Eccentricities of a Nightingale. It's fascinating to observe the different acting styles on stage in this production, and to think about the ways they work with Tennessee Williams's characters and dialogue. Brian Landis Folkins subsumes his personality to the role he's playing. Minute by minute, the outlines of the character become clearer, and his performance as John Buchanan gains in depth and interest. It's a masterful approach, subtle and relaxed: no fireworks, nothing showy, no intimation that Folkins is acting at all. With Erica Sarzin-Borrillo as Alma's mother, you're aware at every moment that she's acting — and acting with such fullness and clarity that she moves beyond the theatrical and artificial into a different kind of truth altogether. And then there's Gina Wencel as Alma, a character who's a mass of stagy pretensions and affectations, all covering a sexual drive so raw that it threatens to blow the lid off conventional Glorious Hills, Mississippi. Eccentricities of a Nightingale features all of Williams's customary obsessions: the struggle for sexual expression in a conformist society; the apparent opposition of lust and romance; the redemptive power of beauty; the longing of human souls for transcendence. At times, it's also startlingly funny. Director Ed Baierlein has done full justice to the play's human truth, poetic language and vivid characters. Presented by Germinal Stage Denver through May 10, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 303-455-7108, www.germinalstage.com. Reviewed April 23.
52 Pick-Up. The central conceit of this love story involves a pack of cards that two actors scatter, then pick up, one by one, announcing what the card is and reading its caption, which is always something evocative and elliptical, like "What happened?" or "Cities." That statement cues a brief scene. The scenes are out of order, so you never get the straightforward arc of the couple's relationship; you may see the wistful one-year-after scene before the first meeting, for example. And since the cards can be picked up in almost endless combinations and permutations, no two audiences will ever see quite the same play. The dialogue isn't brilliant, but it isn't banal, either, and it does communicate the uncertainties of love and the difficulties that lovers have in talking honestly with each other. You are likely to find yourself smiling, and now and then remembering. Gemma Wilcox and Sam Elmore bring subtlety and ingenuity to all the scenes and make an intriguing game of the pick-up process. Presented by Gemma Wilcox Productions through May 16, Bindery/Space, 770 22nd Street, 1-800-838-3006, www.gemmawilcox.com. Reviewed January 22.
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.
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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