Girls Only. The trouble with Girls Only, a two-woman evening of conversation, skits, singing, improvisation and audience participation, is that it's so relentlessly nice. Creator-performers Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein have worked together for many years; at some point, they read their early diaries to each other and were transfixed by the similarities and differences they found in them, as well as the insights they gained into their own psyches and the travails of puberty. This theater piece was developed from that material — but not all of that material. "I purposely don't read every diary entry in the show, because it turns out I was kind of mean, and I don't want to be mean," Klein told an interviewer. But mean is funny, and when you cut it out entirely, what do you have to joke about? Presented by Denver Center Attractions through February 15, Garner Galleria Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed September 18.
Glengarry Glen Ross. Although David Mamet wrote Glengarry Glen Ross more than twenty years ago, this study of unscrupulous salesmen pitching worthless plots in Florida is still relevant. These salesmen spend their time jockeying for ascendance. They're desperate, but their desperation hasn't humanized them or increased their ability to empathize either with their victims or with a colleague who's losing his footing. As for that colleague, his teeth are as sharp as anyone else's. The only blameless figure is James Lingk, the mark of one of the salesmen, but he's a wuss, entirely dependent on orders from his wife. The action is tightly constructed, and the evening fizzes along swiftly, buoyed by strong, fast gusts of rage and incessant bubbles of profanity. Three vignettes, which take place in the red vinyl booths of a Chinese restaurant, serve as prologue. By the second scene, we're in the office, a robbery has been committed, and a cop is on the premises. Under his questioning eye, the men begin to fall to pieces. The play won a Pulitzer in 1984, and much of its genius lies in Mamet's language; this first-rate cast does it justice with a sizzling production. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through November 22, Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed October 23.
Noises Off. Michael Frayn is brilliant, and his Noises Off is one of the cleverest, funniest farces ever written; half the pleasure of this production is seeing how, despite the madcap pace of the action, every single element eventually clicks neatly and smartly into place. This is a play within a play — actually, a play outside a play that depicts the struggles of a third-rate company touring the English provinces in a corny sex farce called Nothing On. During the first act, the flustered, under-rehearsed company runs a dress rehearsal under the eyes of its director; the humor comes from the actors' attempts to figure out their myriad exits and entrances, when to pick up their props and where to put them down. The second act takes place behind the scenery, in a world of raw wood and trailing wires. Through the doors and windows of the flats, we periodically glimpse the actions we've already seen the cast rehearse; among those supposedly off stage, there's squabbling and jealous rage. The third act takes place some weeks later, when the actors' arguments have gotten entirely out of hand and they're on stage trying to get through the scene, fighting emotions that range from indifference through exasperation to complete mental meltdown. While the actors throw themselves into their roles to the point of exhaustion, there's an awful lot of hamming and shtick to Kent Thompson's production — and what's missing is any sense that these are real people. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through November 1, the Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed October 16.
November. It's a few days before the election, and Charles Smith, the sitting president, is hoping for a second term. The trouble is, his poll numbers are in the toilet, he's intensely incompetent, and he has no money for advertising. But he does have a kind of coarse, stupid venality, lots of energy, no conscience and a strong instinct for self-preservation. As the play opens, Smith is more interested in whether his wife can keep the Oval Office couch than in the fact that Iran has just launched a nuclear strike. He peppers his conversations with homophobic and xenophobic comments and makes casual references to the Piggyplane, which flies anyone he decides to classify as a terrorist to torture and death in a secret Bulgarian prison. The plot also deals with his lesbian speechwriter's desire to marry her partner, and her belief that Smith should perform the ceremony. Playwright David Mamet almost always seems to mock his characters, and this play's roster is particularly one-dimensional and farcical. November wants to be robust, H.L. Mencken-tinged satire, but it's too small-minded and thin a piece of work for that. Still, there's plenty of clever dialogue here, and the many echoes of the Bush presidency rock the theater with laughter. Presented by the Avenue Theater through November 22, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed October 23.