Girls Only. The trouble with Girls Only, a two-woman evening of conversation, skits, singing, improvisation and audience participation, is that it's so relentlessly nice. Creator-performers Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein have worked together for many years; at some point, they read their early diaries to each other and were transfixed by the similarities and differences they found in them, as well as the insights they gained into their own psyches and the travails of puberty. This theater piece was developed from that material — but not all of that material. "I purposely don't read every diary entry in the show, because it turns out I was kind of mean, and I don't want to be mean," Klein told an interviewer. But mean is funny, and when you cut it out entirely, what do you have to joke about? Girly pink bedrooms, purses, bras, skinny models in glossy magazines. Every time they tell a story with the tiniest bite to it, Gehring and Klein — both talented and appealing stage performers — move instantly to reassure us that they don't mean it. At one point Klein relates an interesting tale about how she came to possess the badly taxidermied body of an electrocuted squirrel as a child; the minute she's completed this funny, freaky moment in an otherwise highly predictable evening, she gives a pouty, don't-get-me-wrong grin and sweetly caresses the squirrel's head. There's enough good material here for a tight, funny, one-hour-long show, but this one stretches on and on, as if Klein and Gehring had been determined to throw every single joke and piece of shtick that occurred to them in the script. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through June, Garner Galleria Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed September 18.
Quilters. Quilters is very much a product of its era, and of the feminist movement. While 25 years ago Western myth and popular history focused on the experiences of outlaws, cowboys, gold miners and trappers, very little attention was paid to the women who somehow managed to raise children and nurture families while facing all the hardships of the frontier. Authors Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek realized the potency of quilting — an almost-universal activity among pioneer women — as a metaphor. Made of scraps and leftovers, quilts were used to swaddle babies, warm the sick, shelter sleepers through the bitter winter nights and cover the dead. They served as gifts and charitable offerings; they were created to mark such significant transitions as births, weddings and coming of age. Quilts married gritty practicality with artistic expression, as women sewed their deepest thoughts and longings into their panels. The amazing thing is that Quilters still works in the 21st century. Sure, every now and then it's a bit too smiley, dancey and pink-edged, but there are shadows in it, and some hard truths. We learn of cholera, choking dust, life- and property-devouring fires. The actors speak of the babies born year after year after year until a mother's body simply gave out or she resorted to self-induced abortion. Any sentimentality that remains is mitigated by the humor and toughness with which Kathleen M. Brady approaches the central role of Sarah: Her performance is commanding and emotionally rich; every now and then she emits a wonderfully dirty laugh that rings through the years. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through July 12, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed June 4.