All in the Timing. David Ives's six one-acts are all about language, communication and understanding, and also chance and fate. The dialogue is light and funny and fizzy, and it gets your frontal lobes buzzing as you attempt to catch and process all the flying puns, allusions, jokes, rhythms and nonsense syllables in order to extract any insights they contain. In the first play, "Sure Thing," a young man and woman meet at a coffee shop. Futures are encapsulated in chance moments like this: Will the encounter be rapidly forgotten — "Is this seat taken?" "Yes" — or will it lead to marriage, children, a lifetime spent together? This particular couple is blessed with some kind of invisible overseer; whenever their interaction threatens to dead-end, there's a game-show-wrong-answer kind of ding, and they get to begin again. The playlet is sharp and sweet and beautifully acted by Susan Scott and Jeremy Make. Another standout is "The Universal Language," in which a young woman walks into the makeshift office of a huckster who says he's teaching a new language called Unamunda that will "unite all humankind" and that consists of vaguely sound-alike words and phrases — "John Cleese" for English, "al dente" meaning already — mixed with pieces of inspired gibberish. Eventually student and teacher are bopping and scatting and chanting together in an effervescent dance of language and meaning. "The Philadelphia," in which a man discovers he's fallen into a metaphysical hole in which nothing is as it should be and he can't get anything he wants, is more pedestrian, playing on the provincial contempt New Yorkers feel for Philadelphia. But overall, these one-acts make for a clever, bright and very funny evening. Presented by Modern Muse Theatre Company through September 16, the Bug, 3654 Navajo Street, 303-780-7836, www.modernmusetheatre.com. Reviewed August 23.
The Little Mermaid. The sound system at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House makes the mediocre music of The Little Mermaid sound lush and lovely; what a shame that the production itself is anti-climactic. What plot there is falls apart in the second act, and the climax is so dispiriting that it feels as if the writer simply threw up his hands and tossed in every cliche he could think of before racing for the door. The sets are minimal, the costumes no better. Adding to the disappointment, choreographer Stephen Mear's movement is uninspired. Sierra Boggess has a lovely voice, but it's disconcerting to see a living actress so sedulously imitating a cartoon character, right down to the huge smile and cutesy bits of physical business. But then, no one is really called on to act here. Still, a handful of performers manage to make vivid impressions. Sherie Rene Scott rivets with every appearance. The voices of Derrick Baskin and Tyler Maynard marry sinuously and poisonously on "Sweet Child." And John Treacy Egan brings wonderful vitality to the role of Chef Louis, along with a fine, swelling tenor. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through September 9, Ellie Caulkins Opera House, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed August 30.
Prelude to a Kiss. In Craig Lucas's Prelude to a Kiss, Peter and Rita meet cute and proceed to have one of those idiosyncratic, charming conversations that invariably herald on-stage romance — except that this conversation has points of real shadow and light. But just as you're assuming that this is simply another intelligent and nicely executed romantic comedy, things veer off into fantasy and the play becomes a parable, an extended exploration of the meaning of selfhood and love. An old man no one knows shows up at the wedding and kisses Rita, and, in this moment, somehow exchanges souls with her —- a transaction that only becomes clear to Peter later, when his new wife exhibits ideas and behaviors he's never seen before. This is a really stunning piece of dramaturgy that expresses profound, even heart-rending ideas in dialogue as bright as sunlight on water and through a plot that intrigues and entertains; there's some good acting on display, too. Unfortunately, the male-female transformation isn't fully realized by the actors playing Rita and the Old Man, and as a result, some of the play's resonance is lost. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through September 16, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, www.minersalley.com. Reviewed August 30.
The Little Mermaid
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.
Three Viewings. "Tell-Tale" is the first of the three monologues — each of them a negotiation with the dead —that make up Jeffrey Hatcher's Three Viewings. It's an homage to Edgar Allen Poe's famous horror story "The Telltale Heart," in which the protagonist murders an old man, then is driven to madness because he cannot stop the steady muffled beating of his victim's heart from sounding in his ears. The horror in "Tell-Tale" is muted and gentle, however. Emil, a funeral director, muses about the real-estate agent he loved in secret for many years. True to the title, that still-beating heart does indeed turn up, in a completely unexpected way. The second speaker, in "The Thief of Tears," is Mac, a raunchy, tough-talking woman who makes a living stealing jewelry from corpses. Finally, in "Thirteen Things About Ed Carpolotti," we meet a dignified middle-class widow who learns after her husband has died that he was in thick with the Mafia, cheated many people and left her with more than a million dollars' worth of debt. The writing in this third piece is more satiric and less overtly emotional than in the other two monologues, but the overall script is mordantly witty, entertaining without being shallow — and director Terry Dodd does it justice. Presented by Crossroads at Five Points Theater, 2590 Washington Street, through September 8, 303-832-0929, www.denvercrossroads.com. Reviewed July 19.
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Too Old to Be Loud. Heritage Square is unlike any other dinner theater in the state — and possibly the nation. The facility itself debuted in the 1950s as Magic Mountain, a Disneyesque theme park with whimsical buildings based on Colorado architectural styles. In 1970, it was bought by the Woodmoor Corporation and reincarnated as Heritage Square; soon after, G. William Oakley opened the Heritage Square Opera House, which featured wickedly silly — yet oddly clever — melodramas. Current director T.J. Mullin took over in 1986 and shifted both the name and the focus, alternating hopped-up versions of classic stories with shows that are pretty much a medley of songs. Too Old to Be Loud is the sixth in a series based on an annual reunion in the Boylan High School gym, a thin plot line that serves as the excuse for this talented ensemble to offer some great rock and roll, hilarious sendups of pop stars and a rendition of the Beatles' "Yesterday," during which Mullin gets to reveal his surprisingly melodious tenor. Presented by Heritage Square Music Hall through October 14, 18301 West Colfax Avenue, Golden, 303-279-7800. www.hsmusichall.com. Reviewed July 12.