I Am My Own Wife. The subject of I Am My Own Wife is German transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, born Lothar Berfelde in 1928 Berlin, a collector of antiques who survived both World War II and the Communist years in East Germany. But the play is as much about author Doug Wright's relationship with von Mahlsdorf and the fascination he felt on first encountering her in the early 1990s and touring her Grunderzeit Museum. For Wright, von Mahlsdorf was a gay icon of sorts, a keeper and cherisher of history, someone who had "navigated a path between the two most repressive regimes the Western World has ever known -- the Nazis and the Communists -- in a pair of heels." But he eventually discovered that von Mahlsdorf had served as an informer for the Stasi, providing the information that sent a fellow antique collector to prison -- and this cast an ambiguous light backward on everything he knew about her. Actor Erik Sandvold's performance is amazing, and his careful, pressed-lipped characterization reminds us that von Mahlsdorf could only have survived by presenting a meticulously constructed exterior to the world. But the problem with the play is that we never really feel we know her. She never appears as engaging or as heroic as she apparently did to Wright, and her fall from grace doesn't seem particularly astonishing, either. Still, there is something deeply interesting in the spectacle of a unique individual life buffeted by history and the endless acts of accommodation, greed and self-protection required to survive. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through October 14, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curious theatre.org.
Something Is Rotten. Just as all the action of Hamlet hinges on an injunction by the ghost of Hamlet's father, everything that happens in Something Is Rotten is set in motion by a ghost -- in this case, the ghost of a pink-striped sock that insists the three performers mount a production of the Shakespeare play. Julius, the weirdly smiling, dim-witted but steel-willed owner of the sock, bullies two friends, Harold and George, into fulfilling the command. We never really know exactly who these men are or why they're on stage. George is clearly an actor -- or at least someone who wants to act -- but Julian and Harold are stumbling amateurs. They discuss their roles and argue about how to act them, bicker, shush each other and improvise when panicked. The show is as ingenious as it is low-tech, and a lot of intensely clever and hilarious things happen. Ophelia is played by a goldfish, which makes the Queen's line "Your sister's drowned, Laertes" particularly poignant. Polonius is a Teddy Ruxpin bear and Laertes a Tonka truck. Fortunately, the requisite catharsis-providing pity and terror aren't absent from this interpretation. The shrieks of grief and rage that rend the final scene would move a statue to tears -- albeit tears of laughter. It's clear from the pace of the show, the relaxed tension of the actors, that Buntport has mastered its medium. These guys don't have to hit you over the head with their actions or try to underline the cleverness of their inventions; they know exactly what they're doing. On an almost empty stage, using nothing but their minds, voices and bodies, along with a few props, they're making theater magic right in front of your eyes. Presented by Buntport Theater through September 30, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, www.buntport.com.
Sweet Charity. Charity Hope Valentine is a trusting soul, perpetually betrayed by the men she loves, but always willing to give her heart again. She works at a dance hall, flirting and dancing for money, and her profession trips her up when she thinks she's finally found a loving, lifelong partner. Although the musical is full of enjoyable songs and Bob Fosse-inspired dance numbers (choreographed by Alicia Dunfee), the plot is problematic; the sweet, sad silliness of the protagonist is the one interesting and original thing about it. Joanie Brosseau-Beyette is funny and adorable as Charity, managing to raise the roof and provide long minutes of sheer pleasure with "If My Friends Could See Me Now," but she doesn't give Charity much depth. The ending -- which leaves Charity sobbing and alone, although she does eventually summon up her famed resilience -- is troubling. If playwright Neil Simon wanted it to be bittersweet, he should have provided a more believable script. A script this lightweight demands a happy, singing, boisterous climax. Nor does the Boulder's Dinner Theatre company -- with one notable exception -- provide the feeling that the text omits. Somehow, the troupe's customary élan is missing in this production. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through October 28, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, 303-449-6000, www.theatreinboulder.com.
Tartuffe: Born Again. Molière's seventeenth-century classic is about a religious con man whose false piety ensnares a prominent householder, almost destroying his home and family. Freyda Thomas has translated this idea to the contemporary American South and made Tartuffe into a Jim Bakker-Jimmy Swaggart type. The action takes place in the television station of a wealthy producer, Orgon, who has been so impressed with Tartuffe's on-air preaching that he's drawn up a legal document turning over all his possessions to him. Worse, Orgon is breaking the engagement of his daughter, Maryann, to the quick-tempered but good-hearted Valere and promising her hand to Tartuffe. But the rest of the Orgon household -- including the assistant Dorine (in Molière's original, one of those mischievous, wise maids) -- is on to him. The challenge is to get Orgon to see what is so very clear to them. This is a broad, cartoony plot, but Molière's points about hypocritical religiosity are as relevant now as they have ever been, and Thomas's script is really very clever. The cast at Germinal Stage sports a variety of strange Southern accents, distorted further by the verse; perhaps the strangest is Michael Shalhoub's as Tartuffe. But you can't complain too much, because his characterization is so wonderfully juicy and outrageous. His mobile, clearly defined features glisten with lustful sweat as he pursues Elmire; the scene in which he rehearses the sermon he'll use to entrap his listeners is worth the price of admission. This is a rollick you won't want to miss. Presented by Germinal Stage Denver through October 8, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 303-455-7108, www.germinalstage.com.
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