Aphrodisiac. Playwright Rob Handel's inspiration is the affair between Congressman Gary Condit and intern Chandra Levy, which erupted into the media when Levy disappeared in 2001. Her body was discovered a year later; although suspicion clouded his career, Condit was never officially accused of murder. Aphrodisiac approaches this story obliquely. Handel's congressman, Dan Ferris, and his mistress, Ilona Waxman, never appear on stage; instead, Ferris's son and daughter listen to the news, analyze the affair and speculate on who their father really is, role-playing in an attempt to heighten their understanding. Although this is to some extent a play of ideas -- and even more a play about play-acting -- Alma and Avery are real characters, products of a sadly dysfunctional family. Monica Lewinsky herself appears toward the end, as the siblings argue in a coffee shop; the fact that her presence doesn't remind us of a thousand snickering late-night jokes is a tribute both to Handel's playwriting and to Mare Trevathan's riveting performance in the role. When she describes how she wept on Clinton's chest after he refused to give himself fully by coming in her mouth -- and realized even as she wept that his attention was not on her but on his chair in the Oval Office -- we finally understand the tightness and intricacy of the sex-power knot. Under the hand of director Bonnie Metzgar, this is a wonderful evening of theater, an elegant, sure-footed production of a fascinating contemporary play. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through February 24, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curious theatre.org. Reviewed January 11.
Crazy for You. George and Ira Gershwin were, without question, two of the most brilliant tune-meisters of American musical comedy, and in the early 1990s, playwright Ken Ludwig got the bright idea of writing a "new" Gershwin musical. He took familiar 1930s plot elements and created a knowing, affectionate book that both satirizes and pays homage to the musical-comedy genre. And then he grabbed fistfuls of those bloodstream-quickening Gershwin songs and scattered them like jewels along the story's path. Artistic director Michael J. Duran danced in the critically praised 1992 Broadway production of Crazy for You, and he re-creates some of Susan Stroman's choreographic magic here, including the long number that ends the first act and features all kinds of inventive movement as well as axes, hammers and human bodies used as musical instruments. Scott Beyette is a lithe, leaping, tapping wonder as Bobby, whose mother wants him to enter the family business but whose own ambition is to dance. Alicia Dunfee is an unexpected ingenue, perhaps a bit too experienced for Polly and less light on her feet than partner Beyette, but she brings her customary warmth and presence to the role. The voices are fine, and the cast and musicians talented and so enthusiastic that they simply sweep you into the fun. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through March 3, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.theatreinboulder.com. Reviewed November 23.
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Our Town. This is the first time the Physically Handicapped Actors and Musical Artists League has staged a non-musical, and they took a risk in doing so. Our Town takes place on an almost bare stage, and all of the focus is on the actors. They have to carry the action with their bodies and speaking voices; there's no scenery or costuming to distract from a wavering walk or a dropped line, no music to carry the emotion. The gamble pays off: Under the direction of Steve Wilson and Nick Sugar, PHAMALy not only honors the play's quiet depth, but adds shining new colors. This troupe's actors deal with loss on a much more intimate basis than most of the rest of us; when one of them playing a member of Our Town's community of the dead comments, "Live people don't understand," the line has a particular resonance. Several actors here are highly skilled, and all of the performances have honesty, grace and strength. The wise, all-knowing Stage Manager, played by Leonard Barrett, effortlessly embodies the crucial mix of melancholy and joy that characterizes the play. Presented by PHAMALy through February 4, Aurora Fox Theatre, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora, 303-739-1970, www.phamaly.org. Reviewed January 11.
The Pillowman. The play takes place in an unnamed totalitarian society where the protagonist, Katurian, is being interrogated by two cops. Katurian's crime: He has written hundreds of stories in which children are killed, and someone has been imitating the methods in the stories and leaving little corpses around town. Katurian has a brother, Michal, brain-damaged because of the torture inflicted on him as a child by their parents. Violence is the primary focus of The Pillowman, but there's also a wistful, wavering undercurrent, a hope that children might somehow find sanctuary, even if it's in the arms of grotesque killer-cum-savior the Pillowman. One reason all of this is less upsetting than you'd expect is that the murder stories are narrated in the arch, unreal style of fairytales, and the brutality is also deliberately undercut by cynical jokes in the style of such movies as GoodFellas, Reservoir Dogs and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. As in these films, there's no moral center, and we're encouraged to empathize not with the victims, but with the wisecracking style of their attackers. This is also a play about the provenance, power and necessity of stories, and all of the characters are motivated and sustained by the narratives they spin for themselves. There's real originality, energy, subtlety and surprise here, and the play would have a lot more impact if it weren't for the cast's lack of fire. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through February 24, Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed January 25.
Something Is Rotten. Just as all the action in 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 that 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 Julius 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 February 2, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388. Reviewed September 14.
Splitting Infinity. Leigh Sangold is a Nobel-winning physicist who has devoted her life to the intoxicating joys of scientific discovery. Leigh's closest and oldest friend is a rabbi, Saul Lieberman. When they were in college, they almost fell in love, but there was no reconciling his down-to-earth humanism and her devotion to knowledge and abstraction. As the play opens, Leigh is celebrating her 49th birthday with Robbie, the 24-year-old post-doc with whom she's having an affair. He comes up with an idea: They should work together and use physics to disprove the existence of God. This is pretty implausible; it's hard to imagine a Nobel laureate seriously taking on a project this unscientific. Rabbi Lieberman is incensed by Leigh's activities: He knows she doesn't believe in God and feels she's desecrating everything he believes in. Although much discussion of science and philosophy ensues, the focus is more on Leigh's search for identity and her baffled, unfulfillable love for Saul. There are some good performances here, and somewhere inside playwright Jamie Pachino's thicket of words and ideas, there's a fascinating play. Presented by OpenStage Theatre through February 3, Lincoln Center, 417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins, 1-970-221-6730, www.openstage.com. Reviewed January 11.