A Midsummer Night's Dream. The cast for A Midsummer Night's Dream, the first offering in this year's Colorado Shakespeare Festival, has many strengths. When did you last even notice who played First Fairy? Or Peter Quince? When the former is Nicole Bruce and the latter Greg West, you notice and remember. And all of the other performers provide moments of insight and pure delight. The wonderful thing is that while the people on stage are clearly enjoying themselves, nobody's self-absorbed, hamming it up or stepping on anyone else's toes, thanks to director Geoffrey Kent's terrific structure and pacing. Kent's approach to Shakespeare is respectfully disrespectful. He lets his actors improvise comic bits and mess with the text, as when Puck — who sports vivid new accoutrements almost every time he appears — asks an audience member if she likes his hat. But while there are all kinds of silly bits of business, the goofing never gets in the way of the dialogue. You can understand exactly what's being said and what each character is feeling, even as the four young lovers scream insults at each other and launch physical attacks. This Dream is set in the 1920s. Director Geoffrey Kent chose the period because women were testing limits then and demanding their rights. So this Hermia (forbidden by her father to wed Lysander) and Helena (in love with Demetrius, who loves Hermia) are both as strong-willed as they are ridiculous in their moony-eyed search for love. Titania is pretty tough, too. Even as she squabbles with her king, Oberon, and makes a swoony ass of herself over Bottom, she's as secure in her right to rule the universe — or at least the English countryside — as the Queen of England herself, whether Victoria or (either) Elizabeth. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 8, Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed June 12.
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Collected Stories. Donald Margulies's Collected Stories is a small, tight play about a relationship between two women. But beneath the cozy, familiar milieu and the smart dialogue, there are evocative questions, and there's also a sea of feeling. Ruth is a respected and important writer, though her reputation rests primarily on a book of brilliant short stories she produced in her twenties. Now she's middle-aged, crotchety, and very protective of her status in the literary world. As the play opens, she's awaiting a visit from a student, Lisa, who's coming for advice and to get a critique of her latest short story, Eating Between Meals. When Lisa arrives, she's worshipful, puppyish and very nervous. As they talk, it turns out that Ruth, despite her customary and calculated cynicism, has found at least a few scenes and phrases to admire in Lisa's story. Lisa is employed as Ruth's assistant, and their relationship evolves over the next six years. The younger woman begins to get published, her own authority as a writer grows — and the balance of power and affection between the women shifts and shifts again. Now the girl who wept when the older writer became angry can defend herself; she can even critique Ruth's writing as a colleague. And Ruth, childless and unmarried, finds herself dealing with a highly equivocal mix of feelings: genuine delight in the success of a protege she's come to see as a daughter, and envy as Lisa's fame threatens to eclipse her own. And then Lisa commits what Ruth sees as an act of betrayal. This is a quiet gem, and Miners Alley Playhouse gives it a sometimes moving production. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through July 14, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, minersalley.com. Reviewed June 20.