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The Man Who Came to Dinner. Written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart in 1939, The Man Who Came to Dinner

is about an insufferable guest. Wealthy factory owner Earnest W. Stanley lives in a small Ohio town called Mesalia. As the play opens, his household is all a-twitter about their famous guest, writer and public wit Sheldon Whiteside, who, having slipped on the ice outside the front door and hurt his hip, will be staying with them for a while. But when he's wheeled out by a nurse in his wheelchair, Whiteside himself is far less pleased. "I may vomit," he observes to the hopeful and star-struck assembly. And then he proceeds to lay down the rules: Since he'll be working in the living room and the library, no one else can enter them for the duration of his stay. Nor can anyone use the phone. He hands Mrs. Stanley the menu for the lunch he'd like served to the five guests he's just invited, and informs Mr. Stanley that he'll be suing him for $150,000. And so Whiteside sets up court and carries on with his life, preparing for his famed radio addresses, receiving gifts that include an Egyptian mummy, calf's foot jelly, a box of penguins and a scientific experiment involving thousands of cockroaches. But he goes too far when he decides to destroy the budding romance between his secretary, Maggie Cutler, and local journalist Bert Jefferson. There are 23 characters in this play (played here by twenty actors), and people are always popping on to perform comic bits, toss off one-liners and serve as the butt of Whiteside's endless barrage of insults. Whiteside himself is one of those larger-than-life, swift-tongued 1930s wits — Noel Coward with more malice and quite a lot more girth. Much of the humor relies on his nastiness and name dropping. But to carry off a piece as stylized as this, you need actors with a lot of poise and moxie, and much of the acting in this production is at the level of good community theater. Presented by Spotlight Theatre Company through December 22, the John Hand Theater, 7653 East First Place. Reviewed December 6.

Miracle on 34th Street. The songs in this show are workable but not inspired, and much of the script is taken directly from the 1947 movie of the same name that made little Natalie Wood a star. Though it feels odd in this day and age to hear romantic hero Fred address Doris, the woman he's coming to love, as a "dumb little dame," the story still has some charm and punch. Yes, you know cynical little Susan, who's been taught by her embittered divorced mother Doris not to entertain magical or romantic reveries, will be won over by Fred, the gallant Marine who lives next door, and later by Kris Kringle, the portly, white-bearded gentleman who insists he's the real Santa Claus. But it's still fun to watch it happen — and who doesn't want to believe that generosity and goodwill can overcome all obstacles, especially at Christmas? Erick Devine exudes kindliness and humanity as Kringle, and his rich baritone warms you to the soul. When he says he really is Santa Claus, you don't doubt it for a moment. And Lauren Shealy deploys a fine soprano as Doris. Director Gavin Mayer has found several wonderfully appealing youngsters for his cast: Regan Fenske is grave, serious and entirely professional as skeptical Susan; six-year-old Ashlyn Faith Williams is touching as Hendrika, a lonely Dutch adoptee whom Kringle addresses in her own language. As for Nate Kissingford's little Tommy, who innocently destroys his DA father's entire case against Kringle in the courtroom — you just want to squeeze the puddin' out of him, as the old folks used to say. Presented by the Arvada Center through December 23, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200, Reviewed December 6.

Time Stands Still. For all but a small sliver of society in the United States, wars are only a distant rumbling. But for those who have experienced the conflicts — soldiers, journalists, refugees — they are devastating. The images of war engrave themselves indelibly on the brain and can rip apart the fabric of an entire life. This truth lies at the heart of Donald Margulies's searching and unsettling play Time Stands Still. The primary protagonists are two journalists who have covered some of the world's hottest war zones. Sarah, a photographer wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq, has returned to the U.S. almost literally in pieces, both physical and emotional. Her long-term lover, James, is at their apartment to welcome her. A reporter, he left Iraq while Sarah was still in the hospital in Germany because of a breakdown of his own, and he is determined to bring her back to health. But Sarah is not an easy patient. Richard, her photo editor, arrives, accompanied by his much younger girlfriend, Mandy, and Sarah can barely mask her contempt. When the two women discuss the photographs on Sarah's laptop, Mandy begins to weep over a shot of a mother with her horribly burned baby. She has touched on a profound question: Both Sarah and James sometimes wonder whether recording war scenes does any good or whether it's a kind of voyeurism, a commodification of human pain. But the play is not didactic. It's smart, multi-layered, absorbing and wryly funny, and the issues it raises are explored through the lives of four very real and interesting people. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through December 15, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, Reviewed November 8.

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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

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