Big Love. In a plot lifted from Aeschylus, fifty sisters have been promised by their father to fifty cousins; on their wedding day, they flee from Greece to Italy in search of sanctuary. They land at the home of hyper-civilized Piero, who wants to help but doesn't want trouble — let alone a permanent houseful of immigrants. We meet his nephew, fey little Giuliano, and his eccentric mother, Bella. Pretty soon the bridegrooms arrive by helicopter in search of their errant brides. Big Love is a play about love — obviously — and sex roles, but not in any small or reductive sense; it moves easily from the comic and contemporary to the atavistic and universal. The women may or may not hate their prospective bridegrooms, but they definitely hate having been promised in marriage without their own consent. They include Olympia, who would have liked a more fashionable wedding dress; Lydia, who comes to love her betrothed, Nikos; and proto-feminist Thyona. When the plea for asylum fails, it's Thyona who persuades her sisters to murder their grooms. You realize the truth behind her seemingly overblown diatribes when you meet Constantine, the man she's supposed to marry, an archetypal figure who evokes the soldiers who storm into villages to rape, kill and destroy. This Aluminous Collective production is frequently astonishingly funny, sometimes deeply beautiful, with a wonderful melding of elements — not just words, not just the creative marriage with an ancient text, but also all kinds of movement, gestures, symbols. As when, for example, two people who have just realized their love for each other perform an ecstatic gliding dance on roller skates. Not to mention the cake and the way the cake is used, the talented and impeccably bow-tied four-man band, and the blood that eventually stains the pure-white wedding dresses. None of the acting feels actory, and there's a quietly unpretentious quality to the proceedings that lets the play's absurdity, the craziness constantly verging on profundity, take focus. Presented by Aluminous Collective through November 21, BINDERY | space, 2180 Stout Street, 303-589-3905, www.bindery.lida.org. Reviewed November 12.
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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? 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 December 31, Garner Galleria Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed September 18, 2008.
Slut Energy Theory. Incest and abuse provide much of the subject matter for this one-woman play, but Slut Energy Theory goes far beyond our usual jargon-laden and sanctimonious discourse on the topic. This is a work of art, a powerful, unsentimental and original work that should blow apart all the conceptions you've ever held about victimhood, survivor trauma and feminist energy, and reconfigure them in dazzling new ways. The protagonist is U'Dean, born in rural Arkansas in 1912, and now an old woman speaking to us from the other side of death. Author-performer — and jazz singer — René Marie has said that U'Dean arrived in her mind and essentially took possession of her; she has immersed herself so deeply in the character that not a gesture or inflection feels untrue. She knows U'Dean as a child, a teenager, a grown woman. She's not afraid of pauses, because every one is filled with significance, and when she sings, the song arises from the story as naturally and inevitably as crocuses from loamy spring soil. "You gonna like me," Marie assures us slyly at the beginning of the piece, and indeed we do. We like U'Dean when she's throwing the word "fuck" in our faces, laughing raucously about the grotesque details of her father's death, describing her sexual adventures in graphic detail, cursing the God that betrayed her. And at the end, when she's kicking along the sand, splay-toed, singing about "Walking to the Grand Canyon," we downright love her. Slut Energy Theory balances dangerously between grief and joy throughout, finally erupting into a blinding affirmation not only of its creator's irrepressible artistry, but also of the power of the life force itself, the force that kept illiterate U'Dean laughing, kicking, singing, emotionally vulnerable and entirely sure of who she was in the face of everything a hostile world could throw at her. Presented by No Credits Productions in an encore run through November 22, Crossroads Theatre, 2590 Washington Street, 303-832-0929, www/denvercrossroads.com. Reviewed October 8.