The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity. The opening moments are pulse-poundingly exciting — music, live wrestling, flashing lights, tons of adrenaline from an already hyped-up audience. But the actual scripted beginning of the play is quiet, as a Puerto Rican kid called Mace describes his lifelong fascination with pro wrestling in an extended and appealing monologue. Now Mace is immersed in the world he so admired as a kid: He's a literal fall guy, the fighter employed to lose to the federation's star, Chad Deity — who, in fact, can't fight a lick. Then Deity swaggers down the aisle while rock music roars, tossing out hundred-dollar bills bearing his likeness, a huge gold belt accentuating his magnificently muscled torso, and the adrenaline surges again. Through the entire evening, the play's mix of emotional intensity and over-the-top theatricality grabs us in a headlock and won't let go. Mace meets a hyper-charged young Indian from Brooklyn named Vigneshwar Paduar, or VP, who's fluent in the tough-guy speak of several city neighborhoods and also a handful of foreign languages, and introduces him to league owner EKO, who soon figures out a way to make use of what he sees as the Indian's indeterminate nationality in the ring. He'll be from one of those Middle Eastern countries like Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, or — hey! — Israel. They'll dub him the Fundamentalist, and he'll fight a wholesome all-American boy. Mace, wearing an idiotic sombrero and dubbed Che-Chavez-Castro, will serve as villainous sidekick. None of this is subtle — but nor is professional wrestling's shameless dealing in prejudice and stereotype. The wonder is that so many Americans outside the wrestling scene accept these cartoonish and xenophobic ideas. The script is absorbing, funny, wicked smart. Though playwright Kristoffer Diaz's parody of the wrestling world is broad, his characters are shaded and individualized. The real brilliance of Chad Deity, however, goes beyond the script, and lies in the play's pure theatricality, the way Diaz uses the grimy, over-the-top antics of professional wrestling to tell a story with brain and heart. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through October 13, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. (The play is co-produced by Theatreworks and will move to the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs on October 19; for information, go to www.theatreworkscs.org or call 719-255-3232). Reviewed September 13.
Fences. This play revolves around a deeply flawed protagonist. The year is 1957, and Troy Maxson — who was once a star player in the Negro Leagues (he'd started playing baseball in prison, where he was sent for a murder he committed during a robbery) — is now a garbage collector. He soon becomes the company's first black driver, and he feels isolated in that position. Maxson's father was bestial and violent, and he himself is deeply damaged. Maxson's wife, Rose, is devoted, but she also has a profound and original mind and heart of her own; their seventeen-year-old son, Cory, is a decent student with a chance for a career in professional football. The plot is more straightforward and less discursive than usual for Wilson. It deals with the effects of Maxson's twisted spirit on the others in his world. He snuffs out Cory's dreams with singular coldness. He's lusty and loving toward Rose but unable to see her as a separate human being. The play's title refers to the fence Rose asks Maxson to erect around their shabby little house and yard, a fence that has clear symbolic meaning. She wants protection for her home and those she loves. Her husband wants to repel the outside world and control the domain within. In addition to the web of family, Fences explores webs of time, space and culture, the myriad interactions between an individual and his history. Lou Bellamy's craftsmanlike direction does justice to this magnificently evocative play, but there are shortcomings. Often the rhythms feel off, with some passages rocketing by and others stretching out emptily, so that the currents moving among these complicated people never quite touch us as they should. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through October 14, Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed October 4.
The Threepenny Opera. In Bertolt Brecht's groundbreaking 1928 piece The Threepenny Opera, the Peachums run a begging operation, showing destitute people how to arouse sympathy in the comfortably well fed, sending them out to beg and then taking their cut. The joke is that they operate just like conventional businesspeople for whom the poor are a commodity and source of profit. Which is not to say that Brecht presents these beggars as pitiable; on the contrary, he shows that poverty and deprivation twist the soul as much as they do the body. The murderous Macheath is another kind of capitalist, king of a murky underworld of robbery, backstreet deals, prostitution and violent death. The police, represented by Macheath's old army buddy Tiger Brown, are in cahoots with Macheath. Well, at least as long as it isn't too inconvenient. When the Peachums' daughter Polly runs off and marries Macheath, her parents are outraged, and they arrange for one of his many women to betray him to the police in the hope of seeing him hanged. The dialogue is cynical, mocking all conventional ideas about love, compassion, decency and justice, and the play's structure is mocking, too, challenging the theater of Brecht's time by deliberately reminding the audience that what they're watching is an artifact and not a representation of reality, and that any idea of empathy with the characters is absurd. But the songs account in large part for this show's popularity. They're amazing: jazz-inflected, alternately melodic and raucous, sometimes accompanied by a thumping hurdy-gurdy beat. The trouble with this production is that the director doesn't seem to have decided on any specific interpretation: There's a raggedy quality to the show, and it could clearly have used a couple more weeks of rehearsal in addition to a firmer directorial hand. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through October 21, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, www.minersalley.com. Reviewed September 13.
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The Value of Names. As the play opens, a father and daughter are seated on the patio of an opulent Malibu home overlooking the ocean. Benny is a brilliant Jewish comic who lost his livelihood and reputation during the Red Scare of the 1950s — though he has now come back to achieve a measure of fame and wealth. Norma is an actress who has just been cast in an interesting new play, one that could help make her career. Everything comes to a head when the director of her play becomes ill and is replaced by Leo, the man who betrayed her father thirty years ago. Leo visits the house in Malibu to persuade Norma to continue in the role. Benny confronts him. Arguments — two-sided, three-sided — ensue. Periodically, Norma steps out of the action to provide narration. This could make for a rather static format, except that the characters are interesting, and Benny is often very funny in that warmly humorous Borscht Belt style. The issues the play explores remain intensely relevant. Will Benny forgive Leo, and should he? Playwright Jeffrey Sweet never quite tips his hand here, though he makes it clear that Benny's enduring bitterness probably caused his divorce and continues to distort and vex his daughter's life. The problem is that Leo never asks for forgiveness or admits even obliquely that he's done anything wrong. It says a lot for the play, as well as for Richard Pegg's intelligent and meticulous direction, that Sweet's questions keep the audience both emotionally and intellectually engaged through an intriguing ninety minutes. Produced by Theatre Or and the Mizel Arts and Culture Center through November 4, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-316-6360, www.maccjcc.org. Reviewed September 27.