Cats. There's not much of a plot to Cats. You meet the Jellicles, with their cheerful faces and bright black eyes, who dance "under the light of the Jellicle moon"; the Ming-vase-smashing cat burglars, Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer; fat, elegant, gentleman's club-haunting Bustopher Jones; and contrary-minded Rum Tum Tugger. The show's emotional core resides with battered street cat Grizabella — once a beauty, now doddering and shunned by the others. When we're told at the beginning by wise Old Deuteronomy that tonight one of all the cats will be chosen to ascend to the Heaviside Layer — whatever that is — there's not a lot of suspense about who it will be. Along the way, you get insight into the naming of cats (turns out every cat needs three names), and also how to address a cat: "Before a Cat will condescend/To treat you as a trusted friend/Some little token of esteem/Is needed like a dish of cream." And the music and lyrics are as delicious as a saucer of cream, of course. This is Boulder's Dinner Theatre's second go at Cats, and though it's very like the 2004 production, it's been strengthened in a lot of small ways that make a very big difference. Perhaps most important, the cast features a few notable new dance talents, and there's something to catch and hold your attention at every moment as you confront a moving frieze of kitties cavorting, hissing, twitching and cleaning their own and each others' faces. The BDT's entire cast and crew approach this production with so much energy and enthusiasm that they've made it new again. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through September 24, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Reviewed June 2.
Five Course Love. This production consists of five musical scenes set in five different restaurants, each one a broad parody in which author Gregg Coffin spoofs stereotypes while shamelessly using and abusing them. There's a barbecue place featuring country/Western music; an Italian restaurant where a mob wife is cheating — very operatically — on her husband; a cozy German restaurant intended as a place of refuge for the Eleanor Rigbys of the world that ends up hosting a dominatrix and her men; a Mexican cantina where a sweet maiden must decide between the waiter's true love and the lustful excitement offered by an outlaw; and, finally, a standard '50s diner with a doo-wop ambience and a kindly owner called Pop. Three actors whip through all the roles, donning and doffing costumes and assuming jokey accents. It's all really silly — but some of the songs are musically witty (and very well played by musical director Troy Schuh and his musicians) and some downright balls-out daft. Others are really very lovely: the ballad about refuge from the rain sung by the German waiter, for example, and the love song "Blue Flame." Many of the best numbers in Five Course Love occur in the last couple of acts, and it's also only at the end that you learn there's a dramatic reason for a lot of hokeyness. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through June 19, Garner Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-8934100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed April 28.
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Caryl Churchill is not a playwright who repeats herself. She doesn't have an immediately identifiable writing style, nor does she revert to certain kinds of characters or situations. Her work tends to be politically aware and highly original, and each play is distinctly different. A Number, written in 2002, when the world was agog with news that a sheep called Dolly had been cloned, is short, spare and evocative, a quiet but anguished musing on the topics of cloning, identity and nature versus nurture. The plot follows a father, Salter, who has had one of his sons copied, and who discovers that an unscrupulous scientist used his genetic material to create several more clones. As the action begins, he's in conversation with the original clone, Bernard — the man he considers his real son — and it becomes evident that Bernard's understanding of the way he came into being is false. He has always been told that Salter wanted to reproduce a first baby who died. But it turns out that son number one — also Bernard — is very much alive, and he appears in the flesh to confront his father in the second scene. So as he considers legal action against the errant scientist, Salter ponders his own motivations: Were they to create a perfect human being, or to erase his own shortcomings as a parent? Bernard number one is insecure and afraid — not least of Bernard two, who is twisted and homicidal. And then appears clone son number three, who turns out to be a completely different kettle of fish. Much of the discussion about cloning over the past decade has been predictable, with experts noting that science and technology have bestowed capabilities that existing legal and ethical structures just aren't equipped to deal with. But what still resonates is Churchill's essential question, the one most of us ponder when we're alone: Who am I, and what does it mean to be me? Presented by Curious Theatre Company through June 17, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed May 19.
Rose Colored Glass. Rose Fleishman, a Jewish refugee from Austria, runs a delicatessen in Chicago, right across the alley from a pub owned by Lady O'Riley, a dour Irish widow. Separated by centuries of history, culture and religion, the two women are coldly formal toward each other, but Lady's irrepressible granddaughter, Peg, won't have it. She's forever shuttling between the eateries, chatting, asking questions, thinking up stratagems, and slowly, reluctantly, the women begin speaking to each other. The relationship deepens as Lady learns more about Rose's predicament. It's 1938, and through the increasingly unreliable news channels from Europe, Rose finds out that her sister Sabena has disappeared from Vienna and is either dead or in hiding, and that her eleven-year-old nephew, Abraham, has fled to England. She and Lady join forces to bring the child to America. This is a gentle, nostalgic piece that would make a charming essay, short story or one-act, but there's not enough action to animate a full-length play. The tone is far-reaching and humanistic, however, and important ideas are aired: humankind's provincialism, for example, and the way we tend to ignore far-away tragedies unless there's a specific story and name attached to them. There are also salutary reminders of America's shameful reluctance to take in Jewish refugees during World War II, the bureaucracy and anti-Semitism that saw thousands of professionals, workers and people with prosperous relatives in the United States turned away on the grounds that they might become a public burden. The play also does a good job of re-creating the war as seen from the United States; along with the characters, we attempt to tease out the words from a radio's crackling static and contemplate the huge importance of papers — birth certificates, visas — that can mean the difference between life and death. But the script itself is fairly static. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through June 19, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, www.minersalley.com. Reviewed May 12.
Two One-Acts. At the beginning of This Is My Significant Bother Buntport Theater's take on a handful of James Thurber stories, four actors are lying on a large bed, their left arms over the coverlet and perfectly aligned, each wearing a wedding ring. Thurber didn't have a very positive view of marriage; his men tend to be put-upon dolts and the women bossy harridans. The tone of this piece is slightly waspish, also sad and, in an understated way, very funny. The actors — helped by the music of the Hoagies, who play things like "Making Whoopee" and "Two Sleepy People" — have caught it perfectly, giving their portrayals a sort of stubby elegance. A man kills a spider at his wife's behest and then huddles under the covers, terrified by a flittering bat; a couple argues in their car about where to eat and whether Donald Duck is a more significant cultural icon than Greta Garbo; a husband decides to kill his wife so that he can marry his stenographer, and the wife, having gotten wind of this, tells him exactly how he's to do it; a divorced woman fills in her successor on all her ex-husband's idiosyncrasies while he silently and meticulously makes up the bed. The second one-act on the agenda is Cinderella an extended piece of intense silliness, narrated by a be-rouged Evan Weissman in what can only be called Manglish; the rest of the cast speaks pure gibberish. The play begins when Cinderella's sweet-faced mother (Erin Rollman) gives birth and almost instantly transforms into the Wicked Stepmother. She does this through a very clever costume change that forces her to walk backwards through the rest of the action. Doubling is a central theme here. Both stepsisters are played by Hannah Duggan, wearing an asymmetrical wig and two different shoes. Erik Edborg, the tallest member of the troupe, is our heroine. He's comforted in his sad predicament by his own left hand, which sings opera to him. When he's dressed up for the ball, he's represented by a simpering doll through another piece of costume magic. The coach is signified by a pair of horses clipped to a hat, the importance of Cinderella's leaving the ball by midnight emphasized by the clocks on the breast of her ball gown. "Your Feet's Too Big," the Hoagies sing helpfully, as an ugly sister tries to cram on that mythical slipper. Presented by Buntport Theater Company through June 18, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, www.buntport.com. Reviewed June 9.