This weekend is your last chance to see Appropriate, the first show of the season for Curious Theatre Company, as well as Les Liaisons Dangereuses at Miners Alley. But even if tickets are gone for those, there are other worthy productions around town. Keep reading for reviews of five shows now on Denver stages.
A Delicate Balance. In Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance, the intrusion of Edna and Harry into the home of longtime friends Tobias and Agnes tips the balance of their hosts’ marriage — a marriage held together with alcohol, pointed barbs and mutual loathing — into chaos. Before they enter, saying they’ve fled their own home because of some nameless and all-encompassing fear, we’ve watched Agnes and Tobias in an uneasy threesome with Agnes’ drunken, intensely witty and intensely nasty sister Claire. The guests are duly accommodated in the bedroom of Agnes’s daughter Julia and, after a while, Julia herself erupts onto the scene. She’s on the verge of her fourth divorce, somewhat unhinged and furious about the intruders in her room. She wants them out. A discussion follows of her rights versus those of best friends Edna and Harry — friends toward whom Agnes and Tobias show no warmth or affection, only a chilly, calculated sense of duty. Written in 1966, A Delicate Balance is widely regarded as one of the great plays of the twentieth century. The dialogue is extraordinary: brilliant barbs shooting over a dark underlying swell of unexpressed or partially expressed meaning, moments of raw humor, unexpected meditations. The ending, however, is unnecessarily long-drawn-out and its supposed revelations are less than revealing. Director Warren Sherrill has assembled a cast capable of making the stunning dialogue sing, with three magnificent women front and center: Martha Harmon Pardee as Agnes, her pained, careful hostess’s smile freezing on her face; Emma Messenger bringing dark, intense humor to Claire; and Maggy Stacy as Julia, who may be bratty but is also the most passionately human member of the group. Presented by the Edge Theater Company through November 5, 1560 Teller Street in Lakewood, 303-232-0363, theedgetheater.com. Read the full review of A Delicate Balance.
Appropriate. The evening starts with grating sounds that get louder and louder— cicadas, as we learn later from a character in Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s Appropriate. The insects’ grit-between-your-teeth sound is their final song; it means they’ve emerged from underground and are seeking mates. Soon after mating, they will die. After a few minutes, you start wishing with all your heart that the sound would stop — and now you’re in precisely the unsettled state of mind that director Jamil Jude wants you to be for this absorbing, ghost-haunted play. Members of an Arkansas family are returning to their home after the death of the family patriarch to sort the mess of stuff he’s left behind and attend a sale of the battered old house. Toni, whose stabs at organization are anxious and futile, is one of those overbearing, malevolent mother figures you’ve seen before, but the character has complex facets. Rhys, Toni’s son, loathes and avoids his mother, and Toni’s relationship with her two brothers — Bo and Frank, the family renegade, who after a ten-year disappearance has just returned with his hippie lover, River — is angry and volatile. Bo is accompanied by his energetic, hyper-organized Jewish wife, Rachel. The entire family is in one way or another profoundly soul-sick — you sense incest — and there’s a whiff of corruption to even Bo’s two children. Although every character is Caucasian, race dominates the evening. A book of lynching photographs is discovered. Again and again, someone is asked to dispose of this book; again and again, the photos rise to the surface of the action like a bloated corpse to the surface of a river. Unlike Germany, which after years of obfuscation admitted guilt for the Holocaust and offered victims restitution, the United States has never really acknowledged its foundational sins. Appropriate makes this clear, but through metaphor, art and imagination rather than by preaching. It implies that only the harsh, uncaring winds of history can cleanse the country’s guilt — and they are winds that leave nothing behind but silence and devastation. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through October 14, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, curioustheatre.org. Read the full review of Appropriate.
Company. It’s Bobby’s 35th birthday, and his friends are throwing a party. He’s single; his friends are married. Company, a musical by Stephen Sondheim, consists of a series of scenes between couples, with Bobby almost always the observer, as well as the occasional scene in which he’s with a lover. A temporary lover. The whole thing is a meditation on married life, Bobby’s singleness, and relationships between men and women in general. Turning 35 represents an existential crisis for Bobby, though his aversion to commitment is never really explained in the script. He just seems a bit aloof, a bit narcissistic, envying his friends’ married state but constantly probing the weaknesses and rifts in their relationships. But then Joanne, the oldest and most multiply divorced of the women, belts out her famous drunken salute to “The Ladies Who Lunch” — a wealthy, aimless class among whom she’s certainly a prime example — and Bobby is jolted into the realization that perhaps he does, indeed, long for the warmth and companionship of a life partner. First produced in 1970, Company feels somewhat of its time. Everyone’s white; everyone’s straight; these people might have professions, but we’ve no idea what they might be — certainly no one is worried about money. The couples love each other, but in song after song (brilliant song, it must be noted), the men regret their loss of freedom, and the women their partners’ shortcomings. Even so, the show is a boatload of fun. The music is spectacular, Sondheim’s lyrics are a hoot, and George Furth’s sharp script is reminiscent of Sex and the City in its smart, entertaining early days. Director/choreographer Kelly Van Oosbree has assembled a fine four-person orchestra under the musical direction of Andrew Fischer, as well as a terrific cast. Jeremy Rill, who plays Bobby, has a richly melodious and supple voice that’s sheer pleasure to listen to. Presented by the Aurora Fox Arts Center through October 22, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora, 303-739-1970, aurorafox.org. Read the review of Company.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Les Liaisons Dangereuses, a play adapted by Christopher Hampton from an eighteenth-century French novel, tells the story of a couple of onetime lovers (lovers in that sophisticated, French, this-doesn’t-mean-anything-emotional way): the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil. These two have been playing vicious cat-and-mouse games and using sex to destroy the lives of others for some time; at the Marquise’s bidding, the Vicomte seduces the virginal young Cecile Volanges and sets out to win the heart of upright and virtuous Madame De Tourvel. It’s a clever play, filled with witty bits of dialogue, but it’s essentially without heart, which means that it requires a highly stylized performance. And that’s where director Len Matheo’s production, despite some strengths, goes wrong. Matheo has chosen to bring this piece into the modern world. As we enter the theater, we see the actors chatting idly on stage. Their costumes are a mix of period and things that look like everyday clothing or bits of costume from other plays. The setting is a theater back room, with bare walls and an exit door. But we need those powdered wigs, stockings and buckled shoes, beautiful dresses. We need actors with elegant bearing, who know how to execute those hand-kissing bows without looking awkward — and among the cast, only Lisa DeCaro, as the Marquise, has the requisite poise and carriage. While there are some wicked pleasures and a hint of significance in the way Liaisons reveals the sad consequences of empty seduction, overall the play feels more like a curiosity than an involving evening of theater. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through October 15, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, minersalley.com.
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Macbeth. At the start, I was riveted by the Denver Center’s Macbeth, but after the first scene between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, the production’s shortcomings began to crowd out whatever creative new insights it provided. The animating concept is that the story is being acted out as part of an annual ritual by a group of warlocks, and there’s heavy use of tech. The willingness to invent and take risks suggests the possibility of an interesting future career for director Robert O’Hara, but this evening is an eye-watering, head-thumping, brain-mashing mess from which the play’s deepest aspects are missing. The all-male cast actually works pretty well, since this is a very male tragedy, filled with war and warriors, and with a murderous struggle for the crown at its center — though it’s Lady Macbeth’s ambition that spurs her husband to fatal action. Adam Poss’s Lady Macbeth is one of the most successful pieces of casting. Poss doesn’t assume either stereotypically male or female gestures; instead, in a mildly androgynous costume, he asserts power without strutting and admits vulnerability without sentimentality. Ultimately, this Macbeth is more about special effects and directorial notions than character or story. A murder represented by thundering music, flashing lights and dark figures standing in shadow may work in a way — at least the first time. But at the heart of murder, there’s human suffering and terrible human rage, and we never see murderer or victim as real people. What we get throughout the evening is big sound, startling roars of thunder and flashes of lightning, a revolving platform filled with hieroglyphics, a trap door from which ghouls emerge and into which corpses fall, a ceiling pentagram that changes shape and color. The costumes are a miscellany in which black leather predominates; some are interesting, even illuminating, others distracting. O’Hara gets points for originality and guts, but perhaps he needs to trust more in the words, the subtleties underlying them, and Shakespeare’s pulsating silences. Presented by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company through October 29, Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, denvercenter.org. Read the full review of Macbeth.
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