Girls Only. The trouble with Girls Only, a two-woman evening of conversation, skits, singing, improvisation and audience participation, is that it's so relentlessly nice. Creator-performers Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein have worked together for many years; at some point, they read their early diaries to each other and were transfixed by the similarities and differences they found in them, as well as the insights they gained into their own psyches and the travails of puberty. This theater piece was developed from that material — but not all of that material. "I purposely don't read every diary entry in the show, because it turns out I was kind of mean, and I don't want to be mean," Klein told an interviewer. But mean is funny, and when you cut it out entirely, what do you have to joke about? Girly pink bedrooms, purses, bras, skinny models in glossy magazines. Every time they tell a story with the tiniest bite to it, Gehring and Klein — both talented and appealing stage performers — move instantly to reassure us that they don't mean it. At one point Klein relates an interesting tale about how she came to possess the badly taxidermied body of an electrocuted squirrel as a child; the minute she's completed this funny, freaky moment in an otherwise highly predictable evening, she gives a pouty, don't-get-me-wrong grin and sweetly caresses the squirrel's head. There's enough good material here for a tight, funny, one-hour-long show, but this one stretches on and on, as if Klein and Gehring had been determined to throw every single joke and piece of shtick that occurred to them in the script. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through June, Garner Galleria Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed September 18.
Love Song. This is the story of Beane, a sad, lonely, crazy man living a marginal life in a grubby apartment; his sister, Joan, a successful businesswoman, and her husband, Harry; and Molly, a thief who breaks into Beane's apartment, threatens him, and gabbles about architects and minimalism, violence and arson. After meeting Molly, Beane is transformed. He talks at warp speed; he's entranced by such everyday realities as sandwiches and sidewalks. His enthusiasms are infectious, and they get to Harry, who admits that he smelled cantaloupe when he first met Joan and can still get excited passing a fruit stand. Despite the genuine brilliance and humor of much of the dialogue, the script occasionally veers dangerously close to cutesiness. But Jarrad Holbrook's direction is unsentimental, sensitive to the play's shadows and to author John Kolvenbach's tango between darkness and light, love and death. And you'll rarely see a quartet of performances as perfect as those delivered by Holbrook's actors, who give the text every ounce of required emotion while still proving capable of subtlety and restraint. Ultimately, Love Song tells a familiar story about the redemptive power of love — even though these are not ordinary people, nor will their lives ever be entirely sunny — and the play creates a fragile, translucent equilibrium in which we can all rest. Presented by Paragon Theatre through March 14. Crossroads Theater at Five Points, 2590 Washington Street, 303-300-2210, www.paragontheatre.com. Reviewed February 26.
Smokey Joe's Cafe. On a smart art-deco set in the company's spiffy new building, Shadow Theatre is doing one of the things it does best: music. Smokey Joe's Cafe is a compendium of songs by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller — creators of such 1950s and '60s hits as "Spanish Harlem," "On Broadway," "Yakety Yak," "Love Potion # 9" and "Stand by Me." Artistic director Jeffrey Nickelson plays the affable barkeep, occasionally stepping forward to channel Elvis ("Love Me"), and the talented company is backed by four expert musicians. Some of the songs are presented as we remember them, others the singers transform and make their own — and you really want to hear what Ciarra Teasley does with "Fools Fall in Love" and "Saved." Perhaps surprisingly, the most memorable numbers aren't necessarily the best known. Shahadah James gives a knockout rendition of "Pearl's a Singer," Lynnette Holmes is adorably wicked singing "Don Juan, Your Money's Gone," and when the guys perform the infectiously rhythmic "Keep on Rollin'," everyone in the place wishes they would. All night. This is a smooth, sassy and highly enjoyable evening. Presented by Shadow Theatre Company through March 21, 1468 Dayton Street, Aurora, 720-857-8000, www.shadowtheatre.com.