Beirut. In Alan Browne's play, Beirut is the name given to New York's East Village, where, in a futuristic dystopia, HIV-positive people are quarantined (the play doesn't use the terms "AIDS" or "HIV," but the references are clear). Outside of this area, the world has changed. Sex is forbidden on pain of execution, and hanged bodies are displayed in public places. Women are forced to cover themselves with sack-like dresses, and all the simple joys of living are proscribed. There are guards everywhere, and intrusive body searches are the norm. Torch, confined in his East Village apartment, is simply waiting to die. Into his claustrophobic world sneaks Blue, his onetime girlfriend. She wants to have sex with him. A dance of attraction, longing, rage and rejection follows. Beirut was written in the 1980s, at the height of the AIDS crisis, and its primary power comes from the evocation of those times. But perhaps at this post-election moment, the play aptly expresses the grief and fear of the gay community, despite its dated references. Presented by Paper Cat Productions through December 11 at the 1896 Theatre, 3822 Tennyson Street, 720-217-2206. Reviewed November 18.

Boston Marriage. For the entire first act, Boston Marriage is pure enjoyment. It's light and fast, and the language is dizzyingly clever and cleverly self-punctuating. The plot concerns two nineteenth-century women who live together in an arrangement termed a "Boston marriage." One of them, Anna, has snared a rich lover who has given her an emerald necklace; his contributions will help the pair survive financially. Claire has news of her own. She's infatuated with a young woman. Through all this, Anna's fuddled and incompetent maid, Catherine, makes frequent appearances, bringing tea, interrupting the conversation, adding oddly unrelated thoughts of her own. The second act of Boston Marriage isn't nearly as entertaining as the first, primarily because Anna, Claire and Catherine aren't really fleshed-out characters, but agglomerations of words. Things do get a bit more interesting as the action builds toward the O. Henry-style mini-revelation of the ending, though for the most part the plot doesn't bear much scrutiny. The dialogue is lots of fun, however. You should see Boston Marriage for the lift and flow of the language and the vicious charm of the women -- Robin Moseley as the dry-tongued Claire, and Annette Helde in a tour de force performance as the witty, sulky, vivacious and oblivious Anna. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through December 23, the Jones Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, Reviewed November 11.

Impulse Theater. Basements and comedy go together like beer and nuts or toddlers and sandboxes. The basement of the Wynkoop Brewery where Impulse Theater performs is crowded, loud and energetic. Impulse does no prepared skits, nothing but pure improv -- which means that what you see changes every night, and so does the team of actors. These actors set up and follow certain rules and frameworks; they rely on audience suggestions to get these scenes going or to vary the action. Your level of enjoyment depends a lot on whether or not you like the players. Charm is a factor, and so is the ability to take risks. Fortunately, the performers are clever and fast on their feet, willing to throw themselves into the action but never betraying tension or anxiety, perfectly content to shrug off a piece that isn't coming together. The show is funny when the actors hit a groove, but equally funny when they get stymied. So, in a way, the improvisers -- and the audience -- can't lose. Impulse Theater, oen-ended run, Wynkoop Brewing Co., 18th and Wynkoop streets, 303-297-2111 or Reviewed June 3.

Kafka on Ice. Franz Kafka is a melancholy figure, a Prague-dwelling German Czech, steeped in the history of his time, the creator of a dwindling, despairing art. His best-known works include a novel about a man tried for an act he doesn't even know has been committed. Another describes a castle from which it's impossible to escape. And then there's the long short story called The Metamorphosis, which begins, "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect." Kafka on Ice tells Kafka's story, about his fear of his overbearing father, his unhappy love life, his friendship with Max Brod, the way in which Gregor Samsa's predicament represents his own. But it also deals with the way a work like The Metamorphosis changes over time as it passes through the minds of friends, readers, critics, fellow writers, teachers, and tricksters like the gang at Buntport Theater. The story goes through several transmutations: It's played as farce, as an experiment with objects, as grinning, dancing musical comedy. The writer's meeting with his first love, Felice, is shown as a scene in a silent movie. She falls cutely about on the ice, while he, Chaplin-like, attempts to rescue her, all to the accompaniment of a plinking piano. This show is anything but Kafkaesque. It's lighthearted, giddy and goofy. It's safe to say that no one else -- anywhere -- is doing theater like this. Presented by Buntport Theater and alternating with Macblank through November 27, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, Reviewed October 14.

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