Fiction. In the first scene of Fiction, two people argue and flirt in a Paris cafe. They seem entirely familiar with each other; their argument, though heightened and intensely clever, still has the comfortable, teasing, accustomed rhythms you expect of a conversation between lovers. But in the second scene we learn that this was actually the first meeting of now long-married writers Michael and Linda Waterman, or rather — and it takes you a little longer to figure this out — the first meeting as Michael recorded it. Now Michael is the kind of blockbuster novelist his younger self scorned, while Linda has never been able to repeat the success of her first novel, At the Cape, famed not only for its writing, but for its tragic autobiographical elements. Playwright Steven Dietz is a clever soul. His plotting is cunning, and the layers of complexity he builds around the basic concepts of truth and fiction are even more so. Linda soon discovers that she has a fatal brain tumor and no more than three weeks to live, and she has one request: She wants Michael to read her journal after her death, and in return, she'd like to read his. What she discovers is that during a stay at a writers' colony, Michael had an affair with Abby, the colony's enigmatic administrator. Reading on, she discovers Abby on page after page of every single journal, and she's devastated. When she confronts Michael, he admits to a one-month affair, no more. Everything else, he says, he made up. And then Abby herself appears at the door. She has come to see not Michael, but Linda. As written, Michael and Linda are fascinating, but you wouldn't really want to know them; they'd be the kind of dinner-party guests whose self-conscious wit silenced everyone else. But director Richard H. Pegg has cast Rhonda Brown and Thomas Borrillo, two actors of such warmth and appeal that you can't help empathizing with them. The result is a fascinating evening — and that's no fiction. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through April 24. 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, www.minersalley.com. Reviewed March 10.
The Field. Bull McCabe has been farming a few acres for several years — fencing, tearing out weeds, fertilizing — until the barren soil has become a lush pasture for his herd of cows. And now the owner, a poor widow, needs to put the field up for sale. Enter an American businessman, William Dee. He wants to pave over part of the land and set up a business selling concrete blocks. We want to empathize with McCabe, but The Fieldis also very much about rural Irish culture in all its harshness, poverty and violence, and the man is a vicious bully and wifebeater who, along with his equally unscrupulous son, once tracked down a donkey and beat it to death for trespassing on his field. So the outline of another theme entirely emerges, a theme having to do with social isolation and the way the evil promulgated by one psychotic human being can spread until it engulfs an entire community. Terrified or complicit, worn down by the hardships of their own lives, one by one the villagers enable McCabe's depredations, from the widow condemned to poverty by his actions to the slimy, go-along-to-get-along pub owner and his harassed and overburdened wife, Maimie. The Field is not a great play, but it is a strong and interesting one with many vital characters, and director Rita Broderick has created a solid production that's buoyed by several standout performances. Presented by the Denver Victorian Playhouse through April 2, 4201 Hooker Street, 303-433-4343, www.denvervic.com. Reviewed March 3.
Homebody/Kabul. The greatest strength of Tony Kushner's Homebody/Kabullies in the hour-long opening monologue, in which an eccentric British housewife, holding an outdated guidebook to Kabul, tries to get her arms around the great, rich, anguished and turbulent mystery that is Afghanistan. Surrounded by people of diverse cultures and religions, sequentially occupied, Kabul once served as a crossroads for the ancient world, with trade routes converging on it from the north, south, east and west, and Kushner's genius was to put his own thirst for understanding into the soul and body of this woman, who interweaves the book's plethora of facts with her interpretations and imaginings, ponders the passage of time (an important theme) and muses on her own safe life in London. She's an entirely original creation. Having made her pilgrimage to Kabul, the Homebody vanishes — either torn to pieces as she wanders burqa-less, or having fallen in love with an Afghan man and decided to convert to Islam; the script suggests both. By the time we learn this, though, the play has turned prosaic. The Homebody's husband and daughter go to Afghanistan to find her, and what a wretched pair they are. Husband Milton spends the entire visit in a hotel room, afraid of venturing out. Daughter Priscilla has two modes: angry or whining. Convinced her mother isn't dead, she goes racing in search of her, abusing people she finds insufficiently helpful, carelessly tossing off her burqa whenever she can — which, given her mother's possible fate, is unforgivably stupid. When she reveals a suicide attempt and an inadvertent abortion in a far-too-long scene with her father, I can't tell whether we're supposed to empathize or see her so-conventional traumas as puny against the vast canvas of Afghan suffering. In all, though, this production is a large, interesting and raggedly ambitious work. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through April 16, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed March 24.
K2. Pakistan's K2 mountain is the second highest in the world, and it kills climbers: One dies for every four who make the summit. Very few of us can understand what drives those who attempt these summits, deliberately exposing themselves to terror and pain, nor can we know what it feels like to face the huge and indifferent forces of nature — but doubtless there's a wild exhilaration at the heart of the experience. Patrick Meyers's K2, a grueling ninety-minute drama, shows two men, Harold and Taylor, trapped on a high, icy ledge. They're suffering from the bitter cold. Harold has an ugly injury to his leg. They've lost essential equipment, have very little food, and are running out of daylight. Taylor is all guts and instinct, a district attorney with a jaundiced, racist view of the world. Harold is devoted to his wife and child. A onetime hippie, he moved from stoned speculation about the secrets of the universe to a serious career as a nuclear physicist. But his resumé isn't entirely virtuous: Harold helped develop the neutron bomb at Lawrence Livermore — a bomb designed to wipe out all living things in an area, while leaving objects and buildings intact. Since it's still remotely possible that Taylor could succeed in getting off the mountain, Harold urges him to attempt it — supposedly to get help, though both of them know how unlikely that is. But Taylor is determined not to live out the rest of his life knowing he'd left a friend to die. The two bicker, rage at each other and the mountain, even laugh now and then at the absurdity of their predicament. Given the situation, you might expect the play to be static, but it's dramatically well structured, with far more action than seems possible. K2 asks a lot of both actors and audience: We have to be willing to give ourselves over to a bleak and terrifying place; the actors have to give their emotional all. Fortunately, Jude Moran and William Hahn are up to it. Presented by the Aurora Fox through April 3, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora, 303-739-1970, www.aurorafox.org. Reviewed March 24.
Traces. The talented acrobats of Traces — six men and a woman — aren't dressed, Cirque-style, in masks or feathers; they're not working with artsy, enigmatic, mythical stories or cavorting in fairytale landscapes. They're just a group of folks in dull gray, brown and black street clothes. They share a little information about themselves, though not a lot, and if there's a story here, it's fairly undefined. For the most part, these seem to be kids hanging around on a street corner, dancing, jostling each other, fighting a bit; there's a screen behind them that sometimes flickers with black-and-white images and sometimes shows Chinese characters or drawings of skyscrapers, and the music ranges from pulse-pounding to old songs ("It's Only a Paper Moon") to soft, Erik Satie-like piano phrases, often produced by the multi-talented cast members themselves. But the real story lies in the acrobatics: someone skimming weightlessly up a pole, then stretching his body out in a true horizontal; actors leaping straight up from the ground and over each other's bodies; Florian Zumkehr doing impossible tricks with an ever-growing pile of chairs; the group at times using skateboards as bats, or making like Fred Astaire with his elegant cane. Troupe members fly through a stack of hoops, then set the top hoop higher, and again higher...until, as one of them poises for action, you want to yell, Don't even try it. He does. The top hoop clatters to the ground. We groan. And then he tries again and succeeds, and we all cheer like mad. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through May 11, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed March 10.