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? Girly pink bedrooms, purses, bras, skinny models in glossy magazines. Every time they tell a story with the tiniest bite to it, Gehring and Klein — both talented and appealing stage performers — move instantly to reassure us that they don't mean it. At one point Klein relates an interesting tale about how she came to possess the badly taxidermied body of an electrocuted squirrel as a child; the minute she's completed this funny, freaky moment in an otherwise highly predictable evening, she gives a pouty, don't-get-me-wrong grin and sweetly caresses the squirrel's head. There's enough good material here for a tight, funny, one-hour-long show, but this one stretches on and on, as if Klein and Gehring had been determined to throw every single joke and piece of shtick that occurred to them in the script. 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.
The Glass Menagerie. Nostalgia is at the heart of this Tennessee Williams play, which reveals the stifling and claustrophobic life of a onetime Southern belle and her two grown children, as remembered by son Tom. Amanda once chose a telephone man with a seductive grin over countless other suitors, and he deserted the family. Now she spends her time alternately succumbing to romantic memories and scheming with tooth-gritted determination for the welfare of her family. Tom works in a warehouse, longs to be a poet, and finds his life stunted by the dependence of his small family. Sister Laura, emotionally and physically crippled and so painfully shy she's unable to maintain any kind of outside life, spends her time with a collection of glass animals. Into this hothouse atmosphere comes a gentleman caller: Jim, a friend from work whom Tom, at his mother's urging, has invited to dinner. All of the casting is very strong, and director Warren Sherrill is not afraid of pauses — and the pauses resonate. The pleasing lines of David Lafont's set suggest a homey apartment, but true to the theme of memory, all detail has been erased: The frame supposedly holding a photograph of the absent telephone man is empty, Laura's glass animals purely imaginary. This emphasis on the play's long-ago, preserved-in-amber quality brings depth and clarity. But sometimes the production feels a little too measured, too like those golden, honey-dripping summer days that first create a sense of trance, then slowly lull you into sleep. Presented by Paragon Theatre through November 15, Crossroads Theater, 2590 Washington Street, 303-300-2210, www.paragontheatre.org. Reviewed October 30.
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; despite a plethora of "fuck"s, the dialogue is musical, rhythmic, penetrating. And 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.
The Hound of the Baskervilles. The performers at Heritage Square Music Hall has invented a form of theater entirely their own — a mix of scripted and improvised lines, audience interactions, clever jokes, silly jokes that are funny because they happen every time and we'd be disappointed if they didn't. What would be the point of a performance without Annie Dwyer attacking some guy in the audience, T.J. Mullin revealing his unexpectedly melodious tenor, Rory Pierce swaying on in a skirt, showing off unexpectedly shapely legs? Audiences like the fact that the cast can be so hokey and so talented at the same time. The spoofiness level of the company's offerings varies: Some shows are just joyous, anything-goes-for-a-laugh evenings, others are a bit more serious or represent a genuine homage. The Hound of the Baskervilles leans toward the latter. You get straightforward acting, and then there are the wildly anachronistic moments only Heritage can provide. Mullin plays Sherlock Holmes fairly straight, and Pierce does the same for Dr. Watson, though his bemused reactions are frequently hilarious. And because the cast knows you expect some singing in this music hall, they oblige with a brief, all-stops-out, sunshiny interlude after the show, a tribute to movie musicals. Presented by Heritage Square Music Hall through November 9, 18301 West Colfax Avenue, Golden, 303-279-7800, www.hsmusicall.com. Reviewed October 30.
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 several casual references to the Piggyplane, which flies anyone he decides to classify as a terrorist to torture and death in a secret Bulgarian prison. In addition to Smith's struggle to remain in power, the plot deals with his lesbian speechwriter's desire to marry her partner, and her belief that Smith can and should perform the ceremony. Playwright David Mamet almost always seems to be mocking his own characters, and this play's roster is particularly one-dimensional and farcical. November wants to be robust, H.L. Mencken-tinged, plague-on-all-your-political-houses-level satire, but it's too small-minded and thin a piece of work for that. Still, there's plenty of clever, funny 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.