Anything Goes. When the work of a knowing sophisticate like Cole Porter is staged at an old-fashioned venue like this, what it loses in nuance, it gains in good nature and high-octane -- if sometimes mindless -- energy. Not that there's much nuance to Anything Goes. The show is a trifle, intended primarily to showcase Porter's songs, and the nugatory plot serves only to get a cast of stock characters on board an ocean liner headed for England. There's the pretty debutante; her charming, resourceful young suitor; a small-time crook who wishes he were big-time, though he really wouldn't hurt a fly; the sex-shy English lord; and, of course, the Ethel Merman role: the broad with a great big belt. On a certain level, this production is fun. The cast is seasoned, and conductor-keyboardist Wendell L. Vaughn comes up with a good sound. No one's voice is a knockout, but most are decent, and a couple are better than that. Porter's songs -- "You're the Top," "It's Delovely," "Friendship," "Anything Goes" -- still hold their charm, though it's unfortunate that no one ever stands still for a second during a musical number or pauses long enough for a phrase to register. Presented by the Country Dinner Playhouse through November 14, 6875 South Clinton Street, Greenwood Village, 303-799-1410, www.countrydinnerplayhouse.com. Reviewed October 7.
The Tale of the Allergist's Wife. This play starts like a slightly-more-eccentric-than-usual sitcom, starring one of television's most recognizable types, the kvetchy, Jewish New Yorker -- a kind of older and more depressed Rhoda Morgenstern. Here Rhoda is called Marjorie, and she's saddled with a doctor husband who ignores her while taking care of the poor and appearing on television shows with titles like The Good Walk Among Us. She also has a bitter mother, an enigmatic long-lost best friend and an Arab doorman. Marjorie's pretty funny, a sort of stick with a mop of frizzy hair who weeps, hurls herself onto the furniture in her bathrobe, dissects Nadine Gordimer and laments the book that she herself never got around to finishing. It's hard to tell whether we're supposed to sympathize while we laugh at her or whether she's intended as pure caricature. By the second act, having sketched in his characters and had some pretty hilarious jokes at their expense, playwright Charles Busch appears to have lost his way. There are some muddled plot twists, and then Marjorie gives a big speech about her little family that sounds as if the playwright is reaching for a pat happy ending, one that negates all the acerbic wit that's gone before. Presented by the Theatre Group through November 20, Theatre on Broadway, 13 South Broadway, 303-777-3292, www.theatregroup.org. Reviewed October 7.
The Fourth Wall. Playwright A.R. Gurney is angry. He considers the Bush administration a disaster; he condemns its boneheaded policies, its indifference to the plight of the poor, its pre-emptive war on Iraq. But Gurney is a kind-spirited, bourgeois, WASP kind of guy, and in this play, his anger is expressed through humor, metaphor, the protagonist's rather gentle reproaches and -- believe it or not -- the songs of Cole Porter. And it's all the more effective for that. Peggy, a middle-class housewife, is so distressed at the direction her country is taking that she redecorates her living room. She turns all the furnishings to face one wall -- the "fourth wall" -- in the theater, the invisible one that separates us from the actors. This blank barrier has a significant effect on everyone in the play. Husband Roger calls in an old friend, Julia, to assess the situation, and something happens to Julia and Roger. They preen; they begin to act. Pretty soon, Julia is trying to either invent or discover the plot line. Peggy remains convinced that she can break through the wall into a reality larger than her circumscribed life. The play is propelled as much by the author's fascination with theater -- what it is, what it can be, its limitations -- as by his political concerns, though ultimately, of course, the two themes mesh. A satisfying production of a funny, thought-provoking play. Presented by Nomad Theatre through November 7, 1410 Quince Avenue, Boulder, 303-774-4037, www.nomadstage.com. Reviewed September 23.
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.
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