Sam Gilstrap and Jihad Milhem star in BETC’s production of Guards at the Taj.
Sam Gilstrap and Jihad Milhem star in BETC’s production of Guards at the Taj.
Michael Ensminger

Reviewed: Guards at the Taj (Closing), Four More Shows to See Now!

This weekend is your last chance to see Guards at the Taj, a two-man play by Rajiv Joseph at the Dairy Arts Center. Keep reading for a capsule review of that show, along with four more on stages around town.

Jessica Robblee and Abner Genece in The Electric Baby.
Jessica Robblee and Abner Genece in The Electric Baby.
Matt Gale Photography

The Electric Baby. This regional premiere at the Arvada Center is filled with myth, fantasy and story. Jessica Robblee is wonderful as Natalia, a Romanian mother keeping watch beside her dying child — who’s represented by a small form attached to glowing white tube, a baby already half in another world. She’s joined by a fascinating group of characters, brought together the uncontainable rage and grief of another mother, Helen, over the loss of her own child: Ambimbola, the cab driver who crashed in an attempt to avoid Helen as she either fell or deliberately stepped into the road; and passengers Rozie, a prostitute, and Dan, expressing their longtime friendship through drunken cursing and mutual abuse....until Dan is killed in the accident. Author Stefanie Zadravec has created lively and absorbing scenes, and the supernatural is always present, along with the elemental grief of mothers who have lost their children. But in the end, imagery takes the place of structure, depth and resolution. Presented through May 4 at the Arvada Center Black Box Repertory Theatre, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200, arvadacenter.org. Read the full review of The Electric Baby.

Seth Dhonau and Adriane Leigh Robinson in First Date: A Musical Comedy.
Seth Dhonau and Adriane Leigh Robinson in First Date: A Musical Comedy.
Emily Lozo

First Date: A Musical Comedy. Casey and Aaron have been set up on a crucial first date at a restaurant, even though they seem mismatched: He’s a serious guy with a steady job in finance who hates blind dates; she’s what he eventually terms — though having uttered the term, he hastily retreats from it — a “blind-date slut.” He wears a suit; she’s in ripped leggings and has some vaguely defined job at a gallery. Like all human beings, both are dogged by their pasts and the people in them — friends, previous lovers, parents — and all of these characters appear during the evening to berate, confuse or encourage the couple. For Casey, it’s sister Lauren who’s most persistent; Lauren has children and a nice stable marriage — a status both sisters see as ultimately desirable — and she wants the same for Casey. But Lauren’s not nearly as persistent as Allison, the bossy, manipulative woman Aaron almost married. Casey has a gay best friend who provides a handful of bail-out calls over the evening — though she soon decides she doesn’t want to be bailed out. She’s also distracted by the memory of a couple of bad boys she was attracted to, the kind of guys good girls always want to save. The topics touched on in the script aren’t very original — commitment phobia, the ticking biological clock, female self-consciousness about eating on a first date (will he think less of her if she tears into a burger?), wild girl versus repressed businessman. Does Aaron actually care about corporate finance? Is Casey really into anything arty, aside from her cunningly slit tights? If they felt more like real people, we’d care more about whether they connect or not. Still, the show works because of the talent on stage, and should be a perfect date for anyone wanting to slip off their shoes under the table, sip a cocktail, and recover from a taxing day at work. Presented by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts through April 22 at the Garner Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, denvercenter.org. Read the review of First Date: A Musical Comedy.

Rory Pierce and Heather Lacy in Fun Home.
Rory Pierce and Heather Lacy in Fun Home.
Sarah Roshan Photography

Fun Home. This musical version of Alison Bechdel’s graphic autobiographical novel of the same name, written by Lisa Kron with music by Jeanine Tesori, features three generations of Alison. Adult Alison sits at a desk slightly above the action, sketching and commenting as she looks down on her younger selves and their struggles: Small Alison is dealing with the tyrannical rule of her father, high school teacher and funeral home owner, Bruce Bechdel. What Small Alison doesn’t know — and her adult alter ego does — is that Bruce is gay and has a taste for teenage boys. Then there’s Middle Alison, a student at Oberlin College, writing frequently to her father in the hope of gaining his approbation, and gradually coming to understand her own lesbianism. Fun Home is Bechdel’s attempt to understand her memories and fathom the complicated mix of anger and love she feels toward the father who insisted she dress “girly” and made her and her two brothers spend most of their time cleaning and organizing the old house he’s obsessively restored to a kind of Victorian perfection. The musical is also about the process of creation, and Adult Alison relies on objects because of their power to jog memory and the solidity of the truths they convey: a tarnished jug, a dead mouse, a book by Colette. All of us try to fathom our parents’ lives, to put together the disparate moments of childhood into something coherent. A parent’s death is always a pivotal moment, and when that death is a suicide like Bruce Bechdel’s, the quest assumes a particular urgency. Against this loss, Alison has to balance her knowledge of his skewed homosexuality against the awakening of her own young desires. Len Matheo’s direction is incisive, and the intimate playing space works wonderfully for the musical: We can hear the actors’ breath, periodically they’re so close we could touch a shoulder. The music, directed by Mitch Samu, sometimes swells with feeling, at other times it’s as quietly subtle as a single violin or a fall of piano notes. But beneath Fun Home’s lightness of touch, there’s profound emotional depth — and this beautiful production does it full justice. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through March 4, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, minersalley.com. Read the full review of Fun Home.

Jihad Milhem (left) as Babur, Sam Gilstrap as Humayun.
Jihad Milhem (left) as Babur, Sam Gilstrap as Humayun.
Michael Ensminger

Guards at the Taj. This two-man play by Rajiv Joseph is often compared both to Stoppard’s work and to Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Guards Babur and Humayun spend a night outside the Taj Majal, a mausoleum that has just been completed and will be unveiled to a marveling public in the morning as one of the world’s most beautiful creations. They chat; Babur comes up with oddly prescient inventions. And he’s interested in an occasional bird cry that sounds like a raven’s menacing caw. What is that?, he wants to know. Humayun considers before providing the name “red-breasted jibjab” – surely too cute to be anything but fictive.
The men are not supposed to turn and view the completed Taj, though of course eventually they do. They are also not supposed to talk to each other, but they’re old friends and it’s a long night. Of the two, Humayun is the most respectful of authority. Babu, ebullient and irrepressible, won’t be silenced, and the consequences of his loose talk are terrible. There’s a story that Shah Jahan ordered the architect’s hands lopped off after completion of the Taj, along with the hands of all 20,000 builders, so that the beauty of the work could never be replicated. In Joseph’s play, this definite myth is taken as true, and the guards are given the job of mutilation. Punishments as ghastly as this are committed in many countries to this day, and if Guards at the Taj is intended to remind us of real-life atrocities and the bottomless human capacity for cruelty, it doesn’t really work—even in this well conceived and excellently acted production. Presented by the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company through February 18, Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut Street in Boulder, 303-351-2382 www.betc.org. Read the full review of Guards at the Taj.

Regina Fernandez and Geoffrey Kent in Sense and Sensibility.
Regina Fernandez and Geoffrey Kent in Sense and Sensibility.
Matt Gale Photography

Sense and Sensibility. Kate Hamill’s play Sense and Sensibility isn’t the Jane Austen you’re used to, those gracefully-written novels filled with a sly, quiet humor and canny observations about late eighteenth-century society. Yet in many ways this staged version is faithful to its source. It follows the plot closely, simplifying only enough to fit the narrative into a two-hour timeframe. The visual elements are stylish and beautifully balanced, but in other ways the production is an all-out farce, with crazily over-the-top acting, and characters morphing periodically into cats, dogs, high-stepping horses, even chickens. The pretty period furniture is almost a character in itself, as it skids and skitters about or is wheeled from place to place.At the story’s center are the two Dashwood sisters: young, romantic and emotional Marianne, who represents sensibility, and dignified Elinor, embodying sense. Marianne is drawn to dashing Willoughby, who turns out to be a cad, and uninterested in the devoted Colonel Brandon — a perfect gentleman but one she considers ancient at 35. Elinor loves Edward Ferrars, who’s tethered to a long-ago commitment; she suffers in silence. Two themes predominate. One is the prevalence of gossip in this world. No matter what’s happening between the couples, someone seems to be watching, tittering, passing on the news. The second theme concerns money. In Austen’s time, love was shaped, driven or destroyed by money — its lack or possession. A man with no money had no hope of finding a wife; there were very few ways for an impecunious women to keep body and soul together. All the hilarity would be tiresome without real feeling to ground it, but fortunately Geoffrey Kent’s Colonel Brandon is a rock of subdued kindness throughout. And when Edward finally tells Elinor he loves her, Jessica Robblee utters a cry — a sort of cross between a sob and a whomp — that tells us everything about the storm of emotion she’s been concealing the entire time. Presented by the Arvada Center Black Box Repertory Theatre through May 6, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200, arvadacenter.org. Read the full review of Sense and Sensibility.

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