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.
Fully Committed. In the bowels of one of the hautest of New York's haute cuisine restaurants, would-be actor Sam mans the phones. All may be elegance, soft-spoken service, expensive food and flattering lighting above, but here in the basement there's grubbiness and clutter, drab green walls and constantly ringing phones. This is the kind of restaurant where Diane Sawyer jostles renowned architect Philip Johnson for a table, supermodel Naomi Campbell demands a vegan meal for herself and her entourage, the Zagats drop by for a bite. The phones ring and ring. Sam calms angry clients, soothes bullies, juggles reservations, considers bribes, rapidly dispatches the out-of-town yokels who don't realize reservations must be made months in advance, and deals with loving calls from his own father, who wants to know if he can come home for Christmas. One actor — Steven Burge — plays every character, a feat that requires an excellent memory and split-second timing as well as presence and versatility. Fortunately, Burge has all of these. Fully Committed not only allows the little guy a victory over the powerful, but it's a pitch-perfect evocation of the New York scene and the peculiar and specific neuroses of its wealthy restaurant clientele. It's also clever, light and warm-hearted — all in all, a very satisfying evening. Presented by the Aurora Fox through December 20, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora, 303-739-1970, www.aurorafox.org. Reviewed November 19.
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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? 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 December 31, Garner Galleria Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed September 18, 2008.
Well. Playwright Lisa Kron has created a character, Lisa Kron, who's writing a play — well, an exploration, insists the on-stage doppelgänger — dealing with Lisa Kron's relationship with her mother. It has to do with illness and healing, she informs the audience (no pesky fourth wall here), and the fact that her mother, a woman strong enough to fight racism and heal an entire community, surrendered herself to a lifelong nebulous and unnameable illness that she blamed on allergies. Kron has hired four actors to portray characters in the story. The trouble is, she's also allowed her mother, Ann, on stage, and there she is, reclining on a La-Z-Boy in her homey, cluttered room, addressing the audience herself (the first thing she does, after asking if we're comfortable, is offer food and drink) and correcting her daughter whenever she thinks it necessary. Lisa Kron may intend her play as an exploration, but not quite as much of one as this turns out to be. Pretty soon the actors are questioning the script and drifting across from Lisa's side of the stage to commune with her warmly comforting mother. Eventually, everything Lisa has painstakingly put into place evaporates. You could say Ann emerges the winner in the contest to define reality, but that would be meaningless. The real Ann Kron is still alive, but this Ann is a creation of Lisa's, an artistic double summoned as co-author. Kate Levy offers a beautiful performance as slightly brittle New York sophisticate Lisa, and Kathleen M. Brady brings her unique combination of strength and kindliness to the role of Ann. Well is about the need for understanding and about healing in every sense; it is also a very smart piece about how a work of art gets put together. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through December 19, Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed November 19.