An O. Henry Christmas. Amid the cascade of Christmas Carol remounts, Hallmark Card family shows and limp holiday parodies, this musical arrangement of two O. Henry short stories — "The Last Leaf" and "The Gift of the Magi," created by Peter Ekstrom — is a refreshing option. "The Gift of the Magi" is the shorter and more cheerful of the two. "The Last Leaf" is a more shadowed story. A pair of young women artists room together in a loft in New York's Greenwich Village. One of them, Johnsey, dreams of setting up her easel in Italy; Sue is more down-to-earth. Their neighbor, a comic drunken German by the name of Behrman, is himself a failed artist. When Johnsey develops pneumonia, Sue tends to her devotedly. But Johnsey is convinced she will die when the last leaf on the vine outside of their window drifts to earth. A miracle is needed, and you can probably figure out who provides it. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through December 21, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, www.minersalley.com. Reviewed November 20.
Anywhere But Rome. Ovid, otherwise known as Publius, has been banished from Rome and is traveling with Tiresias, standing at a crossroads, sticking out his thumb. They are joined by Io, the woman transformed into a cow by Zeus. A car pulls to a halt; seated inside is a contemporary couple: schoolteacher Louis and his wife, Carol. Neither of them seems surprised to find that they're transporting an ancient Roman poet and two mythical characters, but they have problems of their own. For example, Carol is slowly but surely transforming into a chicken. It's no surprise when references to Lewis Carroll and Franz Kafka surface: Transformational magic is exactly what Buntport's about, creating theater where objects become people and an ingenue becomes a goldfish. If mythological and realistic figures are to mingle, and writers to meet their own works of fiction, this stage is the place for it. But there's nothing heavy or pretentious about Anywhere But Rome. The play, an original Buntport creation, is lighthearted and good-humored and, like Ovid's original work, deals primarily with love. Presented by Buntport Theater through December 20, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, www.buntport.com. Reviewed November 20.
The Miracle Worker. William Gibson's The Miracle Worker, about the way a young Irishwoman, Annie Sullivan, rescued blind and deaf Helen Keller from her prison of rage and isolation, shows its age in spots. Still, what Gibson did get right was the intensity of Sullivan's struggle to lead her charge out of darkness and into the light of language. He showed Keller, revered American icon, as an almost feral child, who hurls objects and can attack without provocation. The miracle is that Sullivan, schooled by her own partial-sightedness and hard upbringing, is the one person on earth who can understand and deal with her. This Denver Center Theatre Company production is skillfully done and very pleasing to look at, and all of the acting is good. Kate Hurster is a strong and appealing Sullivan, and Daria LeGrand a game and gutsy little Helen Keller. But overall, the show is too pretty, too much of a nineteenth-century Southern set piece, lacking a sense of danger and the primal currents of the script. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through December 20, Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed December 4.
The Miracle Worker
The Producers. How can Boulder's Dinner Theatre compete with the big, glitzy Broadway version of The Producers? Not with tech and design, obviously, nor the slickness of the big showstoppers. But this production has something that's missing from the big touring one: sheer exuberance that in many ways is closer to Mel Brooks's original impulse. The Producers tells of a Broadway producer who realized he could make more money from a flop than a hit and so sought out the worst script he could find: a tribute to Adolf Hitler. The idea first saw life as a 1968 movie, in which Brooks stuck a fat, garlicky, Jewish thumb right into Hitler's eye. With the irrepressible Wayne Kennedy playing producer Max Bialystock and Scott Beyette as his bewildered but eventually ecstatic sidekick, Leo Bloom, the BDT cast puts the raucous, iconoclastic jump right back into the show. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through March 7, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.theatreinboulder.com. Reviewed December 4.
Speech & Debate. Three misfit high-school students get together for the debate society. Solomon longs to be a professional reporter and wants to print the lowdown on the right-wing mayor's pederast activities in the school newspaper; Howie is a transfer student anxious to create a gay-straight alliance, and frustrated by his inability to get a teacher to sponsor it; and Diwata, the would-be diva, can't get a role in the school musical, so she's looking to bring down the drama teacher who failed to cast her. You may think you've seen something like this before — geeky, outsider high-schoolers, tormented by questions of identity, setting up their own eccentric little world — but whiz-kid playwright Stephen Karam has an original take on the situation. Speech & Debate is peppered with spurts of original humor and pierced by little darts of surprise, and the teens are interesting characters — spiky and self-obsessed as only teenagers can be. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through December 20, Acoma Center, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed November 13.
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