Reviewed: Building the Wall (Closing), Five More Shows to See Now!

Brynn Tucker and John Jurcheck in Building the Wall.
Brynn Tucker and John Jurcheck in Building the Wall.
Michael Ensminger

This is your last chance to see Building the Wall, a production of Robert Schenkkan's new play at Curious Theatre Company that's part of a rolling premiere. Keep reading for a capsule review of that production, as well as four more.

Building the Wall. Robert Schenkkan composed Building the Wall during the run-up to the election last fall, horrified by what he was hearing and seeing — “a fundamental assault on American values.” A passionate, angry two-hander, the play is a warning, a wake-up call, an incendiary device tossed into the center of a drowsy room. It's set in fall 2019. Gloria, a historian, is interviewing a prisoner, Rick, who before his own incarceration had been in charge of a private prison that housed immigrants. We know that Rick has done something terrible, but the scope of that something unfolds only in pieces over the course of the evening. The cumulative narrative is mesmerizing, powerful, horrifying — particularly horrifying because what Rick describes is only an intensification of currents that have been running through our body politic for decades, and not just since the presidency of Donald J. Trump. Racism has long been a virus in the country’s blood, along with anti-immigrant fever. So there was Rick, young and relatively uneducated, presiding over hundreds of immigrants and given insufficient resources for the job. It isn’t hard to figure out how a situation like this can devolve into something resembling the horrors of Hitler’s concentration camps. But still, Rick’s words create a gray chill that creeps up your spine and lodges in your brain. On that level, Building the Wall does exactly what Schenkkan intended: It wakes you up to lethal possibilities and warns that the time to take notice is now. The character of Gloria is more problematic. As a woman who’s experienced racism herself, she may be driven by a need to deeply understand racism. But she doesn’t behave like any real-life historian or journalist: She inserts her own opinion, challenges Rick in ways that could easily shut down the interview, and often doesn’t seem to be listening closely. Which is crucial, because truth may provide our only means for getting through the murky times we inhabit — the kind of truth that Building the Wall insists we hear. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through April 19, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, curioustheatre.org. Read the full review of Building the Wall.

Anna High in Disenchanted.
Anna High in Disenchanted.
Glenn Ross Photography

Disenchanted. Disenchanted, which satirizes the cultural assumptions, historical distortions and masculine obtuseness behind the perfect Disney princess image in a series of tuneful, lively and often very funny songs, represents a delightful way to spend an evening — in part because the songs are often witty, and in part because director Alicia K. Meyers has assembled just the right mix of divas to sell the event with glamour and elan. Our emcee, so to speak, is a rather bossy Snow White, with Jessica Hindsley, perfectly attired as the cartoon character we remember so well, deploying a strong, sweet voice and good comic timing in her efforts to keep the others in line and the evening moving smoothly along. She’s sided by Tracy Warren’s sugary, warm-voiced, perky and pretty Cinderella. Meyers herself plays the Little Mermaid, drunk yet oddly regal, and deeply regretful at having given up her tail and life in the sea for human legs. Meyers also plays Belle from Beauty and the Beast, driven hilariously mad by the endless chattering of the household objects around her. Marijune Scott — another fine voice — is Pocahontas, anxious to point out just how much Disney’s version of her story differs from the historical reality. And rather late in the first act — to underscore the lack of black princesses in popular culture —Anna High steps forward as the Princess Who Kissed the Frog, taking majestic control of the stage and wowing the audience with her rich and glorious voice. Finally, there’s Annie Dwyer, snoozing her way through the first act as Sleeping Beauty and roaring into action in the second, to assert that she’s “Perfect” just as she is. Singing this feminist anthem of strength, defiance, and the hell with body image, Dwyer’s so exuberant, so filled with life, joy and sheer bravado, that she brings unexpected depth and feeling to an otherwise lighthearted evening of pure entertainment. Presented by BDT Stage through May 6, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, bdtstage.com. Read the full review of Disenchanted.

Dorien Makhloghi in Disgraced.
Dorien Makhloghi in Disgraced.
AdamsVisCom

Disgraced. Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced is a nasty, mean-spirited, dangerous and anti-Muslim piece of work. The play falls into the general category of “civilized people meet for dinner, drink a lot, and eventually reveal their uncivilized inner selves.” Ambitious and highly paid lawyer Amir Kapoor, a Pakistani who identifies as Indian so that no one will take him for a Muslim, and his wife, Emily, are the hosts. Emily is an artist who venerates traditional Islamic art. The guests are Isaac, who acquires work for the Whitney and admires Emily’s paintings, and his African-American wife, Jory, a colleague of Amir’s. Amir’s nephew, Abe, is also highly assimilated but more sympathetic to Islam, and he wants his uncle to intervene in the trial of a cleric accused of raising money for Hamas. Amir is reluctant. He hates Islam and derides the Koran. He seems to subscribe to the clash-of-civilizations theory so beloved by contemporary warmongers, which postulates an inevitable fight between the West and Islam. But he’s also concerned for his own future in his Jewish law firm. When he’s finally persuaded to visit the imam and give advice, the consequences are every bit as bad as he feared. By the end of the play, Amir’s own violent, rage-filled behavior seems to validate the stereotype of the uncivilized Arab. Muslim American thinkers who’ve written about Disgraced point out that the play is widely produced all over the country — and it’s a country where a couple of Indian engineers were recently gunned down in Kansas (one survived) as the shooter yelled “Get out of my country!” and where four mosques have been set on fire this year alone. Presented by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company through May 7, Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, denvercenter.org. Read the full review of Disgraced.

Keep reading for reviews of three more productions.



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