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.
Long Day's Journey Into Night. Everybody in Long Day's Journey Into Night has reasons for self-pity. Paterfamilias James Tyrone grew up dirt poor and uneducated, became a famous actor, lost his chance at a life of genuine artistry and sank into a grasping miserliness. According to family lore, it was his unwillingness to pay for proper medical care that condemned his wife, Mary, to a life of morphine addiction. Mary has her own grievances. As a girl, she wanted to be a nun, but she ended up spending her life in lonely hotel rooms while James toured. Their oldest son, Jamie, is a drunken layabout, filled with anger toward his father and his consumptive younger brother, Edmund, whose difficult birth caused Mary's addiction. All these people deal with their own suffering by attempting to destroy each other, and their summer house becomes a cesspool of hatred and poisoned love. There is a raw, bludgeoning power to the flood of words unleashed, but it's hard to care about any of the characters. Paragon Theatre's new venue poses problems. Rows of footlights shine distractingly into your eyes. Long Day's Journey Into Night is best suited for an intimate space, but here it's played in the round, and whenever a character has his back to you, you tend to lose the words. Still, Paragon has staged this quintessentially American piece with integrity, and the production is a genuine achievement. By the end of the very long evening, I was simultaneously sensing the surge and pull of the text and longing to run out of the theater and gulp in lungfuls of evening air. Presented by Paragon Theatre through March 13,1385 South Santa Fe Drive, 303-200-2210, www.paragontheatre.org. Reviewed February 18.
Under Milk Wood. Described by author Dylan Thomas as a play for voices, Under Milk Wood creates a day in the life of a teeny backwater of a Welsh coastal town called Llareggub ("buggerall" spelled backward): the inhabitants' fantasies and memories; the ghosts of husbands abused and lovers lost; stories of love misplaced, sustaining faith and rage unsated; the dreamlike poetry of the slow procession from dawn to dusk to night. "Time passes," someone instructs us at the beginning. "Listen. Time passes." Over time, you meet an astonishing cast of characters, from the sweet and somewhat simple Reverend Eli Jenkins to Mr. Pugh, who wants to poison his cold, critical wife, to Mog Edwards and his beloved Myfanwy Price, who communicate only in yearning letters even though they live in the same town. There are also Mrs. Ogmore Pritchard, who does nothing but clean, dust and put things in order, and sleeps at night between the resentful ghosts of her two deceased husbands, and Polly Garter, who has conceived many children by many different men while continuing to mourn her one true love, Little Willie Wee. The best way for a director to deal with this glorious tumble of words is to get out of the way, which is exactly what Ed Baierlein has done. His staging is clean and skillful, with just enough action to keep things moving. Under Milk Wood bears comparison with those other tone poems of country life, Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology and Thornton Wilder's Our Town; all three are pieces deepened and sanctified by the presence of the dead. But there's also a wild sense of comedy here, and an unfettered poetic imagination — even if harnessed to the mundane details of daily life — that could never be matched elsewhere. Presented by Germinal Stage Denver through March 21, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 303-455-7108, www.germinalstage.com. Reviewed February 25.
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, from a chandelier to a telephone. 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 along with her mustache. 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.