Miners Alley is a brand-new theater company with a decade-long pedigree. After years in Morrison, artistic director Rick Bernstein recently moved the group to Golden, housing it in an intimate, brand-new theater above the Foss Drug Store. There, he mounted an interesting production of The Elephant Man last month. The current offering is The Summer One-Act Festival, two evenings of short plays, running in rotation. From the evidence of one of these presentations, which included The Field of Blue Children and The Haunted Mine at Lonesome Place, Bernstein still has some decisions to make about the kind of company he wants Miners Alley to become. This is something of a broken-backed evening.
Christopher Durang's Mrs. Sorkin opens the proceedings. It's a monologue by an addled, middle-aged, upper-middle-class dilettante who's infatuated with art and culture and besotted with words. She lilts on and on about definitions and etymology. All of her definitions are wrong, of course, but hilariously so. And she's moved to ecstasies by the mere fact that the stage lights can be turned off and on: "Well done, technical people." As she speaks, we can see that her own life is falling to pieces. She cozies up to the audience, takes a periodic slug of booze and hints that life with Mr. Sorkin isn't all it could be. Some of her nutty observations flirt with profundity. She notes that if Greek tragedy was supposed to rouse terror and pity, today's drama excites instead irritation and identification -- thus nailing exactly the tendency of modern audiences to relate only to art that's in some way about themselves. Her explanation of photosynthesis may be absurd, but it's so seductive that we sort of wish it were true. In short, Mrs. Sorkin is an amazing creature, and Terry Ann Watts plays her with wit, vivacity and a dotty elegance.
The Field of Blue Children is adapted from what must surely be an early Tennessee Williams story -- sweet and slight, filled with the playwright's signature yearning. An adult woman recounts the story of a youthful love affair with writing and poetry, as well as with a young man who seemed to embody both. Directed by Christopher Willard, who's also responsible for the adaptation, the production is simple, natural, unpretentious and clean to the bone. Heather Bean as the older Myra and Briana Pozner as the younger both have warmth and charm. Bean emanates a worldly kindness and regret, and Pozner's Myra is all inquiring innocence. These two actresses form the backbone of the presentation, but all of the performances are satisfying. Heath Heine plays Myra's boring, conventional boyfriend, Kirk, who metamorphoses into an equally boring and conventional husband. The program says this is Heine's first shot at acting, and he acquits himself well. Kent Randell is all sweet intensity as The Boy -- an early entry in a long roster of otherwordly and unattainable Williams heroes who hint at their creator's anguished homosexuality. This figure finds his culmination in Orpheus Descending's Val Xavier.
Blue Children is saved from out-and-out sentimentality -- "a soft, moony night"; "Words are a net to catch beauty" -- by Williams's passion and our knowledge of his later work, as well as by the honesty of the cast and director. Listening to all the rapturous words about a field filled with blue children (waving blue flowers), I couldn't help remembering Val's more sophisticated flight of fantasy about the tiny bird that had to sleep on the wing and would die if it touched the earth. "We're all of us sentenced to solitary confinement inside our own skins for life," he continues.
In short, Miners Alley provides a delightful evening of theater -- right up until the intermission.
After the break, we get The Haunted Mine at Lonesome Place, which probably wouldn't be funny under any circumstances, because it's a talky, winky, fakey Western melodrama, complete with ghastly accents ("thar" for "there") and loads of boring exposition punctuated by even more boring action. But it really loses out in contrast to Durang's wit and Williams's passionate wistfulness. The acting is hammy, and every now and then, someone bursts into song -- always with a derivative melody and a thumpety-thump rhythm. It must be said that the audience laughed in appropriate spots and obligingly booed the villain.
I believe the Miners Alley troupe had a strong community focus in Morrison, though every now and then, using his mix of experienced and less-experienced actors, Bernstein shot higher and attained more. Now that he's in Golden, I think he needs to decide what kind of theater he wants: a first-rate company that would draw talent and audiences from Denver and Boulder, or a place where acting students and local people can write and perform. It's possible to do both, of course, but then the presentations should occur on separate nights.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Denver art and theater scene.