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.
The Pavilion. The first production to be staged at the partially renovated Elitch's, The Pavilion is a piece that takes place at a high-school reunion and focuses on time and the choices we make in life. The protagonists, Kari and Peter, were in love at seventeen, twenty years before — but Peter abandoned Kari when she became pregnant. The other characters are all represented by a single actor, the play's Narrator. The script is wordy, windy and sentimental, and the protagonists' complaints seem self-absorbed and petty. There's very little plot, and the play's observations about human nature aren't cogent enough to hold your attention. When the onetime lovers finally talk to each other, that conversation is interminable. You want to scream at them to get over themselves and either reunite or part. The venue itself — the restored Carousel Pavilion — has sound problems and visual distractions that dissipate whatever slight, fluttering charm this play might possess. Presented by the Center for American Theatre at Historic Elitch Gardens through July 1, Carousel Pavilion, 38th Avenue and Tennyson Street, 720-985-7938, www.centerforamericantheatre.org. Reviewed June 21.
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 Taffetas: A Musical Journey Through the Fabulous Fifties. With the figure of Senator Joseph McCarthy looming over the American landscape, the 1950s were anything but fabulous, as the full title of The Taffetas asserts. This is a pre-packaged, lightweight, no-calories, go-down-easy sort of production, a cheap-to-produce moneymaker with no artistic or intellectual ambitions. But putting all this aside is surprisingly easy to do. The costumes are perfect, the choreography appealing. The songs range from silly to interesting to really pretty, and — most important — the four women in the cast are charming and talented. According to what evanescent plot line there is, these women are sisters from Muncie, Indiana, who are performing on a television program in New York and hoping to snare a slot on The Ed Sullivan Show. The singing is punctuated by genuine television commercials of the era, including the rhythmically percolating coffeepot that sold America on Maxwell House. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through September 16, Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed June 21.
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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