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.
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Crimes of the Heart. Written in 1978, when the feminist movement had woken us all up to the extraordinary fact that women could, and frequently do, like each other, Crimes of the Heart is about sisterhood. The three women at the play's center are not only having — as one of them comments — a very bad day, they've had a pretty hard time of it altogether. Their father vanished when they were young; their mother gained national notoriety for hanging the old family cat and then herself. When the play opens, Lenny, the good girl of the family, is celebrating her birthday alone because no one else has remembered the date or thought to order a cake for her. Enter flamboyant Meg, the sister who knows how to suction up all the available attention in a room and who's been in Hollywood in search of fame as a singer. Meg has returned because their youngest sibling, Babe, is about to be released from jail after shooting her nasty state-senator husband: She didn't like his looks, Babe says flatly. We're familiar with this genre — wacky, soft-focus Southern Gothic — but there's an unexpected, deadpan humor to Beth Henley's script that keeps us absorbed, laughing and empathetic, and that leavens the sentimentality. Terry Dodd is the rare director who really likes working with strong, interesting women, and for this production, he's scored a triple. Laura Norman is the center of the action as Lenny. She makes herself look frumpy and uncoordinated, a drab, soft-edged woman filled with huge, inchoate yearnings — yearnings that somehow fill your own heart as you watch her struggle. Megan VanDeHey creates a Meg who's vivid and brash, with a tough-as-nails swagger that doesn't hide her profound insecurity. Always wearing gloves and slightly toed-in, Emily Paton Davis's Babe sounds so sweetly and transparently reasonable that you really understand — at least for the moment — why she had to make herself a jug of fresh lemonade immediately after shooting her husband (she was thirsty) and then offered him a glass as he writhed on the carpet (it was the mannerly thing to do). As different as these three women are, you have no trouble believing that they grew up in the same household; that for each of them, the smell of her sisters' skin and hair is as familiar as the smell of her own; that they understand each other's tics and torments so well that their mockery can be as merciless as their mutual love is unbreakable. Presented by the Denver Victorian Playhouse through May 17, 4201 Hooker Street, 303-433-4343, www.denvervic.com. Reviewed May 1.
Dinah Was. The story opens with Dinah Washington, at the height of her fame, arriving at the Sahara in Las Vegas for a show. Though the manager expects her to fill the house, he refuses to give her a room at the hotel, insisting that she stay in the trailer he's prepared for her in the back. Furious, Dinah strips off her fur coat to reveal that she's wearing only a slip underneath, plunks herself down on her suitcases in the middle of the lobby, fishes out a hip flask and proceeds to get drunk, ignoring all arguments, threats and entreaties. Then the action flashes back to show her life, and we watch the star become increasingly drug- and booze-addled, sympathizing with her frustration at being told to stick with rhythm and blues and to tone down her act for television, recoiling from her self-pity and self-destructiveness. There are moving scenes and some wonderful lines — "I can sound whiter than Pat Boone's behind," Dinah says at one point — but the script rambles and repeats, and the characters are stereotypical. And while most of the acting is solid, director Jeffrey Nickelson has allowed a couple of performers to hugely overplay their roles. None of this matters, though, because jazz singer René Marie, who plays Dinah, is a phenomenon, a woman with a strong, humorous presence and a glorious voice. When she sings, you forget you're watching a play and simply lose yourself in the emotion and energy of the moment. Presented by Shadow Theatre Company through May 24, 1468 Dayton Street, Aurora, 720-857-8002, 866-388-4TIX, www.shadowtheatre.com. Reviewed May 1.
Crimes of the Heart
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 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.