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Rancho Mirage. The dialogue in Rancho Mirageis swift and clever and the characters are vivid, if not particularly deep or likable. But while the trials and tribulations of the three couples involved are standard-issue — infidelity, money problems — they're presented in ways that are completely, off-the-map absurd. We start off in the expensively furnished, gated-community home of Nick and Diane and learn that they're bankrupt: Nick, an architect, has had no work for some time now. Trevor and Louise, who soon arrive, are having marital problems. Charlie and Pam harbor shifting and conflicting ideas about having children. So there are big issues, including who will take care of whose children if tragedy strikes, and also idiotic little ones, like why teenage Julie is babysitting for Trevor and Louise and neglecting Nick and Diane — who, Diane passionately asserts, have dibs on the girl's services. Even the dopey arguments mask deeper grievances and griefs; there's a lot these people don't tell each other, and many things aren't at all the way they're discussed and remembered. So it seems we're in for a black-hearted comic farce: Clearly these people will end up tearing each other apart, and that should be fun to watch, even if the warring-couples device isn't particularly original. But the second act is tinged with real sadness even as the plot twists remain ridiculous, and the characters become less cartoonish. Playwright Steven Dietz is a cunning plotter, and the structure of Rancho Mirageto some extent explains its emotional effect. In act one, you have a centrifugal movement. But instead of proceeding to the logical endgame in the second act — hysterical sobbing, crazed recriminations, someone brandishing a knife or gun — Dietz simply changes the direction of his spinning. Now the currents are centripetal, a return to a center of doubtless temporary but still touching gentleness and peace and an ending as satisfying as sweet cream. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through December 7, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, Reviewed November 7.

Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-ass Wit of Molly Ivins. Molly Ivins was a familiar figure in Colorado. For a while, she was the Rocky Mountain bureau chief for the New York Times. Later, she was a regular at the University of Colorado's Conference on World Affairs, where she could be found year after year laughing and holding forth between sessions with a group of acolytes. Ivins died of breast cancer in 2007 at the age of 62, and arguably a certain style of journalism — and a certain mystique — died with her. Among other things, Ivins helped break the gender barrier in journalism, and she did it as a dame, a broad, a liberal in a deep red state, a fiery populist. She loved skewering members of the Texas legislature, and they — as she freely admitted — gave her an awful lot to work with. It was Ivins who dubbed George W. Bush "Shrub," and who, having watched his performance as governor, warned the nation loudly and frequently not to make him its president. After Ivins's death, twin sisters Margaret and Allison Engel decided to immortalize her life and words for the stage. Red Hot Patriot begins with Ivins at her desk, attempting to write a column about her father — a man as stubborn and tough as herself, but with politics diametrically opposed to her own. This leads her to reminisce about her life and work. The playwrights quote freely from her writing, and we get nuggets of her wit throughout. The ending is a touch sentimental, the exhortation from one of her columns to take to the streets against the Vietnam War a little predictable, but these elements are earned, and the evening would be poorer without them. Presented by the LIDA Project through November 30 at the Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder, 303-444-7328,

Spamalot. That's the unmistakable voice of Jerry Lewis you hear when God appears to Arthur in Spamalot and instructs him to seek the Holy Grail. What is this Holy Grail, the knights wonder, staring upward. Some kind of cup? Well, couldn't they just buy a new one? Lewis is a friend of Boulder's Dinner Theatre artistic director Michael J. Duran, and he agreed to lend those familiar tones and that well-loved demanding whine to this production. Lewis doesn't actually appear on stage: God is represented by a pair of huge cardboard feet descending from the ceiling. The musical was written by Eric Idle and based on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in the best tradition of such punny, capering, mildly scatalogical (lots of fart jokes) and altogether lunatic English comedy as Fawlty Towers. The dialogue is a hoot. When Arthur tells a raggedy subject he's the king, the subject turns out to be an anarchist with a lot to say about the anti-democratic nature of monarchy. A princess locked in the tower by her strict father is actually a delicate princeling yearning for gay love. The songs are blithe and tuneful, and there are clever sendups of all kinds of Broadway tropes. There's "The Song That Goes Like This," which parodies Andrew Lloyd Webber; The Lady of the Lake's tantrum, "The Diva's Lament" ("Whatever happened to my part?"); and a hilarious take-off on Fiddler on the Roof: "You Won't Succeed on Broadway" (If You Don't Have Any Jews)." Director Piper Lindsay Arpan, who performed in Spamalot on Broadway, has assembled a talented cast, and every member is clearly having a blast. So is the audience.. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through March 1, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, Reviewed November 21.


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