Critic's Notebook

Over the past few years, some of the most reliably interesting theater performances in this area have taken place on the small, square stage above the galleries at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, under the aegis of artistic director Brandi Mathis. Mathis, who worked at the museum for five years before resigning in April, brought the first-ever performance of a play by Pulitzer winner Suzan-Lori Parks to Colorado. She provided a mix of work, from the deadly serious experimental dance of Lemon Spongecake through the hilarious menopausal griping of Nancy Cranbourne to the brilliant mix of visual, video, sculptural and verbal elements employed by performance artist Michelle Ellsworth. Mathis seemed to have one essential criterion in choosing performance pieces: Is the work alive? She brought in national talent; she nurtured local artists. According to Frances Charteris, who teaches dance at the University of Colorado, she served as a bridge between the college and the city: "She opened it up for so many different people."

Almost every show found the tiny theater filled to overflowing.

No one is saying why Mathis left, but it's clear there's a change in the culture and atmosphere of the museum. Ken Bloom left the post of executive director last year, and the job was split between two women: Penny Barnow, whose focus will be on fundraising, and Joan Markowitz, who for years ran the MacLaren Markowitz Gallery on the Pearl Street Mall.

There appear to be no concrete plans for the theater now that Mathis is gone. Vern Seieroe, chairman of the BMoCA board, sees the space "as a venue for people in the creative process, early on in that process," and speaks of using the transition period "as an opportunity to sit down and ask ourselves: Are we doing this the way that's best to meet our mission?"

"We're gathering information, creating a vision," says Barnow.

Let's hope BMoCA gets its act together. Otherwise, in a theater world swamped with franchise productions and American Idol wannabes, another oasis of integrity and creativity will disappear. And where will we go then to see humorist Eric Bogosian skewer the zeitgeist, singer-actress Ethelyn Friend sing Songs My Grandmothers Taught Me or Ami Dayan and Naropa's Lee Worley contemplating the end of the world?

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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman