Alarms & Excursions. Alarms & Excursions is minor Michael Frayn, a series of comic finger pieces, but it can't help bearing the master's stamp. A group of eight playlets examines the role of technology in our lives and its impact on human communication. In the first, a friendly dinner is interrupted by a series of sounds: an unidentifiable "chink," rings and whistles, a recurring phone message in which a disembodied voice mumbles menacing things. At the same time, a complicated bottle opener baffles the host and ultimately lands one of the guests in the hospital. In the second skit, two couples inhabit adjoining, identical hotel rooms, hearing and mis-hearing each other's conversations, their misunderstandings exacerbated by the fact that one couple is working-class and the second more prosperous. Most of the pieces in the second act are mere sketches, but several are pretty amusing. The set at Nomad is painted in primary colors and ingeniously constructed, but the set changes add long minutes to an already long evening. The acting is uneven, too. All in all, though, a pleasant evening at the theater. With some tightening up, it could be a delightful one. Presented by Nomad Theatre through June 26, 1410 Quince Avenue, Boulder, 303-774-4037, www.nomadstage.com. Reviewed May 6.
Impulse Theater. Basements and comedy go together like beer and nuts or toddlers and sandboxes. The basement of the Wynkoop Brewery where Impulse Theater performs is crowded, loud and energetic. Impulse does no prepared skits, nothing but pure improv -- which means that what you see changes every night, and so does the team of actors. These actors set up and follow certain rules and frameworks; they rely on audience suggestions to get these scenes going or to vary the action. Your level of enjoyment depends a lot on whether or not you like the players. Charm is a factor, and so is the ability to take risks. Fortunately, the performers are clever and fast on their feet, willing to throw themselves into the action but never betraying tension or anxiety, perfectly content to shrug off a piece that isn't coming together. The show is funny when the actors hit a groove, but equally funny when they get stymied. So, in a way, the improvisers -- and the audience -- can't lose. Impulse Theater, ongoing run, Wynkoop Brewing Co., 18th and Wynkoop streets, 303-297-2111 or www.impulsetheater.com. Reviewed June 3.
Metamorphoses. Mary Zimmerman's play is a sometimes ironic and sometimes respectful take on Ovid's work of the same name. The cast assembles around a granite pool -- a miracle of design and engineering at the Avenue Theater -- that can be anything from a backyard pool to the Greeks' dangerous wine-dark sea, a medium for death, birth, baptism and transformation. Actors act out the myths or narrate them, sometimes addressing the audience, sometimes each other. The gods they portray are pretty much like the rest of us, vain or large-spirited, compassionate or cruel. Zimmerman may deserve all the praise she's earned for Metamorphoses, but the most powerful scenes rely on the words of Ovid and poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Still, Metamorphoses is a seductive combination of lighthearted pleasure and resonant, powerful theme. Presented by the Avenue Theater through August 29, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed June 17.
Old Times. There isn't a linear plot to Old Times, but there is a series of events propelled by recognizable human impulses. Deeley and Kate are a long-married couple living in a converted farmhouse in the country. Deeley is more fascinated by Kate than she is by him, or perhaps his curiosity has been aroused by a pending visit from Kate's old friend, Anna. Anna, now married and living in Italy, is a vital, sensual woman. No sooner has she arrived than she begins competing with Deeley for Kate's attention. What we witness is a power struggle, with sex as a weapon in the service of something even more elemental, and the locus of power constantly shifting between the three characters. Director Cathy Reinking has assembled a fascinating cast, and this is a chilling, brain-teasing production. Presented by the Bas Bleu Theatre Company through June 26, 216 Pine Street, Fort Collins, 970-498-8949, www.basbleu.org. Reviewed May 27.
Saints and Hysterics. Although there's a lot in Tracy Shaffer Witherspoon's play about estrogen, birth, mothers and daughters, women in myth and the way society sees women, Saints and Hysterics is neither self-righteous nor ponderous. It has a swift, translucent quality and a leavening of humor, and the playwright's language is a pleasure to listen to. But by the second act, the problems of dramaturgy are clear. While a lot of dramatic things happen, they are never fully explored, and they don't drive the action. It's as if Witherspoon found the idea of femaleness so compelling that she relied on that alone to provide the necessary focus and unity for her story. Still, Carolyn Valentine and Emily Paton Davies give appealing performances. Presented by Paragon Theatre Company through June 26, Phoenix Theatre, 1124 Santa Fe Drive, 303-300-2210, www.paragontheatre.com. Reviewed June 10.
Cirque du Soleil: Varekai. Again and again, Cirque du Soleil's Varekai puts you in that state of enjoyment where you're not even capable of thought; you're just watching, breath suspended, wanting what you're seeing to go on forever. Everything one associates with Cirque is here -- the artful settings and costumes, the pulse-quickening, evocative music, the sometimes half-baked mythologizing -- but the real point of Varekai is movement. The company routinely acquires the most gifted acrobats, circus performers, jugglers and contortionists in the world, and its acts are spectacular. But it isn't just the performers' daring and athleticism that astonishes; it's their perfectionism and artistry. Varekai provides an almost overwhelming feast of music, dance, visual inventiveness, humor, physical daring and pure pleasure. Presented by Cirque du Soleil through July 11, Grand Chapiteau tent on the grounds of the Pepsi Center, 1-800-678-5440, www.cirquedusoleil.com. Reviewed June 17.
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