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.
Clybourne Park. Racism persists, but the ways in which we feel and express racism change with the times. Bruce Norris's brilliant Clybourne Park was inspired by Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, at the end of which the Youngers, a struggling black family, are about to move into a white neighborhood. Norris has imagined the inhabitants of the house they will move into, Russ and Bev. These people, who have a black maid, Francine, are the product of their times, completely unaware of their own prejudices. Karl, a neighbor — and the only holdover character from Raisin — arrives with his deaf wife, Betsy, to try and talk them out of selling to the Youngers. Turns out, there is a tragic reason why they are selling the house so cheaply: Their son committed atrocities against civilians while fighting in Korea, and eventually killed himself in the home. The second act takes place in 2009, when the neighborhood is primarily black, and Steve and Lindsey, a white couple, are about to move into 406 Clybourne Street, ambitious architectural plans in hand. Along with their lawyer, they're in discussions with Lena and Kevin, a professional black couple who represent the neighborhood committee. These two are concerned about maintaining the area's historical integrity, and perhaps less than thrilled about having white neighbors. Norris has not only provided some of the most charged, funny and thought-provoking dialogue imaginable, he has also found very different dramaturgical styles for the two eras represented in his play. Act one feels like a '50s drawing room comedy, or perhaps an episode of All in the Family, with Bev as a less insightful Edith Bunker. Act two is completely different: more overtly satiric, with swifter, often broken dialogue. Everyone's a liberal now. Everyone shops at Whole Foods. And all these characters are hyper-aware of race and step so gingerly around it that they're barely able to communicate at all. It's no surprise when racist venom breaks dangerously through. The Denver premiere of this Pulitzer-winning play is stunning, both in terms of tech and of the performances. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through October 15, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed September 15.