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Astronomical Sunset. Jim is a man destroyed by guilt because a social-networking site he created led to...actually, it's not quite clear what, but it had to do with a teenage boy posting compromising photographs of his girlfriend, and the boy is now in prison. The plot doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and the stretches of dialogue in which playwright Robert Lewis Vaughan attempts to be current and relevant — with comments about privacy and the atomized, inhuman nature of contemporary communication — are tedious. Fortunately, there aren't too many of them. Jim has moved with his wife, Liz, to a small town to escape gossip and death threats, and is steadily falling apart, cuddling a baseball bat for fear of intruders, wearing the same robe and pajama bottoms day after day, refusing to shower and — naturally — alienating the devoted Liz by either ignoring her or begging her, for her own safety, to leave him. Into Jim and Liz's miserably constrained life together erupt a pair of teenagers who claim to be their neighbors. Lily is pushy and perky; she's soon organizing Liz's life for her, bringing daily muffins and annoying the hell out of Jim. Jared, supposedly Lily's car-stealing brother, is something else entirely: gothy, sliding, haunting, ambiguous, even vampiric. Astronomical Sunset succeeds more as a ghost story than an exploration of contemporary issues, and this strong production is aided by acting and impeccable tech. In both its weaknesses and its strengths, Astronomical Sunset validates this company's devotion to new work. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through December 4, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, Reviewed November 11.

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, Reviewed October 7.

Seal. Stamp. Send. Bang. Susan, a mailwoman played by Erin Rollman, finds little meaning in her profession but a lot of significance in the splat of birdshit on her windshield. She declares the thing "a bird poop angel," and bursts into a rapturous song of celebration. Pete loves Susan and is given to popping unaddressed postcards into the mailbox because he knows they'll pass through her hands. Following postal regulations, though, Susan just deposits the cards unread at the dead-letter office — where lonely, eccentric Jason believes they represent a set of cryptic messages from her to him. The plot eventually darkens, and madness, torture and bombing come into play. This is Buntport's first musical, and local composer Adam Stone has come up with a feast of amazingly clever songs. The Buntporters have their own inimitable way of putting them over, and their brilliance doesn't stop when the singing does. They're terrific with the dialogue, too — sending non sequiturs, oddball observations, ingenious connections and misconnections fizzing and fountaining through the air like jugglers' balls. Presented by Buntport Theater Company through November 20, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, Reviewed March 12, 2009.

–Juliet wittman


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