Cyrano. The trouble with Heritage Square's Cyrano is that the company has abandoned the hybrid style that's all its own -- one that involves wild improvisation and lots of audience participation -- and decided instead to play the story of the long-nosed wit and fighter who's afraid to reveal his love to the beautiful Roxanne pretty straight. T.J. Mullin, who plays Cyrano, specializes in an understated on-stage humor that's the antithesis of Cyrano's swashbuckling. And Annie Dwyer can do that demure-heroine thing all right, but she's far more interesting when she's flashing baleful glances at the man in the audience who's been brash enough to question her beauty. For the second part of the evening, the cast tackles the songs of Stephen Sondheim -- whose works are notoriously difficult to play and sing -- and does well with them, giving us a medley of songs that's so charming and tuneful, you want the music never to stop. Presented by Heritage Square Music Hall through May 8, 18301West Colfax Avenue, D-103, Golden, 303-279-7800, www.hsmusichall.com. Reviewed March 10.
Habeas Corpus. While Habeas Corpus retains tinges of author Alan Bennet's usual embarrassment and ambivalence, it is a far more robust piece of work, a laugh-out-loud funny -- but still very English -- sex farce. Wicksteed, a doctor whose response to the countless human genitalia he's inspected in his lifetime lies somewhere between indifference and disgust, neglects his wife, Muriel -- whose own repressed sexuality seethes in her bosom -- to chase after a nubile young thing called (of course) Felicity. A flat-chested, frumpy aunt yearns for breasts, while a canon called Throbbing yearns for her. And then there are Felicity's mother and the quintessential colonial wife, Lady Rumpers; Wicksteed's hypochondriacal son; a suicidal patient; the arrogant Sir Percy; and the hapless salesman charged with fitting false breasts. Director Ed Baierlein stresses the cartoonishness of the characters. American actors tend to have a problem with English accents, but Baierlein doesn't just sidestep it; he stands it on its head and gives it a little twirl, so that the actors mock and exaggerate their own assumed accents. It should be illegal to have as much fun in public as actress Sallie Diamond has with the words "Addis Ababa." The show is expertly staged, and the production does full justice to Bennett's combination of world-weariness and raunchy schoolboy humor. Presented by Germinal Stage Denver through May 8, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 303-455-7108, www.germinalstage.com. Reviewed April 28.
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.
Not About Heroes. Not About Heroes is a dramatization of the friendship of World War I poet fighters Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, told through the two men's letters and poetry. They met in a hospital: Owen, the younger of the two, was suffering from shell shock. Sassoon had been sent there because he had protested the immorality and futility of the war and thrown his Military Cross ribbon into the River Mersey. He encouraged the awestruck Owen in his writing, and the two became close friends. Both of them eventually returned to battle, motivated by a complex mixture of emotions that included a sense of responsibility toward the men still fighting. Sassoon survived; Owens died a week before the end of the war. Written in the early 1980s, the play obviously has much to say to us now about the politicians who send young men to senseless death and killing. Owen and Sassoon both tried to capture the horror of what they saw in words. It is hugely to Chasm View's credit that it is offering this quietly intense play. "All a poet can do today," Wilfred Owen said in 1918, "is warn." Presented by Chasm View Productions through May 7, Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder, 303-402-0482, www.chasmviewproductions.com. Reviewed April 28.
Poignant Irritations. Local playwright Melissa Lucero McCarl has undertaken a life of Gertrude B. Stein and her longtime lover -- or more accurately, wife -- Alice B. Toklas. The result is intriguing, mind-teasing, often moving and not without flaws. Poignant Irritations is too long, and some of the first-act dialogue seems arch. An expatriate who lived in France, Stein created a salon filled with extraordinary works of art, frequented by Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and other members of what she dubbed the Lost Generation. Stein was a fierce advocate of cubism, and tried to utilize cubist theories in her writing, which is rhythmic and highly repetitive. Some of the best passages in the play are those in which Stein explains herself, as when she lectures on the meaning of her well-known and much-derided line "Rose is a rose is a rose." True to the spirit of its protagonist, Poignant Irritations is a scatter of a work, with no plot or straightforward timeline. Some of the scenes are resonant, piquant or funny; some are a perfect marriage of language and feeling. Halfway through Poignant Irritations, the two actresses change roles -- an illustration of the intense closeness of Toklas and Stein. The results are mixed. But these are fine performances, and with some tinkering, Poignant Irritations will be a first-rate play. Presented at the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture through May 22, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-316-6360, www.mizelcenter.org. Reviewed on April 21.
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The Rocky Horror Show. The Rocky Horror Show tells the story of an innocent young couple whose car stalls on a country road, who then enter a sinister castle searching for a phone. What follows is a parade of freaky characters and a mishmash of horror-movie bits, with lots of sex and singing thrown in. The show is very much of its time. It premiered in the early 1970s, after the 1969 Stonewall riots that energized gay activists all over the country and led to a few years of joyous hedonism and self-assertion before the AIDS epidemic that shut all the rejoicing down. Part of the appeal of Rocky Horror -- which doesn't make a lot of sense, and isn't really particularly funny or shocking any more -- is the bond the musical has formed over the years with its audiences. People thronged midnight showings of the 1975 film in costume and carrying props. But those original devotees are in their fifties now, and anyone producing the show has to figure out an approach that will both intrigue the young and uninitiated, and satisfy those for whom it represented a coming-of-age ritual. The Pinnacle Dinner Theatre doesn't meet the challenge, though there's no shortage of talent on the stage -- particularly Nicholas Sugar as Frank 'N' Furter. But the venue is problematic, and the acoustics are bad. And then there's the note in the program forbidding audience participation. You might as well serve grilled tofu at a barbecue or stage opera without singing as perform The Rocky Horror Show sans audience participation. Presented by Pinnacle Dinner Theatre through June 5, 9136 West Bowles Avenue, Littleton, 720-214-5630, www.pinnacledinnertheatre.com. Reviewed April 21