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Angels in America: Part I: Millennium Approaches. Tony Kushner's Angels in America is a complex, seven-hour masterwork about the lives of two couples and one quintessentially evil historical figure, and the inextricable way in which politics, history and private life intertwine. There's also an angel, along with other supernatural and hallucinatory manifestations. In Part I: Millennium Approaches, she's constantly threatening to erupt into the action until, with a great crash, she does. The play starts with a rabbi speaking over the coffin of an elderly Jewish woman, an immigrant from Russia, who "carried the old world on her back" to America and bequeathed it to her descendants. Journeying is a key theme in Angels, as is Jewishness. Louis, a secular Jew who nonetheless identifies strongly with his people, leaves his AIDS-ravaged lover, Prior, and is tormented by guilt. Roy Cohn, the prosecutor whose sleazy machinations ensured Ethel and Julius Rosenberg's 1953 execution, is a different kind of Jew altogether: a blustering bully who feels no guilt because he's essentially rootless, loosed from all the bonds and norms of his own culture. When Cohn develops AIDS, however, his agony is witnessed by Ethel Rosenberg herself, a nice Jewish mother returned from the dead. The AIDS epidemic is front and center in Angels (which is set in the 1980s) and fuels a sense of impending apocalypse. The break-up of Prior and Louis is paralleled by the troubles of a second couple, Joe and the pill-popping, hallucinating Harper, both of them Mormons. Despite its serious themes, Angels in America is actually almost cozy, filled with the familiar rhythms of gay and Jewish New York humor, and director Laura Jones has assembled an excellent and sometimes inspired cast. Presented in rotation with Part II: Perestroika by Bas Bleu Theatre in collaboration with OpenStage Theatre and Company through November 20, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, 1-970-498-8949, www.basbleu.org. Reviewed October 21.

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.

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: shop owners and professionals and scientists and parents and college students out on a date. 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.

Dirty Story. John Patrick Shanley's play is an allegory about the struggle between Israel and Palestine. It begins, however, as an urbane treatise on writing and the function of narrative, as an eager young graduate student, Wanda, interrogates Brutus, an older writer she admires -- one of those writers who has had a brilliant career, but done nothing worthwhile in years -- about his opinion on her novel. That interrogation morphs into a sadomasochistic sexual relationship. Wanda tells Brutus she has never been able to settle down anywhere because her roommates always dislike her, and she dreams of a permanent home. Brutus tricks Wanda into donning a blond curly wig so she'll look like Pearl White in The Perils of Pauline, and then he pounces, tying her up and threatening her with a chainsaw. All of a sudden, a great lolloping cowboy tromps to the rescue. "Call me Israel," Wanda says, pointing the cowboy's gun at Brutus's head. From now on, Brutus and Wanda will struggle for control, each asserting a historic claim to the apartment. Dirty Story begins with the stories Israelis and Palestinians tell themselves about who they are and their place in the world, and ends up with devils cavorting on the stage as the two protagonists are locked in endless battle. Expertly staged, acted and directed, this is a hot, angry, wicked, funny play that keeps both your intellect and your emotions on the boil. There's no possible response but a howl of horrified laughter. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through November 13. Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis Streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed October 28.

 

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.

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. Joanne Greenberg's I Never Promised You a Rose Garden was published in 1964 as fiction, but in fact, described the author's own teenage struggle for sanity and the help she received from Dr. Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, herself a refugee from Nazi Germany. Dr. Fromm-Reichmann had strong theories about the practice of therapy; she avoided drugs and stressed human interaction. Walter L. Newton's dramatized version of the book is partly a protest against the contemporary overuse of pharmaceuticals. But it's hard to write a play where the only action is mental illness. You get screaming mad scenes; writhing figures representing the imaginary world of the protagonist, Deborah; therapy sessions; vignettes about Deborah's family. It's unclear what drove this girl over the edge -- a childhood surgery? The neighbors' anti-Semitism? A peculiar relationship with her father that had undertones of incest? The second act is better than the first and contains moments that connect, but overall the production is uninvolving. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through November 13, 1224 Washington Street, Golden, 303-935-3044, www.minersalley.com. Reviewed October 21.

Kafka on Ice. Franz Kafka is a melancholy figure, a Prague-dwelling German Czech, steeped in the history of his time, the creator of a dwindling, despairing art. His best-known works include a novel about a man tried for an act he doesn't even know has been committed. Another describes a castle from which it's impossible to escape. And then there's the long short story called The Metamorphosis, which begins, "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect." Kafka on Ice tells Kafka's story, about his fear of his overbearing father, his unhappy love life, his friendship with Max Brod, the way in which Gregor Samsa's predicament represents his own. But it also deals with the way a work like The Metamorphosis changes over time as it passes through the minds of friends, readers, critics, fellow writers, teachers, and tricksters like the gang at Buntport Theater. The story goes through several transmutations: It's played as farce, as an experiment with objects, as grinning, dancing musical comedy. The writer's meeting with his first love, Felice, is shown as a scene in a silent movie. She falls cutely about on the ice, while he, Chaplin-like, attempts to rescue her, all to the accompaniment of a plinking piano. This show is anything but Kafkaesque. It's lighthearted, giddy and goofy. It's safe to say that no one else -- anywhere -- is doing theater like this. Presented by Buntport Theater and alternating with Macblank through November 27, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, www.buntport.com. Reviewed October 14.

 

Macblank. This original comedy relies on the theatrical superstition that there's a curse on Shakespeare's Macbeth and those performing it are in danger of unknown catastrophe. It involves a company of five that's developing an experimental version of "The Scottish Play," and their curse is Beth, played by Erin Rollman, who's both the most superstitious and the most murderously ambitious member of the cast. The Buntporters are smart, inspired and highly original comics, and their audacity alone has the audience spluttering with laughter. The best monologue is delivered by Evan Weissman, who describes his childhood performing experiences in a meaningless mishmash of sense and sentiment that includes memories of his grandmother's gifts of packets of saccharin. But Buntport opened two shows in tandem this season, and Macblank shows signs of being hastily put together, more an extended comedy sketch -- albeit a sophisticated one -- than a play. Presented by Buntport Theater through November 27, alternating with Kafka on Ice, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, www.buntport.com. Reviewed October 28.

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, extended through November 14, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed June 17.

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.


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