Capsule reviews of current shows
The Eyes of Babylon. Jeff Key is an ex-Marine — a man devoted to the idea of patriotism and service to his country — whose homosexuality represents a deep part of his psyche. He left the service in part because of the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, but also because he had come to see the entire Iraq War as immoral and dishonest. How was it, he wondered on his return, that everyone in the States seemed to know there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, yet his buddies were still risking their lives in the desert searching for them? A true-blue Marine who knew nothing about the world at large but did know he disliked French people and hated Michael Moore, Key learned about 9/11 through a phone call from his mother. He knew she was wishing she could protect him from the coming war, even as she relied on his soldierly protection of her and his family. This idea of protection runs deep in Key. The first image of his piece shows his mother — who could be Everymother — tenderly cradling him as an infant. Once in Iraq, he takes very seriously his responsibilities toward his fellow Marines. He fears for Iraqi civilians, and even worries about the starving dog he sees foraging for food for her pups. He knows the dog won't make it if she's noticed by certain of his fellow soldiers, men he's nicknamed the Cruels, and indeed she doesn't. The Eyes of Babylon isn't war porn; you don't get a slew of blood and horror stories, though there are some distressing images. Key spent only a couple of months in Iraq before being flown back to the States because of a non-combat-related medical crisis. But he has a keen eye and a poet's sensibility as well as an ironic sense of humor, and he saw a great deal. He relates his observations with a quiet honesty that's very compelling. He tells us about desert heat, daily discomfort, Army food, loneliness and companionship. He grieves for the death of a fellow soldier. He describes the Iraqis he met and attempted to communicate with. Through Key, we realize what we should have already known — that beneath the cliches we associate with the word Marine (the tough guy who loves to kill; the scared kid pretending to be tough), there are a group of true individuals. Also, that war changes those people irreparably, and it should never be undertaken without the deepest soul-searching and the cleanest of motives. Presented by Theatre on Broadway and American Junction Productions through September 14, 721 Santa Fe Drive, 303-309-3773, www.theatregroup.org, www.theeyesofbabylon.com. Reviewed August 28.
Retro Loud. The latest in a series of Loud shows that started ten years ago, Retro Loud is a compendium of songs based on the thinnest of plots. What keeps these evenings of oldies entertaining is the dual focus the cast brings to the material: Almost every number is a total spoof, utilizing cheap wigs, cheesy costumes, hamming, guys in drag. But you can also tell that the company members have picked numbers they really love, and their choreography and musicianship are strong. The beginnings of these Heritage Square shows are usually raggedy and low-key, so the tightness and precision of the musical works can be startling. It's like watching a high-school talent show — except with amazingly talented high-schoolers. Presented by Heritage Square Music Hall through September 14, 18301 West Colfax Avenue, Golden, 303-279-7800, www.hsmusichall.com. Reviewed August 28.
Twelve Angry Men. The characters are straight-up '50s stereotypes: the wishy-washy adman; the mindless sports fanatic; the pathetic old guy whose life is lonely and filled with regret; the onetime slum kid; the paranoid racist; the Eastern European immigrant — Jewish, no doubt — who, bearing the heavy weight of his own history on his shoulders, shows a deeper respect for this country's principles and ideals than most Americans do; and, of course, the loudmouth with the hair-trigger temper whose rage is just a cover for the grief and loss roiling in his chest, a man we know will end up repentant and in tears. But even though it's dated, the play is intelligent and well-crafted, with a plot that clicks along nicely. And you can't really fault Reginald Rose, who wrote the original TV script, or Sherman Sergel, who adapted it, for being prisoners of their times; every one of us is. Twelve Angry Men makes some points that are as valid today as they ever were. In a hot room around a long table, a group of jurors meets to decide the fate of a sixteen-year-old on trial for the murder of his father. We're never told the kid's race, but he seems to be black. Eleven of the jurors believe in his guilt; only Juror 8 feels doubt, and he insists on examining the evidence piece by painstaking piece. The men argue, yell and sometimes threaten each other, and the play becomes an examination of character. This is a clean, skillful production by Spotlight Theatre Company, now at home in the John Hand Theater; the cast members work well both individually and as an ensemble. The result is a crime procedural as entertaining as an episode of Law & Order, only smarter, more tightly constructed and better intentioned. Presented by Spotlight Theatre Company through September 27, John Hand Theater, 7653 East First Place, Lowry, 720-880-8727, www.thisspotlight.org. Reviewed September 4. — Juliet Wittman
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Denver art and theater scene.