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Now Playing: A Sixpack of Shows on Denver Stages

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5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche

“At the center, it’s a really sweet love story — and the funniest show of the year. I actually think that’s true. People who think women can’t be funny? Well, they should come and take a look at this.” That’s director Edith Weiss’s description of 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche, and Weiss knows all about funny: She made her living as a standup comic for years. The play takes place in 1956, during the height of the Cold War. “Everybody is in the closet, and this is a meeting of the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein,” Weiss explains. “Everyone in the audience is at the meeting; it’s quite interactive. This is their annual quiche breakfast. They almost worship, shall we say, the egg. Everybody has submitted a quiche, and they’re going to pick the best one. The play has some huge surprises.” Presented by the Avenue Theater through February 28, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, avenuetheater.com.

There are three musicians in Appoggiatura, which is now receiving a full production after a staged reading at last year’s New Play Summit. They are all talented and lively, and they pop up periodically to provide comic or musical interludes. But rather than being integral to the play’s movement or meaning, they feel like decoration. An appoggiatura is a kind of grace note — usually dissonant — that metaphorically leans toward the following note and helps resolve the melody. The three main characters in the play are in a semi-suspended state, all leaning toward some kind of realization, resolution, epiphany. Playwright James Still provides music and magic to help them along. Three people arrive in Venice, each absorbed in his or her own grief for the same man, who has recently died. Gordon was the husband of Helen; she mourns him with their granddaughter, Sylvie. She has also had the generosity to invite Aunt Chuck — the man for whom Gordon left her — along on the trip, though it’s never clear whether she’s seeking rapprochement, understanding or mutual comfort from him. Aunt Chuck spends a lot of time complaining, and he has plenty to complain about: the weather, the accommodations and, most important, his suitcase, lost in transit. When he cracks and reveals his grief, it’s not to Helen, but to their tour guide, a charming and sincere trickster named Marco. There isn’t much action. Still seems to expect the wealth of symbols he tosses onto the stage to be sufficient to tell the story. Everything has meaning — make that Meaning. Venice. The lost suitcase. The songs. Multiplying suitcases. An enigmatic old man. Vivaldi himself as a masked violinist. There’s also fantasy and magic realism, time collapsing in on itself, and a rather lovely flight of stone stairs that stretches from one reality to another. The action livens up in the second act, when the past appears to both Aunt Chuck and Helen, who sees her own young self honeymooning with Gordon. In another fine scene, 1950s Helen confronts the wonders of the laptop and FaceTime. During these funny, alive moments, there’s real talent and imagination at work. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through February 22, Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, denvercenter.org. 

Benediction is a world premiere, a tribute and a deeply affecting evening of theater. Based on Kent Haruf’s novel of the same name, the play circles the dying of an old man named Dad Lewis — and Haruf’s death last fall gives the production a bittersweet resonance. Dad had run the hardware store in the fictional plains town of Holt, a place that moves to its own rhythm. The stories that take place here are on one level realistic — particularly in the strong, clean, unornamented exploration of the townsfolks’ lives — but they also feel out of this world and out of time. Benediction is set in the early years of this century, yet no one appears to have a cell phone. In fact, when a phone of any kind appears — a little girl calls her grandmother from a store — it registers as a major event. Still, the truths explored here are grounded and universal. Dad’s dying is troubled by memories of an act of cruelty he committed that caused his teenage son to flee their home and filled the life of his wife, Mary, with grief and loss. Rough-hewn and inarticulate, he expresses his yearning for expiation in small, practical gestures. Daughter Lorraine considers throwing off an unrewarding relationship in Denver and staying to run the hardware store. Neighbor Berta Mae has taken in Alice, the eight-year-old child of her own daughter, who died of breast cancer. Almost all the women of the town love and cosset little Alice, each for her own specific reason. In a separate, intertwining plot strand, Reverend Rob Lyle arrives with his emotionally estranged wife and troubled teenage son, having been reassigned from Denver for defending a homosexual colleague. In a welcome return to the Denver stage, Mike Hartman exudes authenticity as Dad, and his fine performance is matched by Joyce Cohen’s caring, understated Mary. The direction is tender, but without a lick of sentimentality, and a couple of pivotal scenes linger in memory, one involving bright, arcing sprays of water, the second a boy alone in semi-darkness with a chair, a box and a rope. It’s in this semi-darkness that we come to understand that while some relationships are irretrievably broken, others can still find healing. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through March 1, Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, denvercenter.org.

Fiddler on the Roof
This production of Fiddler on the Roof does full justice to Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s brilliant songs, tells the evocative story with clarity and feeling, and also — uniquely — sounds the musical’s deeper, darker chords. The action is set in a rural Russian Jewish community whose members can be quarrelsome and petty or generous and helpful, but always unified by timeless bonds of ritual and tradition. At the center of the community is Tevye, a poor milkman struggling to survive and with five daughters to worry about. His worries come to a head when the three eldest daughters, each in turn, defy his patriarchal authority: Instead of submitting to the manipulations of matchmaker Yente, Tzeitel chooses the tailor Motel and only then asks her father’s permission; Hodel falls in love with radical Marxist Perchik and prepares to follow him wherever his revolutionary work leads; and, worst of all, Chava marries outside the faith, choosing a Russian soldier. A lot of Tevyes come across like Jewish Santa Clauses, but Wayne Kennedy’s version is a different animal entirely. He gives the comedy its due but lets us see the profound sadness beneath the jovial exterior — and something more. This man is loving to his children, generous to the stranger — as Jews are historically required to be — and jokey and argumentative with God. But there are deep currents of rage coursing through his veins as he contemplates the loss of everything he’s cherished, including his little bird, his daughter Chava. The entire cast is strong and conveys a sense of authenticity and respect for Jewish history, and the menace humming beneath the action reminds us of the real dangers of the pogroms. Presented by BDT Stage (formerly Boulder’s Dinner Theatre) through February 28 at 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder; for information, call 303-449-6000 or go to bouldersdinnertheatre.com.  

Forbidden Broadway: Alive and Kicking
The Broadway musical is a big, bloated, conventional, endlessly copycatting phenomenon that cries out to be skewered, and Forbidden Broadway — in various incarnations — has been busily skewering it for over three decades. Despite this, Forbidden Broadway: Alive and Kicking never feels packaged. Starring four of our brightest local talents, it’s fresh, alive, and very, very funny. The roster of parodies takes in everything from Les Misérables through the Disney churn-outs to the serious, soulful Once, and the show manages to be savage without losing its good humor. If you hate the musical in question, you’ll find the parody hilarious; the same is true if you love/hate it; and there’s a subversive thrill in seeing even work you genuinely admire skillfully satirized. A couple of numbers miss, however. The Book of Mormon had to be in the mix, given its phenomenal success, but the song in which Trey Parker and Matt Stone exult in their own cleverness and wealth isn’t nearly as funny as the musical itself. Still, most of the parodies sting beautifully. “On My Phone,” sung by a bored Eponine texting away backstage in Les Mis, is a comedic gem. Then there’s the jealousy duet between Chita Rivera, the first Anita in West Side Story, and Rita Moreno, who played the role in the movie, sung to the tune of “America.” And no matter how often Wicked gets satirized, you can’t prick that hot-air-filled balloon often enough. This show requires a lot of talent, and the performers have it in spades: splendid voices, clear enunciation (essential), charm and fearless comic chops. It all adds up to one of the brightest, sharpest, most entertaining evenings around. Presented by the Garner Galleria Theatre through March 1, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, denvercenter.org

The Aliens
The Aliens concerns two thirty-something drifters, Jasper and KJ, who spend their time among the smelly trash cans in a small patch of ground behind a coffee shop. They’re Beats rather than hippies — passive loiterers, outsiders, admirers of poet Charles Bukowski, musicians too drifty and drug-addled to actually put any work into making music, though they have spent time thinking up possible names for their band, including Hieronymous Blast, Pillowface, The Limp Handshakes and the Aliens. Evan, a teenager who works at the coffee shop, comes out to tell them management wants them to move on. They don’t. Over time, Evan becomes part of their world. He’s young and relatively alive — or at any rate, less listless than the others — and most of the interest in The Aliens comes from seeing the way he perceives his friends’ world, its influence on him and the way it tempers, or fails to temper, his growing curiosity and forays into the outside. Sadness eventually strikes. A gate closes, a life ends. For people who have been half-dead all along, death is neither tragic nor catastrophic, just another pointless event. Even their grief feels pointless. Director Rebecca Remaly has been profoundly respectful of Annie Baker’s script, and yet it’s not clear that the script’s intentions are realized. It’s possible to imagine a production that creates a sense of time out of time, changes and slows our brainwaves until we, the audience, inhabit the protagonists’ blurred, hypnotic and dreamy headspace, finding a kind of reality in the slowness of the action, the non sequiturs and moments of humor, the times when speech fails KJ and he resorts to tunelessly singing peculiar lyrics like “I won’t/Waste away/Wondering why/I won’t go down like that/If I die/Time machines were made for me.” Presented by Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company through February 22, Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder, 888-512-7469, boulderensembletheatre.org              

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