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.
Kimberly Akimbo. This play begins with an elderly woman seated on a bench, huddled in her jacket against a surprising April snowstorm. A younger man enters. He's full of jovial energy, playful, almost childish. He is the woman's father. She is sixteen-year-old Kimberly Levaco, and she suffers from progeria, a disease that causes her body to age with frightening speed, killing most sufferers by the age of sixteen. It's a brilliant stroke on the part of playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, this idea of a teenage girl in a sixty-something woman's body. It speaks to the relentlessly linear forward movement of time, the bright poignancy of daily life when it's set against the urgent press of mortality. Kimberly's family is dysfunctional, and she finds solace with a shy nerd named Jeff. Then there's felonious Aunt Debra, who barges into the Levacos' home and life with a poisonous secret and the intention of enlisting Kimberly and Jeff in her latest criminal scheme. The production has some weaknesses, but it's well worth seeing. Presented by Nomad Theatre through June 4, 1410 Quince Avenue, Boulder, 303-684-3140, www.nomadstage.com. Reviewed May 12.
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Newsical. This show is bright, clever and fun, with catchy song rhythms, witty lyrics and very talented performers, but it has absolutely no edge. How much guts and originality does it take to beat up on Michael Jackson and demonize Martha Stewart -- particularly with huge fat targets like John Bolton and Tom DeLay wandering the public arena? But, of course, the producers plan to make money in both red and blue states, and we all know how tetchy everyone is about politics these days. So here's a song about Botox, and another about a family addicted to prescription drugs. Here are three loopy, drooly guys who lose their fear of flying by booking with Hooters Air. Several of the skits and songs are enjoyable. "W. Rides Again" features the drunken Bush girls celebrating their dad's election victory. A trio of old ladies trills about the joys of being felt up at the airport. There's a hilarious imitation of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and another of the new pope wearing stylish lederhosen. Newsical is a taste tantalizer rather than a meal, but it goes down well with a couple of glasses of wine. Newsical: All the Stuff That's Fit to Spoof, presented by the New Denver Civic Theatre, Black Box Cabaret, 721 Santa Fe Drive, 303-309-3773. Reviewed May 19.
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.
Shaking the Dew From the Lilies. Five women are trapped in a shopping-mall bathroom. This is a pretty contrived premise, but the script and the actresses have enough charm to carry it off. Naturally, these five are very different; their paths would have been unlikely to cross under any other circumstances. Cynthia is a repressed society girl who says she has never used a public restroom before. Her introduction to slutty Tami occurs when the latter sprays cheap hairspray around the entire mirror area and into her face. There's some bickering about toilet paper, and then Susan and Aja enter. They're a fairly typical girlfriend coupling: Aja is the sexy woman, Susan the heavier, plainer one who basks in her friend's glamorous glow. We will eventually discover the depths of envious rage beneath Susan's pleasant exterior. The group is joined by thoughtful, quiet Nicole, who turns out -- of course -- to be gay. There's something daring and original about the play's funky setting, the women's candor about sex and other bodily functions, the references to smells, the way the dialogue is periodically punctuated by the sounds of urination and toilets flushing. But the early jokes are pretty feeble. Eventually, the women begin to reveal their secrets to one another. When prim Cynthia breaks down, it's genuinely shocking, but this is followed far too soon, before we can fully digest its implications, by Tami's revelations of childhood trauma. Sequential confessions are a staple of drama in our therapy-saturated culture, but they need to go somewhere. Still, somehow the play does prevail, and there's something disarming in the way the women come to understand each other in their cluttered, exhausted and enforced intimacy. Presented through June 18, Playwright Theatre, 2119 East 17th Avenue, 303-499-0383, www.PlaywrightTheatre.com. Reviewed May 19.
Take Me Out. In Richard Greenberg's multi-award-winning play, the language is full of wit and unexpected insight, and the action trembles between funny and tragic. The story explores what happens when an admired baseball player tells the world he's gay. Darren is aloof, dignified, godlike to his fans. The son of a black father and a white mother, handsome and athletically gifted, he has led a life of privilege. He seems blind to the fact that his announcement is likely to cause problems. His best friend is Kippy, who also serves as the narrator. Predictably, everything changes in the locker room once he's made his announcement, and the contradictions are thrown into stark relief when the team brings in a new pitcher, an overgrown infant filled with grief and rage named Shane. At his first encounter with the press, Shane spews out a series of racist and homophobic epithets. Eventually, the story takes a turn toward tragedy. The play lacks a strong sense of overall unity -- structural or thematic -- but the writing is smart, enjoyable and thought-provoking, there are some wonderful scenes, and the characters are memorable. Curious gives the play a strong production, featuring several fine performances. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through July 2, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed May 1.