Defiance. The second play in a projected trilogy (the first is Doubt, which took the Pulitzer Prize and will be staged at the Denver Center in spring), Defiance examines the state of the U.S. Marine Corps in 1971, when the Vietnam War had lost all vestige of legitimacy for most Americans, troop morale was low, drug use and racist incidents high. Big questions are raised here about conscience, obedience and what's worth fighting for, but discussion and argument aren't the same thing as drama. The plot centers around a conflict at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where Lieutenant Colonel Morgan Littlefield yearns equally for advancement and glory. Learning of racial conflict in his camp, he asks Lee King, a young black captain, for help. King informs him of a housing problem faced by black recruits; Littlefield solves it, and eventually tries to promote King. But King doesn't want the promotion. He doesn't want to be a spokesman for his race. Having been shattered by the murder of Martin Luther King Jr., he wants to be left alone and remain invisible. The climax — and the most vivid scene in the play — comes when a young private reveals to the captain a scandal so egregious that he is forced to abandon his aloofness and take action. But the resolution comes far too fast and easily. Presented by the Arvada Center through November 4, Black Box Theater, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200, www.arvadacenter.org. Reviewed October 11.
My Name Is Rachel Corrie. Rachel Corrie has been a lightning rod for controversy ever since her death in Gaza in 2003, when the 23-year-old was run over by an Israeli soldier as she attempted to prevent the bulldozing of a Palestinian home. But Corrie was more than just a symbol; she was a genuinely unique young spirit. This play was put together by English actor Alan Rickman and journalist Katharine Viner from Corrie's journals and e-mails; it's clear that the world lost a lot when it lost this strong, individual voice. Much of the power of this production stems from the fact that you can't separate what you're seeing on stage from what you know —- that this marvelous young woman, who spoke of death and hope in the same breathless moment, would die a cruel, violent death. "Love you. Really miss you," she wrote in a letter to her mother. "I have bad nightmares about tanks and bulldozers outside our house and you and me inside." With her graceful hands and gentle dignity, Julie Rada perfectly embodies the character of Rachel. Director Brian Freeland gives us just enough light to provide a clear view of Rada's face, and she pitches her voice just loud enough to be heard comfortably, but you still have to lean in a little to catch everything. Along with the simplicity of the set, this restraint adds to the power of the evening. Presented by Countdown to Zero through November 17, Bindery/space, 770 22nd Street, 720-938-0466, www.countdowntozero.org. Reviewed October 4.
The Night Heron. The setting is a hovel in England's Cambridgeshire fens, the protagonists a pair of gardeners who have lost their jobs at Cambridge University — Wattmore because of accusations concernng a ten-year-old boy, Griffin because of his loyalty to Wattmore. The two men are close and protective of each other against an undefined menace, an evil that presses against their windows — and that eventually enters in the person of Bolla Fogg, an ex-con or perhaps an escapee, a lumpy, mean-tempered potato of a woman with a very shaky hold on her own sanity. A night heron has strayed onto the fens, and a hundred pounds is being offered for a photograph. Unfortunately, the men have no camera. Griffin is also interested in a poetry competition sponsored by Cambridge that comes with a 2,000-pound reward. A lot of England's hot young playwrights trade in mindless violence, and The Night Heron does contain some, though for the most part what we get is memories and intimations of violence. At the same time, the characters possess a profound longing for grace, and on one level, the entire play represents a struggle between good and evil. There's Christian imagery all over, as well as talk of gardens and passages of poetry. All this could signify a writer trying to bring meaning and coherence to a plot that we in the audience can never quite grasp. But that isn't the case: The metaphysics are core-deep, the play is firmly grounded in character and place, and all the performances are excellent, thick with meaning and conviction. Presented by Paragon Theatre through November 10, Phoenix Theatre, 1124 Santa Fe Drive, 303-300-2210, www.paragontheatre.org. Reviewed October 25.