Circle Mirror Transformation. At a small-town community center, four people are participating in an acting workshop run by Marty, who combines a little knowledge of theater with quite a bit of new-agey yearning. The participants are Marty's husband, one-time hippie James; sexy Theresa, who spent time in New York and has a smidgen of acting experience; good-guy carpenter Schultz; and sullen teenager Lauren. Everything you learn about these people, and pretty much the entire plot of Circle Mirror Transformation, comes from the acting exercises they go through together, though every now and then there's a solitary moment or a fragment of before-class dialogue, usually cut tantalizingly short by the arrival of others. No major drama, nothing climactic, no big resolutions, no straining for significance. Just moments of insight — partial, elliptical — that glimmer into view, then vanish almost before you can take them in, and a conclusion that's pure magic. Under the direction of Christopher Leo, both the technical values and the casting are first-rate. And where has Mark Rubald been all this time? No other actor around can make low-key decency so deeply appealing, and the dynamic between his Schultz and Barbra Andrews's lithe and sharply expressive Theresa is one of the strongest threads in an altogether strong evening. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through February 26, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed January 27.
Hello, Dolly! You're looking for a warm, lively, music-filled, sweetly sentimental holiday season show — but you've had it up to here with Santas and Tiny Tims, as well as not-so-funny take-offs on Santas and Tiny Tims. Say hello to Hello, Dolly!, an old warhorse finding new life at Boulder's Dinner Theatre. The musical tells the story of a meddlesome widow, Dolly Levi, who makes a living connecting people. Ostensibly trying to find a wife for half-millionaire feed-store owner Horace Vandergelder, she's actually plotting to snare him for herself. First, though, she has to not only overcome his doubts, but free herself from the memory of her beloved dead husband, Ephraim. The plot — absurd, episodic, dated in parts — is really only a pretext for songs, dances and comic scenes, but the dialogue still has snap, and the songs are seductive. "It Takes a Woman" is a funny sendup of '50s marital expectations: "It takes a woman all powdered and pink/To joyously clean out the drain in the sink/And it takes an angel with long golden lashes/And soft Dresden fingers for dumping the ashes"; "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" is one of those joyous showstoppers that get your heart racing; "Dancing" starts as a comic dance lesson and ends with a horde of people swirling exhilaratingly across the stage; and "Before the Parade Passes By" is not only exhilarating, but touching, too. It's hard to imagine a more perfect Dolly than Alicia Dunfee, who imbues the role with warmth and charm, sings movingly, and brings depth and dignity to her soliloquies with her dead husband. Another terrific performance comes from Tracy Warren, who has a pure, beautifully modulated singing voice and loads of appeal as hatmaker Irene Malloy. The direction and choreography (the latter by Dunfee and Matthew D. Peters) are clean and tight. They meld together the disparate levels of talent on stage and give the performers a solid base from which to cut loose and enjoy themselves. Which they do — filling us with pleasure in the process. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through February 26, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Reviewed December 2.
Map of Heaven. Playwright Michele Lowe writes well about art, and the central character in her Map of Heaven is an artist, Lena, whose paintings are maps of imaginary places and who is about to have her first big show. As the play opens, she's in her studio with longtime dealer and gallery owner Rebecca, discussing which pieces to display. But while Lena's career is on the upswing, her radiologist husband is tiring of his profession. Once so dedicated that he moved heaven and earth to open a clinic for poor women, he's now spending less and less time at his work and more and more time flying — an occupation for which he's developed a passion — and he's hoping that Lena will find a level of recognition that allows him to quit being a doctor. Ian's sister, Jen, is also on a downward trajectory professionally. She's waitressing for a living, despite having once been a lawyer. The first major twist in the action is a little hard to swallow, and the second really strains faith; the characters begin feeling less like people and more like ciphers pressed into the service of a less-than-plausible plot. Still, under the direction of Evan Cabnet, the acting and the production values are so good that you almost believe. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through February 26, Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed January 27.