Every Secret Thing. Judy GeBauer's Every Secret Thing deals with the effect of McCarthyism on a group of high-school teachers, and it couldn't have premiered at a more fitting time. The play is based on GeBauer's memories of a civics teacher in her high school who was called before HUAC and thereafter disappeared; here, a teacher by the name of Richard Packard is contacted by an FBI agent and asked to spy on his colleagues. The script is thoughtful and represents an extended discussion of a very important subject, but the conflicts are predictable, and there are few genuinely theatrical moments. Still, you care about the characters and are absorbed by their concerns, and the evening does an excellent job of communicating the overwhelming dread and paranoia of the era. Presented by Modern Muse Theatre Company through June 30, Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street, 303-780-7836, www.modernmusetheatre.com. Reviewed June 7.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. This hoary old Broadway musical is a cartoon of a show set in ancient Rome, inspired by Plautus and with an overlay of Borscht Belt humor. In case that's not enough, the show's slaves, eunuchs, courtesans, dumb and/or lascivious old men, requisite battle-ax of a wife and dopey ingenue couple are depicted in the flattened, brightly colored strokes we associate with the early '60s. Pseudolus is a slave who longs for his freedom. When his master, Hero, falls in love with a beautiful young courtesan he's spied through the window of the neighboring brothel, he sees his chance. He will acquire the lovely Philia for Hero in exchange for freedom. But, naturally, many pitfalls appear. Though the plot seems episodic at first, it's tightly constructed, with every element clicking tightly into place by the end. The first-rate cast is obviously having a great time, and there's not a weak link in it. Particularly noteworthy is the return of Denver favorite Kathleen M. Brady, who plays Domina. In all, this is a mildly enjoyable evening, and would be especially enjoyable after a good dinner and a glass of wine. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through July 8, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed May 31.
Sista's and Storytellers. This is not a play, and it's not exactly a cabaret act, either. It's sort of a cross between a slumber party and a church service, as a group of women who sang together as children in a choir called the Heavenly Voices come together for a reunion. They drink a little, nibble a little, discuss their romances and discover that friendship is a great healer. And also that any support friends can't provide will be supplied by Jesus Christ. The dialogue is vague and general, the tech minimal and the acting broad, but the evening is filled with music and song, and the voices of the six performers — though distorted and overmiked — provide every reason you'll ever need for a trek to the theater. Presented by the Black Box in the New Denver Civic Theatre, Thursdays through August 30, 721 Santa Fe Drive, 303-309-3773, www.sistasandstorytellers.com. Reviewed June 14.
Soul Survivor. The major triumphs of Soul Survivor are Ghandia Johnson's vital performance as would-be writer Stacey, whom she makes the essence of female sass and sexuality, and Vincent C. Robinson's portrayal of the Devil. Robinson has a great time. He swaggers, teases and seduces the audience, utters tee-hees of laughter that are simultaneously sinister and self-mocking, mugs, grimaces and at one point breaks into an outrageous triumphal dance. Robinson's Devil is attempting to win the soul of Guy Coston, a quiet, rational man who's perfectly content with his life — which makes him doubly interesting as prey. Author/director Ted Lange's premise is bewitching, and there are many strengths to his charming and good-natured script. The play is a little dated, however, and some of the dialogue is unconvincing, as is the plot twist that ends the action. But though you're not required to think too hard, there's enough wit here to keep things interesting, and Soul Survivor makes for a hilarious and life-affirming evening of theater. Presented by Shadow Theatre Company through June 30, Ralph Waldo Emerson Center, 1420 Ogden Street, 303-837-9355, www.shadowtheatre.com. Reviewed June 7.
The Threepenny Opera. Intended as a satire that inverted social values and suggested that the predatory world of thieves, murderers and prostitutes was in fact a distorted mirror of bourgeois Germany society, The Threepenny Opera is likely to be seen by contemporary audiences as pure entertainment. The piece is set in 1838 London, just before the coronation of Queen Victoria, and the central figure is Macheath, who runs an underworld empire as violent and ruthless as any Tony Soprano ever dreamed of. In this production, director Denise Burson Freestone is re-creating the Berlin cabaret where Threepenny was introduced to the world in 1928, and the stage at Fort Collins's Lincoln Center crawls with angry whores. A ballad singer gazes at us balefully while providing explanations of time and place; Jenny Diver spits defiance in "Solomon's Song." There's a lot of energy here, and sometimes a lot of power, but much of the singing is uncertain, and the interactions among cast members feel ragged. A major problem is the thick Cockney accent that the cast adopts, which makes a good bit of the dialogue completely incomprehensible. Presented by OpenStage Theatre & Company through June 23, Lincoln Center, 417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins, 1-970-221-6730, www.openstage.org. Reviewed May 31.
What the Butler Saw. Joe Orton is one of those working-class bad-boy authors that the British middle class so enjoys being poked in the eye by. In this play, he marries a proclivity for violence and the macabre with anti-establishment humor, satyriasis and the conventional tropes of farce — though he uses the latter in a mocking and self-referential way. While much of its mockery of religion, psychiatry and the engines of the state — not to mention Sir Winston Churchill — has lost its power to shock modern theater-goers, the playwright's lighthearted and lascivious treatment of rape and wife battery is very much out of tune with our times. Still, the play is fast-paced, surreal, illogically logical and cleverly constructed so that every insane act or comment comes together in some way by the end. Orton is telling us that all of England is a madhouse, and that his characters are really no crazier than a world the rest of us perceive as normal. Although the cast hadn't found its rhythm by opening night, black farce is something Germinal Stage usually does extremely well, and this production will no doubt find its inner lunatic before the run is over. Presented by Germinal Stage Denver through July 8, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 303-455-7108, www.germinalstage.com. Reviewed June 14.
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