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Two Things You Don't Talk About at Dinner. Playwright Lisa Loomer has waded into the tumultuous waters of the Israel/Palestine conflict. She does it with humor — note the title — setting her play at the seder of a Zionist hostess, Myriam, and placing among the guests Sam, a Palestinian and one of Myriam's oldest friends. Sam knows the score. For a long, long time, he remains affable and generally silent — as he has in Myriam's presence for many years. But Sam has just returned from a mind-shattering trip to the Middle East, and in the second act, he speaks out. He does more. He shows photographs, including one of a Palestinian child killed by an Israeli soldier. Myriam passionately defends Israeli actions. The entire tone changes. Two Things brings in an array of other issues, both trivial and profound, and manages to touch on just about every current national neurosis. Myriam's eclectic guest list includes a bulimic girl, a disenchanted young Buddhist, a Japanese-American who converted for the sake of her Jewish American husband, a nit-picky control freak married to an alcoholic, an evangelical work colleague of Myriam's convinced that her hostess is going to hell. There's wit and insight here, but none of the characters except Sam have much depth; you don't feel any sense of warmth and familiarity among them. In addition, a lot of the dialogue sounds cliched and Hollywoodish. The second act is much stronger than the first, however, and the play builds to a touching and believable ending. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through February 19, Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, Reviewed February 2.

The Whale. It takes guts and ingenuity to write a play in which the protagonist is a morbidly obese man, constantly on stage and essentially tethered in one place. Charlie is dying of his own weight. He sleeps on the sofa — propped up so he can breathe — and spends almost the entire day there. This static setup means that most of the action is psychological, emotional, metaphorical. Charlie does maintain one significant link to the outside world: He teaches composition courses online, urging bored students to be honest and expressive in their writing. He is visited daily by an old friend, Liz, a nurse, who takes care of him and constantly begs him to go to a hospital and make some attempt to save his own life. Another visitor is a nineteen-year-old Mormon, Elder Thomas, who knocks at the door and becomes determined to rescue Charlie's soul. What's left of Charlie's vitality is focused on a single goal: a rapprochement with his teenage daughter, Ellie. He had left her and her mother many years earlier after falling in love with another man, Alan, who has since died. This is no easy task. The girl is vengeful toward the world in general and filled with contempt for the huge, wallowing father who deserted her. Director Hal Brooks has cast this complex, literate and multi-layered play well, and the production makes it clear that beneath the surprising, irreverent, funny and despairing dialogue, there's a profound tenderness. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through February 19, Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, Reviewed January 26.

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