Bovine Metropolis Theater stands where the Changing Scene -- whose hallmark was an intense vitality -- stood for over three decades, until the turn of the century. The original owners of the Scene were New York dancers Al Brooks and Maxine Munt, who arrived in an almost art-free Denver and proceeded to establish a beachhead for theater and modern dance on Champa Street. Brooks was open to just about any kind of performance as long as he could detect a genuine spark of life within it. He taught dance, held playwriting contests, staged new plays and displayed work by local artists in the theater foyer. The earliest auditions, he said once in his deep, gravelly voice, were a trial: "Teenage girls lip-synching to 'Where Did Our Love Go?' and an eighty-year-old woman reciting 'The Face on the Barroom Floor.'" Performances at the Scene were unpredictable -- sometimes wonderful, sometimes awful -- but on the whole, you were never sorry you had gone.
The Acme players took over in 2000, and transformed the space into the Bovine Metropolis Theater. These days, you no longer enter through the back alley -- it's apparently too dangerous -- but Acme artistic director Eric Farone says the Changing Scene's huge old clown mural still adorns the back wall. The foyer continues to serve as a gallery, and the room where Brooks once served small cups of bitter espresso now boasts a glass candy counter.
Although Munt and Brooks were serious avant-garde dancers and Bovine hosts sketch comedy, the spirit of the Changing Scene endures. There are all kinds of people in the small, dark auditorium on the night I visit -- gay couples, businessfolk, students, someone who looks like a bag lady, a young couple munching healthy-looking sandwiches. It's a cheerful crowd, enthusiastic and expectant. This seems like a good place to come after a dinner on the town, with a date, or as a family.
The Acme Players are full of energy and appear to be enjoying themselves hugely as they romp through a series of songs and skits-- punctuated by the Vampire's appearances -- in Legend of the Space Vampire. There's a great scene in which a mugger extols the virtues of a mugging career to his victim, complete with visual aids. There's also a police-station interrogation in which the bad cop is very, very bad and the good cop is...a bear? In a more extended piece, a five-year-old girl is being babysat at the home of her Uncle John. She's stubborn and miserable and doesn't speak; he's a helpless lug. The scene is funny, a little nerve-racking and oddly moving. Eric Mather, a strong, talented performer, picks out a woman in the audience as his long-lost love and sings to her. Twice. "This is my last love song to you," he belts out the second time. The two women in the cast move among us, attempting to communicate with our dead pets.
For the most part, the skits' premises are funny and unpredictable. Even the less clever segments are pulled off with aplomb. You never feel at the beginning of a scene that you know exactly where it's going, or at the end that it's been drawn out too long. If an idea is worth about a minute, that's the length of time the Acme Comedy Players give it. Jared Crane is the Space Vampire, by turns menacing and appeasing. Erika Gonzalez pulls off a terrific turn as a quivering, enraged Carrie White, and Sarah Kirwin shines in a number of roles, particularly as the tongue-tied five-year-old. Doug Vincent, another appealing actor, fills the theater with a prolonged, unimaginably extended vowel sound. I had complained to my companion on the way to the theater that American satire is pathetically apolitical and far too tame, but Damian Griffin, as a television newscaster, comes up with a pointed barb about the profitable post-war reconstruction of Iraq planned for Halliburton -- the company Dick Cheney once headed and from which he still receives payments of a million dollars or so a year. Like many of the newscasts you see on local channels, Griffin's concludes with some inane cooing and clucking over baby animals -- pups this time, rather than polar bears. Griffin is authoritative and very funny, but this skit, though enjoyable, is obviously newly minted and needs a little work.
The nice thing is that these performers seem to be as unpretentious as they are clever and talented. Watching them is like being at a party at which some of the guests have decided to just cut loose and cut up. I had only one complaint: With that nasty Space Vampire on the loose, where the hell was Buffy?
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