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. There's enough good material here for a tight, funny, one-hour-long show, but this one stretches on and on. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through December 20, 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. 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, with his rubber duckie, Fumio, escaped to Tokyo, where he lives in the famous Nakagin Tower. 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. 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.
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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. 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.
The Woman in Black. A middle-aged man is alone on stage, reciting a paragraph of prose. The stage behind him has an unused, dusty appearance – chairs, a few other bits of furniture. We realize we're in a deserted theater. The man mumbles and hesitates, and then there's an interruption from the audience as a younger man bounds forward and starts giving directions. It turns out the first speaker is Arthur Kipps, who suffered a terrifying experience in his youth that has haunted him ever since. He has written an account of it that he intends to recite to friends and family in the hope of exorcising his demons. Aware that his delivery leaves a lot to be desired, though, he's asked the young man — a professional actor — to help him. They decide that the actor will play Kipps as a young man, while Kipps himself portrays all the other figures in his story. The Woman in Black was adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from a contemporary novel by Susan Hill, her take on the ghost stories that Victorians loved. The language as well as the plot elements here will be familiar to anyone who's read Edgar Allan Poe. No one did Gothic horror better than the Victorians, with their obliterating London fogs, deserted moors and ghost-ridden old houses, and the literate script captures every nuance of the genre. In the end, how scary you find this Halloween offering depends on your willingness to succumb to the sense of dread that keeps creeping toward your heart. Presented by Modern Muse through November 14, the Little Theatre in Margery Reed Hall, University of Denver, 303-780-7836, www.modernmusetheatre.org. Reviewed October 29.