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King Lear. Director Lynne Collins chose to set her King Lear in the late-nineteenth-century American West. This doesn't add much to the theme or story, but it does fit the persona and acting style of John Hutton, who makes a fine, easy-talking, loose-limbed but imperious cattle king. And there's so much to the script — so much poetry, wisdom, humanity — that every new production yields unanticipated insights. One of the things Hutton brings to the party is humor: His Lear is often funny, possessed of the kind of wry, humorous wisdom we definitely associate with the frontier. The unexpectedness of Hutton's readings sparks many of Lear's scenes to vivid life. But Hutton does not bring the tragic heft to the role that it requires, particularly in the later scenes; the pacing of much of the production is off, too. There are treasures in this Lear, but they don't quite outweigh the missteps. Produced by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 8, Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, Reviewed July 15.

Measure for Measure. Director Scott Williams has tarted up this play with all kinds of extraneous trickery: red umbrellas and vinyl boots; swags of cloth hanging from the ceiling; an in-the-round presentation that has some audience members seated on stage behind the action so that those in front can watch them; storm sound effects; something that looks like confetti raining down and turning red at the end. A few characters are traditionally dressed; the costume pieces of others look like discards from TV shows of the '80s and '90s. None of this would matter if the leads were strong or had genuinely come to grips with the material, but they weren't and they hadn't. The action begins when the Duke of Vienna, fearing his city has become too licentious, cedes power to his rigid, puritanical deputy, Angelo, and leaves to pursue a life of contemplation. Angelo immediately decides to enforce the state's ban on fornication and sentences to death a young man, Claudio, who has impregnated his fiancée. Claudio's sister, Isabella, is about to enter a convent. She comes before Angelo to plead for her brother's life and, seeing in her the saintliness he longs to possess himself, Angelo falls — in every sense of the word. He will spare Claudio's life, Angelo tells Isabella, in return for the use of her body. A prolonged meditation on justice and mercy, shadowed at every turn by tragedy, Measure for Measure is a comedy only in that it ends in marriage rather than murder. This means a director must be entirely clear about the tone he wants to set, when to go for laughs, when to let the language and action speak for themselves. The performances here are flat, Measure for Measure. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 6. University Theatre, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, Reviewed July 29.

Peter Pan. The folks at Boulder's Dinner Theatre approach Peter Pan with such imagination, intelligence, respect and giddy exuberance that you can't help enjoying yourself. Little boys are sure to love Captain Hook and the ferocious crocodile with the clock ticking away inside him. And how could any little girl resist the idea of flying off into the night in search of adventure with a white-nightgowned Wendy, and being so loved and needed by the Lost Boys? Not to mention Nana, the fluffy white dog who serves as the children's caretaker. The only drawback is the depiction of Native Americans, who are shown as pure 1950s Disney figures, wearing long black wigs and fringed costumes, drumming, stomping, chanting and singing a ghastly song called "Ugh-a-Wug." Still, there are loads of good things about the production, and J.M. Barrie's words still cast a spell. And when Peter Pan rises into the air and Wendy, John and Michael follow, it's pure magic. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through September 4, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, Reviewed June 3.

Picasso at the Lapin Agile. The premise of Picasso at the Lapin Agile, an entirely ahistorical play by Steve Martin, is that Picasso and Einstein met at an artists' hangout in Montmartre in 1904; the result is a meditation on the nature of creativity and the role of science and art in the twentieth century, complete with silly jokes, clever jokes, flashes of erudition and periodic, almost-profound insights. The lobby of the Barth Hotel, built in 1881 and renovated in 1930, is the perfect setting, adding a fascinating patina that speaks both of time passing and of timelessness. The Einstein we meet is a very young man who has inklings of his own genius, but no assurance of it; the Special Theory of Relativity will not be published for another year. Picasso is already somewhat recognized, though hardly world-famous, full of ego and appetite. The other characters include Freddy, the owner of the Lapin Agile, and his wife, Germaine; Gaston, a regular customer with a weak bladder; Sagot, Picasso's agent; Schmendiman, an idiot entrepreneur from the future; and a second visitor from the future, who turns out to be one of the play's most interesting surprises. The production is well-paced, well-acted and thoughtfully directed. A lovely surprise is ZZ Moore, making her Denver debut as a Suzanne so poised, graceful and intelligent that you can't take your eyes off her. Picasso at the Lapin Agile is being mounted as a fundraiser for Senior Housing Options, so buying a ticket is a good deed — but it's also your entree to a delightful time. Presented through August 14 at the Barth Hotel, 1410 17th Street, 303-595-4464, www/ Reviewed July 15.

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