Honus and Me. Adapted by playwright Steven Dietz from a young adult novel by Dan Gutman, Honus and Me tells the story of Joey, a young boy who's passionate about baseball but too insecure and distracted to succeed as a player. He's particularly troubled by his parents' divorce. At his mother's urging, he agrees to clean the attic of an elderly neighbor, Miss Young, for ten dollars. There he finds a rare baseball card, the T-206 Honus Wagner, which is worth well over two million dollars. Round about here, the dialogue starts to sound like an instructive after-school special — and director John Ashton doesn't seem to have decided if he's producing children's theater or something for adults. Should Joey return the card to Miss Young, which his mother insists is the honorable thing to do? Or should he sell the card, ending his family's financial struggles and — as he desperately hopes — reuniting his mother and father? All these characters, with the exception of Joey himself, are cardboard figures, and the plot, too, is simplistic. But things get more interesting when we discover that there's quite a bit more to the Honus Wagner baseball card than its monetary value. Wagner himself suddenly pops up in Joey's bedroom, and later helps the boy move backward in time to witness the 1909 World Series. Presented by the Aurora Fox through July 20, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora, 303-739-1970, www.aurorafox.org.
Matt and Ben. Authors Brenda Withers and Mindy Kaling were classmates of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon's at Dartmouth, and they were apparently very, very jealous. So jealous that they wrote a play in which Matt and Ben, played by Kaling and Withers themselves in New York, were revealed as dumb and untalented dopes who hadn't, in fact, written Good Will Hunting at all. The script simply fell from the ceiling of Ben's grubby apartment as the actors wrestled with an entirely different creative project: a screen adaptation of J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. There's just about enough material in the guys' wrangling and reminiscing to sustain a ten-minute Saturday Night Live skit — but unfortunately, Matt and Ben goes on for over 75 minutes. The action is punctuated by two visitations: one from Gwyneth Paltrow and one from J.D. Salinger. Gwyneth drifts around, ecstatically licking the icing from a stray cupcake and dispensing advice on success to Matt, pausing only to admire a photograph of Ben. This scene at least genuflects to what we know — or think we do — about the real-life actress, but the Salinger bit is just plain weird. At least this production offers an almost perfect object lesson in two disparate styles of acting. You can tell that Laura Norman, who plays Ben, has imagined her way into the role. If Missy Moore had made Matt as specific, the evening might have worked — but Moore just lowers her voice and walks in a vaguely male way, and while she's sometimes funny and effective, the stereotype eventually wears as thin as the script. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through July 20, 1224 Washington Street, Golden, 303-935-3044, www.minersalley.com. Reviewed June 12.
THE MeLTING BRiDgE. Thaddeus Phillips, who visits Buntport every year or so, is one of the most interesting theatrical forces around. As his work with Lucidity Suitcase shows, all that's required for great theater is creativity, imagination and performers with guts, talent and integrity, like Phillips himself. But THE MeLTING BRiDgE — which is having a preview in Denver before it premieres in Philadelphia in September — is nowhere near ready for an audience. Phillips has bitten off a huge chunk of subject matter: the environmental crises we face and the contradictions inherent in the way we live, and he questions our very ability to continue surviving on our fragile blue planet. In search of answers, he explores the settling of the Americas and the continent's ancient civilizations, noting that the Mayan calendar predicts that the world will end on December 21, 2012. On one level, the melting bridge is the Bering Strait, the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska supposedly traveled by the migrants from Asia who first populated this continent less than 20,000 years ago. In the play, a business executive who works for a paper company learns that his father has vanished —- but not before leaving him a cryptic scroll and a phone message exhorting him to open himself to differing forms of reality. What follows is an archetypal transformative hero's journey, as the executive finds himself on subway platforms, traversing rivers, snowshoeing through Arctic snowdrifts and periodically encountering an enigmatic guide. There's always an element of the inexplicable in Lucidity Suitcase's work — scenes, images and symbols that require you to connect the dots and allow your own imagination to fill in meaning. But there's too much left unsaid here, too much left vague and amorphous. The ambitions behind this show go deep, and it could come together into something purely brilliant. But it could also sputter out in a welter of half-realized and insufficiently thought-through effects. Presented by Lucidity Suitcase through July 5, Buntport Theater, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, www.buntport.com. Reviewed June 12.
Honus and Me
The Will Rogers Follies. This musical, which premiered in 1991, gives us Will Rogers's life in a series of Ziegfeld-style acts, supposedly being performed in the present time: over-the-top musical numbers featuring lots of leggy showgirls, monologues and family scenes, all reshuffled and redirected at will by the intrusive voice of an unseen Florenz Ziegfeld. The format allows the action to go backward and forward in time, and the characters to comment on their actions for the audience even while performing them. In a bit of foreshadowing, aviator Wiley Post sits in the audience, rising periodically from his seat to invite Rogers to take a trip with him. (In 1935, Rogers joined Post for an attempted flight around the world; their plane crashed in Alaska, and both died.) The songs in The Will Rogers Follies aren't really that memorable, but the numbers are toe-tapping, energetic parodies of Ziegfeld's style, and often very funny. A.K. Klimpke gives a low-key, affable performance in the title role, periodically throwing in a crack that carries some penetrating truth or has a little sting in its tail. And we really don't mind when he gets more serious toward the end, singing a gentle song called "Look Around," about preserving the environment, then delivering a radio address on the effects of the Depression and the terrible discrepancies between rich and poor. If you tire of Rogers's musings, there's plenty to keep you interested. Shelly Cox-Robie, for instance, as Rogers's wife, singing sweetly about "My Unknown Someone" and torching through "No Man Left for Me." Director-choreographer Scott Beyette's big numbers, particularly the fast-moving, precision-requiring "Our Favorite Son." Or the glitzy and often comical costumes of Linda Morken — in one number, the women are dressed as sunflowers, with perky little sunflower breasts. And Christianna Sullins as Ziegfeld's Favorite, a minxy little blond who sashays on and off, shamelessly stealing scenes. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through August 31, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Reviewed June 12.
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