Eventide. This is a sequel of sorts to Plainsong, which the Denver Center Theatre Company produced two years ago, though the language is less evocative and the vision less far-reaching. In Plainsong, we learned of two elderly brothers, awkward bachelor cattlemen, who took in a pregnant teenager after her mother had thrown her out of the house. Now that teenager is a poised young woman with a two-year-old child, and she's about to leave for college. Tragedy soon strikes. One of the brothers, Harold, is killed by an angry bull, leaving his sibling, Raymond, to undertake the backbreaking work on the cattle ranch shattered and alone. The story that gives the evening much of its emotional juice concerns a mentally challenged couple, Betty and Luther, who are trying desperately to follow the instructions of their social worker and be good parents to their two small children. But Betty and Luther are one-dimensional in a way the characters in Plainsong were not. They represent pure pathos, just as Betty's uncle, Hoyt, represents pure evil. When the script does rise to the occasion, however, it beautifully communicates the slow, quiet pace of rural Colorado life, the specificities of socializing, cattle ranching and learning to know — and sometimes take care of — one's neighbors. All the threads weave together in the third act, partly because the drama of Betty and Luther's family comes to a head, even more because Raymond, in his own crusty and inimitable way, finally finds companionship and warmth. By the final scene, all of the elements have cohered, and we begin to understand that the only solace in an uncertain world is human kindness. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through February 27, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed February 18.
Habeas Corpus. Director Richard Pegg, who's English, completely gets Alan Bennett's Habeas Corpus, a nutty sex farce set in Hove in the '70s. Pegg knows that when it comes to sex, a certain kind of Englishman vacillates perennially between shame and lust. He also understands that Bennett's ironic melancholia is a defining feature of his work — but that doesn't keep the production from being hilariously funny. Dr. Wicksteed spends the evening trying to get his hands on Felicity Rumpers's bouncing breasts, but he isn't the only one pursuing her. Everyone wants her, and her formidable mother, Lady Rumpers, intends to see that no one gets her. Unfortunately, someone already has: Felicity's pregnant. She's looking for a face-saving marriage, and once Wicksteed's weedy hypochondriacal son, Dennis, informs her that he only has three months to live, she thinks she's found the man of her dreams. The cast performs with tremendous gusto and freedom, sometimes addressing the audience directly, sometimes breaking into song. Central to the production's success is Verl Hite's Wicksteed. His persona is in direct contradiction to his venality; he seems kindly, reassuring and dignified, exactly what you'd want in a doctor, and this makes his immorality doubly funny — and sort of sad, as well. As Lady Rumpers, Deborah Persoff has an indecent amount of fun, and she has the wit, skill and energy to make sure you do, too. We all end up dead, Habeas Corpus tells us, so gather ye rosebuds while ye may. And, while you're at it, grab all the breasts and bottoms you can. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through February 28, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, www.minersalley.com. Reviewed January 28.
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 March 14, Garner Galleria Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed September 18, 2008.