After the Revolution. Playwright Amy Herzog enters a very specific world in After the Revolution: the passionate, close-knit, hyper-idealistic world of Jewish Communism in New York City during the early decades of the twentieth century. For these activists, Soviet Russia was a model. But when Khrushchev denounced Stalin during the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, American Communists were forced to re-evaluate. Some renounced Marxism, some continued to believe in its basic tenets but left the party, and others became apologists for Stalin. Among these deniers — or semi-deniers — are members of the Joseph family in Herzog's play. The year is 1999. Grandfather Joe Joseph, now deceased, is a towering figure in the family's mythology, a hero of the left who stood up to the bullying of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. His granddaughter Emma has inherited his passion for politics. A lawyer, she heads the Joe Joseph Fund, which seeks justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal, a real-life Black Panther sentenced to death for the murder of a policeman. When she discovers that Joe was in fact a spy for the Soviets during World War II, her entire world is shattered. She cuts off communication with her father, Ben, because he hadn't told her, argues with Miguel, her lover and co-worker, and contemplates ditching the fund. Helpless, Ben tries again and again to reach out to Emma. Playwright Amy Herzog has said that she sees her work as centering more on the father-daughter relationship than on politics. But the Josephs aren't the kind of people you can readily empathize with. Ben really is a bit of a blind dope, and Emma is far too self-righteous. Only Uncle Leo, a gentle spirited soul, has escaped the family sin of dogmatism — and the price is that his three children are completely apathetic. The play is more interesting for the things it has to say about the way cultural and historical perceptions change with the passing of time. Emma can never really understand the circumstances that shaped her family, though in some ways she's still trapped by them, while they can never leave their ingrained beliefs behind long enough to move into the present. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through October 19, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, curioustheatre.org. Reviewed September 19.
Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. There are so many levels to Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
and such a mix of clarity and evocative ambiguity in the way these levels are presented. The play talks about the ugliness and irrationality of war and the dividing lines between cultures — also those between animal and human, life and death, compassion and cruelty. American soldiers rampage through a burning landscape they don't begin to understand; Iraqis struggle to survive. No one is purely good or purely evil, with one exception: Uday Hussein, Saddam's son, appears here as a strutting, heartless braggart. The action begins as a couple of soldiers, Tom and Kev, guard the Tiger's cage. Tom boasts to Kev about the loot he's taken from Uday's gaudy palace. The Tiger paces hungrily; when Tom tries to feed him, he bites off his hand. Kev responds by shooting the Tiger. But the dead never stay dead in this world, and no violent act is ever really over. Literally haunted by the Tiger, Kev finds his mind beginning to go in the middle of his brutal interrogation of an Iraqi family. Like the Tiger, in death he transforms, slowly gaining in understanding. Then there's Musa, Tom's translator, haunted by another corpse: Uday himself, carrying the head of his brother Qusay in a bag and endlessly taunting Musa with the details of how he tortured and murdered Musa's young sister. Though it deals with issues of life and death, Bengal Tiger is oddly gentle in tone, and frequently very funny. It engages your brain, mind and heart simultaneously, cooking up a mix of insights and questions you'll be exploring for some time to come. Presented by Edge Theatre Company through September 29, 1560 Teller Street, Lakewood, 303-232-0363, theedgetheatre.com. Reviewed September 12.
Camelot. This show suffers from mediocre songs — with the exception of "If Ever I Would Leave You" — and a dumb script. As it opens, King Arthur is nervous about meeting his queen-to-be, Guenevere, and she is equally worried about the coming nuptials with him. They meet cute, falling for each other before either realizes who the other actually is. Arthur's an idealist who wants to renounce violence and inaugurate a reign of peace and wisdom symbolized by the famous round table, designed so that no single knight can ever sit at its head. She's in part pure 1950s stereotype, in part scheming manipulator who uses her beauty to get everyone to do her bidding. Perhaps she's supposed to gain in wisdom as the action progresses, but neither the script nor the performance communicates this. The plot is muddled — but one thing you can count on from director Rod Lansberry is beautiful singing, and the three leads don't disappoint. David Bryant Johnson's Arthur has a full-throated and gorgeous voice, and Mitchell a purely lovely one. Glenn Seven Allen, who plays Lancelot, has a tenor that melts your heart. Presented by the Arvada Center through October 6, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200, arvadacenter.org. Reviewed September 19.
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