The Hot L Baltimore. Director Terry Dodd has arranged one of the sweetest, smartest, loveliest evenings of theater you'll ever have, by staging Lanford Wilson's The Hot L Baltimore in the lobby of the Barth Hotel. The play is a kind of extended tone poem about life in a seedy hotel filled with society's rejects — hookers, dreamers, drifters, a wise one-time waitress, a kvetchy old man, a young man haunting the lobby in search of his own past, and the low-wage desk clerks and managers who keep the place going. The nineteen-year-old Girl (that's what she calls herself, having tried and rejected several other names), who represents the soul of the piece, has traveled all over the country and is in love with railroads; she grieves for their demise. But the play is not just a bloodless paean to times past and lost places; it is also a very lively piece of theater. The intertwining stories keep us emotionally involved and the action humming along, and Wilson's technical innovations as a playwright — he frequently has two conversations going on at once, or several sallies overlapping — work brilliantly to evoke a sense of intertwined and communal lives. The cast ranges from good to excellent, with some of the best performances in the smaller or less obviously dramatic roles. No other local director has the understanding of place and its effect on people that Dodd has, and no one else can suggest depth and complexity in quite the same quietly unpretentious way. Through August 23, Barth Hotel, 1514 17th Street, 303-595-4464 ext. 10, www.seniorhousingoptions.org. Reviewed July 31.
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Musketeer. A few years back, members of the Buntport Theater Company were intrigued by news stories of Alexandre Dumas's body being exhumed and transported from the cemetery of his native village to Paris for burial at the Pantheon. The Buntporters also fixed on a second fact: Dumas had based his famous novel on a book he'd checked out of the Marseilles Public Library and never returned. From this juxtaposition, we get a contemporary librarian named Charlotte who has noted the overdue book and is determined to get it back from Mr. Dumas — a feat that involves waylaying the coffin, confronting the three faux musketeers escorting it, and eventually engaging in a very lively duel of wits with the deceased author himself. In the course of all this, she's transported back in time to the carriage ride during which Dumas first read his library book, pondered its shortcomings and began to conceive of his own deathless characters. These scenes, in which the author transmutes tendentious dross into fictive gold while arguing with Charlotte about the virtues of logic and order versus those of romance and invention, are among the most delightful of an altogether delightful evening. Buntport achieves its effects in large part with low-budget but highly ingenious staging. A large wooden box serves as both Dumas's coffin and his carriage. Three large screens in the center of the playing area show us the shelves of Charlotte's library, placid green scenery moving past Dumas's carriage, Charlotte and Dumas squished together inside the coffin, arguing. Many of the on-screen images are beautiful, and through a trick of light and perspective, characters leave the playing area and cross behind the screens, where they seem to enter a magic zone, becoming elegant silhouettes. Musketeer is nutty and farcical, with duels erupting at the drop of a hat, slapstick humor and absurd running jokes, but there are serious ideas here as well: questions about the artistic process, and a growing understanding that poor Charlotte may be the guardian of these texts, but she can never understand the life throbbing inside them, a life that continues to enthrall readers more than a century after their creation. Though the plot isn't entirely satisfying, this is a daring and imaginative work that reminds us that the process of transmutation from fact to fiction and fiction to art is one the Buntporters explore every working day of their lives. Presented by Buntport Theater Company through September 6, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, www.buntport.com. Reviewed August 14.
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. 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 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." Or director-choreographer Scot Beyette's big numbers, particularly the fast-moving "Our Favorite Son." Or the glitzy and often comical costumes of Linda Morken. 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.