A Hint of Winter. In terms of sensibility and mission, theater director Terry Dodd and the Barth Hotel are made for each other. The Barth, a beautiful nineteenth-century building, is owned by Senior Housing Options, a charitable organization originally created to provide shelter for the poor displaced during the 1970s oil boom in Denver; Dodd is one of the more soulful directors around, an artist deeply attuned to place. A Hint of Winter, by local playwright Terri Draeger, is a two-hander that fits the setting at the Barth perfectly. It takes place in the lobby of a London hotel, where an elderly Englishman and a young woman from California begin a conversation. The young woman is at a crossroads, facing a morally complex decision; her companion reveals a shadowed life of his own, and some soul-deep regrets. We learn of errant fathers, guilt, equivocation and possible redemption. The opening moments of this eighty-minute piece are vibrant and charming because the two people on stage are interacting and finding out things about each other in present time as opposed to musing on their families and past moments in alternating monologues, as they do later, when things get static and talky. The characters' narratives are supposed to echo or mirror or amplify each other, but they feel completely separate. Overall, however, there's a gentleness and generosity to the evening that makes it worthwhile, and Draeger will doubtless give us increasingly interesting and accomplished plays as time goes by. Presented by Senior Housing Options through August 1, Barth Hotel, 1514 17th Street, 303-595-4464, www.seniorhousingoptions.org. Reviewed July 16.
Much Ado About Nothing. This is the story of a feuding couple, and that's where most of its charm lies. Beatrice is one of those wonderful Shakespearean women, tough-minded, principled, smart and funny. She and Benedick are older and more cynical than the usual romantic pair; they are famed in their circle for trading barbs and for their mutual marriage phobia, but everyone agrees that they're perfect for each other - if they'd only realize it. Their love is mirrored by that of a second pair: pure, sweet Hero and idealistic Claudio, whose love is born of wistful gazes and solitary sighs, and thus very easy for the villainous Don John to derail. When Claudio rejects and shames Hero on what is supposed to be their wedding day, the play tumbles from sunny romance into near tragedy. The first half of this production is better than the second, in part because this is when some of the strongest members of the cast have the most to do, particularly Geoffrey Kent, who makes Benedick a complete goof, but also one capable of a genuinely moving dignity. Karen Slack's strength and humor as Beatrice are admirable, but she blows the pivotal scene — in which she and Benedick finally confess their love for each other and she persuades him to challenge Claudio — by ranting almost incoherently. And then the funnymen enter, Constable Dogberry and his crew, who, despite their incompetence and director Lynne Collins's odd choices, actually do manage to set right the play's wrongs. Still, there's too little focus on poetry in this production and too much emphasis on silly bits. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 7. Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, www.coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed July 23.