The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). The Colorado Shakespeare Festival staged a pretty good version of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)
five years ago, so we're not sure why the CSF decided to bring it back this season. The show, written in 1987 by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, purports to deliver all of Shakespeare's plays in a single evening; the three hyperkinetic actors — Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski, Ian Andersen and Evan Zes — who perform this marvel of compaction even threaten to throw in the sonnets as well. The script leaves lots of room for byplay, improvisation and audience engagement, which means the actors' personal idiosyncrasies become a large part of the entertainment. The comedies are condensed into one narration that twines together all the plays' improbable plots, and each play is disposed of faster and more efficiently than the one before; the history plays become a football game with the crowd as football. A new version of Hamlettakes up the entire second act. There are moments that are close to inspired, as when the cast selects a woman from the audience to play Ophelia and then persuades the other audience members to portray her id, ego and superego by chanting and waving their hands. But really, there's not much here here. There are no incisive parodies, no attempts to mimic Shakespeare's verse or style, no pouncing on the actual absurdities in his plays — of which there are many. This isn't the kind of satire that arises from a real affection for the work, but the kind of humor you'd expect from a bunch of clever undergraduates studying for finals while chugging beer. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 17, University Theatre, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554. coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed June 27.
50 Shades of Loud. Heritage Square Music Hall will close down at the end of the year after more than two decades of hilarity in its Golden home, where a unique small company evolved an equally unique performing style. The shows are simultaneously bumbling and brilliantly staged, professional and apparently amateurish, silly and clever — and also gutsy and funny as hell. For a long time, a devoted audience came along night after night for the ride. But that audience dwindled, and that means the end of the music and laughter. For the moment, however, there's plenty of both as the intrepid troupe presents 50 Shades of Loud, the tenth and final entry in its
series — original summer-spoof musicals in which the members perform a string of popular numbers linked by a very thin excuse for a plot. In this one, Rory (Rory Pierce) has bought the house where T.J. (T.J. Mullin) and Annie (Annie Dwyer) grew up, and is about to move in — except that Mom is on the john reading Omagazineand shows no inclination to vacate. Rory's ex-wife, Johnette (Johnette Toye), is moving in a couple of blocks away. The tumultuous relationship between Annie and her teenage boyfriend, Bobby Lee — always played, with varying degrees of commitment or reluctance, by some guy Dwyer picks out of the audience — remains tumultuous even though they're now married. Annie plonks herself on this Bobby Lee's lap, ruffles his hair, drags him onto the stage, and berates him frequently. The entire cast is in terrific form. They do solos, duets and group numbers; play various instruments; execute sharp, synchronized moves; croon love songs and belt out hard rock. They don wigs and absurd costumes; the men sashay in ball gowns. And it wouldn't be Heritage without everyone donning bowl-cut black wigs for a Beatles number ("Back in the U.S.S.R.") and a hugely fat-suited Dwyer trundling around the stage as Mama Cass for "Creeque Alley." All the numbers are fun, but some are performed with such crazed passion that the entire house erupts in joyous shouts. Presented by Heritage Square Music Hall through September 8, 18301 West Colfax Avenue, Golden, 303-279-7800, heritagesquare.info. Reviewed July 11.
The House of Blue Leaves. John Guare's The House of Blue Leaves, first produced in 1971, is satiric, smart, poignant, farcical, highly metaphorical and filled with poetic flights of language, strange juxtapositions and dream descriptions. For all the surface humor, the script hints at or explores all kinds of significant themes: madness and whether the mad are actually more sane than the rest of us; general human self-delusion and idiocy; violence and war. The action takes place in 1965, on the day when, in real life, Pope Paul VI visited New York City to address the United Nations on the Vietnam War. Recurring metaphors include the zoo animals tended by Artie, the zookeeper protagonist, who are all on the verge of parturition as the play opens and have given birth in a great burst by the end. The house of blue leaves is the mental institution to which Artie wants his crazy wife, Bananas, committed, because on a visit to check out the place, he saw a tree covered with blue leaves that turned out to be bluebirds — presumably not of happiness. And everyone in The House of Blue Leaves is obsessed with fame. Artie is a songwriter on the side, though not a talented one, and his mistress, Bunny, is convinced he can be a star. For all the play's inventiveness, Guare doesn't really run down any of the hares he lets loose. The plot doesn't cohere; you never get one of those "Aha!" moments when all the craziness makes sense, even if only in a crazy way. Presented by Edge Theatre Company through August 11, 1560 Teller Street, Lakewood, 303-232-0363, theedgetheatre.com. Reviewed August 1.
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Macbeth. With Nigel Gore — an actor who comes to Shakespeare with a lot of authority and a willingness to take all kinds of risks on stage — playing the lead, and advance publicity that alluded to guns, smoke, Afghanistan and gruesome death scenes, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival seemed to promise a thrilling Macbeth. What we got, however, is a production that occasionally hits the heights, but is respect-worthy rather than revelatory. Gore is a strong Macbeth who makes such famous speeches as "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" new again, reminding us of how conceptually daring they are. But if his performance is idiosyncratic and naturalistic, Liza de Weerd is a very theatrical Lady Macbeth, and while he frequently surprises, she gives almost every line the exact reading you'd expect. The production's Afghanistan setting contributes some interest and nuance — as when Lady Macbeth covers her face at the entrance of Duncan and his men but shows no such reticence once she's become queen. But the Russian soldiers who eventually appear are a distraction, taking the action away from a place that feels timeless and bringing it into recent history. Who are the Duncans in this scheme — Marxists? Mujahideen? There's strong acting in smaller roles, and the first act is cleaner and more powerful than the second. The apparition of a bloody babe that confronts Macbeth is handled with originality. And the deaths of Lady Macduff and her children are staged with a fierceness that should propel the entire production. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 10, Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed July 4.
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 13.
Richard II. Just about every character in Richard II spends his time jockeying for power. When the action opens, the king is hearing a dispute between two nobles, Bolingbroke and Mowbray; he banishes both men. Bolingbroke's father, John of Gaunt, dies soon after, and Richard seizes Gaunt's lands — which are Bolingbroke's by law. An angry Bolingbroke returns to England, musters an army and deposes Richard. At first grandiose and oblivious, Richard is beaten down by events, forced to surrender his crown and scepter and, finally, alone in prison, brought face to face with his mortality. By the end, he's changed, if not transformed. He remains self-pitying but gives a series of astonishingly beautiful speeches on his fate. James Symons has directed a lucid, balanced and intelligent production that allows the viewer to focus on the dynamics among the characters, as well as the king's fate. The set is spare and elegant, the lighting and music inconspicuously expressive. Steven Cole Hughes is a strong Bolingbroke and Chip Persons an effective Richard, and there are fine performances in the supporting roles. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 16, University Theatre, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed July 25.