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. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through November 1, Garner Galleria Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed September 18, 2008.
Microworld(s), Part 1. Thaddeus Phillips is a magician of the stage. He likes putting disparate things together — objects, images, ideas — in service of a new and transformative vision. He is also an internationalist to the core. His characters are often bewildered travelers, and maps, boundaries and foreign languages play a large role in his work. In Microworld(s), Part 1 — which is powered entirely by green energy — Phillips turns his attention to the plight of the earth and creates a work of healing and synthesis. Or, as he puts it, energy and sweetness. The central character, Milo, is an astrophysicist, and a man without a country. He's a Serb who fled the chaos following the breakup of Yugoslavia and, accompanied by his rubber duckie, Fumio, escaped to Tokyo, where he lives in the famous Nakagin Tower. This is made up of modules that can theoretically be detached and replaced as needed. But as the play opens, the tower is scheduled to be imploded. Milo is alone in his doomed tower, but he gleans useful information from a vendor selling bento boxes. He muses on the Nobel awarded to Muhammad Yunus for his system of microcredit loans. And he's in touch with some powerful dead souls: Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, Schopenhauer, Camus and, most important, Nikola Tesla, the Serb-American inventor of alternating current, a man whose work many believe to have been far more prescient than Edison's. These become his salvation. Phillips's technical approach to making theater is as eclectic and wide-ranging as his ideas. The stage is dominated by a large, white oblong box, which can represent anything from Milo's tower cube to a bathtub; a miniature tower and toy crane also come into play. Sound is provided by Tatiana Mallarino via iPhone. The fact that you have to involve yourself in the performance, lean forward to absorb the details, is very much part of the point. Presented by Lucidity Suitcase through November 8, Buntport Theater, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, www.buntport.com. Reviewed October 15.
A Raisin in the Sun. This fifty-year-old play remains astonishingly relevant. The Younger family — grandmother Lena, son Walter Lee and twenty-year-old daughter Beneatha, as well as Walter Lee's wife, Ruth, and young son Travis — live in a roach-infested Chicago apartment with a down-the-hall bathroom. Travis sleeps on the couch; Ruth frets at her closet-sized kitchen; Lena tends a spindly, sunlight-deprived plant and dreams of owning a small house and a patch of dirt. As the play opens, Lena is about to receive a $10,000 insurance payment for the death of her husband, and she wants to spend it on a new home and to send Beneatha to medical school. But Walter Lee, frustrated with his job as a chauffeur and the family's poverty — both Lena and Ruth work as domestics — is entertaining fantasies of wealth and independence. He believes he can achieve them by investing in a liquor store with a couple of drinking buddies. This bald plot outline does no justice to the subtle skein of interactions in the play, the political and artistic questioning, the humor and despair, the emotional realities that Lorraine Hansberry lays bare. Under the direction of Israel Hicks, this Denver Center production becomes a glowing, moving tapestry illuminating both its own time period and ours. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through October 31, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed October 15.
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The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. For the kids who compete in them, spelling bees are a very big deal. They represent an arena where poor kids, rural kids and the kids of immigrants can find identity and pride; winning requires discipline, stamina, nerves and a profound attention to detail. But bees are also utterly trivial. They're not even good predictors of intellect. Being a terrific speller may correlate with serious intellectual or creative power, but it usually doesn't. The authors of this quirky musical are aware of both the importance of bees and their essential silliness. The contenders include a jock fighting adolescent urges, the daughter of two gay men who pressure her relentlessly to succeed, a flaky hippie and an obsessive smart guy with an unhealthy reliance on his own foot. Onetime hoodlum Mitch Mahoney comforts the losers and hands out boxes of juice as part of his court-ordered community service. All of the performances are full of zizz, humor and energy. Putnam County provides lots of laugh-out-loud moments; a few silly, slightly dirty puns; and a group of kid characters we can care about. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through November 7, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Reviewed October 1.