Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage. Flaming Guns is a manic, farcical take on the myth of the West mixed with a large dollop of gothic horror. It's also a genuinely clever, funny and outrageous script. Bits and pieces of things you've seen before float to the surface: scenes from Roseanne, echoes of old Westerns, rodeo lore, hints of Sweeney Todd -- but nothing ever goes where you think it will, and as a result, your fascinated attention never leaves the stage. OpenStage Theatre is currently giving Flaming Guns a spirited, hilarious, balls-out (pun intended) production. The action takes place in the kitchen of Big Eight, a onetime rodeo star whose property is about to be foreclosed on. She makes her living healing young cowboys of their hurts and injuries, exacting sexual services and a silver belt buckle from each of them in return. The current beneficiary of her attentions is Rob Bob, an earnest, befuddled young charmer with a touching and unshakeable belief in the code of the West. He's got it all figured out: He's the white hat; any enemy he encounters is a black hat; and the girl he falls in love with (at first sight, naturally) has to be the local schoolmarm, even if she turns out to be in actuality a spike-haired, multi-pierced little spitfire dubbed Shedevil. All in all, a bloody good time. Presented by OpenState Theatre and Company through March 20, Lincoln Center Mini-Theatre, 417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins, 970-221-6730, www.openstagetheatre.org. Reviewed February 26.
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Meshuggah Nuns. Meshuggah Nuns is the kind of show that seems to have no real reason for being. It's inoffensive and even amusing in spots, but it also feels like something created for the sole purpose of filling up time on stage -- and in a world full of musicals with witty scripts and beautiful or sophisticated songs, it's unclear why any company would waste time on it. There are songs, puns and a lot of Jewish-Catholic jokes, many of them pretty standard. The Country Dinner Theatre production is tight and clean, and the cast so talented that they almost manage to pull the evening off. Presented by the Country Dinner Playhouse through March 14, 6875 South Clinton Street, Greenwood Village, 303-799-1410, www.countrydinnerplayhouse.com. Reviewed January 29.
True West. True West tells the story of two brothers and the fratricidal struggle they wage in the home that their mother has left empty while she goes on vacation. Austin, a screenwriter on the edge of his first big break, is working on a script. His brother, Lee, has dropped in uninvited. Lee is a drunken, pitbull-fighting, desert-wandering, thieving cowboy who wanders around the house bragging, swilling booze and making Austin's work impossible. The ultimate indignity occurs when Lee corrals the producer Austin has lined up and gets him to back his own barely formed, inarticulate concept of a script -- and, in the process, to abandon Austin's movie. The trouble is, Lee needs Austin's skills if he's to complete his project, and Austin is in no mood to cooperate. By the time the brothers have played out their murderous rivalry, their mother's kitchen is filled with stolen toasters and her tidy home is in shambles. The play is open to various interpretations. Some critics have seen it as an exploration of two competing models of American manhood, but it is also about sibling rivalry at its rawest and most primal. Lee and Austin are also, in some sense, the same person, representations of dual aspects of Sam Shepard's own psyche. Denver Repertory's production of True West succeeds because of the intense performances of David C. Riley and Robert Kramer as the brothers, though the entire production could have been more cleanly focused. Presented by the Denver Repertory Theatre through March 13, the Raven's Nest, 1425 West 13th Avenue, 720-839-4913. Reviewed February 26.
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. 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.
Waiting for Godot. Director Mare Trevathan Philpott works with an immediacy and clarity of vision that clears away the crust of time, fashion, opinion and academic analysis and lets us see the play's white bones -- and what a solid and extraordinary pattern they make. Godot has its roots in the theater of the absurd. Two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon meet daily in some indefinable place. They are waiting for Godot. The bickering, games, angry flare-ups and moments of sentiment with which they pass the time are interrupted by the entrance of Pozzo, who is leading the ironically named Lucky by a rope. Philpott has cast two excellent actors, Gary Culig and Brett Aune, as Vladimir and Estragon. Culig's Estragon is the sloppier of the two tramps, playful, sulky, gleefully malicious, wearing a loud checked jacket and a tie with huge circles spinning on it. As Vladimir, Brett Aune is almost dapper, pecking about the stage like a bird, a spry little figure in a neat black suit. Many productions of Godot are heavy and portentous. Culig and Aune are hilarious, however, and the dialogue feels swift and precise. And then, at the end, absolutely heartbreaking. Presented by the Bug Theatre through March 20, 3654 Navajo Street, 303-477-9984, www.bugtheatre.org. Reviewed March 4.