Collapse. Comedy doesn't usually get the respect accorded tragedy, but if you analyze the way that playwright Allison Moore has put together Collapse — the varying rhythms of the dialogue (everything from a touching monologue to a hyper-rapid patch of stichomythia); the surprises that seem inevitable once they've occurred; the easiness with which she moves from laugh-out-loud funny to heartfelt while doing both justice; and, above all, the way the play rollicks along for ninety swift minutes, keeping you completely engaged and laughing the whole time — you realize that this stuff is just as hard to write as all those heavy, violent and portentous critical darlings. Perhaps harder. Moore built her plot around the tragic collapse of the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge in Minnesota in 2007, which killed thirteen people and injured 145. It's a mark of her skill that she can create humor from this tragedy and its aftermath without in any way diminishing the event's seriousness and consequence. While there are familiar elements — a troubled marriage, a wacky visiting sister whose presence upends a fragile household, a leering horndog, a mysterious package that needs to be delivered to a man called Bulldog — they're handled with complete originality. David, the male half of the couple, was driving on the bridge when it collapsed, and hasn't recovered. Unable to go to work, he hangs around the house in pajamas and sweatshirt. His wife, Hannah, is at her wits' end trying to deal with him, a recent miscarriage and another kind of collapse — that of the economy, as the law firm where she works plans to downsize. Enter sister Susan, broke and homeless. The vitality of the evening — and it is very alive — rests on two wonderfully eccentric performances: Clad in vivid rusts and oranges that perfectly accentuate her red hair and lively persona, Jessica Austgen makes Susan as narcissistic as she is disarming; Michael Morgan's Ted is creepy and pathetic, but also seductive in an oddly backhanded way.
Collapsereceived good reviews in Berkeley earlier this year and goes on to Dallas's Kitchen Dog Theater next. Let's hope this is just the beginning of its on-stage life. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through December 10, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed November 10.
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Cannibal! The Musical. Cannibal! The Musical began life as a movie written by pre-South Park and Book of Mormon Trey Parker, back when he was a film student at the University of Colorado. It starred Parker himself and Matt Stone, and later evolved — or perhaps degenerated — into a stage production that bears all the hallmarks of a Parker-Stone collaboration: juvenile humor, lots of blood, complete irreverence, the slaughter of innocents and, every now and then, one of those imaginative comic leaps that leaves you amazed and laughing your head off. The action begins with a major bloodletting, a fantasy in which the performers enact a prosecutor's description of Alferd Packer's crimes. Found guilty and awaiting execution, Packer is visited by news reporter Polly Pry and tells her his version of the story. As he presents himself, Packer is almost Candide-like in his youth and inexperience, and innocently in love with his horse, Liane. On the expedition, he encountered a tribe of Indians with Japanese accents and three murderous trappers, one of whom, Frenchy, had designs on Liane far less innocent than his. This production presents Cannibal! in exactly the dumb, boisterous way it requires; watching is sort of like observing a group of six-year-old boys at a birthday party leaping on trampolines, hamming it up for each other, trying to top each other's jokes and farts. It's a lot of fun for a while, but like a wounded snake, the production drags itself across the stage for close to three hours, with jokes that were only mildly funny to begin with repeated over and over. By the second hour, the cast is still having a high old time — and so is much of the audience — but the play has corpsed and is beginning to smell. Presented by Next Pony and Planet X Productions through November 26, Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street, 303-477-9984, wwwbugtheatre.com. Reviewed November 17.
A Streetcar Named Desire. When Blanche, desperate and destitute, comes to live with her sister Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire, she finds Stella sexily and happily married to Stanley, a working-class yob. The couple's home in the steamy New Orleans French Quarter is a long way from the sisters' privileged Southern-belle background, and Blanche, with her fluttery, self-indulgent mannerisms, is like a red flag to Stanley's bull. The man may be uneducated, but he's hardly stupid, and he understands that the issues of class and propriety Blanche represents are a direct threat to his marriage. Hence his redoubled fury when he discovers how thin, frayed and dishonest her claim to gentility really is. The tiny stage at Germinal brings into strong focus something I'd only half-noticed in the play before: These people are living in suffocating proximity to each other, denied even a whisper of privacy for sex or conversation, forced to change clothes under only the flimsiest of cover. Stanley's friend Mitch must court Blanche within earshot of Stanley's noisy poker games; Stanley fumes outside the bathroom when he needs to take a leak because his sister-in-law is enjoying the long soaks she claims she needs to settle her nerves. An excellent production of a play as great as Streetcar — and this is such a production — always shifts your interpretation a little. Nuances alter; you understand the characters differently. Tom Borrillo isn't an obvious choice for Stanley, who's usually presented as a magnetically sensuous hunk, but he makes the character real and down to earth, clumsily bearish rather than macho, but keeping you aware at all times of Stanley's capacity for violence. I've seen Stella played as a contented cow, and Blanches who are all frantic jitter, but the characterizations here go deeper. Presented by Germinal Stage Denver through December 11, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 303-455-7108, www.germinalstage.com. Reviewed November 17.