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The Dresser. The year is 1942, and England is at war. A revered but aging actor, identified only as Sir, is traveling the country, bringing Shakespeare to the provinces. To complicate things further, the actor is moving swiftly into dementia. The action begins an hour or two before the curtain for King Lear, and he has just been retrieved, weeping, from an aimless peregrination around town during which he began taking off his clothes. The sensible stage manager, Madge, wants to cancel the evening's performance. Sir's common-law wife -- referred to as Her Ladyship -- is torn. But the devoted dresser, Norman, is determined the show will go on. The first act of Ronald Harwood's play is more compelling than the second because it's focused tightly on the relationship between Sir and Norman and unified around the urgent question of whether Sir will be able to perform the role he has inhabited so many times before; there are a few too many plot complications in the second act. But the central characters are fascinating: Sir, whose egotism is so all-encompassing that it sometimes edges on magnificence; and waspish, funny, tender Norman, a man with no life of his own. This production is blessed with a strong cast. As Sir, Jonathan Farwell has the manner of an old-fashioned English Shakespearean actor down pat. And Leonard E. Barrett, one of the most interesting actors around, makes Norman both a sad clown and the strong spine of the action. Presented by Bas Bleu Theatre Company through October 21, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, 1-970-498-8949.

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


Capsule reviews

Plenty of Time. Shadow Theatre Company's latest production is sweet, smart and a lot of fun. Like Bernard Slade's Same Time Next Year -- which author John She'vin Foster admits as an influence -- Plenty of Time chronicles a love affair in which the partners meet every year over an extended period of time. This plot allows the playwright to chronicle the changes both in his protagonists' private lives and in the decades they live through. Christina and Corey meet during the late 1960s at a tony party in Oaks Bluff, the black section of Martha's Vineyard. She is the hosts' spoiled, pretty daughter and he the busboy she's selected as a bedmate. By the early '70s, Christina -- now Chris -- is an angry feminist in clomping black boots, who defines sex as exploitation. Corey, who served in Vietnam, wears a red, black and green armband symbolizing pan-Africa and has two illegitimate sons and a taste for pot. As the protagonists mature, things get more serious. Finally, years later, as Corey nears retirement age, the couple faces the question of what exactly this decades-long relationship has meant. Quatis Tarkington and Simone St. John have real chemistry with each other, and the play deploys true insights without heaviness or didacticism, so that the few moments of sentiment touch us rather than cloy. Presented by Shadow Theatre Company through October 7, Ralph Waldo Emerson Center, 1420 Ogden Street, 303-837-9355,

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,


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