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. 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. Cavalia is 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. Extended through October 31, Pepsi Center parking lot, 866-999-8111, www.cavalia.net. Reviewed September 30.
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The House of the Spirits. The power of The House of the Spirits, playwright Caridad Svich's take on Isabel Allende's celebrated novel, lies in the accumulation of images, actions and passionate words. Consider the scenes separately, and they often appear overblown or melodramatic. But put them together, and the powerful story moves you. Allende's uncle, the democratically elected president of Chile, was overthrown in 1973 in a bloody coup aided by the United States; years of terror followed, and thousands of Chileans were imprisoned, tortured and murdered. Allende's novel isn't a factual account, but her intergenerational story is shaped by these somber events. Svich frames the action with the post-coup torture of Alba, the youngest member of the family. The first scene takes place in the torture chamber, and the script returns to it again and again. Alba has pored over the notebooks of her grandmother, Clara, a woman gifted with second sight, and she becomes our narrator, telling the family's story. Her grandfather Esteban Trueba, who married Clara after the death of her beautiful sister Rosa, was a cruel and greedy landowner, a rapist and a hater of the Allende government. He disowned his own daughter when she fell in love with a socialist. Now history has turned on itself like a snake eating its own tail, and his greed and violence have been visited on his grandchild. And yet — miraculously — the relationship between Trueba and Alba endures. As Trueba, John Hutton anchors the production, transforming from a young suitor to an enfeebled old man as we watch. Franca Sofia Barchiesi's charm and physical grace embue the chilling events on stage with warmth, and there are many other fine performances, some in small roles. But there's less focus on the individual players here than on the enduring bonds between the women and the unfolding of a complex emotional and historical tapestry. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through October 23, Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed October 14.
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 Ladies Man. The Ladies Man is adapted by Charles Morey from a farce by Feydeau. Dr. Hercule Molineaux is married to Yvonne, a woman twenty years younger than himself, and he finds himself unable to make love to her for a wonderfully trivial, silly and essentially affectionate reason. He has thoughts of straying, but thinks better of it. This bumbling little lapse forces him to spend a night on a park bench in the rain, arousing Yvonne's suspicions and ultimately setting up a chain of misunderstandings, identity confusions and sexual double entendres that involve an amiable patient with a pronounced lisp; Yvonne's gorgon of a mother; and a female patient who prances through the action, pops up at inopportune moments and courts both Hercule and danger in the form of her large, jealous and short-tempered Prussian brute of a husband. Trying to keep order and sort things out is the cheeky male servant, Etienne, and there's also a saucy maid with a secret. Morey has done a nice job of communicating Feydeau's wit and tone. He's also worked out a plot that moves faster and faster by the minute, and in which every piece must click into place as satisfactorily as a key turning in a well-oiled lock. The casting is excellent, and, funny as they are, none of the performances devolves into caricature. The funniest? John Arp as Hercule. The character may be a two-dimensional stage convention, but Arp makes him so cuddly and crazy, so teddy-bearish, that you find yourself rooting for him and hoping he'll find his way back to Yvonne's arms — and, once there, refrain from doing anything stupid. Presented by Creede Repertory Theatre through October 31, Black Box Theatre, Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200, www.arvadacenter.org. Reviewed October 14.
The 39 Steps. This show is uninhibitedly silly — 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 — 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 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 Hitchcock heroes, confesses his ennui and decides to go to the movies. Pulled instantly into the world of 1930s film noir, he finds himself in a music hall, watching the act of a puppet-like Mr. Memory. Shots ring out. A beautiful woman with a heavy accent 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 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 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. 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.