The Fourth Wall. Playwright A.R. Gurney is a courteous, upper-crust kind of guy, so when he found himself enraged by national politics, he didn't respond with agitprop or searing realism. Instead he imagined a comfortably middle-class housewife, Peggy, who -- by way of protest -- rearranges all the furniture in her living room so that it faces an imaginary theatrical fourth wall. Pretty soon, anyone entering Peggy's living room begins behaving like a character on a stage, and the resultant mix of realism and the actors' frantic bouts of self-aware staginess creates a cascade of evocative moments and clever jokes. There's also a piano that plays Cole Porter all by itself. As interior designer Julia preens and poses, Peggy's husband attempts to understand her, and theater professor Floyd urges Peggy to explore new forms of theater, Peggy herself stays true to her vision. She believes that beyond her sheltered world there are people of every race and nationality who can be persuaded to march on Washington and halt the madness of George W. Bush's foreign policy. This production focuses more on surface comedy than on Peggy's rage and sadness, however, which makes it amusing but ultimately inconsequential. Presented by the Avenue Theater through May 22, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed September 1.
Horror: The Transformation. This play is based on Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland, a novel published in 1798, which itself was inspired by the true story of a farmer who killed his wife and children. It's not done as a period piece, though the clothes and setting aren't strictly modern, either, and a lot of the dialogue retains an eighteenth-century focus and rhythm. The acting is somewhat naturalistic, but there are also many stylized elements. The actors all wear gloves; their eyes are heavily shadowed. Two children are represented by ingeniously constructed puppets. There are long periods during which we, the audience, sit in absolute darkness, and often the theater is filled with odd and insinuating sounds. Music. Panting. A low, breastbone-vibrating rumble. Footsteps. Instrumental shrieks. Many of the technical tricks are brilliant, and the puppet-children are eerily effective throughout. Although neither the plot of Brown's novel nor that of the play entirely holds together, the production succeeds, both as an extended rumination on the first Gothic novel ever published in America, and in creating a real sense of fear and unease in a contemporary audience. Presented by Buntport Theater in rotation with Realism: The Mythical Brontosaurus through December 10, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, www.buntport.com. Reviewed November 3.
Impulse Theater. Basements and comedy go together like beer and nuts or toddlers and sandboxes. The basement of the Wynkoop Brewing Co., 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. Presented by Impulse Theater in an open-ended run, Wynkoop Brewing Co., 1634 18th Street, 303-297-2111 or www.impulsetheater.com.