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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.

Art. Three men have been friends for many years. Serge, a dermatologist, has just bought an all-white painting: diagonal white stripes across a white background. He's showing it proudly to Marc, who is appalled; he considers the painting a pretentious piece of chicanery. He's even more disturbed when he learns that Serge paid 200,000 francs — around $39,000 — for the piece. The third member of the group is Yvan, rumple-haired, bewildered and far less successful than the other two. Yvan wants only to keep peace between his friends and maintain a relationship that serves as a haven in his flustered world. The script for Art is rather like a New Yorker cartoon: very funny, crisp and clever, with a hint of depth. These guys aren't richly drawn; they're not characters we'll remember for a long time once we've left the theater. But there's something fascinating and touching about them. Michael Gunst makes Marc a sneering presence with an annoyingly condescending laugh. As played by Joseph Lekarczyk, Serge at first seems warmer and more rooted than Marc; we're both amused and disappointed when his petty side reveals itself. Curled on the sofa, nursing an injured ear, Sam Elmore makes Yvan a cuddly teddy bear. You leave the theater thinking about what your own friends mean to you, and two of the essential ways in which they mitigate the existential loneliness of life: A friend tells you who you are by holding up a mirror, responding to what you do and say; friends also affirm your identity by being who they are. If our friends refuse to validate our sense of ourselves or fail to be who we thought they were, we find ourselves alone in the dark. Presented by Theatre 13 through December 18. Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder, 888-512-7469, www.myspace.com/theatre13boulder.

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