Eurydice. Playwright Sarah Ruhl has created her own magical, eccentric, gutsy and entirely original interpretation of the Orpheus-Eurydice myth, one in which the Lord of the Underworld is a comic-fearful shape-changer, ruling over a place populated by people of stone; Eurydice's father, already dead, longs for her from the Underworld and attempts again and again to write to her; and Eurydice, newly arrived, demands service from the father she doesn't recognize as if she were a guest at a hotel and he the porter. Full of luminous and surprising words and images, the piece becomes a meditation on love and loss, the dissolution of personality, words and wordlessness, reason versus poetry, and the many ways we find of trying to frame the ineffable. Curious Theatre does full justice to this lovely piece, staging its own marriage between art and elements more practical and mundane. Consider the technical skill it takes to create an elevator filled with rain; an on-stage river; the silhouette of a dead father dancing invisibly at his daughter's wedding. Now consider the astonishing artistry of the playwright who requires such effects. And the artistry of director Chip Walton, his technical crew and his cast. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through April 18, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed March 12.
Girls Only. The trouble with Girls Only, a two-woman evening of conversation, skits, singing, improvisation and audience participation, is that it's so relentlessly nice. Creator-performers Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein have worked together for many years; at some point, they read their early diaries to each other and were transfixed by the similarities and differences they found in them, as well as the insights they gained into their own psyches and the travails of puberty. This theater piece was developed from that material — but not all of that material. "I purposely don't read every diary entry in the show, because it turns out I was kind of mean, and I don't want to be mean," Klein told an interviewer. But mean is funny, and when you cut it out entirely, what do you have to joke about? Girly pink bedrooms, purses, bras, skinny models in glossy magazines. Every time they tell a story with the tiniest bite to it, Gehring and Klein — both talented and appealing stage performers — move instantly to reassure us that they don't mean it. At one point Klein relates an interesting tale about how she came to possess the badly taxidermied body of an electrocuted squirrel as a child; the minute she's completed this funny, freaky moment in an otherwise highly predictable evening, she gives a pouty, don't-get-me-wrong grin and sweetly caresses the squirrel's head. There's enough good material here for a tight, funny, one-hour-long show, but this one stretches on and on, as if Klein and Gehring had been determined to throw every single joke and piece of shtick that occurred to them in the script. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through June, Garner Galleria Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed September 18.
Seal. Stamp. Send. Bang. Susan, a mailwoman played by Erin Rollman, finds little meaning in her profession but a lot of significance in the splat of birdshit on her windshield. She declares the thing "a bird poop angel," and bursts into a rapturous song of celebration. Pete loves Susan and is given to popping unaddressed postcards into the mailbox because he knows they'll pass through her hands. Following postal regulations, though, Susan just deposits the cards unread at the dead-letter office — where lonely, eccentric Jason believes they represent a set of cryptic messages from her to him. The plot eventually darkens, and madness, torture and bombing come into play. This is Buntport's first musical, and local composer Adam Stone has come up with a feast of amazingly clever songs. The Buntporters have their own inimitable way of putting them over, and their brilliance doesn't stop when the singing does. They're terrific with the dialogue, too — sending non sequiturs, oddball observations, ingenious connections and misconnections fizzing and fountaining through the air like jugglers' balls. Presented by Buntport Theater Company through April 4, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, www.buntport.com. Reviewed March 12.
Smokey Joe's Cafe. On a smart art-deco set in the company's spiffy new building, Shadow Theatre is doing one of the things it does best: music. Smokey Joe's Cafe is a compendium of songs by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller — creators of such 1950s and '60s hits as "Spanish Harlem," "On Broadway," "Yakety Yak," "Love Potion # 9" and "Stand by Me." Artistic director Jeffrey Nickelson plays the affable barkeep, occasionally stepping forward to channel Elvis ("Love Me"), and the talented company is backed by four expert musicians. Some of the songs are presented as we remember them, others the singers transform and make their own — and you really want to hear what Ciarra Teasley does with "Fools Fall in Love" and "Saved." Perhaps surprisingly, the most memorable numbers aren't necessarily the best known. Shahadah James gives a knockout rendition of "Pearl's a Singer," Lynnette Holmes is adorably wicked singing "Don Juan, Your Money's Gone," and when the guys perform the infectiously rhythmic "Keep on Rollin'," everyone in the place wishes they would. All night. This is a smooth, sassy and highly enjoyable evening. Presented by Shadow Theatre Company through March 21, 1468 Dayton Street, Aurora, 720-857-8000, www.shadowtheatre.com.
The Visitor. We're in Sigmund Freud's ornately cozy office in Vienna, 1938. Freud's daughter, Anna, is urging her father to flee, which he can do if he signs a German-drafted statement, but he's torn, uneasy at leaving his world and everyone he cares for behind. There's talk about the persecution of the Jews, and then a visit by a Gestapo agent, whom Anna unwisely taunts. She is taken away for questioning. And at this point in Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's play, The Visitor of the title enters, a slim young man nattily attired in top hat and tails. He may be God, this man, or simply an escaped lunatic. He and Freud eventually engage in a long back-and-forth about humanity's need for religion and the possibility of belief in the face of the manifest evil seething all around them. There are some witty lines and some amusing moments, as when The Visitor gets Dr. Freud to lie back on his own couch. But the concept turns out to be less intriguing than it might at first appear, and the characters are never convincingly human. Why would Anna Freud, one of the most intelligent women on earth, hurl gibes about his manhood at a threateningly armed Nazi, then appear unconcerned as she's dragged away? And with the exception of a few perfunctory comments, her loving father seems to forget for long stretches of time that his daughter is in the custody of the Gestapo. Schmitt means us to understand that it's precisely because of his fear and worry over Anna that Freud's customary atheism falters, but the script outlines the idea rather than making it live. Rick Bernstein is a convincing Freud, though the portrayal lacks the requisite depth of insight and intellect, and Laura Lunge is a rather superficial Anna. Eric Mather makes for a dapper Visitor, expressive and funny, and sometimes showing real feeling. But all of Mather's elegance and curly-haired charm can't make the endless stretches of debate the yelling, emotion and declamation watchable, and there's a kind of archness to the play that's almost unbearable. These arguments flying between Freud and his visitor In the light of Auschwitz, how can you believe in a loving God? God is created by our need for a god. We are given free will, and God is not responsible for our crimes. Sometimes God gives up on us we've heard them before. And Schmitt's fey humor simply doesn't stand up to the all-compelling horror of the setting. If, watching his play, you believed that Anna really was in danger, that Jews were being beaten and humiliated just beyond the walls of Freud's warm, Persian-carpeted study, the discussion about God would take on real urgency. But though I tried, I couldn't believe it. Not for a second.
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