Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. The story of our seventh president set to propulsive emo-rock, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson could be the bastard child of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Spring Awakening, complete with torn-from-the-gut songs, black humor and lots of violence, suffering and blood. History is presented farcically — and with mingled accuracies and inaccuracies — but writer Alex Timbers and composer Michael Friedman also keep an unblinking focus on the real bloodshed that accompanied the founding of our country, the wars, the massacre and dislocation of Native Americans, the casual attitudes of the Founding Fathers toward slavery. Jackson is presented as a rock-star president, both a remorseless killer and a brave populist who despises East Coast elites and proposes to seize the country back for the real Americans. Director Benjamin Dicke faced a long journey to bring this production to fruition, raising money through Kickstarter and other means, and on what was to be opening day, he suffered an ugly accident, sustaining four broken ribs, a punctured lung and a large gash to the head. Refusing to let down his cast and crew, he struggled back and, astonishingly, was able to open the show and perform the lead role a scant three weeks later. Given all this, it would be wonderful to report a hugely successful performance, but most of the acting is at the level of a better-than-average high-school production, and the show as a whole lacks the propulsive energy needed to bring it to life. Presented by Ben Dicke Productions through October 28 at the Aurora Fox Arts Center Studio, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, 303-739-1970, www.bloodydenver.com, twitter.com/bloodydenver. Reviewed October 11.
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. A joint production of Curious Theater Company and Theatreworks, at Dusty Loo Bo Vivant Theater at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs through November 11; for information, go to www.theatreworkscs.org or call 719-255-3232. Reviewed September 13.
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Is He Dead? Artists tend to be praised and valued far more after their deaths than during their lifetimes, and clearly this paradox was not lost on Mark Twain, who made use of it in his play about Jean-Francois Millet — a real and very brilliant painter of his time. In this purely fictional piece, Millet's work just isn't selling, and he is being dunned by a ruthless capitalistic art dealer. His apprentice friends convince him to fake his death, which he does, reappearing on the Paris scene as his own sister, Daisy. Is He Dead? is not a work of earth-shattering importance; it's a farcical comedy involving cross-dressing, mistaken identities and caricaturish national stereotypes. But Twain being Twain, there are sublimely comic moments as well as the occasional trenchant observation on art, fame and usury. Steven Cole Hughes's Millet — who spends most of the evening in drag — is the backbone of this production. Although he wears a frilly dress and a ridiculous golden wig, he doesn't give us the usual mincing walk, smeary clown lipstick or high-pitched giggle. He's sort of earnest and trying hard to remember who he's supposed to be, since Daisy tends to lapse into regular guydom at the worst moments and has a regrettable habit of forgetting how many children she's had: "Slathers," she declaims airily. Although the evening starts off a little slow, with far too much exposition, it soon takes off like an express train — and you really don't want to miss the laughs. Presented by Creede Repertory Theatre and the Arvada Center for the Arts through October 28, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200, www.arvadacenter.org. Reviewed October 18.
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.