Ed, Downloaded. Michael Mitnick's Ed, Downloaded, which was commissioned by the Denver Center Theatre Company, had a reading at last year's New Play Summit and is currently receiving its world premiere. It tells the story of a young man with a terminal illness who is engaged to an intellectual Englishwoman, Selene, but falls in love with perky, iconoclastic Ruby, who works street corners as a marionette. Selene is the administrator of the world's only Forevertery, a place where the dying can upload and store their happiest memories and thus continue living them after death. The first act is winsome. Selene and Edward encounter Ruby; later, Ruby shows up at the museum where Edward works. The two of them fall in love, eat pistachio ice cream and wander through the woods. Their dialogue is funny and sweet, so it doesn't occur to you at the time that a lot of essential questions are going unanswered. Besides, you're dazzled by the brilliant tech, which keeps your brain alert — contrasting, inferring, making connections — and provides all the poetic depth that the script aspires to and doesn't quite achieve. Visually, the evening is pure delight. But by the second act, you realize fully how thin the characterizations are. Having found out after his death that Ed's stored memories are not of her, an unhinged Selene begins uttering the kinds of insults you'd expect from a pissed-off ten-year-old. And when Ruby pulls out a shotgun, all chance of suspending disbelief is gone. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through February 17, the Ricketson, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed January 24.
Maple and Vine. This play contrasts life in modern America with life in 1955, the changes in mores and culture, the differences in eating habits between now and a time when lattes were unknown, as were whole-wheat bread and any herb other than dried oregano. The result could be a razor-sharp satire shedding merciless light on both time periods, or it could go deeper and say something about the supposed freedoms of contemporary life versus the repressive conventionality of 1955. But Maple and Vine doesn't accomplish either. Ryu and Katha are a successful, linked-in modern pair: He's a plastic surgeon and she's a publishing executive. But she is also stressed, unhappy and grieving over a recent miscarriage. When she meets synthetically smiling Dean and Ellen, spokescouple for a gated community dedicated to re-creating life in 1955, and is invited to join, she seizes the opportunity and convinces a skeptical Ryu to take the leap with her. All of this is funny at first, as Katha dishes up crab puffs to Dean and Ellen and exults over glass bottles of milk delivered to her doorstep. Meanwhile, improbably, Ryu takes a job at a box factory. Playwright Jordan Harrison suggests there's a certain seductiveness to a culture as rigidly controlled as that of the '50s, but he shows there's also a dark underside of homophobia and racism — and Japanese-American Ryu soon begins to feel the effects of the latter. The plot is flimsy, even for a fantasy, and none of the characters really make sense. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through February 23, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed January 17.
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RFK: A Portrait of Robert Kennedy. Although this one-man show is in some ways hagiographic, it also humanizes its subject, showing his vulnerabilities and flaws. The Kennedys are generally seen through a haze of nostalgia, with Robert Kennedy remembered as handsome, idealistic, well-read and physically courageous, an inspiring presidential candidate who had just won the California primary when he was shot down in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Yet there were criticisms, too. He was ruthless in managing his brother's presidential campaign, obsessive in his pursuit of organized crime as attorney general. His relationship with Martin Luther King Jr. was testy, and he'd had the great civil rights leader's phone tapped. Some observers questioned the sincerity of his interest in social justice, pointing out that it had come late. RFK reveals that if this idealism did come late, it also ran deep. In James O'Hagan Murphy, director Terry Dodd has found the perfect actor to play RFK. As an actor, Murphy always tends to give the impression of holding something back, something ambiguous and slightly shaded back. So he's able to portray all of RFK's contradictions, soul searchings and internal arguments, the spasms of petty vanity and also the greatness of soul. Presented by Vintage Theatre through January 27, 1468 Dayton Street, Aurora. 303-856-7830, www.vintagetheatre.com. Reviewed January 10.