Die! Mommie Die! It's been forever since we've had really good, outrageous, dirty-minded, over-the-top camp in Denver, so Die! Mommie Die! is a particular delight. Charles Busch's play is a spoof of such 1960s Gothic horror movies as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte. There's no important social commentary here, no subtext to ponder. But if you're in the mood for a rip-roaring good time, this is the show to see. Presented by the Avenue Theater through October 10, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed August 13.
Indiana, Indiana. Every now and then the members of Buntport decide to remind audiences that they're not just clever, funny, creative and entertaining – they're artists. And that's just what they do with Indiana, Indiana, a production based on a novel by Laird Hunt of the University of Denver. The story isn't complicated. An old man, Noah, who's always been a little touched, remembers his life and obsesses over his brief lost marriage to Opal. Scenes from his life — his childhood, his short stint as a mailman, his interactions with his parents — are acted out. It turns out that Opal, too, had mental problems and was committed to an institution. The point of the piece is imagistic and poetic, however, rather than literal. With their usual deft and imaginative stagecraft, the Buntporters have filled the evening with fluidly surprising moments. A thing transforms into another, windows and doors appear where once there were none, furniture slides on and off stage, and mood and meaning are created by the interplay of different media: music, human voices and bodies; still and moving images; concrete objects that shimmer with an undefinable significance. At one point, an actor begins playing the saw. No sooner has the creaky note sounded than it starts to rise and purify, and we realize we're hearing the haunting sound of a woman's voice. With Indiana, Indiana, the Buntporters have set aside their usual hilarious antics in order to play it straight and vulnerable — an approach that reveals just how accomplished they've become. This is an evening of quietly hypnotic beauty. Presented by Buntport Theater through October 3, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, www.buntport.com. Reviewed September 17.
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Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. First produced in 1984, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is the play that propelled August Wilson to fame, and it has everything that makes the playwright great: eruptions of humor, rage, pettiness and affection, all given resonance by a broadly humanistic sense of history and context. The action takes place in 1920s Chicago, where Ma Rainey, mother of the blues, is about to record her signature song. Her four backup musicians gather at the studio to bicker, joke and rehearse. Wilson illuminates the world of these blues musicians and their struggles within a white culture that values their artistry but not their personhood, but there is nothing didactic about his perspective. Swathed in fur, refusing to perform until she receives her ritual Coca-Cola, Ma Rainey is as petulant a diva as you can imagine. We soon realize that terrorizing her manager is pretty much the only real power she has: Despite her stardom, she can't even get a taxi outside the studio. The script has a discursive, slice-of-life feeling, as if we were simply watching people interact; the focus, as always with Wilson, is on language and storytelling. Though there's less of the playful music-for-music's-sake noodling around here than in the later plays, and almost none of the quasi-mystical or crazed philosopher stuff that makes some Wilson works re-arrange your thought patterns, the play is transformative. Presented by Shadow Theatre Company through October 17, 1468 Dayton Street, Aurora, 720-857-8000, www.shadowtheatre.com. Reviewed September 10.
A murder one less. In this quantum-physics-inspired piece, a man (Brandon Kruhm) sits on a bench, naked to the waist, contemplating his hands, his body tattooed with words you can't quite make out. An Eleanor Rigby-ish young woman (Julie Rada, who also wrote the script) enters; two suitcases dangle from a yoke around her neck. The man describes her thoughts and actions; she in turn describes his. Certain images recur. They speak of "a murder of crows," of moths and lions, of postmen and bathrooms. There's a lot of water: It drips from one of her cases and soaks the pages she periodically retrieves from it. We learn that the man's house is sentient and highly intelligent. It likes Heidegger and Nietzsche, amuses itself by creating theories and conducting experiments. All this could be both boring and pretentious, but instead it's mesmerizing. You find yourself reflecting on time and space and the evocative power of objects, and Rada's encounter with the house is a little reminiscent of Alice's problems with the ever-shrinking White Rabbit residence. Presented by vicious trap Friday and Saturday, September 25 and 26, BINDERY/space, 2180 Stout Street, 720-221-3821, www.vicioustrap.com.