possess the side benefit of telling us anything significant about the period in which it was written. At the center of the story is a posing, preening, bumptious young man named Aubrey Piper, out to make his way in the world in any way he can. Aubrey begins his quest by worming his way into a proper Philadelphia family and eventually marrying one of the daughters, Amy. The other daughter, Clara, is already married, to a wealthy but unloving man; by the third act, she's saying wistfully that maybe it's better to be married to someone who talks incessantly than to someone who never talks at all. This may be playwright George Kelly's attempt to inject a little feeling into his script, though if it is, it comes too late and with insufficient preparation. The Show-Off might be funny if Aubrey had a certain juicy vitality, a real appetite for success and admiration, but Travis W. Boswell makes him a braying caricature, and most of the performances are stifled and uninvolving. These interpretations may be defensible; perhaps they're what Kelly would have wanted. Director Ed Baierlein writes in his program that the playwright eschewed sentimentality, and cast "a harsh light on [his characters'] shortcomings." But if, as an audience, we're denied any level of emotional involvement, we should still get something to make our evening worthwhile. With The Show-Off, all we get is a bunch of boring, unpleasant people saying boring, unpleasant things. Presented by Germinal State through December 14, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 303-455-7108, www.germinalstage.com. Reviewed November 27.

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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