Bold Girls. The four Irish women in Rona Munro's evocative, elliptical Bold Girls try to carry on in the equivalent of a war zone, doing their best to shelter and care for their children, filling their lives with humdrum chores and small diversions. All four characters are strongly delineated and intriguing. This is a marvelously written play, subtle and strong, textured, filled with interesting rhythms. On one level, it's an ordinary domestic drama, filled with the usual jealousies and betrayals. But on another, it's like Plato's cave, revealing the horror of war not directly, but through the shadows it casts. Bold Girls is the first production by Crossroads Theater, which is based in a spanking-new performance venue. The facility is a gentrification project and also a celebration of the grand historical neighborhood that's been almost erased by gentrification. So a play about another people who struggled to survive and maintain their identity, and who perhaps still stand at a crossroads waiting for transformation, is an excellent choice, even if the acting isn't uniformly effective. Presented by Crossroads Theater through June 2 at Crossroads at Five Points, 2590 Washington Street, 303-641-7185, www.denvercrossroads.com.
Dead Man Walking. We are one of the last Western nations to retain the death penalty, but you don't hear much about it these days. Where executions were once front-page news, they're now relegated to single paragraphs far back in the paper — if they're mentioned at all. In an attempt to bring light to the subject, Sister Helen Prejean published Dead Man Walking, an account of her work with death-row inmates; the book became a film in 1996. Actor Tim Robbins's version of the script is agitprop, though agitprop in an honorable tradition. It shows Sister Prejean, played here by Terry Ann Watts, being drawn inexorably into contact with Matt Poncelet, who killed a teenage boy and raped the boy's companion, then stood by while his partner murdered her. Scene by scene, we're led through the issues surrounding capital punishment: The loneliness of death row inmates and the inhuman bureaucratic process that has a living man measured for his coffin are weighed against the agony of the victims' families and their demands for revenge. We're also privy to Sister Prejean's spiritual uncertainty in the face of all this, and her determination to bring something human — empathy, conversation, a piece of music — into the gray, equivocal world of death row. Although Watts gives a beautiful performance and Steve Pardun holds up his end as Poncelet, most of the rest of the cast seems to comprise non-actors, and this, coupled with the fact that the script needs trimming, makes for a long evening. Still, the Victorian should be commended for bringing attention to this important issue. Presented by Glass Slipper Productions and the Denver Victorian Playhouse through June 3, 4201 Hooker Street, 303-433-4343, www.denvervic.com. Reviewed April 26.
Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead. Apparently major changes occurred when members of Charles Schulz's well-loved Peanuts gang reached their teens: Pigpen became a sex-obsessed, homophobic jock; Lucy entered a psych ward after setting the little red-haired girl's hair on fire; Linus morphed into a dazed pothead; Schroeder became gay. And Snoopy died of rabies. Although this play uses none of the actual names from the strip, it's pretty easy to tell who represents whom. And despite the sex and drugs, despite a sudden and unexpected turn into violence, Dog Sees God is less a sendup than an affectionate tribute, as essentially sweet-natured as the cartoon strip itself. The play does have flaws — an inconsistency in some of the characters, the occasional stereotypical comment or action. But as directed by Nick Sugar, it makes for a funny, endearing and occasionally touching evening. Presented by Avenue Theater through June 9, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed May 17.
Lobby Hero. The title of the play is ironic, as you might guess, since the lobby hero is Jeff, a security guard for a Manhattan apartment building. As the play opens, Jeff is engaged in conversation with his supervisor, William, a stickler for rules. But William's brother has been accused of a crime and has asked him to provide an alibi. The conflict between his profound respect for the law and his desire to help his brother is tearing William apart. And this conflict between truth and loyalty — along with a more general question about what constitutes an ethical life — is at the heart of the play. Between memories of his bullying but heroic father and his interactions with the other characters, Jeff searches for a role model. Still, Lobby Hero is anything but a moral treatise. It's a very funny play filled with wonderfully quirky dialogue and peopled by multi-dimensional characters, and Terry Dodd has mounted an excellent production. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through June 17, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, www.minersalley.com.
Mall*Mart, the Musical! Curious Theatre's Mall*Mart, the Musical! seems to break into two different productions. The first act details the life of one Walt Samson — a stand-in for Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart — and shows his rise to wealth and prominence, as well as the wreckage he left in his wake. The script is flat and the acting execrable. But after the intermission, something miraculous happens. The script gets lively and clever. The very same performers spring to life, becoming humorous, eccentric, even touching people — caricatures still, but also real human beings: tired workers, wolfish business execs, a young couple torn apart by the husband's shopaholism. This is telling social commentary but also terrific theater, replete with a slew of great songs by Bruce Barthol. You've heard all the arguments against Wal-Mart, and author Joan Holden makes them all again here, but from her affectionate parody of old-hippie, stoner bands to her weird AA-style shopaholic support group, the tone is stylish and good-humored. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through June 9, Acoma Center, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed May 10.
Wicked. A mechanical dragon broods over the expensively quirky set. Circled by gibbering flying monkeys, the good witch Glinda floats down to earth on a bubble, her golden curls framing her lovely face, her white gown glittering with gems. She's come to inform the people of Oz that the wicked witch Elphaba is dead. Questioned, she describes how she met Elphaba, and here the story begins. It could be a good one. Wicked turns the Wizard of Oz into a parable about race and gender discrimination, politics, repression and crowd manipulation. Elphaba isn't really evil; she's just been persecuted since birth because of her green skin. And Glinda isn't exactly good. She's the kind of spoiled, pretty young woman who has always effortlessly acquired everything that her shallow heart desired. Unfortunately, the interesting first act is followed by a second in which all trace of coherence dissolves into a sloshy puddle of emotion and cliche. With all the zing gone from the plot, there's nothing left to focus on but the utter vapidity of the music. And its loudness. By the end of "One Good Deed," my eardrums felt the way George Foreman's head must have after his Rumble in the Jungle with Muhammad Ali. Christina DeCicco, who plays Glinda, does have a glorious voice, as well as a gift for physical comedy, but even she isn't buoyant enough to keep this great, soggy, monstrous thing afloat. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through June 3, Buell Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed May 17.
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