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.
A Prayer for Owen Meany. The action begins with John Wheelwright alone on stage remembering Owen Meany, the friend whose life and actions caused him to become a Christian. As a child, John lived with his flirtatious mother, Tabitha, and his grandmother; all he knew of his father was that Tabitha had met him on a train. At school, he became friends with Owen Meany, a small boy with a high and grating voice. Meany eventually became the cause of Tabitha's death — but it was not his fault, he explained, because he was simply God's instrument at that moment. God had further plans for Meany, too, plans that included saving a group of Vietnamese children — which may or may not be the reason Meany eventually enlisted in the army. A Prayer for Owen Meany is a story about God and faith that's devoid of human warmth and relationship. It's a shock when Tabitha kneels for a few seconds at John's feet and says she loves him, as nothing in her behavior so far has indicated this. You know John loves Meany because he keeps saying so, but when the young men are together, they just spar about religion. As for those Vietnamese children, it isn't out of love that Meany saves them; you can't love purely symbolic figures. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through April 25, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed April 9.
Radio Golf. This is the last of August Wilson's ten plays about the black experience in the twentieth century, most of them seen through the prism of Pittsburgh's Hill District. All of these plays have now been produced by Denver Center Theatre Company under the direction of Israel Hicks, and together they represent an extraordinary tapestry of anger, humor, love, manipulation, fear and pleasure. For the most part, Radio Golf lacks the jazzy, bluesy music we expect of Wilson, who died the year he completed it; there are only a few moments of pure verbal magic. But the wisdom and passion are still there, along with the rich web of allusion. Two of the main characters are Ivy League-educated, tough, successful moneymen. Harmond Wilks is a real-estate developer intent on acquiring federal funds to renew the Hill area. With the help of his ambitious wife, Mame, he's also running for mayor. His partner — and fellow golf enthusiast — is Roosevelt Hicks, bank vice president and part owner of a radio station. Standing in the two men's way, almost literally, is the history of the Hill, represented by the ancient house that once belonged to Aunt Ester. In Wilson's work, Aunt Ester is the centuries-old custodian of the black American experience. The current inhabitant of her house is Elder Joseph Barlow, and he has no intention of leaving. In fact, he's hired Sterling Johnson, an itinerant worker, to help him paint the place. What follows is a battle for the soul of the Hill — and the soul of Wilks himself. Hicks's production is full of intelligence and vitality, and is powerfully acted. It does full justice to this play about time and loss and the meaning of place. Presented by Denver Center Theatre Company through April 25, Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed April 2.
The Skin of Our Teeth. It isn't strange that in 1942 a major American playwright would be worrying about the possible extinction of humanity and pondering what it would take to save the human race, but it is odd that Thornton Wilder chose to do it in a comedy. Odder still, The Skin of Our Teeth doesn't feel at all dated. As the cheeky maid, Sabrina, and the Antrobus family — along with their pets, a small dinosaur and a sweet-natured woolly Mammoth — worry about a wall of ice moving slowly and threateningly toward their New Jersey house, we in the audience are surely thinking about the world's vanishing ice caps and shrinking rivers. Wilder's play gives us three earth-threatening catastrophes: the ice age, then Noah's flood and, finally, an unnamed seven-year war. The play's huge events are refracted through the lens of conventional suburban America, with all kinds of anachronisms and parachronisms prancing through the text, and Antrobus and his wife (her first name is apparently "Mrs.") play entirely conventional domestic roles. Still, the strength and longevity of their marriage represent the bedrock on which the world can be rebuilt again and again. This is a gutsy choice for the Aurora Fox, and despite a few overly-twitchy performances at the periphery of the action, the company pulls it off with honor, in large part due to the depth of John Arp's performance as Antrobus. Presented by the Aurora Fox through May 10, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, 303-739-1970, www.aurorafox.org. Reviewed April 16.
Sunsets and Margaritas. Jose Cruz Gonzalez's play is so energetic, jolly and good-natured, and presents such an appealing political and familial viewpoint, that it seems coldhearted not to like it, like kicking away a friendly puppy as it darts at your feet. But this world premiere commissioned by the Denver Center Theatre Company is filled with unfunny jokes and plot turns: comic bits repeated too often, too many people fainting dead away, too many scenes in which a hyperventilating character breathes into a paper bag. And paterfamilias Candelario spends an unconscionable amount of time in his underpants. Why? Because a man in underpants is always funny, right? The plot concerns the attempts of Candelario's son to place him in a retirement community, despite a cultural tradition that requires family members to take care of each other, and involves lots of arguing and a slew of ball-breaking appearances by various mythic and folkloric characters. Director Nicholas C. Avila has encouraged a quivering, over-the-top acting style that often becomes tooth-grindingly unwatchable and does no favors at all to the lightweight script. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through May 16, Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. (Find the complete review at westword.com.)
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