The Container. There's a little uneasiness before production begins, a shuffle for the restrooms, some groping in purses for water bottles. As they're admitted, audience members must sign a release acknowledging that the experience will be claustrophobic, that they will be closed in, seated along the sides of a large shipping container for the duration of the play. As soon as everyone has been seated, the door of the container slams. Silence and darkness follow. A flashlight beams out, and some apparent fellow passengers start to speak. Each has a different story, from Mariam, who fled Afghanistan after seeing her husband beheaded by the Taliban for their crime of teaching girls, to Asha and Fatima, who have left a squalid refugee camp in Somalia. The immigrants can't see where they're going, and don't even know if the truck they inhabit is moving or still. They're hungry and thirsty, and rifts begin appearing among them. These rifts deepen when The Agent slams his way in to tell them they're on the final leg of their journey, but if they want to continue to the United Kingdom, they'll need to come up with more money. With the exception of the wealthy Kurdish businessman, Ahmad, they have already paid out almost everything they have, though each clutches some small emblem of sustenance or reassurance: a bag of rice, a watch, a grandfather's ring, the broken gun Mariam's husband gave her for protection. Poor deluded Asha believes she'll be able to get a job at Buckingham Palace, but how much better off will she and the others be if they make it to England? Some will find viable lives, some will commit suicide when their requests for asylum are denied, some will die for lack of money or medical help. Ana Mihaela Lucaci, Skip Francoeur, Wadi Muhaisen, LaDios Muhammad, Rich Beall and Adrienne Martin-Fullwood play their roles with moving conviction and commitment, and in making immigrants visible and showing them as human, the company performs a vital and important service. Presented by the 73rd Avenue Theatre Company through November 7, 7287 Lowell Boulevard, Westminster, 720-276-6936, www.the73rdavenuetheatrecompany.com. Reviewed October 28.
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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 and extended through November 21. Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed October 7.