Something Is Rotten. Just as all the action in Hamlet hinges on an injunction by the ghost of Hamlet's father, everything that happens in Something Is Rotten is set in motion by a ghost — in this case, the ghost of a pink-striped sock that insists that three performers mount a production of the Shakespeare play. Julius, the weirdly smiling, dim-witted but steel-willed owner of the sock, bullies two friends, Harold and George, into fulfilling the command. We never really know exactly who these men are or why they're on stage. George is clearly an actor — or at least someone who wants to act — but Julius and Harold are stumbling amateurs. They discuss their roles and argue about how to act them, bicker, shush each other and improvise when panicked. The show is as ingenious as it is low-tech, and a lot of intensely clever and hilarious things happen. Ophelia is played by a goldfish, which makes the Queen's line "Your sister's drowned, Laertes," particularly poignant. Polonius is a Teddy Ruxpin bear and Laertes a Tonka truck. Fortunately, the requisite catharsis-providing pity and terror aren't absent from this interpretation. The shrieks of grief and rage that rend the final scene would move a statue to tears — albeit tears of laughter. It's clear from the pace of the show, the relaxed tension of the actors, that Buntport has mastered its medium. These guys don't have to hit you over the head with their actions or try to underline the cleverness of their inventions; they know exactly what they're doing. On an almost empty stage, using nothing but their minds, voices and bodies, along with a few props, they're making theater magic right in front of your eyes. Presented by Buntport Theater through December 20, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388.
Well. Playwright Lisa Kron has created a character, Lisa Kron, who's writing a play — well, an exploration, insists the on-stage doppelgänger — dealing with Lisa Kron's relationship with her mother. It has to do with illness and healing, she informs the audience (no pesky fourth wall here), and the fact that her mother, a woman strong enough to fight racism and heal an entire community, surrendered herself to a lifelong nebulous and unnameable illness that she blamed on allergies. Kron has hired four actors to portray characters in the story. The trouble is, she's also allowed her mother, Ann, on stage, and there she is, reclining on a La-Z-Boy in her homey, cluttered room, addressing the audience herself (the first thing she does, after asking if we're comfortable, is offer food and drink) and correcting her daughter whenever she thinks it necessary. Lisa Kron may intend her play as an exploration, but not quite as much of one as this turns out to be. Pretty soon the actors are questioning the script and drifting across from Lisa's side of the stage to commune with her warmly comforting mother. Eventually, everything Lisa has painstakingly put into place evaporates. You could say Ann emerges the winner in the contest to define reality, but that would be meaningless. The real Ann Kron is still alive, but this Ann is a creation of Lisa's, an artistic double summoned as co-author. Kate Levy offers a beautiful performance as slightly brittle New York sophisticate Lisa, and Kathleen M. Brady brings her unique combination of strength and kindliness to the role of Ann. Well is about the need for understanding and about healing in every sense; it is also a very smart piece about how a work of art gets put together. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through December 19, Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed November 19.