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The Graduate. The more you think about it, the more you realize what a weak play The Graduate really is. Adapted for the stage by Terry Johnson from a 1960s novel by Charles Webb — which in turn became an iconic film starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft — it tells the story of Benjamin, a recent graduate, contemptuous of his wealthy family, bored and drifting, who gets seduced by Mrs. Robinson, an older woman and family friend. When he later falls for her innocent daughter, Elaine, Mrs. Robinson becomes enraged, and all kinds of complications ensue. Neither the plot nor the characters make much sense. What drives Mrs. Robinson to seduction? She's clearly not remotely interested in Benjamin as a person. She's equally uninterested in her husband. And she doesn't seem lonely or in desperate need of physical gratification. She's just a sexy bitch making trouble. So why does she suddenly feel so protective of the daughter for whom her feelings are equally cold? As for that daughter, when we first see her, she's babbling about civil rights, Chinese orphans and The Fountainhead, and you can't tell if she's supposed to be conservative, progressive or just plain simple-minded. It makes no sense that Benjamin invites Elaine to a strip club for their first date, and it's just as hard to believe that Elaine would be so sheltered and naive that the sight of a stripper would cause her to shriek and weep uncontrollably. And yet this production is worth seeing. Because even if the plot is cartoonish, parts of the script are really droll — and some of the roles are very well played. Chandler Darby, who plays the lead, is a genuine find for director Rick Yaconis; it's amazing how a compelling actor can bring interest and even a sense of depth to a role that's little more than a sketch as written. Presented by the Edge Theatre Company through June 29, 1560 Teller Street, Lakewood, 303-232-0363, Reviewed June 12.

Peggy Jo and the Desolate Nothing. Peggy Jo Tallas was an outwardly conventional Texas woman who, after a mildly adventurous youth, lived with her mother for many years. Starting at the age of forty, she also robbed banks — perhaps because she was bored, perhaps because she was seeking a fuller and more interesting life, perhaps because she just needed some cash. Her robberies were accomplished swiftly, bloodlessly and with a minimum of fuss. And she so successfully disguised herself as a man that for a long time FBI agents were looking for a culprit they dubbed Cowboy Bob. It's an intriguing story with one large question at its core: Who was Peggy Jo Tallas, and why did she do what she did? The actors at Buntport Theater Company have divided up the role of Peggy Jo four ways. All three of the women play her — Emily K. Harrison at the age of forty, and Hannah Duggan and Erin Rollman at sixty, when Tallas's career came to an end. Brian Colonna is also Tallas at forty, or rather her alter ego, Cowboy Bob. None of the portrayals is particularly specific, nor do the actors seem to represent different facets of Tallas's personality so that when you take all their efforts together it adds up to some kind of whole. Which means you leave with no more understanding of this woman than you had on first taking your seat. Throughout, Erik Edborg plays patient, baffled FBI agent Steve Powell. Metaphor is good and repetition a time-honored theatrical device, but these things don't substitute for action and character. There are also several comments about narrative and myth-making: "All storytelling is selective, Steve" and "We're creating a mythology based on bits and pieces." But there is no myth about Peggy Jo Tallas to be debunked, filled out, simplified or complexified — because few people know enough about her to have a story in mind. What this company's members needed to do was create that story. Or, if they had wanted to, create that story and then deconstruct it. They don't. Though there are moments in which Buntport's originality and eccentricity come through, by the end of Peggy Jo you're left with pretty much nothing. And not even a desolate nothing at that. Presented by Buntport Theater and square product theatre through June 21. 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, Reviewed June 5.

Shrek: the Musical. There are a lot of things to like about Shrek: The Musical at Boulder's Dinner Theatre. They include the Dragon, created by Cory Gilstrap and manipulated by a handful of actors. Blessed with the rich, seductive voice of the inimitable Amanda Earls, she's a riveting, literally huge presence. And there are many other spectacular special effects. All the leads are excellent. Even as written, Fiona is no regular fairy-tale princess: Not many princesses would fall for a smelly, hulking guy with horns and a nasty green face. But Norrell Moore takes the role several steps beyond whatever the script requires, endowing Fiona with huge amounts of spring, cheek and sheer verve. Seth Caikowski plays Shrek with a pleasantly slight Scottish accent, and the kindness and diffidence he projects provide a fine contrast with all the cavorting going on around him. In his furry gray Donkey suit, Tyrell Rae is the perfect foil, preening, whining and strutting. Trapped on his knees, his lank black hair falling around his face, Scott Severtson has loads of evil fun as Lord Farquaad. The script is by Pulitzer winner David Lindsay-Abaire, which means that Shrek is way less dumb than the average Disney musical and full of clever, silly references; a couple of moments are downright Monty Python-esque. Though the songs tend to be mediocre — the requisite end-of-the-show uplift is provided by the Monkees' ancient "I'm a Believer," which seems a sad confession of composer Jeanine Tesori's deficiencies — they're delivered with such verve it almost doesn't matter, and the entire production is a delight. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through September 6, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder. 303-449-6000, Reviewed May 29.

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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