This weekend is your last chance to see Benchmark's ambitious The Arsonists. Keep reading for a capsule review of that production, as well as four more on local stages.
The Arsonists. Jacqueline Goldfinger’s The Arsonists, now receiving a regional premiere at Benchmark Theatre, is just eighty minutes long, but it's no lightweight evening. Sounds define the space as the play opens— crickets and frogs, occasional birdsong. You’re in a Florida swamp, facing a shadowy space shaped by wooden slats. A figure hauling a heavy sack enters. You can’t really see her face, but you can hear gasps and sobs as she pries up some floorboards and deposits the sack in the space beneath. Soon after, a man arises from the planked grave. These are the arsonists, a father-daughter team who make their living by the skilled setting of fires. The father is dead. What we’re seeing is his ghost, or perhaps just her memory of him. Despite the couple’s experience, the fire they set most recently took the father’s life. Clearly, fire is a metaphor in this hallucinatory and intensely metaphorical play, for the flames’ horror and beauty, their destructiveness and cleansing power. This is not the only allusion to be contemplated, if not unraveled. Throughout, father and daughter, identified only as H and M, twist strings, and these strings are then hung from a line as the father speaks of the Greek furies who spun the thread of human fate, naming them several times: Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, who cut the thread of life. On one level, The Arsonists is a prolonged lamentation, an expression of grief and loss, an exploration of how death separates us and how we let go — or are unable to let go — of those we love most deeply. There’s no clear storyline, but you don’t need story to appreciate this, just imagination, a willingness to submerge yourself in the play’s semi-mythic reality, an emotional response to the folk songs woven through the evening, and a sensitivity to language: Goldfinger’s is poetic, striking and often highly evocative. Presented by Benchmark Theatre through July 21, 1560 Teller Street, Lakewood, benchmarktheatre.com. Read the review of The Arsonists.
Cyrano de Bergerac. A few things you need for a successful Cyrano de Bergerac: a passion for language, a gutsy production, and a swashbuckling Cyrano. Director Christopher DuVal provides all of these in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s version, which gets served up like a banquet, varied and full of rich flavor, a mix of savory and sweet courses, pricked through with surprising and piquant little treats...and ultimately, so very satisfying. Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play is about a man whose love is as large as his flashing wit, close-to-uncontrollable temper and extraordinary swordsmanship. Cyrano yearns for his beautiful cousin, Roxane, but believes she can never return his affection because of his protuberant nose. His love is so chivalrous, however, that when she asks for his help in protecting Christian, the handsome youngster she’s fallen for and who’s about to be sent into battle, he agrees. And he goes further, lending his eloquence to inarticulate Christian’s courtship.
Comedy and tragedy are intertwined throughout the play; humor prevails in the first part as Cyrano humiliates the pretentious and high-born. Things become more serious as the story moves through the sorrowful events of the second half, and there’s a gentle transcendence to the conclusion. The production hums beautifully on every level — direction, fight choreography, costumes and set. Most of all, there’s Scott Coopwood’s Cyrano. The role requires physical stamina, a retentive memory, precise and expressive speech and, of course, fighting skill; Coopwood adds a mocking intelligence and a powerful presence. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 11, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-8008, cupresents.org.
Lend Me A Tenor. The Cleveland Orchestra is hosting a gala performance of Verdi’s Otello, and the star attraction is famed Italian tenor Tito Merelli, whose participation is sure to fatten the orchestra’s coffers. The only problem: It’s time for the afternoon rehearsal, and Merelli hasn’t arrived. The general manager, Saunders, frets; his starstruck daughter, Maggie ,daydreams; and assistant Max — who’s in love with Maggie — fusses about the stage, trying to keep things together. Tito eventually arrives with his wife, Maria, who hates his flirtatious tendencies, and then somehow, another Tito Merelli ends up on the scene. Ludwig’s Lend me a Tenor, written in the late 1980s, is set in 1934; it’s a true farce. complete with slamming doors, mistaken identities and characters racing about at cross-purposes. Despite having won both an Olivier Award and a Tony, this isn’t the cleverest or most ingenious farce. But the acting is energetic and capable, the story often very funny, and unlike most farces, this one has a bit of a heart. No matter how ridiculous they both are — and how ridiculous the situations they find themselves in — Max and Maggie really do have feelings for each other, even though Maggie only discovers hers late in the game. This funny, silly, pleasurable production makes for a perfect summer evening. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through August 19, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, minersalley.com. Read the full review of Lend Me a Tenor.
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Love’s Labour's Lost. I have read Love’s Labour's Lost and seen it on stage. I am generally comfortable with Shakespeare’s language. But watching this production, I found some crucial segments of the plot passing me by. I knew this was a play about four young noblemen who swore to devote themselves to a life of study for three years, renouncing comfort and the company of women — a decision that would soon be challenged by the arrival of the beautiful Princess of France with her three equally beautiful handmaidens. But I should have re-read the text. Because when it came to the secondary plot featuring the comic characters, I couldn’t for the life of me remember who Costard was or make sense of a word that pedantic scholar Holofernes uttered. The confusion was in part because the language in this play is very dense in places, but also because some of the actors were hamming like crazy and seemed more interested in their own shtick than in the words they spoke.
Still, it’s fun watching the women get the upper hand and wield it mercilessly, the tone is light and frothy, and it makes for an enjoyable evening. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 8, University of Colorado Boulder, 303-492-8008, cupresents.org. Read the full review of Love's Labour's Lost.
Richard III. According to director Wendy Franz’s program notes, this production is staged by an acting troupe in the 1850s, with Richard as the ruthless actor-manager. The impresarios, she points out, exploited others as Richard did “for their own gain.” She also focuses on the word “now,” which begins the play (“Now is the winter of our discontent...”), both to show the immediacy of the theatrical experience and to emphasize the fact that the ways in which ruthless dictators seize power are timeless and universal. I’m pretty sure most of the audience knew this without the help of the framing, and at least half of us were thinking about Donald Trump as Richard’s lies and cruelties unfolded. But making this a play within a play creates confusing questions. Does it add any new meaning? If a character seems hammily overplayed for a few moments, is that intended to remind you that he isn’t really that character, but the actor playing him? Still, this is a pretty solid version of a play that I find myself admiring more with each production I see for its mixture of nasty, almost-rollicking humor and bloodthirsty horror, as well as the fast-moving plot line and astonishing energy and brilliance of the language. I just wish there were less over-thinking with this version, and more trust in the power of the play itself. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 11, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-8008, cupresents.org. Read the full review of Richard III.