And the Sun Stood Still. The shining strength of Dava Sobel's And the Sun Stood Still is that, at a time when the sciences have been so muddied by sloppy thinking, willful ignorance and financial pressure, it provides insight into the scientific process and eloquently communicates the sheer beauty of astronomy. Nicolaus Copernicus is living in what was then the Kingdom of Poland with his housekeeper, Anna Schilling, whom Sobel imagines as a thoughtful, dedicated midwife. The relationship between Copernicus and Schilling is not fully understood now, and it was the subject of much gossip and speculation at the time; in the play, the fanatical local bishop, Johannes Dantiscus, refers to Anna as a harlot. Copernicus has been working on his revolutionary theory holding that the earth is not the center of the universe, but turns while the sun stands still. Aware of the furor, mockery and disruption this finding will arouse, he is reluctant to publish his work. But then he receives a visit from a brilliant young mathematician, Georg Joachim Rheticus, and Rheticus persuades him to publish On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres in 1543 — after thirty years of silence. At the play's heart are the conversations between Rheticus and Copernicus. We're all familiar now with Copernicus's heliocentric theory; what Sobel does is remind us of just how astonishing, exhilarating, infuriating and unsettling it was in its time, a gale of doubt and truth blowing through a deeply established set of ideas about humankind's place in the universe and relationship to God. Small wonder poor Rheticus reels as Copernicus explains that his theory is not abstract and philosophical, but a description of reality. The acting in this production is solid throughout, but it's Jim Hunt as Copernicus and Benjamin Bonenfant as Rheticus who supply the richness, warmth and humanity that bring the evening to life. Presented by the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company through April 20, Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder, 888-512-7469, boulderensembletheatre.org.
Good People. In Good People, David Lindsay Abaire returns to the milieu of his childhood. He grew up in Southie, a tough, working-class neighborhood of South Boston, and the play explores the culture of the place — in all its spite, solidarity and ambiguous pride. In the first scene, we see Margie getting fired from her job at a dime store. Stevie, who's doing the firing, is acutely uncomfortable. She's known him since he was a boy; she was on familiar terms with his mother. She uses every imaginable tactic: begging, bullying, nostalgia, neighborhood solidarity. But it's pretty clear she knows all along she won't win: Stevie's job is as much on the line as hers is. When Margie's with her friends Dottie and Jean, we see a different side of her. The three share a bickering, hard-nosed, situational warmth. They understand each other; they've all been hard-used; each would be quick to stick a knife in one of the others if her own self-interest required it. At her friends' urging, Margie decides to reconnect with an old boyfriend, Mike, now a fertility doctor living in upper-class Chestnut Hill with his elegant African-American wife, Kate. When they meet, Kate is nice to Margie in exactly the same self-conscious and slightly condescending way some white people are toward black people. In fact, nobody in this play is particularly nice; almost everyone is a study in acute passive aggression. And while you do feel for Margie, as you watch her clumsy, spiteful tactics, you can't help feeling that she brought much of her misfortune on herself. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through April 19, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, curioustheatre.org.
The Road to Mecca. Athol Fugard's The Road to Mecca
explores the huge and unanswerable questions: questions about age, death, love and trust, the meaning of home and the significance of art — how creativity animates our lives, what happens when creativity's lost. It does this through the lives of three lonely and uncertain people. The character of Miss Helen is based on the life of eccentric outsider artist Helen Martins, who returned in the 1930s after a long absence to the small village where she was born, in an arid region of South Africa called the Great Karoo. Bitterly lonely at first, she discovered her calling as an artist and began decorating her house with crushed colored glass and filling her garden with cement statues of owls, camels, sphinxes, mermaids, peacocks and wise men, all oriented toward the east, where she imagined Mecca as a great and wondrous city. The rigidly pious people of Nieu Bethesda were appalled by her work. We learn early on that Helen is resisting the efforts of the local pastor, Marius Byleveld, to get her moved from her crazily decorated house to a placid facility for the elderly. But she also has a deep and enduring friendship with Elsa Barlow, a dynamic and idealistic young schoolteacher. When Elsa stumbles through Helen's door after a long drive to see her friend, the action begins. Elsa is appalled by Marius's plans for Helen; Helen is shaken by Elsa's strange mood, her apparently unfounded touchiness and flashes of anger. Their rich, drawn-out and patiently limned encounter, with its odd stops and starts, is at the heart of the play. Then Marius visits, and he comes to dominate much of the second act. He's not exactly the man we expected from the women's descriptions. Sure, he's religious and conventional, but he genuinely cares for Helen and wants to protect her. The battle for Helen's soul goes on a little too long, but eventually all the elements come together for an ending that balances perfectly between hope and despair. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through May 4, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, minersalley.com.