Cabaret. Cabaret is grim and distressing, and there's not a hint of redemption anywhere in it. Quite the contrary. But this is a bloody good production, the kind of production that could -- and should -- attract all kinds of people who might never think of setting foot in a conventional dinner theater. Anyone, in fact, who responds viscerally to fantastic music, deft staging and vivid, emotionally honest performance. Cabaret is loosely based on English writer Christopher Isherwood's account of his life in Berlin between 1929 and 1933. It centers on Sally Bowles, a singer who lives on charm, manipulation, willful eccentricity and the distribution of sexual favors, and her affair with an American writer. There's a second love story involving a middle-aged landlady and a Jewish grocer who brings her fruit. But the show's heart lies in the decadent Kit-Kat Klub, where a leering, epicene Emcee oversees all the acts. In time, as the shadow of fascism deepens, he seems to oversee the entire city of Berlin as well. Presented by Boulder Dinner Theatre through November 7, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.theatreinboulder.com. Reviewed July 15.
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 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. 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 November 14, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed June 17.
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The Play's the Thing. This Fort Collins theater company always walks a thin line between professional and community theater, and The Play's the Thing definitively falls on the community side. The script, by Ferenc Molnár, is talky and somewhat dated, and the central situation is insufficiently risqué for the genre. If the play is to succeed at all, it requires deft direction, stylish sets and costumes and highly assured performances. Although it has some hilarious moments, the OpenStage production lacks these elements. Presented by OpenStage Theatre & Company through September 18, Lincoln Center Mini-Theatre, 417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins, 1-970-221-6730, www.openstagetheatre.org. Reviewed September 2.
2nd Annual Summer One-Act Festival. These one-acts about the dramatic process itself are witty, playful and fun to watch, and they work well with each other. In Aaron Sorkin's Hidden in This Picture, a director is wrapping up a medium-budget movie. He has already sacrificed his original vision to the moneymen, and now he's down to the final shot, a long take that he hopes will restore his artistic reputation. His hopes are frustrated when three cows wander onto the scene. The Guest Lecturer is more absurd and over-the-top. A small regional theater, unable to sustain itself by staging the usual shows, hits on the device of inviting a series of guest lecturers and killing them, one by one, as sacrifices. Eventually, the cast abandons all pretense of sustaining an illusion, and the play devolves into a series of pranks. The Guest Lecturer could use pruning, but it's very funny. Presented by Miners Alley through September 19, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, www.minersalley.com. Reviewed September 2.
Three Ways Home. At the beginning of this play, Sharon, a white career woman, has volunteered at a social-services agency. She's assigned to visit Dawn, an African-American welfare recipient suspected of abusing her four children. Sharon's opening monologues are wittily incisive as she introduces us to her privileged world and wonders just what she's gotten herself into. Then we witness Dawn's first angry monologue and wonder the same thing. The tension builds as the women's first meeting approaches. Meanwhile, Dawn's sixteen-year-old son, Frankie, is clearly in trouble, retreating more and more into a lost, angry world in which he fantasizes about the X-Men and hustles his body for money. Playwright Casey Kurtti gets some things right, but she also gets crucial elements wrong. Dawn and Sharon's friendship isn't entirely believable, and the character of Frankie is so oddly written that you wonder if Kurtti has ever known a real sixteen-year-old boy. Finally, the climax is melodramatic and unconvincing. Presented by Shadow Theatre Company through September 25, Ralph Waldo Emerson Center, 1420 Ogden Street, 303-837-9355, www.shadowtheatre.com. Reviewed September 2.
Trumbo: Red, White & Blacklisted. Dalton Trumbo was a member of the Hollywood Ten, a group of writers whose careers were ruined during the McCarthy era because they stood up to the House Un-American Activities Committee. After his bluntly hilarious non-cooperative session with the committee -- re-enacted here -- Trumbo could no longer get work in Hollywood. He spent ten months in prison, and upon his release he went into exile in Mexico. There he eked out a living selling screenplays to be produced under other writers' names. Clearly, this production is in part a response to current threats to civil liberties. Jamie Horton is simply magnificent in the title role. (In the coming weeks, other actors will play the role of Trumbo.) The political elements are the play's primary strength, but there are other gems: a lecture aimed at a tradesman Trumbo feels has overcharged him; a hilarious description of the proper way to criticize a novel (which should ensure that the novelist will never write again). Best of all is a missive about masturbation that Trumbo sent to his son at college. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through October 23, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed September 9.