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Kafka on Ice. This play interweaves Franz Kafka's biography with the plot of his best-known work, The Metamorphosis, in which the protagonist wakes one morning to find he has become a large bug. It uses bare-bones staging, puppets, the transformative use of objects, and a large sheet of artificial ice — on which all the characters, excepting Kafka himself, skate. The beetle takes many forms, from an elongated shadow to an actor in a big, huggy felt costume; in one frenetic scene, it morphs from a hand puppet into a plastic, remote-controlled toy that skitters frantically around the stage. There's a brilliant mix of genres and parodies as well, from a flirty, meet-cute, silent-movie-style ice-skating scene to a high-stepping parody of the Yiddish theater the author attended with a friend. The script explores Kafka's profound sadness, and also the many permutations his work and reputation went through in the years following his death — including this production itself. It's as sad as it is deeply funny. Presented by Buntport Theatre Company through February 19, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, Reviewed February 3.

Map of Heaven. Playwright Michele Lowe writes well about art, and the central character in her Map of Heaven is an artist, Lena, whose paintings are maps of imaginary places and who is about to have her first big show. As the play opens, she's in her studio with longtime dealer and gallery owner Rebecca, discussing which pieces to display. But while Lena's career is on the upswing, her radiologist husband is tiring of his profession. Once so dedicated that he moved heaven and earth to open a clinic for poor women, he's now spending less and less time at his work and more and more time flying — an occupation for which he's developed a passion — and he's hoping that Lena will find a level of recognition that allows him to quit being a doctor. Ian's sister, Jen, is also on a downward trajectory professionally. She's waitressing for a living, despite having once been a lawyer. The first major twist in the action is a little hard to swallow, and the second really strains faith; the characters begin feeling less like people and more like ciphers pressed into the service of a less-than-plausible plot. Still, under the direction of Evan Cabnet, the acting and the production values are so good that you almost believe. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through February 26, Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, Reviewed January 27.

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