The Crimson Thread. The first scene of this play is well-acted and somewhat promising, though it does have a bit of that golden-sunlight, Hallmark-card feeling about it. The year is 1869. Two sisters, Eilis and Bridget, are talking on the porch of a stone cottage in a small, poor Irish village. Eilis's husband is trying to cobble together a living in America. He has written his wife to join him. Eilis's attempt to reconcile the pull she feels toward Daniel with her fear of forgetting her own country and her grief at the idea of leaving Bridget makes for interesting drama. Two more scenes follow, each roughly twenty years apart, and each between a pair of sisters. In the course of the play, all the major themes of turn-of-the-century Irish history and literature are sounded: hunger and poverty; the exodus from the homeland; the terrifying, disease-ridden boat passage to America; the struggle to survive in a strange country; the immigrant girls working inhuman hours to make a living. The acting in this slight and sentimental piece is uneven. Presented at the Arvada Center through May 8, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200, www.arvadacenter.org. Reviewed May 5.
Death of a Salesman. Written in 1949, Death of a Salesman electrified the theatrical world for several reasons. It tossed aside the conventions of the well-made, three-act play years before they were finally laid to rest in the rebellious mid-'50s. It criticized the post-war myth of the American dream -- the idea that any citizen, no matter what his class or status, could find success. And it challenged the conventional definition of a tragic hero as a man who has fallen from a great height. Miller's protagonist, Willy Loman, may share the Greek heroes' flaws (blindness, pride, self-delusion), but his life and his losses are mundane. The play is heavy with symbolism and the protagonist's self-pity; there's not a single moment in it of irony or humor. But there are also strengths: moments of poetry and passion, a free-flowing, expressive structure that interweaves dream, fantasy, memory and reality. Unfortunately, this production lacks the strong cast and incisive direction required for the play to succeed. Presented by Bas Bleu Theatre Company through May 28, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, 1-970-498-8949, www.basbleu.org. Reviewed May 5.
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.
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.
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.
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