84, Charing Cross Road. A fascination with the life of old books provides a lot of the charm of this play, which is based on the correspondence between New York writer Helene Hanff and Frank Doel, a London bookseller. In the early letters, she simply inquired about out-of-print books and kvetched about the difficulty of translating bills written in pounds, shillings and pence to dollars. Doel, ever affable and self-effacing, responded. Over twenty years, the two shared their understanding of books as treasures. In every other way, Hanff and Doel were hugely different. She was brash, loud and funny, he painstakingly polite. But clearly, the vigor and wit of her observations delighted him, just as his understated responses did her. Hanff planned a visit to London but, perpetually broke, kept putting it off. By the time she finally arrived in the city, Frank had died. Unavoidably, since it's based on letters, the play sometimes feels static or repetitive, but it builds to a touching and unsentimental ending, and Germinal has mounted an engaging production. Presented by Germinal Stage Denver through October 10, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 303-455-7108, www.germinalstage.com. Reviewed September 16.
Heaven Help Us. This musical about the Rat Pack boasts a terrific group of performers -- skilled and authoritative, all of them in fine voice. Unfortunately, the vehicle that should be showcasing their talents isn't worthy of them. Frank Sinatra and his pals are sent to earth on New Year's Eve, 1999, to save Vic, a young man who's about to commit suicide. When Vic was a kid, Sinatra listened to the youngster sing and declared him a serious talent. Having raised the boy's hopes and expectations, Ol' Blue Eyes never re-entered his life. The most entertaining scenes occur when Frank, Sammy and Dino occupy human bodies in order to carry out their task of redemption. A drunken Texas millionaire becomes Sinatra, a taxi driver morphs into Martin, and the spirit of Sammy Davis steals the shape of bartender Bobby -- who happens to be white, but is also, unlike the converted Davis, genuinely Jewish. Ultimately, though, the plot is thrown on stage and then abandoned, and the musical numbers are frustrating. You keep waiting for the moment when the singer will stop being interrupted -- or interrupting himself with lame asides. Unfortunately, it never happens. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through October 3, Buell Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed September 23.
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 November 14, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed June 17.
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 -- amid rumors of confiscated passports and concentration camps being planned for Communist sympathizers -- 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 -- American in that eccentric, outspoken, wise and wily way that no citizen of another country could imitate. (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.
The Wall of Water. Playwright Sherry Kramer is a comic talent to watch. This play is farcical, swift and funny, but it touches on all kinds of major themes: madness and healing, naming and identity, anger and affection. It questions the existence of suffering and answers our yearning for religion by providing an onstage god -- a doctor transformed into a deity because he ate a dish prepared by a madwoman. The whole thing is a festering, bubbling, candy-colored stew of passion, confusion and wildly clashing desires. The plot: Four women live in a large, rent-controlled New York apartment. Meg wants to kill Wendi, who's mad; Judy is an allergist who believes we're all allergic to each other. Denice is probably the smartest of the four, but she's decided to live as a party girl and to sleep only with men whose photographs turn up in the New York Times. In the second act, the men appear, and the shenanigans get wilder. The pacing of the production feels a little off, but the acting is exuberant. Presented by Hunger Artists Ensemble Theatre through October 9 at the LIDA Project, 2180 Stout Street, 303-893-5438, www.hungerartists.org. Reviewed September 16.
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