Art. Yasmina Reza's cool, witty, much-celebrated and much-performed play is ostensibly about art, but it's more about friendship. At the center of the action is an all-white painting, purchased by Serge, a dermatologist, for a huge sum of money. Perhaps he feels a genuine affinity for the piece, perhaps he's a vain poseur impressed by the artist's fame, perhaps he's just attempting to re-create and redefine himself: The characters and their issues aren't that clearly delineated in the script. All this is intensely irritating to his old friend Marc, who finds Serge pretentious and the painting a piece of shit. The third member of the trio is neurotic Yvan. When he's with Marc, he agrees that Serge's purchase is ridiculous; when he's with Serge, he says he finds all kinds of nuance in the thing; when he's with both his friends — well, sparks fly, and he has no idea how to handle them. Art is very clever and sometimes almost profound, though the emotions it arouses tend to dissipate fairly soon after you've left the theater. Still, it's absorbing to watch, and you find yourself thinking fairly hard about what your friends mean to you. Director Richard H. Pegg has assembled three first-rate and highly individualized actors, and their ensemble work is terrific. You'll want to see this beautifully precise and very entertaining production with friends — and allow plenty of time for conversation afterwards. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through October 24,1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, www.minersalley.com. Reviewed September 16.
Cavalia: A Magical Encounter Between Horse and Man. To an exotic beat that sounded rather like Ravel's "Bolero," a group of robed people rode white horses through misty silver light, the white-lit outline of trees behind them. They moved slowly, the horses crossing, turning, circling and, for several breathtaking minutes, side-stepping in perfect unison. At one point, as the troupe faced front and moved forward, riders and their white steeds in complete harmony, it felt as if they were coming toward us through the mists of history — from King Arthur's England perhaps, pacing quietly through centuries of myth and fairy tale and into the grape-soda-scented circus tent where we sat. Cavaliais a sensory experience, a mix of still images, video, music and haunting song. It's the creation of Normand Latourelle, one of the founders of Cirque du Soleil, and it shares with Cirque the knack for evoking the transcendent and magical without telling a specific story. The beginning is slow, and this is at least partly deliberate, because Latourelle has something in mind beyond just creating an amazing show. He wants to celebrate the longstanding bond between horses and humans, to draw our attention to the animals' gentleness and power. And so the show begins with video of a mare giving birth, the foal, bewildered and still bloody, trying to rise to its feet, falling, and finally succeeding. Yes, Latourelle seems to be saying, many wondrous things will happen over the course of this evening, but nothing as wondrous as the mere fact of this creature's existence. That's a point he proves with another tour-de-force segment, Grande Liberte, in which Sylvia Zerbini works with nine horses — unbridled and completely unrestrained — while guiding them with her voice, body and presence. You don't need the program's assurance that the Cavalia horses are well-treated; you can see it in their trust and general demeanor. Through October 24, Pepsi Center parking lot, 866-999-8111, www.cavalia.net. Reviewed September 30.
Dead Man's Cell Phone. The discussion about the uses and abuses of cell phones in Sarah Ruhl's Dead Man's Cell Phoneis dated. Many people no longer use their phones to talk; they're too busy checking e-mail, playing games, counting calories and perusing their calendars. But Ruhl's deeper concerns are intriguing: her exploration of the ways in which we're shaped by our interactions with others; her questions about how we remember the dead; the persistence with which she struggles to dismantle the barrier between life and death — as she did in her shimmering Eurydice and does again through the penetrative agency of the mobile phone. Ruhl's genius is for arresting images, and this play begins with one. A mousy woman named Jean is sitting in a cafe when a cell phone rings. She glances at its owner, a well-dressed businessman at the next table, but the phone goes unanswered. Eventually, she realizes that the man is dead. There's something about the realization, the still, silent figure in this mundane world of tables and salt shakers, that sends a chill down the spine. Impulsively, Jean picks up the man's phone, and this single act opens up a whole new life to her — that of the dead man, Gordon. She decides to comfort the people he left behind, which means lying to them about his final moments. Unfortunately, she has no idea how cold, dishonest and corrupt Gordon's life has been, or how twisted his relationships are. There's much to admire in Dead Man's Cell Phone, but the script is marred by cuteness, whimsy and a really ghastly sentimentality. Yet despite all this, the production holds your fascinated attention throughout, in part because of the strengths of the script, in part because it has one hell of a cast. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through October 16, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed September 30.
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Hot + Wax. The floor is marked out like a Pacman game. On the opposite wall from where I sit, a screen shows a game of Super Mario Bros. in process; right above my head — if it fell, it would crack my skull in two — there's another screen carrying a video football game. Other screens, big and little, are scattered around; one seems to dictate the action, and every now and then it buzzes obnoxiously and a recorded voice suggests, "Please select another level." An audience member gets up to oblige. Below, and to my left, a man sprawls on a rug in what feels like a cozy, messy entertainment nest. In the far corner, I see a half-built papier-mâché cow or perhaps a bull. Hot + Wax is a satire on the business environment, the overweening greed of the corporate elite that sent the world spinning into recession. Lines of soulless men and women in dark suits and carrying briefcases form and re-form around a ladder; the people sometimes bounce up and down or perform backwards somersaults. The boss is Knossos, aka Minos, the mythic king whose wife fell in love with a beautiful snow-white bull and who had famed inventor Daedalus and his son Icarus design a wooden cow for her to hide inside so that the bull could mount her. Also central to the story are the wings of wax and feather designed by Daedalus, with which father and son took flight. Icarus, as everyone remembers, soared too close to the sun, the wax melted, and he fell into the sea. The parallel between Icarus's over-reaching and that of the financial industry is at the core of this piece. In political terms, the dialogue can be thumpingly obvious. But the images are often brilliant, the staging daring and disciplined, and the entire phenomenon well worth your attention. Presented by the LIDA Project through October 23, Bindery | Space, 2180 Stout Street, 720-221-3821, www.lida.org. Reviewed October 7.
The 39 Steps. This show is uninhibitedly silly — a romp that's a take-off on a 1930s Hitchcock film, which itself was based on a novel by John Buchan. The plot didn't make much sense in the movie — it had something to do with an attempt by foreign spies to steal British air defense secrets — and it makes even less sense in this farcical comedy by Patrick Barlow, who, following the basic progression of the film, takes Hitchcock's signature themes and devices and translates them to the stage, employing four actors to play dozens of parts. The action begins when Richard Hannay, one of those suave, handsome Hitchcock heroes, confesses his ennui and decides to go to the movies. Pulled instantly into the shadowy world of 1930s film noir, he finds himself seated in a music hall, watching the act of a puppet-like Mr. Memory. Shots ring out. A beautiful woman with a heavy accent — Russian? German? — appears. Hannay takes her home and feeds her haddock. She tells him she's in danger and he scoffs, but then she directs him to look out the window. Sure enough, two men — the same actors who played Mr. Memory and the announcer — are skulking beneath a lamppost. In the morning, the woman staggers out of the bedroom, collapses on top of Hannay and dies — but not before providing a cryptic clue. So now he's on the run, suspected of murder, and also determined to solve the mystery. The script teems with references to other Hitchcock movies, and much use is made of objects, with a row of trunks morphing into a railway carriage and the top of the train, four chairs and an empty film spool becoming a car. The actors seem to be having a ball: Everyone's timing is impeccable, and the antics are a hoot. If you're looking for an alternative to serious discussions, step right up to The 39 Steps. Just avoid mysterious women, and don't strike up any conversations with strangers. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through November 14, Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed October 7.