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 eventually was unable to face his own homosexuality and left for California. Dodd is a skilled playwright, and 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.
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The World Is Mine. In The World Is Mine, Buntport gives us Eugene O'Neill in the hospital recovering from an appendectomy and thinking about beginning work on Long Day's Journey Into Night, the play that dramatized the life of the author's booze-drug-and-self-pity-soaked family, and which he famously said was written in tears and blood. The Buntport members treat this somber material with their usual fizz and humor, without in any way trivializing it. O'Neill's self-absorption is tackled head on: The entire set represents the inside of his mind as he ponders the set for his play, and the three other characters — all mustachioed like O'Neill himself — exist only as he sees them. The action takes place in a living room; a profile of Erik Edborg, who plays O'Neill, is mounted on the back wall, facing left. Opposite this, the same portrait has been flopped so it's facing right. We half notice that there are glasses everywhere, and once the action begins, we find that the place bleeds alcohol as characters pour drinks from almost every available object. O'Neill is being taken care of by a nurse, Cathleen, who reminds him of daughter Oona and whom he will transform into the Tyrones' dim, flirtatious Irish maid in Long Day's Journey Into Night — hence the absurdly high heels she wears. His wife, Carlotta, is on the scene, too, parading around in a succession of elegant dresses and surprising hats. The final character is Erland, come from Sweden to give O'Neill his 1936 Nobel Prize for Literature. The World Is Mine raises the central question about Eugene O'Neill's artistry: the fact that his focus is so relentlessly, claustrophobically inward. And in their humorous and unpretentious way, the Buntporters suggest that when feelings run deep enough and genius is sufficiently capacious, personal obsession becomes universal and transforms into art. Presented by Buntport Theater Company through March 6, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, www.buntport.com. Reviewed February 4. — Juliet Wittman