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.
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John & Jen. John and Jen are not lovers, as the title of this intimate musical might lead you to believe, but siblings, children of a violently abusive father. Jen does everything she can to protect her little brother. But when she leaves for college, becoming a free-spirited, pot-smoking hippie and traveling to Canada with a young man who's avoiding the draft, John is left feeling bitter and betrayed. He has always half-identified with their father, even while fearing him, and he now decides to join the Navy, to be a man, to go to war. He dies in Vietnam. By the second act, Jen's lover has deserted her. She's back in the United States and raising their son — whom she's named John. Filled with guilt over the death of her brother, she holds this John stiflingly close. But he turns out to be a spirited young man with ideas of his own, and clashes are inevitable. Both Gina Schuh-Turner and Mark Giles turn in wonderfully committed performances and, overall, this is a fine, absorbing evening of theater that evokes themes none of us can escape, themes having to do with family and obligation to others, the need to protect our children and the need to let them fly — in short, the blessed and cursed complexity of love. Presented by Nonesuch Theater through October, 216 Pine Street, Fort Collins, 1-970-224-0444, www.nonesuchtheater.com. Reviewed September 6.
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 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.
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.