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When Tang Met Laika. As Cuban-born Rogelio Martinez's play begins, Patrick, an American astronaut, is becoming acquainted with his Russian counterparts on the space station Mir, and — despite the fact that he's married and a father — starting to fall in love with Russian astronaut Elena. Their love story is the thread that holds this episodic piece together, but it lacks urgency, warmth and specificity. Having experienced the freedom and beauty of space, most astronauts find adjusting to everyday life on Earth difficult. Elena understands the psychic pull of exploration and the unknown; Patrick's wife, Samantha, whose primary solution to family problems is prayer, finds herself unable to connect with her increasingly withdrawn husband. When Tang Met Laika encompasses historical events, sets past against present, and attempts to synthesize the zeitgeist of the Cold War with contemporary reality. But although Martinez has a lot of interesting thoughts about a complex period, such thoughts only work on a stage if you dramatize them, and characters only matter to your viewer if they feel real — which these characters do not. Besides, it takes a poet to evoke the ineffable, and there's no poetry in the language here. Any beauty is provided by the tech: the ingenious set design and muted, evocative lighting. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through February 27, Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed February 11.

The World Is Mine. In The World Is Mine, Buntport gives us Eugene O'Neill in the hospital recovering from an appendectomy and thinking about beginning work on Long Day's Journey Into Night, the play that dramatized the life of the author's booze-drug-and-self-pity-soaked family, and which he famously said was written in tears and blood. The Buntport members treat this somber material with their usual fizz and humor, without in any way trivializing it. O'Neill's self-absorption is tackled head on: The entire set represents the inside of his mind as he ponders the set for his play, and the three other characters — all mustachioed like O'Neill himself — exist only as he sees them. The action takes place in a living room; a profile of Erik Edborg, who plays O'Neill, is mounted on the back wall, facing left. Opposite this, the same portrait has been flopped so it's facing right. We half notice that there are glasses everywhere, and once the action begins, we find that the place bleeds alcohol as characters pour drinks from almost every available object, from a chandelier to a telephone. O'Neill is being taken care of by a nurse, Cathleen, who reminds him of daughter Oona and whom he will transform into the Tyrones' dim, flirtatious Irish maid in Long Day's Journey Into Night — hence the absurdly high heels she wears along with her mustache. His wife, Carlotta, is on the scene, too, parading around in a succession of elegant dresses and surprising hats. The final character is Erland, come from Sweden to give O'Neill his 1936 Nobel Prize for Literature. The World Is Mine raises the central question about Eugene O'Neill's artistry: the fact that his focus is so relentlessly, claustrophobically inward. And in their humorous and unpretentious way, the Buntporters suggest that when feelings run deep enough and genius is sufficiently capacious, personal obsession becomes universal and transforms into art. Presented by Buntport Theater Company through March 6, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, www.buntport.com. Reviewed February 4.

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