Last Chance to Catch White Guy on the Bus; Three More Shows Roll On

The theater scene is heating up, with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival going strong in Boulder and the Off-Center's Sweet & Lucky doing so well that six-week extension will run June 30 through August 7. But this is your last weekend to catch Curious Theatre Company's White Guy on the Bus. Read reviews of four current productions below.
By the Waters of Babylon. In By the Waters of Babylon, Catherine, a widow living in a wealthy suburb of Austin, Texas, hires a laborer from a group of unemployed men gathered at a street corner to clean up her overgrown garden. She is lonely, neurotic, angry, shunned by neighbors who gossip about the reasons for her professor husband’s death. The laborer is Arturo, who turns out to be a Cuban exile and also a serious novelist whose work was censored because it made fun of Fidel Castro. You know from the beginning that the garden has to be symbolic; it’s overgrown with weeds that hide things both precious and troublesome — a battered old doll, an overgrown bench, also mint, wild roses and honeysuckle. You also assume immediately that Catherine and Arturo will end up in bed together, and of course they do. But author Robert Shenkkan has managed to avoid cliché, along with all resemblance to Lady Chatterley and her gamekeeper Mellors of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Arturo isn’t just a muscled, silent man of the soil, but a vivid character, and though Catherine, with her quivering vulnerability and sharp defensive tongue, is a little reminiscent of a Tennessee Williams heroine, she, too, ends up being an original. The dialogue in this gentle, lyrical play is intelligent and self-aware, with a poeticism that often works magic. But the verbal embroidery can also feel too knotted and thick, the symbolism too ubiquitous. The play’s title comes from a psalm: “By the waters of Babylon...we wept when we remembered Zion,” and in some sense the entire play is a lament for a lost home: Arturo’s Cuba, and the place of warmth, humanity and safety that Catherine constantly searches for. Yet the play stays with you — partly because the writing is often so rich and musical and the moments of humor so charming, but primarily because of the acting and Warren Sherrill’s direction. Completely immersed in their roles, working beautifully together, Patty Ionoff and Kent Randell give wonderfully expressive, generous-hearted performances. And you intuit Sherrill’s hand in the charged, vibrating silences that make By the Waters of Babylon more than the sum of its parts. Presented by Edge Theater Company through July 3, 1560 Teller Street, Lakewood, 303-232-0363. Read the full review of By the Waters of Babylon here.

The Comedy of Errors. Egeon of Syracuse turns up in Ephesus searching for his lost son, Antipholus, and his son’s servant, Dromio — or, in this production of The Comedy of Errors, directed by Geoffrey Kent for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, his lost daughter, Antiphola, and her servant, Dromia. Setting foot in Ephesus is death for any Syracusan, however. Confronted by the Duke of Ephesus and forced to plead for his life, Egeon tells his story of two sets of twins: one set lost, along with his wife, in a shipwreck, the other set searching for the first. Touched by Egeon’s story, the duke gives him time to come up with the money to save his life. Identical twins and lots of complications form the plot, with Antipholas being mistaken for each other; Dromias given orders and delivering results to the wrong mistresses, who respond with predictable fury; Ephesus Antiphola’s husband, Adriano, beginning to seethe with jealousy at his wife’s inexplicable behavior; and Syracuse’s unmarried Antiphola falling for Luciano, her twin’s brother-in law, to both his and Adriano’s consternation. Kent’s focus is on farce, with high-energy, high-spirited characterizations, absurd improvisations and dozens of zany touches. He has set the action in 1930s Paris, gleefully and knowingly deploying every cheesy cliché you can think of: Edith Piaf songs, cafe tables tended by shirt-sleeved waiters, baguettes, cancan dancing and a strolling accordionist – Alicia Baker, whose skilled musicianship adds greatly to the pleasure of the production. Some of the bits are deliberately silly, some downright inspired. Egeon is treated to a long, drawn-out demonstration of the beheading that awaits him, starting with a menacingly raised ax and ending with an anti-climactic pop; a horde of rampaging men in white arrive to carry one of the Antipholas off to the madhouse, but she’s a match for all of them; a goldsmith demanding payment is played by a real-life youngster who looks like the kind of knife-wielding little thug Fagin would have employed in Oliver Twist. The sex switches work brilliantly. It’s funny to hear Luciano, a man, praising men’s power and mastery over women in the obedient tones of a traditional, patient Griselda, and when Stephen Cole Hughes, playing Adriano, laments in his strong, masculine voice, “Since that my beauty cannot please her eye/I’ll weep what’s left away and weeping die,” it’s flat-out hilarious. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 7, Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, Read the complete review of The Comedy of Errors here.

Sweet & Lucky. This offering, by the DCPA’s Off-Center in collaboration with Third Rail Projects, is not a play but an experience. Directed by onetime Denver native Zach Morris, Sweet & Lucky muddles the borders between life and art. A collaboration among artists in several disciplines including sound, lighting, sets, costumes and video as well as acting and dance, it’s designed to take you out of your everyday reality and deposit you in a shifting, dreamlike world where memories come and go and you occasionally find yourself doubting your own senses. For the production, a RiNo warehouse is transformed into a series of discrete spaces, each containing all kinds of surprises, small and large. The setting is an antique shop where nothing is for sale: You’re encouraged to wander and explore before the performance begins, and during the show, you discover several of the objects you examined earlier recurring and acquiring new life and meaning. The action begins at a funeral — we never quite know whose; the deceased may be metaphorical, very likely a ruined relationship. Each of us carries a black umbrella, and we’re invited to sing as water rains down on us. Other spaces include a bright kitchen, where we help put together a cookie recipe, ordering utensils and measuring ingredients — only this is an Alice in Wonderland procedure, where no sooner have you finished the assigned job than the guide messes everything up. There are two house exteriors, each fronted by a beautiful tree, and in each spot an actress climbs the tree, dancing among the branches. Inside the houses, we encounter the same couple — but by the second house, their relationship has changed drastically. Later, there’s that tree again, and also the woman from the couple, but now she’s in a dazzling snowscape and seems to need comfort. Almost everything about the evening — the sights and sounds, even the smells — is beautifully put together; however, the text could be stronger and more evocative: Language, too, is an art form, and can be made as specific as a broken ornament or a woman climbing a tree while still evoking the deepest and most ineffable musings. But this is a small complaint about a brave, original and lovely adventure. Presented by the DCPA Off-Center through June 25, and then again June 30 through August 7, at 4120 Brighton Boulevard, #A20, 303-893-4100. Read the full Westword review of Sweet & Lucky here.

White Guy on the Bus. In White Guy on the Bus, Bruce Graham has framed the issue of race in a way that’s a genuine slap to the face, taken preconceptions and held them up to a soul-shriveling light, tossed grenades. The black folks in the play feel empathy, do terrible things, wrestle with issues of integrity and justice just like white folks, neither more noble nor more vicious. You actually only see one black character — Shatique, who struggles to raise and protect her nine-year-old son, LeShaun — but several others are part of the play’s pressing reality: the illiterate student whom cynical but well-intentioned teacher Roz tutors after school; the unnamed grandmother who takes care of Shatique’s child; Shatique’s imprisoned brother, who’s capable of both murder and a terrible generosity. The white man who befriends Shatique and regularly rides the bus – which goes to the state penitentiary, we learn – is Ray, Roz’s husband, a wealthy investment banker. Childless, he and Roz have semi-adopted Christopher, now a graduate student working on a thesis about the way black men are portrayed in advertising. Like Roz, Christopher’s wife, Molly, is a teacher — only her students come from wealthy families, and their problems are more likely to involve depression and body image than savage abuse and gunfire. Having encountered these people, you’re expecting clever explorations of ideas in living rooms, perhaps a moment of truth. But Graham isn’t going the easy route. There’s a shocking disclosure, time hiccups, and violently unexpected action erupts as characters act on their deepest and most atavistic beliefs. Directed by Chip Walton, the production is impeccably staged and acted. Sam Gregory’s Ray is fascinating to watch at every moment, whether he’s maintaining a civilized veneer or allowing flame-spitting rage to break through. And as Jada Dixon lingers in shadow during the play’s final moments, you see it all on her face: Shatique's weariness, rage and pain, her intense and terrible loneliness. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through June 24, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524,  Real the full Westword review of White Guy on the Bus here.

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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