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Mariela in the Desert. Mariela in the Desert is a beautiful play, a serious piece about art, the way it works in the lives of the human beings who create it, the possibilities of transcendence it offers. The action unfolds slowly and quietly to the occasional sound of guitar strings. Mariela and her husband, Jose, are both artists. Once members of the dazzling, artistically and politically revolutionary circle that revolved around Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, they moved to the desert or northern Mexico — at Jose's insistence — with the idea of finding inspiration and building a creative community. But though one of his works, "The Blue Barn," won acclaim, Jose never achieved the success he dreamed of. And while Mariela raised their children, lively Blanca and Carlos, who suffered from a neurological disorder, she stopped setting brush to canvas almost completely. As the play opens, Jose is dying of advanced diabetes. Blanca, estranged and away at university, has been ignoring her mother's pleas that she come home, so Mariela lures her with a telegram saying Jose is already dead. We learn that Carlos died many years ago; his ghost haunts Mariela's imagination. The desert itself is an important character, alternately a place of truth and inspiration and a thirsty, desiccated wasteland. The play isn't perfect. A couple of the characters aren't fully fleshed out, and the dialogue is sometimes repetitive. But it throbs with quiet feeling, and the complex, thoughtful things it has to say about family, art, vocation, isolation and community will stay with you for a long time. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through May 15, Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed April 15.

Othello. Iago is the most interesting character in this production of Othello. John Hutton makes him an ordinary old soldier, bluff and apparently honest. Watching him gull his victims and offer hypocritical comfort to a desperate Desdemona is a lesson in the power of acting — particularly charged and fascinating because Hutton's acting a man who's acting compassion, and he does it full throttle, without any winks or smirks for the audience. Kathleen McCall's Emilia is very strong, too, rich and evocative. There's something wrong, however, when the murder of Desdemona leaves you dry-eyed but you tear up at Emilia's death. When you're more interested in Emilia and Iago, and even in ancillary characters like Lodovico (Geoffrey Kent), Desdemona's uncle, Gratiano (John Arp), the vivid courtesan Bianca (Allison Pistorius) and the poor mug Roderigo (a delightfully sullen performance by David Ivers) than you are in the grand love-tragedy of Othello and Desdemona. The problem is there's no feeling in Robert Jason Jackson's performance in the title role, just a lot of speechifying. When he looks at Desdemona, you don't believe he loves her, or even that he sees her. Meghan Wolf's fragile, pretty Desdemona is the embodiment of pure Victorian maidenhood, a performance that might work well on film but is too small and muted here. Goodness doesn't have to be bloodless; it can be a compelling moral force. But when it's not much manifest, Iago is bound to have the final word. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through May 1, Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed April 15.

The Rainmaker. The Rainmaker is a gentle, dated comedy, but it still has flickers of life. Written in the 1950s, the play is set in the drought-stricken West of the '30s, where a family of bachelors — kindly, laid-back paterfamilias H.C. and his two sons, Noah and Jim — apparently spend more time fretting about daughter Lizzie's spinsterhood than about the slow death of their ranch: Poor Lizzie's slow desiccation serves as a metaphor for the family's parched land and dying calves. Into this closed environment bursts Starbuck, a fast-talking, charismatic con man who assures the family that for a hundred dollars he'll summon rain. Does he find a way into Lizzie's disappointment-encrusted heart? Of course he does. Does he do it by persuading her to let down her long hair and telling her, "Why, Lizzie, you're beautiful"? Close. It's corny, but while we might mock the idea that getting a man is the sole mark of a woman's worth, there are elements of truth to the script. This production also boasts some good performances, particularly that of Tupper C. Cullum as the father, who shows us the patience and backbone behind H.C.'s gentleness and evinces a kind of steady grace, both physical and mental. Presented by the Aurora Fox through May 9, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora, 303-739-1970, www.aurorafox.org. Reviewed April 22.

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