Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Few bands put out their strongest album ten years into their career. But that's what happened when the Swayback released Double Four Time. Not only is the album an artistic leap forward for this already noteworthy band, but it sounds like a complete reinvention that incorporates what the group has been developing over the past few years. A diverse yet coherent collection of bluesy, psychedelically tinged post-punk, Double Four Time works through some heavy emotional territory with a rare grace, power and sensitivity. "St. Francis" sounds like a murder ballad as performed through the lens of Lee Hazlewood, while "Steamrolling" sounds like some boogie-rock song of old. Even the reworking and re-recording of older songs like "Die Finks" and "What a Pity Now" are imbued with an energized spirit. A startlingly bold and confident rock-and-roll album.
William Havu brought together three of the state's top abstract artists last spring. The main event was Amy Metier. Metier begins with an actual subject, and then, using her expressive brushwork, turns it into an abstract composition; though more representational than usual for her, these paintings were still very much a part of her classic style. Meanwhile, the floors at Havu were filled with small, simple sculptures based on organic shapes by Michael Clapper. One of Clapper's greatest strengths is the way he combines different materials. Finishing off the trio were Emilio Lobato's recent wall relief sculptures made of found materials.
When beloved local songwriter Mike Marchant was diagnosed with lymphoma last year, the scene immediately rose up to support him. A part of Denver music for the past decade and a half, Marchant is known not only for his never-ending creative endeavors — in Widowers, Houses, Mike Marchant's Outer Space Party Unit and more — but also for his kind heart. Like many creative types, Marchant is uninsured, but the amount of support coming in from the numerous benefit concerts, comedy nights and variety shows that sprung up within weeks of his diagnosis has been nothing short of miraculous. It pays to be kind, and this selfless musician would surely do the same if he were in someone else's shoes.
The story behind The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is told as a series of monologues by a Puerto Rican kid called Macedonio Guerra, or Mace. Mace was fascinated by professional wrestling as a kid and grew up to be a part of that world. But only as a literal fall guy — the opponent routinely demolished by such stars as Chad Deity, a man who knows how to put on a terrific show but can't really fight worth a lick. It takes a lot of charm to keep audiences engaged through these long, often expository monologues, and serious acting chops to bring across Mace's emotional life and the way he longs less for his own turn in the spotlight than for some kind of truth in the over-hyped, stereotype-ridden sport he loves. Lopez managed all of this in the Curious Theatre production and pulled off some cool wrestling moves in the process.
James O'Hagan Murphy provided a complex portrait of a complex man in RFK. Robert Kennedy is remembered for his tragic assassination and venerated as the ideal president-who-should-have-been. But he possessed less pleasant characteristics, too: utter ruthlessness in pursuit of power; spurts of pettiness and jealousy; a profound loathing (entirely reciprocated) for Lyndon Baines Johnson. Kennedy tapped Martin Luther King's phone, and it took him some time to become an advocate for civil rights. But once he did, he fought for them passionately. In Murphy's authoritative performance in this Vintage Theatre production, all of the man's depths and ambiguities were made clear. And Kennedy's grief as he stood over the coffin of his murdered brother seared the soul.
Erick Devine exuded kindness and humanity as Kris Kringle in the Arvada Center's Miracle on 34th Street. He has a big, rich baritone, and his portrayal brought so much warmth to the show that when he told little Susan he really was Santa Claus, you didn't doubt it for a moment.
When Lady Anne confronted Richard over the coffin of her father-in-law in Richard III and railed that his presence was making the corpse bleed anew, Nigel Gore, playing Richard, stuck in a finger to check. When she spat in his face, he tasted her spittle. This Richard wasn't kingly. He was almost clownish, and vulgar in the most undignified and unexpected ways — and yet he was frightening: You knew he was capable of unimaginable evil. Gore's original interpretation made the Colorado Shakespeare Festival production of Richard III new.
In Buntport's Tommy Lee Jones Goes to Opera Alone, waitress Jane, played by Hannah Duggan, was the only actual, freestanding human being. Everyone else was busy animating the large Tommy Lee Jones puppet or, in the case of Eric Edborg, providing his voice. So Jane served him pie and responded with down-to-earth humor and some skepticism to the bits of wisdom and information he doled out. Flirty, wise and brash, she was completely unintimidated by her famous customer. And also by opera, singing along with an aria and coming up with ideas to complete the plot of Puccini's unfinished masterpiece Turandot,with the help of a bottle of ketchup, a syrup dispenser and a fork. Duggan's intense focus on everything she did on stage, along with her protectiveness toward Jones, made her portrayal both touching and hilarious.
In the Boulder Ensemble Theatre's Ghost-Writer, Laura Norman played Myra Babbage, the secretary of a major writer, who continued work on his unfinished novel after his death because she believed she could still hear his voice dictating the words to her. Playing a woman who lived to serve others and kept a tight rein on her own feelings, Norman made an art out of stillness and silence; only her eyes revealed the deep currents of emotion within. Even the movement of her fingers on the clacking, old-fashioned typewriter keys was eloquent. When the writer, making a point about the work, placed a light hand on her arm, Babbage neither moved nor spoke — but the electric current that pulsed through her body was felt through the entire auditorium.
Doris in Miracle on 34th Street is a young single mother, a spunky, supposedly cynical professional who nonetheless has an easily breached heart — in other words, she's a pretty generic musical-comedy heroine. The script is on the nondescript side, and the songs are so-so. Nonetheless, in large part due to Lauren Shealy's fine soprano and strong performance in this Arvada Center production, the musical was one of the tastiest Christmas treats around.
Queen Elizabeth is usually one of the more forgettable female roles in Shakespeare, a sad figure who sweeps around in a long dress weeping for her murdered child — though she does have one highly charged scene when Richard III, who murdered that child, asks for her daughter's hand and she appears to give in. But Mare Trevathan packed one hell of a wallop when she played the part for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's Richard III. Her Elizabeth was smart and tough and the only person in the play who proved a match for Richard. She may have been half-crazed by grief, this woman, but you knew she'd find a way to protect her daughter — and so she did.
Anyone who saw the Dirty Few early on and thought it was just a half-decent garage-rock band should see it now. At an album-release show at 3 Kings Tavern this past January, the bandmembers not only played the show like rock-and-roll wildmen, but they really got the crowd fired up, then fed off that energy with increasing intensity throughout the night. Crowd-surfing alternated seamlessly between audience members and bandmembers as momentum and excitement continued to build to the very end. It would be difficult to point to a more salient example of people having pure, unadulterated fun at a rock show.