My Hideous Progeny. When Mary Shelley — poet, essayist, novelist and, most famously, the creator of Frankenstein — lost one of the four babies she conceived with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (only one child ultimately survived), he placed her in a tub of ice water to stop the hemorrhaging that threatened her life. This provides the central image for My Hideous Progeny, a meditation on life, art, creativity and those determined outsiders and occasional exiles, the Romantic poets Shelley and Byron. The inspiration for Frankensteinwas a parlor game during which Lord Byron challenged all the participants to write a ghost story. John Polidori, another writer who was also present, supposedly took up an eventually abandoned idea of Byron's and turned it into "The Vampyre," the first vampire story published in English. While we've come to expect some humor from Buntport Theater Company, My Hideous Progeny is very serious. Quoting from letters and journals, the play gives us Mary Shelley's feverish thoughts, along with her husband's sleepwalking and laudanum-inspired delirium. There are dreams, symbols and meditations on art and creativity. None of the five actors reveals those spiky and specific personalities we're accustomed to at Buntport, and though this shows admirable restraint, it also means that the only character who's at all interesting is Byron. Evan Weissman plays him as a conceited fool, providing a few moments of humor. Despite all the lyrical talk, My Hideous Progeny gives us the Romantic poets' narcissism without the poetry, while also withholding the creepy pleasures of a good ghost story. Presented by Buntport Theater Company through October 22, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, www.buntport.com. Reviewed October 6.
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Parlour Song. At the beginning of Parlour Song, demolitions expert Ned is showing videos of his work to his neighbor, Dale, owner of a car wash. Dale is polite but uninterested; he's seen them many times before, though Ned seems to have forgotten showing them to him. But for the audience, the videos are fascinating: the balance between control and destruction, the way a building leans almost reluctantly into itself, slowly hollowing before exploding in a slow, beautiful, meditative ballet. This is also a fitting representation of what is happening within Ned's marriage to restless, indifferent Joy, and, in fact, to his entire life. Objects are disappearing from Joy and Ned's house, and Ned is trying to do everything he can think of to keep his wife. He enlists the help of Dale in an effort to lose weight. In one of the evening's funniest scenes, he listens to a sex-advice tape, learning how to deploy his tongue during oral sex. In most disintegrating-in-suburbia fiction, the protagonists dull their pain with sleeping pills and anti-depressants. Ned can't do that: His demolition contract requires that he never take drugs. So when Joy discovers pills, they turn out to be — pathetically — the Rogaine he's purchased to save his hair. There's a persistent undertone of menace that makes comparisons to Pinter inevitable, and a persistent sense of deracination, instability, change and the loss and deterioration caused by time's passing. Although this production is oddly uninvolving, it's still worth seeing because Butterworth's dialogue is so fiercely funny, and because it stars three of the best actors in the area. Presented by Paragon Theatre through October 29, 1387 South Santa Fe Drive, 303-914-6458, www.paragontheatre.org. Reviewed October 6.
To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is an institution, a must for every high school curriculum, the inspiration for a well-loved film starring Gregory Peck and scripted by Horton Foote, the starting point for discussions of race ever since the novel first appeared in 1960. Unfortunately, Christopher Sergel's stage adaptation, like so many novel-to-play enterprises, is a plodding, static affair. While the book's characters are brought to life by Lee's vivid, poetic description, the characters onstage are flat — and it's hard to believe that anyone, anywhere, ever really spoke as they do. The story is narrated by an adult version of Finch's adoring daughter, Scout. As six-year-old Scout and her brother, Jem, play with an eccentric visiting boy called Dill, speculate on a reclusive neighbor, and struggle to fathom their father's work and the mysteries of the grown-up world, the narrator hovers benignly. It's charming at first, less so as the evening progresses. The second act, in which Finch defends Tom Robinson, the alleged rapist, is more involving, though the characters remain unconvincing. Finch is consistently noble, dispassionate and courteous; Tom humble, polite and subdued. If the man is terrified — he's barely escaped a lynching, after all — he doesn't show it. Like Tom, most of the black characters are primarily window dressing. The Finches' maid, Calpurnia, is strict but loving. During the trial, a group of black townspeople sit in the balcony like a Greek chorus — except they don't even get to comment. Insightful direction could perhaps rescue the play, but Sabin Epstein's production is as straightforward and unimaginative as a preachy after-school special. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through October 30, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed October 13.