Absurd Person Singular. The Denver Center Theatre Company should be applauded for selecting Absurd Person Singular, Alan Ayckbourn's dark comedy, as one of its Christmas offerings. Ayckbourn's trademark is intensely clever, laugh-out-loud farce capering over the surface of a sad and penetrating cynicism, and it's the perfect antidote to the wash of theatrical sentimentality we always encounter this season. This is the story of three couples and three consecutive Christmas cocktail parties, held between 1972 and 1974. Always keen to set himself technical challenges, Ayckbourn has situated the action not in the living rooms where the parties should be taking place, but in the three kitchens. The first belongs to Sidney and Jane Hopcroft, who is so obsessed with cleaning that she's incapable of thinking about her guests. Sidney is a small-time tradesman with ambitions to climb in the world, and he's invited the people he feels will be useful to him: banker Ronald Brewster-Wright and his snobbish and terminally bored wife, Marion, and bohemian architect Geoffrey, whose spouse is hyper-neurotic Eva. Jane eventually locks herself out in the rain; Ronald hints that his bank may be willing to finance Sidney, and Geoffrey makes it clear that the architectural projects he takes on are far more important and creative than the grubby little shopping center Sidney is contemplating. But how the mighty fall! In slow motion and through two more acts. By the end, Sidney is in the ascendant; he's literally calling the tune to which the others must dance. The insanely farcical moments play best in this production, because that's where director Sabin Epstein appears to have put his attention. But there's really no point in picking a terrific play like this if you can't come up with a clear and precise comic vision for it. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through December 19, Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed November 26.
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 January 17, Garner Galleria Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed September 18, 2008.
Singin' in the Rain. The 1952 movie starring Donald O'Connor, Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds became a play thirty years later. It's the story of a glamorous Hollywood couple, Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont, and what happens to them during the transition from silent movies to the talkies: Don comes through pretty well, but Lina's voice is a harsh, squeaking disaster that threatens to sink the studio. Enter Kathy Selden, who wants to be a serious stage actress. Don falls for her — much to Lina's chagrin — and persuades her to lend her warm, smooth speaking and singing tones to the cause: Dubbing, newly invented, saves the film. There's much to recommend in this production of Singin' in the Rain: a fine orchestra; some terrific performances; the clever pieces of fake silent film; the company's usual exuberance; the choreography of Scott Beyette and Alicia Dunfee, who also play Don and Kathy; and the rain scene: Thunder sounds, the audience members nearest the stage hastily don company-provided slickers, and water jets, cascades and falls from the ceiling, soaking the wildly tapping Beyette, puddling on the stage and conveying an intense sense of freedom, shock and exhilaration. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through February 14, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Reviewed December 3.
Singin' in the Rain
Something Is Rotten. Just as all the action in Hamlet hinges on an injunction by the ghost of Hamlet's father, everything that happens in Something Is Rotten is set in motion by a ghost — in this case, the ghost of a pink-striped sock that insists that three performers mount a production of the Shakespeare play. Julius, the weirdly smiling, dim-witted but steel-willed owner of the sock, bullies two friends, Harold and George, into fulfilling the command. We never really know exactly who these men are or why they're on stage. George is clearly an actor — or at least someone who wants to act — but Julius and Harold are stumbling amateurs. They discuss their roles and argue about how to act them, bicker, shush each other and improvise when panicked. The show is as ingenious as it is low-tech, and a lot of intensely clever and hilarious things happen. Ophelia is played by a goldfish, which makes the Queen's line "Your sister's drowned, Laertes," particularly poignant. Polonius is a Teddy Ruxpin bear and Laertes a Tonka truck. Fortunately, the requisite catharsis-providing pity and terror aren't absent from this interpretation. The shrieks of grief and rage that rend the final scene would move a statue to tears — albeit tears of laughter. It's clear from the pace of the show, the relaxed tension of the actors, that Buntport has mastered its medium. These guys don't have to hit you over the head with their actions or try to underline the cleverness of their inventions; they know exactly what they're doing. On an almost empty stage, using nothing but their minds, voices and bodies, along with a few props, they're making theater magic right in front of your eyes. Presented by Buntport Theater through December 20, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388.
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.