Absurd Person Singular. The Denver Center Theatre Company should be applauded for selecting Absurd Person Singular, Alan Ayckbourn's dark comedy, as one of its Christmas offerings. Ayckbourn's trademark is intensely clever, laugh-out-loud farce capering over the surface of a sad and penetrating cynicism, and it's the perfect antidote to the wash of theatrical sentimentality we always encounter this season. This is the story of three couples and three consecutive Christmas cocktail parties, held between 1972 and 1974. Always keen to set himself technical challenges, Ayckbourn has situated the action not in the living rooms where the parties should be taking place, but in the three kitchens. The first belongs to Sidney and Jane Hopcroft, who is so obsessed with cleaning that she's incapable of thinking about her guests. Sidney is a small-time tradesman with ambitions to climb in the world, and he's invited the people he feels will be useful to him: banker Ronald Brewster-Wright and his snobbish and terminally bored wife, Marion, and bohemian architect Geoffrey, whose spouse is hyper-neurotic Eva. Jane eventually locks herself out in the rain; Ronald hints that his bank may be willing to finance Sidney, and Geoffrey makes it clear that the architectural projects he takes on are far more important and creative than the grubby little shopping center Sidney is contemplating. But how the mighty fall! In slow motion and through two more acts. By the end, Sidney is in the ascendant; he's literally calling the tune to which the others must dance. The insanely farcical moments play best in this production, because that's where director Sabin Epstein appears to have put his attention. But there's really no point in picking a terrific play like this if you can't come up with a clear and precise comic vision for it. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through December 19, Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed November 26.
Fully Committed. In the bowels of one of the hautest of New York's haute cuisine restaurants, would-be actor Sam mans the phones. All may be elegance, soft-spoken service, expensive food and flattering lighting above, but here in the basement there's grubbiness and clutter, drab green walls and constantly ringing phones. This is the kind of restaurant where Diane Sawyer jostles renowned architect Philip Johnson for a table, supermodel Naomi Campbell demands a vegan meal for herself and her entourage, the Zagats drop by for a bite. The phones ring and ring. Sam calms angry clients, soothes bullies, juggles reservations, considers bribes, rapidly dispatches the out-of-town yokels who don't realize reservations must be made months in advance, and deals with loving calls from his own father, who wants to know if he can come home for Christmas. One actor — Steven Burge — plays every character, a feat that requires an excellent memory and split-second timing as well as presence and versatility. Fortunately, Burge has all of these. Fully Committed not only allows the little guy a victory over the powerful, but it's a pitch-perfect evocation of the New York scene and the peculiar and specific neuroses of its wealthy restaurant clientele. It's also clever, light and warm-hearted — all in all, a very satisfying evening. Presented by the Aurora Fox through December 20, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora, 303-739-1970, www.aurorafox.org. Reviewed November 19.
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 January 17, Garner Galleria Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed September 18, 2008.