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Capsule reviews of current shows

As You Like It. It doesn't get more minimal than this: As You Like It performed by six people on a stage where the set consists of little besides a large rock, swaths of fabric and a wooden swing; echoing footsteps announce an actor's entry minutes before he actually appears; and everyone changes character by donning a wig, a hat, a jacket or a different expression. The play is about a lot of shenanigans in a forest that, like most of Shakespeare's forests, is an enchanted place where identity becomes porous and gender changeable, and lovers stumble about blindly before falling into each other's arms. Rosalind — one of the most charming of Shakespeare's many smart, enterprising, beautiful young heroines — has the best lines, of course, but the script is full of verbal music. There are some problems with this bare-bones approach; when your actors have to change character every few minutes, many of their characterizations are bound to be broad and shallow. But on the plus side — and this is decisive — the cast's playfulness, talent and good humor add a joy and high-spiritedness you'd never find in a more conventional production. Presented by Modern Muse Theatre Company through February 28, Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street, 303-780-7836, Reviewed February 12.

Dusty and the Big Bad World. We all know about the Christian right's attacks on textbooks, teachers, Halloween, the arts, public television and the words "happy holidays." And we know what happened when these people finally got their very own president. Dusty and the Big Bad World is based on a real event: the heavy-handed suppression by Bush's Secretary of Education of a children's television show containing a reference to homosexuality. This is a topic ripe for all-stops-out, nasty-minded satire — the kind you get when Christopher Durang takes on the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, playwright Cusi Cram is a real liberal, meaning she's thoughtful and nuanced. She wants to show the education secretary — here called Marianne — as a real person who has faced her own demons; the outspoken liberal, Nathan, as a self-righteous goof and closet chauvinist; and TV producer Jessica as a gay woman willing to compromise her principles to keep her show on the air. So while the first act is lively and filled with sharp-edged humor, the second is just a welter of earnest conversation in which the characters make points for the playwright — and what she wants to say is that she's a nice person, she really is. Not only do we lose the funny, but the entire play now feels dated — like all those exhortations from liberal columnists during the Bush years to stop feeling superior to Limbaugh's dittoheads and start empathizing with them. Most of the actors are a bit jittery, but Charlotte Booker is out-and-out terrific as Marianne. Dusty is one of a series of Denver Center Theatre Company premieres — many by women — and while I appreciate the attempt at inclusivity, I can't help wishing they'd find stronger scripts. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through February 28, Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100,

Inana. In early 2003, the director of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, having done all he could to secure the treasures in his care, has fled to this shabby hotel in England with the bride he acquired through an arrangement with her father; Inana is their story. Unfortunately, the script doesn't inspire belief. The plot is hard to swallow and the characters unconvincing. While the protagonist, Darius Shalid, does come across as a learned and dignified lover of antiquities, his relationship with Shali, his wife, is baffling. And Shali is less a person than a pastiche of all the images and ideas we have in this culture about Middle Eastern women: She's a timid creature from a rural village who's afraid to be left alone; she's a smart, spunky girl who put herself in danger by teaching other girls to read; she, personally, was one of the many female victims of the murderous Uday Hussein; she's the metaphorical incarnation of a goddess of both war and sex. It's not that a lot of terrible things didn't happen to women — and, of course, to the entire population — under Saddam Hussein, but what strains credulity is the idea that all these things could have happened to one woman, and that similar suffering would have been visited on just about every other character seen or mentioned in Inana. This production is a world premiere, but the play isn't world-class. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through February 28, Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100,

The Producers. How on earth can Boulder's Dinner Theatre, which does not have hundreds of thousands of dollars at its disposal, compete with the big, glitzy Broadway version of The Producers? Not with tech and design, obviously, nor the slickness of the big showstoppers. But this production has something that's missing from the big touring production: sheer exuberance, an exuberance that in many ways is closer to Mel Brooks's original impulse. The Producers tells the story of a Broadway producer who realized he could make more money from a flop than a hit and immediately sought out the worst script he could find: a tribute to Adolf Hitler. The idea first saw life as a 1968 movie, a movie in which Brooks stuck a fat, garlicky, Jewish thumb right into Hitler's eye. With the irrepressible Wayne Kennedy playing producer Max Bialystock and Scott Beyette as his bewildered but eventually ecstatic sidekick, Leo Bloom, the BDT cast puts the raucous, iconoclastic jump right back into the show. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through March 7, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, Reviewed December 4.

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