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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.

Angels in America: Part II: Perestroika. She has a cosmology, the angel of this play. As we learn in the second part, she wants to hold back change and persuade Prior, the character whose struggle with AIDS has called her forth, that he must help her do it. God was driven out of heaven by the eternal restlessness of the human race, and she and her fellow angels long for His return. Angels explores the contrast between movement and immutability in several ways -- metaphorical, political, psychological. For Prior, the end of change can only mean death, and he isn't going for it. He wants more life, no matter how much grief and terror it brings. By the play's end, two miracles have occurred: Prior has acquired the drugs that will stave off his death, and AIDS has begun its uneven progression from a usually fatal disease to one that can be managed almost indefinitely. And Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev have met in Reykjavik, Iceland, and come close to an agreement on the elimination of nuclear stockpiles. Perestroika is directed by Terry Dodd and retains the same wonderful cast as the first half of the production. Presented in rotation with Part I: Millennium Approaches 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 November 4.

Boston Marriage. For the entire first act, Boston Marriage is pure enjoyment. It's light and fast, and the language is dizzyingly clever and cleverly self-punctuating. The plot concerns two nineteenth-century women who live together in an arrangement termed a "Boston marriage." One of them, Anna, has snared a rich lover who has given her an emerald necklace; his contributions will help the pair survive financially. Claire has news of her own. She's infatuated with a young woman. Through all this, Anna's fuddled and incompetent maid, Catherine, makes frequent appearances, bringing tea, interrupting the conversation, adding oddly unrelated thoughts of her own. The second act of Boston Marriage isn't nearly as entertaining as the first, primarily because Anna, Claire and Catherine aren't really fleshed-out characters, but agglomerations of words. Things do get a bit more interesting as the action builds toward the O. Henry-style mini-revelation of the ending, though for the most part the plot doesn't bear much scrutiny. The dialogue is lots of fun, however. You should see Boston Marriage for the lift and flow of the language and the vicious charm of the women -- Robin Moseley as the dry-tongued Claire, and Annette Helde in a tour de force performance as the witty, sulky, vivacious and oblivious Anna. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through December 23, the Jones Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed November 11.

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, oen-ended run, Wynkoop Brewing Co., 18th and Wynkoop streets, 303-297-2111 or www.impulsetheater.com. Reviewed June 3.

 

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.

The Long Christmas Ride Home. Paula Vogel's The Long Christmas Ride Home begins as a tart-tender look at an overworked topic: the way family dynamics become exacerbated, for good or ill, at Christmas time. The play's defining feature, the thing that should have lifted it from the banal to the revelatory, is the use of Japanese images and devices: Bunraku puppets; Japanese screens; stylized, dance-like movements; characters represented by silhouettes or shadow puppets and inhuman, instrumental sounds; the concept of a floating world in which earthly sensations are to be enjoyed because they are fleeting. A man and a woman are in a car on their way to the woman's parents' house for Christmas dinner. Their children, Rebecca, Claire and Stephen, sit in the back; they are represented by white-faced puppets. The father is dreaming of his mistress. The mother is contemplating a revenge affair. The children punctuate their squabbling with unexpectedly hard blows. Later, the actors playing the children shed their puppet selves, and each has a monologue outside a locked door which has a rejecting lover behind it. These are all pretty simplistic stories. Vogel is going for universality, a significance that goes beyond transient human action and individual psychology. As a work in progress, Ride is evocative, but the play ends up foundering in sentimentality. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through December 18, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed November 11.

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.

 

Menopause The Musical. Menopause The Musical is as much a phenomenon as a piece of theater. The plot is so fragile that even the cliche "whisper-thin" doesn't describe it. Four women -- no, four types -- meet at a lingerie sale at Bloomingdale's: Power Woman, Soap Star, Earth Mother and Iowa Housewife. They begin by bickering but discover that they have hot flashes, memory lapses and mood swings in common. They then proceed to sing parodies of iconic baby boomer songs. "Chain of Fools" becomes "Change, Change, Change"; the opening line of "Heat Wave" transforms into "I'm having a hot flash"; and, in one of the evening's most successful numbers, the women beg the doctor for Prozac to the tune of the Beach Boys' "Help Me, Rhonda." Most of the lyrics are not particularly clever, though "Good Vibrations" is put to hilarious use. For the most part, the show feels like a series of jingles advertising the possibility of a chipper menopause. The four actress-singers are all talented and give huge, vigorous performances, despite the fact that they are crudely and far too loudly miked. Presented by the New Denver Civic Theatre in an open-ended run, 721 Santa Fe Drive, 303-309-3773, www.denvercivic.com. Reviewed August 12.

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 January 2, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed June 17.

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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