Jackie and Me. Jackie and Me, Steven Dietz's dramatization of a young-adult book by Dan Gutman, is a kids' show, and also a remarkably flat and didactic one. It tells the story of a baseball-crazed boy named Joey Stoshak, who, with the help of a magical baseball card, goes back to 1947 and meets his idol, Jackie Robinson, the man who changed the game and, in the process, racial dynamics in America. Joey has a problem with his temper, and Robinson shows him how to deal with it. His parents are on the verge of separating, and Joey's adventures help bring them back together. Pretty much everyone is a cardboard character. Joey jumps around a lot and has little jokes, but he's still one of those stereotypical cutely tough but vulnerable Brooklyn kids. Mom and Dad are nice, nice, nice: You start longing to witness one serious squabble between them. As for Robinson himself, he's so noble he seems poised to step onto a plinth and instantly transmogrify into marble. The entire play is sanctimonious, preachy and sodden with wet-eyed nostalgia; even for a kids' story, the plot beggars belief. In most children's literature, the young live in a fantastical world that's closed to their elders, but Joey's parents know he is able to travel through time, and they actually suggest errands for him to accomplish when he does this. And once he's in the 1940s, Joey is transformed in a way that's seriously hard to stomach. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through December 22, Space Theatre. Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, denvercenter.org. Reviewed November 28.
Rancho Mirage. The dialogue in Rancho Mirage is 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 Mirage
to 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, curioustheatre.org. Reviewed November 7.
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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, bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Reviewed November 21.