Habeas Corpus. Director Richard Pegg, who's English, completely gets Alan Bennett's Habeas Corpus, a nutty sex farce set in Hove in the '70s. Pegg knows that when it comes to sex, a certain kind of Englishman vacillates perennially between shame and lust. He also understands that Bennett's ironic melancholia is a defining feature of his work — but that doesn't keep the production from being hilariously funny. Dr. Wicksteed spends the evening trying to get his hands on Felicity Rumpers's bouncing breasts, but he isn't the only one pursuing her. Everyone wants her, and her formidable mother, Lady Rumpers, intends to see that no one gets her. Unfortunately, someone already has: Felicity's pregnant. She's looking for a face-saving marriage, and once Wicksteed's weedy hypochondriacal son, Dennis, informs her that he only has three months to live, she thinks she's found the man of her dreams. The cast performs with tremendous gusto and freedom, sometimes addressing the audience directly, sometimes breaking into song. Central to the production's success is Verl Hite's Wicksteed. His persona is in direct contradiction to his venality; he seems kindly, reassuring and dignified, exactly what you'd want in a doctor, and this makes his immorality doubly funny — and sort of sad, as well. As Lady Rumpers, Deborah Persoff has an indecent amount of fun, and she has the wit, skill and energy to make sure you do, too. We all end up dead, Habeas Corpus tells us, so gather ye rosebuds while ye may. And, while you're at it, grab all the breasts and bottoms you can. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through February 28, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, www.minersalley.com. Reviewed January 28.
Home by Dark. The events in Home by Dark, currently receiving its world premiere at Curious, are very close to local playwright Terry Dodd's heart. When he was a student at the University of Colorado in the 1970s, he received a nighttime visit from his state trooper father. Dale Dodd had heard that his son was gay and wanted to know if it was true; a fraught and passionate conversation ensued. The play is set later in time, in the 1980s. Here, the son is named Mark, the father remains Dale, and the conversation covers a lot of ground, alluding to Dale's own unhappy marriage to Mark's alcoholic mother and Mark's student life and his two loves: Peter, who died of AIDS, and Dan, who loved him enough to formally propose in a restaurant and offer a ring, but who eventually was unable to face his own homosexuality and left for California. Dodd is a skilled playwright and, sentence by sentence, he knows how to make dialogue sound natural and intimate — but this ninety-minute play still doesn't feel like a real conversation. It's too relentlessly focused on issues surrounding homosexuality that we, as a society, have already chewed on endlessly: society's prejudice against gay people and the pain it causes; Ronald Reagan's refusal to tackle the AIDS epidemic during his presidency; the old psychobabble about homosexuality being caused by a combination of overbearing mother and absent father. Jake Walker makes Mark a little sweet, a little sulky and fairly self-absorbed, as most twenty-somethings are; I'm not sure how you'd pull off Dale, who seems to have no center as written, and though he has some good moments, Michael McNeill essentially doesn't. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through February 13, 1080 Acoma, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed January 21.
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 March 14, Garner Galleria Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed September 18, 2008.
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Roller Skating With My Cousin. Quantum physics is clearly on director Brian Freeland's mind. One of the play's best scenes occurs at the start, as two women explain sequentially that anyone can create a universe; you can do it at your kitchen sink by simply compressing matter — any amount of matter — to the point of combustion. They discuss this with the authority and matter-of-factness of a couple of sorority girls swapping cookie recipes. There are biblical themes and references throughout, including a Tower of Babel built of cardboard boxes, which later becomes the Berlin Wall. Ronald Reagan appears as a ram-horned Satan. Nancy Reagan hovers about, as does Nancy Davis — presumably the former first lady's doppelgänger, the Nancy who, in a different universe, didn't marry Ronnie and ended up flipping burgers. This is the kind of experimental theater in which sound gets blurred, faces are obscured in shadow and meaning is deliberately withheld. You can't really put the pieces together and come up with anything resembling a storyline, or even a consistent theme; it seems a bit of a copout to call this seething mass of ideas and images a mash-up, as the program does. Surely a mash-up should be more than just a bunch of disparate things squeezed together in the hope they'll combust. Freeland's most successful and exciting strategy is the introduction of roller-skating; he has enlisted the services of several of the Denver Roller Dolls. What a difference these women make! No sooner do they shoot onto the stage like a crew of crazed girl particles, almost-colliding, crossing and whizzing apart, turning circles, than breathing quickens everywhere in the house. It's riveting, surprising, a beautiful cross — mash-up, if you want — between theater and life. Presented by the LIDA Project through February 20 at Bindery|Space, 2180 Stout Street, 720-221-3821, www.lida.org. Reviewed January 21.
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.