A Round-Heeled Woman. Jane Juska's memoir, A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late Life Adventures in Sex and Romance, an account of her search for no-strings-attached sex, was a brave gamble — as was Edge Theatre's decision to produce the play based on the book. But Juska's gamble paid off, and so does this production. A retired high-school English teacher, Juska placed an ad in the New York Review of Books:"Before I turn 67 — next March — I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me." She received dozens of responses — some creepy, others interesting or touching — and she embarked on a series of affairs. At the point when she placed her ad, Juska hadn't had a date in thirty years. She did have a life, though. A principled and spirited woman, she escorted women through picket lines in front of abortion clinics; she taught creative writing to men on San Quentin's death row. In the play, the focus is far more on Jane's psyche than on her adventures, and the men are merely sketched in. As in the book, we get Jane's awareness that time is getting shorter, her ruefulness at what age is doing to her body, and the intense longing she feels to be held, have orgasms, be loved. But there's also a lot of psychobabble about her failed relationships and rage-filled son. Still, Juska's rich life experience, curiosity and humor do come through. Presented by the Edge Theatre through May 18, 1560 Teller Street, Lakewood, 303-232-0363, theedgetheatre.com. Reviewed May 1.
The Great Gatsby. The Arvada Center does costume drama very well, and The Great Gatsby, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel, is no exception. The costumes, by Clare Henkel, are lovely, and the production is filled with beautiful, stylized people, posing and languidly interacting. Central is charming Daisy, who — as you probably remember from high-school English classes — exudes a sense of privilege and money. She is married to Tom, also wealthy but a little blind, a little crude, fairly violent, and quite a lot racist — and who probably doesn't deserve her. Unless she's not all that she seems. But there's a neighbor in their exclusive Long Island enclave who feels she should most certainly be his, and that's Jay Gatsby. The two were once deeply and romantically in love, but Daisy grew impatient when he went off to war, and gave herself to Tom. Now Gatsby's back, having acquired immense wealth through shady and only partially specified dealings, living in showy splendor and ready to do whatever it takes to win Daisy back. All these goings-on are observed by Nick Carraway, Daisy's cousin and an impecunious outsider. In the novel, Fitzgerald's gorgeous and intensely romantic prose creates an evocative heightened reality. The problem with Simon Levy's adaptation is that, with the exception of short snippets, you lose the prose — and with it the power of the original. After a while you start questioning the simplistic plot and wondering just why you should care about these folks' vapid, meaningless lives. This is a pretty, smoothly professional production, but there's too much focus on outward elements and too little on the things that count: intellect, heart and discovery. Presented by the Arvada Center through May 25, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200, arvadacenter.org. Reviewed May 8.
This. This is an examination of the lives of some thirty-something New Yorkers. Merrell and Tom have a new baby, and sleeplessness is straining their relationship. There's also their gay friend Alan, who should be a cliché, but isn't. The couple has invited over a Frenchman, Jean Pierre — another possible but averted cliché — who's not only sexy, but works with Medecins Sans Frontieres. They're hoping he'll distract their friend Jane, who's been widowed a year and is having trouble coping with both her nine-year-old daughter and life in general. None of these people appears to have a real job — jazz singer, woodworker, professional mnemonist — or any financial problems, so they can focus entirely on their feelings. Yet This is anything but shallow. Jane is moody as the action opens, and her friends persuade her to play a tricky storytelling game; their answers to her questions lead her to believe that the story she's supposed to guess concerns her own life, and she leaves hurt and angry, eventually engaging in an action that threatens the fabric of their friendship and leaves her wracked with guilt. The dialogue is insanely witty and surprising. As it spins along, you realize that there are levels beneath the surface, levels having to do with race, class, how an individual life acquires meaning, mortality. Each character has a specific role in the dance, but none is a cipher. Jean Pierre is content to live up to the image of the suave Frenchman, attempting to light up a cigarette in Merrell and Tom's living room and observing the others' activities with that air of Gallic superiority that drives American men crazy and mesmerizes American women. But every now and then we get a glimpse of who he is at the core. Tom and Merrell's arguments are painfully true as well as petty. The most wonderfully drawn characters, however, are Jane and Alan, particularly as played by Josh Hartwell and Jessica Robblee. Hartwell is riveting, and comes across wiser and kinder than you'd expect. Robblee's Jane has a wired, vibrating presence, a kind of tempered cynicism that hooks you from the start. Thiscloses out a stunning season for Boulder Ensemble Theatre, one that included Annapurnaand the world premiere of And the Sun Stood Still. Presented by Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company through May 18, Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder, 888-512-7469, boulderensembletheatre.org. Reviewed May 8.
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