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The Threepenny Opera. In Bertolt Brecht's groundbreaking 1928 piece The Threepenny Opera, the Peachums run a begging operation, showing destitute people how to arouse sympathy in the comfortably well fed, sending them out to beg and then taking their cut. The joke is that they operate just like conventional businesspeople for whom the poor are a commodity and source of profit. Which is not to say that Brecht presents these beggars as pitiable; on the contrary, he shows that poverty and deprivation twist the soul as much as they do the body. The murderous Macheath is another kind of capitalist, king of a murky underworld of robbery, backstreet deals, prostitution and violent death. The police, represented by Macheath's old army buddy Tiger Brown, are in cahoots with Macheath. Well, at least as long as it isn't too inconvenient. When the Peachums' daughter Polly runs off and marries Macheath, her parents are outraged, and they arrange for one of his many women to betray him to the police in the hope of seeing him hanged. The dialogue is cynical, mocking all conventional ideas about love, compassion, decency and justice, and the play's structure is mocking, too, challenging the theater of Brecht's time by deliberately reminding the audience that what they're watching is an artifact and not a representation of reality, and that any idea of empathy with the characters is absurd. But the songs account in large part for this show's popularity. They're amazing: jazz-inflected, alternately melodic and raucous, sometimes accompanied by a thumping hurdy-gurdy beat. The trouble with this production is that the director doesn't seem to have decided on any specific interpretation: There's a raggedy quality to the show, and it could clearly have used a couple more weeks of rehearsal in addition to a firmer directorial hand. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through October 21, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, Reviewed September 13.

The Value of Names. As the play opens, a father and daughter are seated on the patio of an opulent Malibu home overlooking the ocean. Benny is a brilliant Jewish comic who lost his livelihood and reputation during the Red Scare of the 1950s — though he has now come back to achieve a measure of fame and wealth. Norma is an actress who has just been cast in an interesting new play, one that could help make her career. Everything comes to a head when the director of her play becomes ill and is replaced by Leo, the man who betrayed her father thirty years ago. Leo visits the house in Malibu to persuade Norma to continue in the role. Benny confronts him. Arguments — two-sided, three-sided — ensue. Periodically, Norma steps out of the action to provide narration. This could make for a rather static format, except that the characters are interesting, and Benny is often very funny in that warmly humorous Borscht Belt style. The issues the play explores remain intensely relevant. Will Benny forgive Leo, and should he? Playwright Jeffrey Sweet never quite tips his hand here, though he makes it clear that Benny's enduring bitterness probably caused his divorce and continues to distort and vex his daughter's life. The problem is that Leo never asks for forgiveness or admits even obliquely that he's done anything wrong. It says a lot for the play, as well as for Richard Pegg's intelligent and meticulous direction, that Sweet's questions keep the audience both emotionally and intellectually engaged through an intriguing ninety minutes. Produced by Theatre Or and the Mizel Arts and Culture Center through November 4, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-316-6360, Reviewed September 27.

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