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. 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 production and because the play explores one of the great crimes of the twentieth century. Presented through February 21 by Bas Bleu Theatre Company, 216 Pine Street, Fort Collins, 1-970-498-8949, www.basblue.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.
John Brown's Body. John Brown's Body isn't exactly a play. It's an adaptation of Stephen Vincent Benet's famous 1928 epic poem about the Civil War. There's chanting and singing. Actors are sometimes specific characters, and they sometimes serve as narrators. Some incidents represent self-contained vignettes, while others involve the unfolding of a particular character's story. The famous make their appearances -- John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, General Robert E. Lee -- and they mingle with fictional people. What is explored in some depth is the war itself. John Brown's Body has many themes, first among them the unadulterated evil of slavery. There's also the decisive effect one strong-willed person can have on history, the horror of war, the transcendent power of love, the meaning of nationhood. We understand from this text how subtle, murky and ultimately incomprehensible history is. The cast is stunning, and Larry Delinger's multifaceted music plays a huge role in the evening's success. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through February 28. The Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed February 12.
Visiting Mr. Green. In and off itself, 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 understanding 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. 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.
The Women. The Women concerns a group of obscenely wealthy matrons, gossiping, getting their nails done, clawing for advantage and attempting to destroy each other. Mary, who has thought herself happily married, finds out that her husband is cheating on her with the silent knowledge and assent of her supposed friend, Sylvia. After a period of sorrow, she learns that she must sharpen her claws to get him back. The Women has been hailed by some reviewers as witty, even brilliant, but the play contains only one joke: the natural hatred women supposedly feel for each other. At the Arvada Center, the sets are well-designed and ingeniously mounted on a revolving stage. The costumes are fun, and it's interesting to pick out the actresses one has seen in more satisfying local vehicles. But by the end of the evening, the main feeling one is left with is a sense of nausea at the sourness of the script. Presented by the Arvada Center through February 22, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200, www.arvadacenter.org. Reviewed February 12.
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