Always...Patsy Cline. Always Patsy Cline is a light, mildly entertaining evening. You get an efficiently evocative set that's divided into three parts: a down-home apartment; an old-fashioned country bar, complete with jukebox; and, in the center, the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. There are two skilled singer-performers, one of them also a comic, working in front of a tight, professional group of musicians in cowboy hats. Bright, colored lights play over the scene, and audience participation -- clapping, whooping, singing along -- is encouraged, lubricated by beer, wine and martinis. This piece, adapted by Ted Swindley, is based on a real friendship between Patsy Cline and a fervent fan, Louise, but the singing is at the heart of the enterprise, and many of the songs are close to irresistible. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through March 27, Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed December 16.
Cats. This company does as good a job with Cats as one can imagine. The dancing, choreographed by Stephen Bertles, who also directed, is seamless. The cast is lithe and graceful. They slither like snakes. They leap high and land without a sound. They're wonderfully into character, batting at each other with kitty-cat paws, or hissing or rubbing a head lightly against a fellow actor's shoulder. The voices and performances are also fine, and there are a few good numbers, such as "Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer" and "Gus the Theatre Cat." There's also the T.S. Eliot factor: Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats is the dour old poet's most playful work. But this is still Andrew Lloyd Webber, the composer-impresario who arrived on the musical-theater scene like a soggy gray blanket, snuffing out any sparks of wit or originality and leaving in their place a huge, throbbing, manipulative, faintly ecclesiastical and unfocusedly ecstatic swamp of sentimentality. It's a swamp that snares these dancing kitties' feet, no matter how high they try to leap. Presented by Boulder Dinner Theatre through May 1, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-442-5671, www.theatreinboulder.com. Reviewed December 2.
The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? Martin is a famed architect whose home life is exemplary. He is happily married to the charming Stevie, and the two of them are dealing in an enlightened way with the recently revealed homosexuality of their seventeen-year-old son. But Martin has fallen in love with a goat named Sylvia. Pretty soon Stevie has found out and -- in one of the most extraordinary scenes in modern dramaturgy -- she careens from rage to helpless laughter, laughter to anguish, anguish to bitterness and all the way back to rage, breaking vases and furniture as she goes. And all the while, Martin insists that his love for Sylvia is real, and not only real but innocent, and not only innocent but beautiful. How does Edward Albee mean us to take all this? His play explores, or at least refers to, all the obvious angles, and he is clearly exploring boundaries: When is sex genuinely immoral? What sexual behavior is clearly beyond the pale? Often the dialogue swings wildly between hilarity and sorrow, but ultimately, The Goat functions exactly the way art is supposed to function -- jolting you out of your customary way of seeing things. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through February 26, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524. www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed January 20.
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. Presented by Impulse Theater in an open-ended run, Wynkoop Brewing Co., 18th and Wynkoop streets, 303-297-2111 or www.impulsetheater.com. Reviewed June 3.
Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. Jacques Brel was a Belgian singer-songwriter whose reputation took flight in the 1950s and '60s. His songs influenced, among others, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Sting and Bob Dylan, and they have been sung by such diverse artists as Frank Sinatra and Nina Simone. They're verbally and musically complex, sentimental and cynical, worldly wise and world-weary, celebratory, funny. Has anyone since Gilbert and Sullivan fit words and music together so cleverly? And has the world's seamy underside been so powerfully expressed in music since Brecht-Weill? The evening starts with "Marathon," a fast, infectiously rhythmic number that whirls us through the twentieth century, from the bathtub gin of the '20s to the Depression, from World War II to contemporary space travel. The lyrics evoke several of the evening's primary themes. Brel sings of the dark side of life, of greed, lust, rank smells, human perfidy and the sorrows of aging. But there is tenderness, redemption and giddy pleasure here as well. The musicians are first-rate. The four singers excel individually and harmonize well together. So put on your spats and your high-button shoes: This is everything cabaret should be. Presented by the Theatre Cafe in an open-ended run, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100. Reviewed November 25.
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A Lovely Sunday at Creve Coeur. This play contains all the well-known Tennessee Williams motifs -- the allusions to a universal and existential loneliness, the sense that the characters are trapped inside their own skins -- but though these strains add a familiar resonance, the characters haven't stepped from the pages of A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or Orpheus Descending. They're broadly drawn comic originals. And they're brought to pitch-perfect life by four of the Denver Center Theatre Company's best actresses. Creve Coeur was written toward the end of Williams's life, in 1978, but it is set during the Depression, when single women had few career choices and lived in constant fear of destitution. Williams was still examining the issues of class that had preoccupied him thirty years earlier in Streetcar -- the presumed vitality of the working class, the increasing irrelevance of educated, upper-class women. However, the working stiff is no longer represented by gorgeous, muscled Stanley Kowalski, but by an offstage character called Buddy, a fat German who likes sausages and beer, as well as by Buddy's equally zaftig sister, Bodey, who bustles about the apartment she shares with schoolteacher Dorothea and plots to bring Buddy and Dorothea together. And there's another basic difference. Stanley was seductive, but he was also a vicious destroyer. Buddy and Bodey are good-hearted; they represent life, maybe even salvation. True, it's a sad, limited kind of salvation, but salvation is nothing to sneer at, particularly during a depression. The work of Williams's last years has often been dismissed as a thin echo of his powerful early plays, yet it's clear from this lovely piece that he continued to develop as an artist. It speaks volumes, too, that his lost and broken characters have discovered that the only way to survive is to take care of each other. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through March 12. The Jones Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed February 3.
Oedipus Rex. Director Anthony Powell is using masks for this production, presumably to universalize the play, add a touch of grandeur, show that the script is concerned with more than the small lives of individual characters, that it explores the state of the entire body politic and, beyond that, the relationship of humankind to the universe. But it's hard, watching, to take your attention from these masks, which muffle some voices and make a few of the actors look like swollen-cheeked infants. The cast is powerful, the production succeeds in probing the key questions of the play, and the final scenes are moving, evoking not the deep grief you feel at the end of King Lear, but some sadness and a little solemnity. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through February 26, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed February 10.
The Retreat From Moscow. The play begins as Edward, a history teacher, reads a book on the retreat of Napoleon's troops from Moscow. Later, he describes to his bored wife how Napoleon's soldiers starved and suffered in slow motion. The retreat serves as a metaphor for Edward's own numbed and defeated inner landscape, and also for the disintegration of his marriage to Alice. It may seem a rather grandiose frame for a domestic drama, but the comparison gains resonance and integrity as the play progresses and Nicholson demonstrates -- using muted colors, irony and understatement -- just how devastating the breakup of a marriage can be. We learn early on that Edward is thinking of leaving Alice, and since we've seen the bullying spite beneath her wit and intelligence, we root for him to do it. But as the play progresses, we realize that Edward's passivity is just as blindly destructive as Alice's bullying. Both parents use and manipulate their adult son. Oddly, despite the sadness of its theme, The Retreat From Moscow provides an enjoyable evening of theater, engrossing both emotionally and intellectually. Presented by the Aurora Fox Arts Center through February 20, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora, 303-739-1970. Reviewed February 10.
A Selfish Sacrifice. A Selfish Sacrifice was written after Denver Center Theatre Company director Israel Hicks commissioned Charles F. (OyamO) Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan, to write a play based on Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House. Hicks wanted the play set in a contemporary milieu, with Torvald transformed into the Nigerian ambassador to the United Nations. As they settle into their elegant New York apartment with their three children, the ambassador, Aki, and his wife, Aku, luxuriate in their newfound status and financial security. But Aku has a secret. Many years earlier, when her husband was suffering from a life-threatening illness that required treatment in England, she borrowed money from a shady lawyer. If this secret is discovered, both she and Aki will be disgraced. OyamO has chosen to rewrite rather than reimagining A Doll's House, and Sacrifice comes complete with melodramatic plot twists and credulity-stretching coincidences. The characters are also unconvincing. Although the first part of the play is interesting and appealing, it ultimately fails to satisfy. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through February 26, the Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed February 3.