Annie. Boulder's Dinner Theatre is at the top of its form; it has to be. How else could the company make Annie — its mandatory summer family show — anything but a smirking sentimental bore? As everyone knows by now, the story of Annie concerns a little red-haired girl's rough life at an orphanage run by the vicious Miss Hannigan. Annie gets away; adopts stray-dog Sandy; is invited into the mansion of Daddy Warbucks, a war profiteer with a heart of gold; helps FDR conceive of the New Deal (by singing to him about "Tomorrow"); rescues her fellow orphans; and is happily adopted by Warbucks, who — no doubt thanks in part to Annie's heart-melting qualities — has begun to realize his feelings for his comely secretary, Grace. The acting at BDT is uniformly appealing, and as the proceedings rollick along, you start to notice how satisfying all the production values are, from Neal Dunfee's sweet, slick orchestra to Alicia Dunfee's choreography; from Linda Morken's meticulous costumes to Amy Campion's clever, three-turnstile set, on which we first see the city skyline, and then, as the turnstiles revolve, a group of homeless people sharing food in a Hooverville, Miss Hannigan's study, a street scene, and Daddy Warbucks's opulent mansion with its platoon of happily singing servants. The adult acting is uniformly fine, and the production also features a big, wambling beauty of a labradoodle and lots of kids — very cute kids, but not cute in that annoyingly self-conscious Hollywood way. Kids so full of wiggling, bumptious energy that you have to wonder just how director Scott Beyette managed to focus it into the joyous yet highly disciplined performances they all put out. The pleasures of this production take you to that silly, giggling, helium-filled and multi-colored place that we all need to visit more often. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through September 5, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Reviewed June 25.
Conviction. Oren Neeman's Conviction has a fascinating premise: the 1486 persecution of Andres Gonzalez, a Catholic priest — a member of a family forced to convert from Judaism — who finds his way back to his own religion through the love of a Jewish woman. His history is presented in flashback, with a frame involving an Israeli scholar in Spain to research the Inquisition who is being interrogated by the director of the National Archives under suspicion of having stolen the Gonzalez file. The risk to this scholar is great because the year is 1962, and Spain under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco is almost as terrifying a place as it was in the fifteenth century. Unfortunately, Neeman's script doesn't live up to the promise of its premise. The interrogation of the scholar doesn't generate much tension, and the story of Gonzalez and Isabel is told in a flood of poetic words that never communicates any real sense of who these people were. As an actor, Ami Dayan, who directed this production and also plays the priest, has an extraordinary intensity, the sense that worlds of meaning lie behind the words he speaks — but here he speaks everything that can possibly be spoken, and then some more. Isabel herself remains a kind of cipher, perpetually strong, wise and serene, and called on to do very little except pose prettily on the stage. A playwright can't approach real-life events as vivid as those depicted in Conviction without understatement, indirection and subtlety unless he's an extraordinary literary talent, and in the end, Neeman's wordy melodrama fails its subject. Presented by Maya Productions through July 12, Curious Theatre, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.convictiononstage.com. Reviewed July 2.
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.
Home. Two old men are seated at a table, talking. They may be on a hotel terrace, in an old age home, or in a hospital. The men seem sad and beaten down by life; they have odd physical tics and converse in platitudes, in unfinished and overlapping sentences. This dialogue, gnomic and elliptical, owes a debt to Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett, with sentences that fall like pebbles into ever-widening silences. Two women surge onto the stage, as defiantly working-class as Jack and Harry are feebly upper-middle or lower-upper. Marjorie is tight and prissy, Kathleen a slouchy creature in shoes that crunch her feet. (She can't wear her regular shoes because they've taken away her laces, she complains, as well as her belt.) The women's presence amps up the action, and we begin to suspect that something nasty is going on here, and that the characters are insane. Kathleen makes dark references to her own history of violence and rage. Marjorie implies that Jack has proclivities involving little girls. The title of David Storey's play, Home, has multiple meanings. The home the cast inhabits is a spacious and metaphorical one. On one level, it's England herself, a country that has lost her empire and where God has lost his potency, although Jack refers to him morosely as a "presence lurking everywhere." This fascinating, literate and little-known play is well worth seeing, despite some unevenness in the acting. Presented by Germinal Stage Denver through July 12, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 303-455-7108, www.germinalstage.com. Reviewed June 18.
Quilters. Quilters is very much a product of its era, and of the feminist movement. While 25 years ago Western myth and popular history focused on the experiences of outlaws, cowboys, gold miners and trappers, very little attention was paid to the women who somehow managed to raise children and nurture families while facing all the hardships of the frontier. Authors Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek realized the potency of quilting — an almost-universal activity among pioneer women — as a metaphor. Made of scraps and leftovers, quilts were used to swaddle babies, warm the sick, shelter sleepers through the bitter winter nights and cover the dead. They served as gifts and charitable offerings; they were created to mark such significant transitions as births, weddings and coming of age. Quilts married gritty practicality with artistic expression, as women sewed their deepest thoughts and longings into their panels. The amazing thing is that Quilters still works in the 21st century. Sure, every now and then it's a bit too smiley, dancey and pink-edged, but there are shadows in it, and some hard truths. We learn of cholera, choking dust, life- and property-devouring fires. The actors speak of the babies born year after year after year until a mother's body simply gave out or she resorted to self-induced abortion. Any sentimentality that remains is mitigated by the humor and toughness with which Kathleen M. Brady approaches the central role of Sarah: Her performance is commanding and emotionally rich; every now and then she emits a wonderfully dirty laugh that rings through the years. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through July 12, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed June 4.
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