Art. Art begins and ends with an all-white painting -- or an empty canvas, depending on how you look at it. Serge, a wealthy dermatologist, has just invested 200,000 francs (about $40,000) in this painting, which features diagonal white lines on a white background. His friend, Marc, is appalled at Serge's gullibility and extravagance. The two men argue bitterly, and then Marc is off to Yvan's apartment to discuss the matter with him. You think at first that this will be a play about modern art, but the play is really more about friendship. Serge's canvas becomes the blank background against which the men's neuroses, insecurities, affectations and irritations are highlighted. This production, directed by Peter Anthony, features three very good performances. Presented by Nomad Theatre through March 27, 1410 Quince Avenue, Boulder, 303-774-4037. Reviewed March 11.
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.
Hi-Hat Hattie. Hi-Hat Hattie tells the story of Hattie McDaniel, the irrepressible character actress of the 1930s and '40s, who voiced the lines of Aunt Jemima for radio pancake commercials and won an Oscar for her portrayal of Mammy in Gone With the Wind. Embodied by the luminous Sheryl Renee, Hattie tells her story: early successes, alternating with jobs doing laundry or tending the ladies' room; a role in Show Boat opposite the legendary Paul Robeson; glittering parties thrown for such friends as Bette Davis, Clark Gable, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh -- not one of whom spoke up for her when she was forced to miss the premiere of Gone with the Wind in Atlanta because she wasn't allowed into the theater. And then came attacks by the NAACP, alleging that McDaniel's portrayals were degrading. Renee makes it all work. She's a fine actress and an amazing vocalist. Above all, it's the songs that keep Hi-Hat Hattie afloat. Presented by the Aurora Fox through March 28, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, 303-361-2910. Reviewed March 11.
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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.