Fiction. Michael and Linda, both novelists, are long and happily married. But Linda has just been diagnosed with a brain tumor and told she has three weeks to live. She knows the kind of story almost everyone with a terminal diagnosis hears again and again -- the exciting new treatment for a disease hitherto seen as incurable, or the sudden, medically inexplicable remission -- but unfortunately, she's too damn smart to believe anything this cliched. Accepting the reality of her situation, she asks Michael to read her diaries after her death. And she also wants to read his. This request sets the theme and structure for Steven Dietz's well-designed play. Linda discovers that Michael had an affair with Abby, an enigmatic young woman at a writers' colony; rapturous passages about Abby fill Michael's diaries. But when confronted, Michael says the ongoing affair was pure invention. Dietz wrote Fictionlong before the furor over James Frey's pseudo-memoir, A Million Little Pieces, but he anticipated much of the current discussion over the veracity of memoir as a literary form. He suggests that writing itself is a dishonest act: Michael sells out his idealistic younger self to become the kind of best-selling, blockbuster-a-year novelist he once despised; Linda's achievement is unquestionably literary, but she's famous because of the general belief that she herself endured the horrors her central character suffered, which may not be the case. These are not deep characters; they exist at the service of ideas. But they are also charming and fun to watch. The script and the action are fascinating, and director Jamie Horton has assembled a first-rate cast. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through June 24, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed May 25.
Masked. The scene is a butcher's shop in a village somewhere in the West Bank. The year is 1990, during the first Intifada, and Chaled and Na'im, a pair of Palestinian brothers, are arguing. During a recent demonstration, their seven-year-old brother, Nadal, was shot by Israeli soldiers; he is paralyzed and only "lies there drooling." Chaled and Na'im are also examining the terrifying possibility that a fourth brother, Da'ud, is the collaborator whose treachery brought the soldiers to their village. Na'im is a paramilitary fighter, and his men deal out agonizing deaths to anyone caught spying for Israel. If he's convinced Da'ud is guilty, Na'im will turn him over; if he believes otherwise, he'll attempt to protect him. The horror of life under Israeli occupation -- the checkpoints, random killings, loss of choice and dignity, house demolitions -- provides the backdrop and foundation for the action in i>Masked/i>, although these elements are never discussed or described directly. The play takes the immorality of the occupation for granted. It also reveals the way in which it has twisted Palestinian culture and society. Presented by Maya Productions through June 3 at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, 1750 13th Street, Boulder, 303-443-2122, www.bmoca.org. Reviewed May 25.
The Music Man. Artistic director Michael J. Duran has pulled out all the stops -- no pun intended -- for this production. In a program note, he explains that he was performing inThe Music Man on Broadway in September 2001, and all the theaters closed for two nights after 9/11. When the musical reopened that Thursday, it was to an audience of fifty -- but those people needed what the show had to offer, Duran says. The Music Man follows Harold Hill, a huckster who comes into a small Iowa town and sells the townspeople on the idea of a boys' marching band, complete with music, instruments and uniforms. Before he can pull his usual disappearing act, Hill has fallen in love with Marian, the librarian, and -- despite his inability to read a note of music -- won over the town. In the lead, Brian Norber brings huge jolts of energy to the show, and he's abetted by a large, lively cast, a gaggle of charming children and a cheery seven-piece orchestra. The music is sharp, funny and sometimes meltingly lyrical, and you can feel the performers' electric enjoyment in what they're doing. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through August 19, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.theatreinboulder.com. Reviewed May 11.
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Sand Storm. A collection of monologues about the Iraq War based on the experiences of the men who fought there, Sand Stormis raw and upsetting, but it tells an old, old story: Combat destroys bodies, but it also twists and torments souls in very particular ways. Man after man steps forward to describe the events he witnessed: the man who was too claustrophobic to wear the mask intended as protection against chemical or biological weapons; the soldier for whom a severed foot served to bring the reality of the slaughter home more forcefully than all the dead bodies he had seen; the Marine, enraged by the death of his comrades, who came across a desperately injured Iraqi begging to be shot and calmly ate his lunch while watching the man writhe and die on the sand. In one of the most affecting moments, a navy medic tends to a dying Iraqi whose family has been killed by American artillery. The Iraqi thanks the soldier for ridding his country of Saddam Hussein: "You are a gift from Allah." Directed by C.J. Hosier, this production is refreshingly low-key. Only a couple of the performers are experienced actors; some have never stepped on a stage before. Yet there is something about their quiet naturalness, even the evident nervousness of a couple of them, that brings the subject home more forcefully than a slicker, more dramatic production could do. Behind the actors, slides from the war zone provide a powerful and urgent undercurrent. Presented by the Theatre Group and alternating with The Exonerated through June 9, Theatre on Broadway, 13 South Broadway, 303-777-3292, www.theatregroup.org. Reviewed May 18.