The Eyes of Babylon. Jeff Key is an ex-Marine — a man devoted to the idea of patriotism and service to his country — whose homosexuality represents a deep part of his psyche. He left the service in part because of the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, but also because he had come to see the entire Iraq War as immoral and dishonest. How was it, he wondered on his return, that everyone in the States seemed to know there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, yet his buddies were still risking their lives in the desert searching for them? A true-blue Marine who knew nothing about the world at large but did know he disliked French people and hated Michael Moore, Key learned about 9/11 through a phone call from his mother. He knew she was wishing she could protect him from the coming war, even as she relied on his soldierly protection of her and his family. This idea of protection runs deep in Key. The first image of his piece shows his mother — who could be Everymother — tenderly cradling him as an infant. Once in Iraq, he takes very seriously his responsibilities toward his fellow Marines. He fears for Iraqi civilians, and even worries about the starving dog he sees foraging for food for her pups. He knows the dog won't make it if she's noticed by certain of his fellow soldiers, men he's nicknamed the Cruels, and indeed she doesn't. The Eyes of Babylon isn't war porn; you don't get a slew of blood and horror stories, though there are some distressing images. Key spent only a couple of months in Iraq before being flown back to the States because of a non-combat-related medical crisis. But he has a keen eye and a poet's sensibility as well as an ironic sense of humor, and he saw a great deal. He relates his observations with a quiet honesty that's very compelling. He tells us about desert heat, daily discomfort, Army food, loneliness and companionship. He grieves for the death of a fellow soldier. He describes the Iraqis he met and attempted to communicate with — peasant farmers, hungry children, the little boy who brought him a Pepsi and refused to accept money for it, the handsome young gay man with whom he exchanged a symbolic kiss through a shared tube of lip balm. Through Key, we realize what we should have already known — that beneath the cliches we associate with the word Marine (the tough guy who loves to kill; the scared kid pretending to be tough), there are a group of true individuals. Also, that war changes those people irreparably, and it should never be undertaken without the deepest soul-searching and the cleanest of motives. Presented by Theatre on Broadway and American Junction Productions through September 14, 721 Santa Fe Drive, 303-309-3773, www.theatregroup.org, www.theeyesofbabylon.com. Reviewed August 28.
Musketeer. A few years back, members of the Buntport Theater Company were intrigued by news stories that told 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 very 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.
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Retro Loud. The latest in a series of Loud shows that started ten years ago, Retro Loud is a compendium of songs based on the thinnest of plots. What keeps these evenings of oldies entertaining is the dual focus the cast brings to the material: Almost every number is a total spoof, utilizing cheap wigs, cheesy costumes, hamming, guys in drag. But you can also tell that the company members have picked numbers they really love, and their choreography and musicianship are strong. On "California Dreaming," for example, you're simultaneously howling with laughter at Annie Dwyer's antics as a fat-suited Mama Cass and appreciating the wistful words and lovely, nostalgic melody of the song. High points of the evening include T.J. Mullin as Elvis; Rory Pierce as Jim Morrison (here's a guy who can raise huge laughs mincing around in a skirt and later mesmerize the women with his arrogant, black-leather-pants-clad moves on "Light My Fire"); Alex Crawford, clad in gold lamé, singing Hammer's "Can't Touch This"; Dwyer's takes on Janis Joplin and Tina Turner and Johnette Toye, who's back after a two-year absence with a sizzling rendition of "These Boots Are Made for Walking." (Johnette: Don't let them walk you out of this place again.) The beginnings of these Heritage Square shows are usually raggedy and low-key, so the tightness and precision of the musical works can be startling. It's like watching a high-school talent show — except with amazingly talented high-schoolers. Presented by Heritage Square Music Hall through September 14, 18301 West Colfax Avenue, Golden, 303-279-7800, www.hsmusichall.com. Reviewed August 28.