The Baseball Show. Evil, malaprop-prone Vincent Vascombe, owner of the Beloit Bulldogs, is determined to hold on to his star player, Bill "The Bomber" Dawson. But Dawson -- aided by his smart, competent fiancée, Helen -- has plans for the majors, and there's a talent scout hanging around. So Vascombe hatches a plot to kidnap Helen, hoping this will throw Dawson off his game. Vascombe can barely speak a word without mangling it -- "Let me induce myself"; "for a stifling fee"; "a talent for stating the oblivious" -- and T.J. Mullin delivers the dialogue with his usual low-key and unflappable aplomb. Most of the other characters find his speech impenetrable; the only person who can translate is the hired muscle, Sid -- as played by Alex Crawford, a wry, peaceful sort of fellow who prefers minding his own business to breaking bones for the boss. Annie Dwyer is irresistible as Vascombe's moll, Rose Louise Romberg; variously bewigged, a crazed amalgam of tough broad and breathy Marilyn Monroe, pouncing and preening, she owns the stage every time she sashays onto it. This show is one of Heritage's best -- for its good humor, flying Nerf balls and the fun, fast musical medley that concludes the evening. Presented by Heritage Square Music Hall through May 18, 18301 West Colfax Avenue, Golden, 303-279-7800, www.hsmusichall.com. Reviewed March 13.
Bee-luther-hatchee. Shelita is a poised and successful book editor, a young black woman determined to bring the urgent voices of her history and her people to life. A memoir she's published by a reclusive 72-year-old woman has become a phenomenon, achieving bestseller status and winning a major award. After picking up that award, Shelita decides to deliver it to the author in person — and discovers that Libby Price is not whom she purports to be. There have been all kinds of mini-scandals recently about memoirs whose authors claimed experiences that weren't rightfully theirs, so this is a hot topic. As written by Thomas Gibbons, Bee-luther-hatchee is intelligent and articulate, but it succeeds more as an intellectual exercise than a play. Although it contains some interesting metaphors and devices, there's never much real drama. People keep talking at and past each other; no one communicates or changes; there are no unexpected character turns. And eventually you start wondering just how much juice really remains in these once-so-explosive ideas. Presented by Modern Muse Theatre through May 4, Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street, 303-780-7836, www.modernmusetheatre.com. Reviewed April 17.
The Birthday Party. The intimate Germinal Stage is a perfect venue for Harold Pinter's claustrophobic puzzler of a play. We're inside an English bed-and-breakfast run by a very odd couple: phlegmatic Petey and his wife, Meg. Every morning, Meg gives Petey his breakfast of cereal, fried bread and coffee, serving it up with a stream of placid banalities to which he responds perfunctorily while reading the paper. Petey and Meg have one lodger, Stanley, who lives in his pajamas. Stanley is silent but hardly meek, a disheveled little terrier of a man who periodically shows his teeth. He says he was once a pianist — or, at least, that he once gave a concert. This stagnant life is disturbed when two men arrive at the house asking for rooms. McCann is all violent possibility; Goldberg is more sinister and more complex. The two are looking for Stanley, and he's clearly terrified of them, but we never really know why. The narrative keeps shifting; even the names change. It either is or isn't Stanley's birthday, and everyone is planning a party for him, but the real action is subterranean, taking place somewhere deep beneath the characters' chatter. And that action is the destruction of a human being. It's no stretch to imagine that Pinter — a Jew born in 1930 — had fascism in mind when he wrote The Birthday Party in the 1950s, despite the fact that one of Stanley's tormenters is himself Jewish. Director Ed Baierlein's deep familiarity with Pinter's work — he has produced several Pinter plays — is evident in his skillful direction, and all of the performances are first-rate. Presented by Germinal Stage Denver through May 4, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 303-455-7108, www.germinalstage.com. Reviewed April 24.
The Birthday Party
Doubt. John Patrick Shanley's Doubt is a short, brilliantly constructed, engrossing play that, on the surface, seems straightforward. But there's a lot going on beneath that surface. The action begins with a voice speaking in the dark. When the lights come up, we see that this voice belongs to Father Flynn, who's standing in the pulpit reciting a parable on the theme of certainty and doubt. Then we're in the study of Sister Aloysius, head of a Catholic school in the Bronx. Sister Aloysius is anything but one-dimensional. A powerful and entirely original character, she may believe in doing good in the world, but it's an abstract, lofty, pure and absolute kind of good, the kind that has nothing to do with comforting a lonely child or encouraging an insecure young colleague. She becomes convinced on only the slightest evidence that Father Flynn is a pederast, and you watch in horror as she pursues the man like an avenging fury through scene after scene. Except that periodically, you decide there's truth to her accusations. Isn't Father Flynn just a little too glib and charming? Doesn't he seem a touch narcissistic? Shanley doesn't tip his hand on this. He defies the desire for certainty that all of us feel, reminding us that not only is doubt inescapable, it's also a rich state of mind, the source of endless permutations of thought and imagination, a deep soil from which vibrant new shapes can appear. Jeanne Paulsen is magnificent as Aloysius, and Sam Gregory is fine as Father Flynn. There's also an extraordinary performance by Kim Staunton as the mother of the boy Sister Aloysius believes is being abused. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through May 17, Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed April 17.
The House of Blue Leaves. Artie Shaughnessy is an untalented songwriter with a dream — and it's because she feeds this dream, as well as his ego, that he loves Bunny, his confident, glossy, mindlessly positive girlfriend. The fact that he's married to the aptly named Bananas presents very little problem: As soon as he can get his wife safely stashed away in a lunatic asylum, he and Bunny will be free to pursue his ambitions, utilizing an improbably important contact he actually has with a Hollywood director. On the day in 1965 when we meet this trio, Pope Pius VI is visiting New York, and the Shaughnessys' Vietnam-vet son has secretly returned with mayhem in mind. Corrinna Stroller, a starlet whose career foundered because of her deafness; three nuns more interested in celebrity than Catholicism; and Artie's big-name director friend, Billy, all drop in to complicate the plot. There are all kinds of elements here — farce; violence; deliberately derivative, sentimental songs; and hints of real human feeling — and almost everyone gets to deliver a monologue full of memories, personal revelations and/or loopy metaphors. But while parts of the play are very funny and other parts almost profound, the script is dated and the casting uneven. Presented through May 4, Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200, www.arvadacenter.org. Reviewed April 24.
The Last Five Years. This intimate two-person musical involves the breakup of a marriage. When Jamie and Cathy met in New York, he was an aspiring writer and she an actress. Success came for him fast, while she continued to inhabit the dreary, ego-pummeling world of auditions and summer stock — with predictable results for their relationship. The songs — solos, with one exception — reveal a triumphant Jamie noticing his effect on other women and fighting the desire to utilize it, with a sulky Cathy refusing to attend his publishing party. He resents her neediness and insecurity, she his arrogance and self-involvement. Playwright Jason Robert Brown has hit on an interesting device to make this relatively commonplace story more poignant and more complex: While Jamie relates events as they happened, Cathy reveals them backwards. At the very beginning, she weeps over Jamie's goodbye letter, and minutes later, he erupts onto the scene singing rapturously about the "shiksa goddess" he's just met. Chris Crouch and Shannan Steele are both terrific performers, brimming with energy, poised and charismatic, possessed of lovely, expressive voices. Crouch makes Jamie real and funny and quirky, and Steele is often touching as Cathy — though I wish both would avoid that awful, dissolving-into-self-pitying-tears style that's come to dominate singing in musicals these days. Still, this is an emotionally exuberant production, staged in a smooth, comfortable style, and enjoyable even though it's far from thought-provoking. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through June 29 at the Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed February 14.
Little Shop of Horrors. This show began in 1960 as a seventy-minute black-and-white movie, featuring Jack Nicholson in a small role and shot by director Roger Corman in two days. In 1982, the musical Little Shop of Horrors opened off Broadway, where it ran for five years. In 1986 it was made into a second film, with Steve Martin giving a brilliant performance as Orin, the sadistic, black-leather-clad dentist. A big reason for Little Shop's success is Alan Menken's catchy, rhythmic music, much of it a takeoff on the hits of such 1950s girl groups as the Chiffons, Crystals and Ronettes — and in fact, the trio of vocalists who accompany much of the action are named Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette. There's also the brilliantly spoofy central conceit: An alien embodied in a cannibalistic plant is determined to proliferate and consume the human race. To do this, he employs the unwitting services of Seymour, an innocent nerd employed in a skid-row florist shop. Seymour is in love with comely blond shop assistant Audrey, but she's been claimed by Orin and is afraid to leave him. As the tiny plant he discovered in an alley reveals its murderous nature to him, Seymour is confronted with a Faustian dilemma: The plant can help him win wealth, fame and Audrey — but only if he feeds its insatiable appetite for blood. Boulder's Dinner Theatre does a great job of capturing the show's lighthearted, capering energy. The costumes are witty, the set well designed and the orchestra's sound infectiously effervescent. But it's the actors who give a show its soul, and there are several good ones here, foremost among them strong-voiced Brandon Dill as Seymour. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through May 3, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Reviewed February 21.
Starship Troy: Fame. By 8 p.m. the place is jammed. The audience looks young, some as young as high-schoolers, others in college; there are couples, gay and straight, and a scattering of older folk. Starship Troy is one of Buntport's informal efforts to create cheap, fun, accessible theater. It is a dramatized cartoon, each episode lasting about 45 minutes. The premise: A dump truck orbits space on a mission to clean things up. Its addled crew includes all the usual Buntport suspects: Erik Edborg, who for some reason has dryer-duct tubing sticking out of his front and who cuddles a white stuffed animal; cynical Hannah Duggan; Erin Rollman as an expressionless android (watching Rollman trying to remain expressionless is a comic feast); half-ape Brian Colonna; and Evan Weissman as something, well, something epicene and highly sexualized. An audience member volunteers as Ensign McCoy, who — in a tribute to South Park's Kenny, and perhaps to the Goon Show's Bluebottle before him ("You have deaded me again!") — gets killed in every show. This is throwaway theater in the best sense. If a line thuds to earth, no matter; it's gone as soon as it's said. If a piece of business is pure brilliance — too bad! It'll never be seen again, either. But what the hell, there's always another episode. Presented by Buntport Theater every Tuesday and Wednesday through May, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, www.buntport.com. Reviewed November 15.
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