Reviewed: Act of God, Hand to God and Two More Shows on Denver Stages

John Hauser as Jason in Hand to God.
John Hauser as Jason in Hand to God.
Michael Ensminger

Holiday shows are filling stages around town, but there are plenty of options that aren't all tinsel and mistletoe. Keep reading for capsule reviews of four productions currently on stage in metro Denver.

Wesley Thomas in an Act of God.
Wesley Thomas in an Act of God.
AdamsVisCom

Act of God. God has appeared to us in the person of Broadway and television actor Wesley Taylor (Smash, The Good Wife). In this ninety-minute script by David Javerbaum, winner of multiple Emmys for his work on The Daily Show, God explains that he’s “a jealous, petty, sexist, racist, mass-murdering narcissist” — something we could have guessed simply from the state of the world — who has come back to edit the Ten Commandments because they’re out of date. With God are his two favorite angels: Gabriel, who actually seems quite a bit more compassionate and ethical than the deity himself, and Michael, who’s prone to asking difficult questions, and whom God rapidly silences and punishes. Lounging in dazzling white robes on a dazzling white sofa in an elegantly dazzling room, God acquaints us with his thinking. He doesn’t have much patience with football players’ constant evocations of his name, and he mocks evolution deniers — well, sort of. It’s possible he actually meant this: “I planted all of it.... In Me all things are fakeable. I molded the fossils; I modified the DNA; I specialized the finch beaks; heck, I booked Darwin’s cruise.” It does turn out that he has no problem with homosexuality, and the evangelical insistence that he created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, is exactly backward. Steve did precede Eve — Eve was created later through surgical intervention. But assume an enlightened God who’ll rightfully ridicule right-wing hyper-religiosity while honoring compassionate politics and dropping the occasional genuinely enlightening truth. This is also a God who enjoyed watching Abraham’s terrible sorrow when he was ordered to kill his first-born son, Isaac; finds the Book of Job insanely funny; and cannot comprehend his own son Jesus’s desire to redeem humankind. God sort of gets away with all this because his earthly manifestation — that is, Wesley Taylor — is so charming and has such magnificent abs. But if you’re hoping for a moment of redemption, a Hallmark Card aphorism, a realization that Jesus had it right and suffering is terribly wrong, don’t hold your breath. Presented through March 12 at the Garner Galleria, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, denvercenter.org. Read the full review of Act of God here.

Leonard Barrett and Tracy Camp in The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess.
Leonard Barrett and Tracy Camp in The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess.
Christine Fisk

The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess. This production makes your head swim with the sweep and majesty of the chorus’s offerings, the sheer beauty of the songs, the many questions about changes to the original 1935 folk opera (titled simply Porgy and Bess) wrought by Pulitzer-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and composer Dierdre L. Murray five years ago. This extraordinary piece of music already had a rich history; it runs like a thread through the racial struggles of the twentieth — and now 21st — century, illustrating changing attitudes and ideals. Porgy and Bess takes place in South Carolina’s Catfish Row, a deeply impoverished but lively and self-contained world by the treacherous sea. Parks and Murray pared it down with the intention of creating a work that was more musical theater than opera, and more available to the general public. The plot remains pretty much the same. Powerful stevedore Crown is Bess’s lover; when he gets into a fight over a game of craps and kills his opponent, he flees, telling Bess he’ll be back for her when the furor dies down. No one in Catfish Row will take Bess in until she knocks on the door of the crippled beggar, Porgy. He gives her shelter, and she learns to love him for his kindness and decency. But she’s still forcefully attracted to Crown and the wild life of drugs and freedom he represents. The casting of this production is wonderfully varied. Leonard Barrett gives us a more withdrawn Porgy than we might have expected, a man who was born crippled and thought himself destined to a life of loneliness; when Bess brings love and warmth into his home, you can feel his soul expanding. Tracy Camp’s Bess isn’t the standard femme fatale, either. Beneath her hard exterior, she’s as vulnerable as Porgy and yearns equally for companionship. Where Barrett’s singing is often thoughtful and low-key, Camp’s is operatic and sometimes just a touch bright — but when she soars into the high notes and Barrett’s voice rises to meet her, the effect is transfixing. Perhaps something is lost in this new version – but, brought to life at the Aurora Fox, it shimmers in memory. Presented by the Aurora Fox through January 1, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, 303-739-1970, aurorafox.org. Read the full review of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess .

John Hauser as Jason in Hand to God.
John Hauser as Jason in Hand to God.
Michael Ensminger

Hand to God. Hand to God is loud, herky-jerky, foul-mouthed and funny enough to have you choking with laughter. That’s if a certain malevolent sock puppet hasn’t decided to leap into the audience and choke off your breath altogether. The puppet is Tyrone, and he lives — we use the term advisedly — on the left arm of a sweet, shy teenage boy named Jason. Jason and his recently bereaved mother, Margery, are having a difficult time, both financially and emotionally. She’s leaning on him hard for support; he can barely support his own spirits. And, of course, he’s going through all the usual teenage sexual turmoil and confusion. The action takes place in a church in Cypress, Texas, where Margery has taken a job running a puppetry workshop for teens. Jason sits disconsolately in the church basement with nerdy Jessica, who prefers Balinese shadow puppetry, and sullen, disruptive Timothy. The dynamics are depressing. The only completed puppet on the scene is Jason’s innocent-looking, fuzzy Tyrone. Nonetheless, Pastor Greg has decided that the church’s first puppet demonstration will occur the following Sunday, and poor Margery is panicked...even more so when she realizes the pastor’s interest in her. A little later, Jason is manipulating Tyrone, doing a routine, trying to impress Jessica. She’s smiling. Until Tyrone swings into action, diving at her face, hissing scatological insults. Tyrone’s either Satan himself or represents the evil impulses all of us have but tend to control. Probably both. Sometimes it feels as if playwright Robert Askins’s id had taken him over, too. The plot goes rolling somewhat logically along until — whoops! — suddenly crazy things are happening everywhere, the church has been defiled, and everyone’s id is having a party, even without Tyrone’s help. The production features unfettered lust, Jason’s frantic fight with his own puppet-occupied hand, loud rock, satanic manifestations like smoke and flickering lights and – just incidentally – rutting puppets. Director Dee Covington has brought the play to fine and exhilarating life, and the entire evening has the pulse-quickening, adrenaline-pumping effect of a first-rate rock concert. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through December 17, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, curioustheatre.org. Read the full review of Hand to God. 

Megan Van De Hey in I'll Be Home for Christmas.
Megan Van De Hey in I'll Be Home for Christmas.
P. Switzer

I'll Be Home for Christmas. Usually a world premiere is something to celebrate, but every now and then you wonder if you’re witnessing a premiere only because no other theater in the country wanted to stage the thing. I’ll Be Home for Christmas, a new musical written by Kenn McLaughlin with songs by David Nehls and enjoying its first-ever public airing at the Arvada Center, is one of these dubious achievements. Set in 1969, I’ll Be Home is the story of a famous family, the Brights, made up of Louise and Dana and their grown children, Maggie and Simon. They’re preparing for their annual Christmas special, a special that’s beloved by the public. The quick success of The 1940s Radio Hour in 1979 inspired a few musicals about the making of a production, and that’s exactly what this is. But the pieces don’t hold together, and none of the characters is believable. Maggie is a rebellious war protester, and Simon has just returned from his tour in Vietnam suffering from PTSD. Their differences ought to provide sparks, but Maggie just yells about war being wrong, and Simon mopes until finally coming clean about his experience in Vietnam. His story is Hollywood boilerplate. Two young men purported to be writers keep popping up uttering veiled threats about changing the way the Brights do the show. This seems to be a nod to the way time-honored systems are now being disrupted by capitalistic jerks who don’t begin to understand the traditions they’re savaging, but we never actually learn anything about what these guys are thinking. All would be forgiven if the songs were catchy, but only one of the numbers is interesting, the cowboy ballad “Christmastime on Highway 13.” The choreography and costumes feel more ’50s than ’60s, and supposed rebel Maggie is as crinolined and artificially golden-wigged as her mother. Maybe this is intentional, a comment on how out of date the Brights’ vision is — in which case those punky writers can’t kill it fast enough. Presented by the Arvada Center through December 23, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, 720-898-7200, arvadacenter.org. Read the full review of I'll Be Home for Christmas.

Stella and Lou. The best actors I know are always fully alive and utterly present on the stage. That exactly describes Emma Messenger (Stella) and Chris Kendall (Lou) in Bruce Graham’s Stella and Lou, along with Peter Marullo as an able Donnie. The setting is Lou’s dingy South Philadelphia bar, which is neither a meeting spot for friends nor a cozy refuge for local eccentrics, but a place where regulars stare morosely into their beers, passing the hours till closing time – or perhaps death. As the action begins, Lou and Donnie have just attended the funeral of one of these long-timers — a “total asshole,” according to Donnie — whose final rites were attended only by a handful of fellow drinkers. Donnie is about to get married and is twitching with anger and nerves about what he perceives as his wife-to-be’s unreasonable demands for the wedding. As for Lou, you get the impression that he was never exactly a live wire, and since the death of his wife from cancer two years earlier, he’s given up on life. He is clearly pleased, however, when his friend Stella walks into the empty bar as he’s closing up, wearing a summer dress and high heels. With occasional vivid interruptions by Donnie, most of the evening is taken up by the emotional dance that ensues between Stella and Lou. She wants something more from him than a beer or two: warmth, even affection — in short, a shot at life and living. She tells him she’s won tickets for dinner and a show in Atlantic City. He’s glum and uninterested. She says she’s thinking of moving to Florida because there’s nothing for her in Philly. Although unnerved by this information, he still doesn’t rise to the bait. That’s pretty much it for plot. But there’s humor in Graham’s script and half-submerged wisdom, and as Stella and Lou talk, their characters are revealed and become rich and interesting. Stella and Lou is low-key, gentle, frequently funny and essentially sweet-humored. But the play’s emotional depths, though quiet, are profound. Presented through November 27 by Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton Street, Aurora, 303-856-7830, vintagetheatre.org. Read the full review of Stella and Lou.

For more theater productions and events, see our calendar listings.

Use Current Location

Related Locations

miles
Garner Galleria Theatre

14th St & Curtis St.
Denver, CO 80202

303-893-4100

www.denvercenter.org

miles
Curious Theatre Company
miles
Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities

6901 Wadsworth Blvd.
Arvada, CO 80003

720-898-7200

www.arvadacenter.org

miles
Aurora Fox Arts Center

9900 E. Colfax Ave.
Aurora, CO 80010

303-739-1970

www.aurorafoxartscenter.org


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