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9 Circles. On March 12, 2006, five soldiers stationed at a dangerous traffic checkpoint in an area of Iraq that the military called the Triangle of Death entered the nearby home of a fourteen-year-old girl named Abeer Qasim Hamza. Steven Green, a private, took her parents and six-year-old sister into an adjoining room and shot them while two of his fellow soldiers raped Abeer. Then he went into the room where she was struggling, and raped and shot her. Afterward, the soldiers set Abeer's body on fire. The protagonist of Bill Cain's 9 Circles

 

is called Daniel Reeves, and the plot tracks very closely with Green's known actions and experiences; Sean Scrutchins, a newcomer to the Denver stage, gives a breath-stopping performance as Reeves. The play, loosely shaped by Dante's Inferno, is clear-eyed, tightly written and tough-minded. It is also filled with grace. You are not asked to identify in any shallow or sentimental way with Reeves — only to recognize his humanity as he endures his descent into hell, resisting, jeering, grieving, sometimes even joking, refusing for a long, long time to acknowledge the immensity of what he's done, and encountering on his way lawyers, a priest and the Army counselor to whom he confided his desire to kill everyone and from whom he received in response a bottle of pills and a slip permitting his return to battle. Cain's imagery is spare but telling. Intellect and emotion twin in his exploration of the nature of evil — and ultimately the play implies that at its root, evil is the inability to empathize with others, to feel another's pain. This failure is at the heart of war, as it is at the heart of individual wrongdoing. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through February 18, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed January 19.

Becky's New Car. Playwright Steve Dietz's dialogue tends to be smart and his imagination fresh. He likes to come up with intricate plot twists, bend theatrical form and refuse the audience a satisfyingly tied-up ending. Becky's New Car is a light work, with a plot that comes close to conventional and just a couple of those dizzying, absurdist Dietzian moments. Becky's life is straightforward and painfully ordinary. She lives with her roofer husband, Joe, and college-student son, Chris, and works far too many hours at a car dealership. In one of the play's most charming conceits, she invites the audience into her reality. She gives them tasks: collate some of her papers, help her get dressed to go out — oh, and would anyone like a soda? The interaction with the audience is unpretentious, friendly and low-key. Hyper-wealthy Walter arrives one evening just as Becky is about to leave work, wanting to buy nine expensive new cars as gifts for his employees. He's newly widowed and a little adrift, and he promptly falls for Becky — who he assumes is widowed, too. After trying once or twice to disabuse him of the notion, she gives in to his fantasy. And so begins her attempt to live two lives. But once he's introduced all these interesting people, the playwright himself seems to lose interest, and the characterizations go south along with the plotting. As the writing weakens, some of the actors respond with broader, less subtle performances. Overall, the play is fun to watch, but it doesn't particularly resonate once you've left the theater. Presented by Vintage Theatre through February 19, 2119 East 17th Avenue, 303-839-1361, www.vintagetheatre.com. Reviewed January 26.

The Importance of Being Earnest. Oscar Wilde's script is wickedly clever, full of brilliant aphorisms and entirely insincere. It concerns two young men and the women they court. Neither man is named Earnest, but both women insist they could never marry anyone called anything else. So Jack and Algernon must scramble and compete to acquire that name and win sophisticated Gwendolen (Jack) and sweet little Cecily (Algy). There's a plot point concerning a baby found in a handbag at a train station, identity confusion, a couple of hilarious secondary characters and — most important — Algernon's aunt, Lady Bracknell. (Please imagine the "r" rumbling like thunder as you read that name.) Earnest is a soufflé, a bagatelle, an airy — though steadfastly enduring — nothing, and you don't really need to worry for a second about the characters' feelings, or whether the pairs will be happily united, since their attempts at coupling are nothing but a game, anyway. The men's greatest battle is over who will get the last muffin on the table, and the women's weapons of choice are drawled insults, along with teacups and cake. Wilde was taking a rapier to the manners and mores of Victorian society but naturally, being an aesthete and preferring artifice to sincerity, he did it in high style. Director Rod A. Lansberry keeps things lively and entertaining in this Arvada Center production, inspiring regular gusts of laughter from the audience and sending a few people dancing up the aisles at intermission to the perfectly chosen Gilbert and Sullivan music. Presented by the Arvada Center through February 19, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200, www.arvadacenter.org. Reviewed February 9.

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