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.
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Venus in Fur. The setting is the kind of rehearsal room every performer is familiar with: dusty and relatively bare, the windows grimy and patched over, an ancient fan rotating overhead. Slap-bang in the middle, though, there's a red velvet divan. Subtle shifts of light change the feel of the place periodically; it goes from being innocuous to feeling like those underground dungeons that leach the souls from human beings. Thomas is the author of a play called — like this play we're seeing — Venus in Fur, based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's nineteenth-century erotic novel, Venus in Furs. He wants to direct it himself because — irony of ironies — he requires control over his material. It's the end of the day, and he's on the phone to his fiancée describing the actors who have auditioned for the key role of Wanda with cool disdain. Enter Vanda — and the name's similarity to his character's is no coincidence. She flies in holding a broken umbrella and reciting a litany of complaints. She knows she's late, she says, but please, please let her audition. Thomas has no interest in her, but she's very persistent, and after a while, they start reading the play together. Now Vanda's demeanor changes and her accent becomes refined. Although she claims only to have glanced at the script on her way over, it's soon evident she knows it well and has also read the original novel. You know where this is going. Vanda is going to dominate Thomas physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, artistically. The only question is how she's going to do it. And why. At times Vanda seems to be a feminist who sees the play as an insult to all women. She's also incensed about the routine power struggle between directors and actors, particularly female actors. But maybe there's something stranger — maybe even something metaphysical — going on. Venus in Fur has been praised for its many levels of meaning, the constant shifts between reality and unreality. But the action gets repetitive after a while. You keep waiting for something that will change the trajectory — a reversal, a refutation, a shock or surprise — but it never comes. And despite all the talk of whipping and boot kissing, there isn't anything erotic — or even very human — about the evening. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through June 14, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, curioustheatre.org. Reviewed May 15.