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Astronomical Sunset. Jim is a man destroyed by guilt because a social-networking site he created led to...actually, it's not quite clear what, but it had to do with a teenage boy posting compromising photographs of his girlfriend, and the boy is now in prison. The plot doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and the stretches of dialogue in which playwright Robert Lewis Vaughan attempts to be current and relevant — with comments about privacy and the atomized, inhuman nature of contemporary communication — are tedious. Fortunately, there aren't too many of them. Jim has moved with his wife, Liz, to a small town to escape gossip and death threats, and is steadily falling apart, cuddling a baseball bat for fear of intruders, wearing the same robe and pajama bottoms day after day, refusing to shower and — naturally — alienating the devoted Liz by either ignoring her or begging her, for her own safety, to leave him. Into Jim and Liz's miserably constrained life together erupt a pair of teenagers who claim to be their neighbors. Lily is pushy and perky; she's soon organizing Liz's life for her, bringing daily muffins and annoying the hell out of Jim. Jared, supposedly Lily's car-stealing brother, is something else entirely: gothy, sliding, haunting, ambiguous, even vampiric. Astronomical Sunset succeeds more as a ghost story than an exploration of contemporary issues, and this strong production is aided by acting and impeccable tech. In both its weaknesses and its strengths, Astronomical Sunset validates this company's devotion to new work. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through December 4, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, Reviewed November 11.

Finders Keepers Losers Weepers. The script of Finders Keepers Losers Weepers hitches together ensemble-developed material with The Double Inconstancy, an eighteenth-century play by Pierre Marivaux, and the result is a mess. The show begins with a bluesy chanteuse, Michelle Moore, singing songs from the '30s — "Stormy Weather," "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" — and she does it very well. Unfortunately, the idea is to evoke a nightclub, so Moore sings as the auditorium fills and the audience chats away through her melodious, evocative stylings. Then the Marivaux plot takes over: A prince captures a peasant girl, Sylvia, with whom he's fallen in love; she's followed to the palace by her beloved, Harlequin, and both of them are soon entrapped in the spider's web of scheming and self-interest that is life at court. A lack of focus plagues the entire production, though: Movie conventions are satirized, musical numbers spring up here and there, and while some of the gags and tricks are funny, even the most successful don't add anything to the theme. Are we supposed to care about the love between Sylvia, played with a certain charm by Cynthia Ward, and her Harlequin — a manic hayseed performance by Nicholas Barth — and hope they'll stay together? When they fall for others, should we be rooting for these new affairs? There's some charm and talent in the cast, but there's also a lot of amateurishness. Presented by Band of Toughs December 9-11 at Naropa University, 2130 Arapahoe Avenue in Boulder, Reviewed November 18 (at the Denver Civic Theatre).

Reckless. Rachel, a housewife, is having what she characterizes as "one of my euphoria attacks," babbling ecstatically to her depressed husband, Tom, about snow, their two sons, festive television shows and how much she loves Christmas. He interrupts to tell her he's taken out a contract on her life. We never know exactly why, though perhaps her unstoppable chattiness provides a clue. Now that the killer is on his inexorable way, Tom is sorry and wants her to flee. A hasty plunge through the window in robe and slippers, and Rachel finds herself journeying through an America as surreal as Alice's Wonderland, though far more plastic and artificial, and peopled by all kinds of fragmented souls, from Lloyd and his deaf, paraplegic wife, Pootie, who take her in, to the sad young man who comes to her for help at the play's end. In Reckless, playwright Craig Lucas sends up everything from humanitarian work to such obvious targets as game shows and therapy. His script features murder, drunkenness, lies, embezzlement and identity confusion, and it allows no Christmas celebration to escape unscathed. The death or absence of parents is a recurring theme, starting with Rachel's entirely unintended abandonment of her children; almost every character has both suffered and inflicted terrible loss — and all of them have something to hide. The production rides on Julia Motyka, who plays Rachel, and she doesn't let us down. Motyka can bound around the stage with an energy so manic that you want to strangle her yourself (never mind Tom's contract), but she also displays moments of unexpected intelligence and cunning. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through December 18, Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, Reviewed November 25.

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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman