Beast on the Moon. The year is 1921. Aram Tomasian, a survivor of the 1915 massacre of Armenians by the Turks, is trying to make a life for himself in Milwaukee. He has bought himself a picture bride, a fifteen-year-old orphan called Seta. Aram is young, but rigid and traditional in his thinking, and the trauma he's endured has only intensified these tendencies. He keeps a photograph of his murdered family on the wall, with the faces cut out, and is determined that he and Seta will fill these blank spaces by producing "life after life after life." The newly arrived Seta is lively and irrepressible, but she's also a frightened child, clinging to the doll her mother gave her. The tone of the first act is fresh and original. It trembles between humor and horror: We fear for the vulnerable Seta, but we can't really hate poor, damaged Aram for his blind insistence on his marriage rights. The second act brings the play's big, emotional climax, but it doesn't have the power of the first act. Still, Beast on the Moon is well worth seeing, both on its own merits as a moving and finely acted production. Presented through February 21 by Bas Bleu Theatre Company, 216 Pine Street, Fort Collins, 1-970-498-8949, www.basbleu.org. Reviewed February 5.
Bright Ideas. Bright Ideas is about a couple who will do anything to get their toddler into the best kindergarten in town. This could be a vacuous sitcom premise, but for the most part it's attacked with savage humor, leavened by moments of dazed empathy. Genevra and Joshua were nice enough people, after all, before cultural pressure and their own concept of what good parenting required drove them to insanity. The couple's only son, Matt, was signed up for the Bright Ideas school on the day of his birth. As the play opens, he's almost four, and first on the waiting list. By the end of the play, Genevra is knee-deep in blood and Joshua is a drunk, mad, sleepwalking mess (references to Macbeth are intentional). The story is told in a series of wickedly cartoonish scenes, and it makes for a hilarious evening of theater. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through February 21, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curiousATacoma.com. Reviewed January 15.
Fucking A. Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks has set Fucking A in a bleak dystopia where Hester Smith, who does the hated and necessary work of providing abortions, is branded like Nathaniel Hawthorne's Hester Prynne with a large red A -- except that Smith's brand continually seeps and reeks. Smith has been condemned to her profession as penance for a crime committed by her son. When he was very small, hunger drove him to steal food from the rich couple she worked for. Now he's in prison, and she's trying to earn his freedom. As the years pass, his list of crimes grows endlessly, and she can never earn enough. This is a cold-eyed and amoral world in which misery is so universal that no one has time for such niceties as reason and compassion. The rich exploit the poor; the poor hate the rich; there's no such thing as justice, and anything at all can be a crime. The LIDA Project has done well by this extraordinary play, and Lisa Mumpton brings a powerful sense of conviction to the pivotal role of Hester. Presented by the LIDA Project through February 21, 2180 Stout Street, 303-282-0466, www.lida.org. Reviewed January 29.
Mercy of a Storm. It's New Year's Eve, 1945, and an elegantly dressed couple shares champagne in the pool house of a country club. They are George and Zanovia, a divorcing couple, who fight, argue about money, regret the past and think about reuniting. This is an exploration of a marriage riven by issues of age and class, a gentle play, with a patina of sophistication and moments of humor. There are little puzzles throughout, and some surprising answers to those puzzles. Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher's dialogue is craftsmanlike, and both characters are likable even if they're not deep or sharply delineated. As you watch, you find yourself rooting quite sincerely for the characters, but you don't think about their predicament once you've left the theater. Presented through February 15, the Aurora Fox Arts Center, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora, 303-361-2910. Reviewed January 22.
A Streetcar Named Desire. At the beginning of Streetcar, Blanche Dubois, a faded Southern belle who has lost the family estate, arrives at the home of her sister Stella in New Orleans's French Quarter. The Quarter is a near-mythical place to Williams, sultry and hot, evocative of both sensuality and death. Stella is living in a haze of blissful eroticism with her working-class husband, Stanley, a sexy lout who's violent and tender by turns. Blanche is horrified by her brother-in-law. Stanley is infuriated by Blanche's pretensions. There's a vicious dynamic of attraction and repulsion between these two damaged but seductive people. The cast is talented, but much of the direction of this all-black production is ill-conceived. The most glaring problem is Kim Staunton's unsympathetic performance as Blanche Dubois. Terrence Riggins creates a Stanley who's entirely original -- a bit of a goof, albeit a dangerous one. January LaVoy is a lovely, gentle Stella. Overall, it's hard to see how so much talent in the service of such an evocative play could go so wrong. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through February 14, Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed January 22.
Visiting Mr. Green. Jeff Baron's play is a slight one, but meticulous production values and Ben Hammer's rich and grounded interpretation of the title character make it soar. A young business executive is ordered by a judge to pay weekly visits to the old man he almost hit with his car. He's annoyed at the obligation, and the befuddled, angry old man doesn't want him around anyway. But the judge is adamant. We all have some sense of what will happen next. These unlikely people will come to know each other, acquire mutual respect and form some kind of bond. But the devil -- and God -- is in the details. Though the dialogue feels flat at first, things soon become genuinely interesting, even mildly surprising. We're treated to insight, humor derived from real, gritty human foibles and a deeply touching ending. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through March 27, The Jones Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed February 5.
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