Need a diverting evening? The shows must go on, at least for now. This weekend is your last chance to see The Scottsboro Boys, a musical that closes Sunday. Keep reading for a capsule review of that production, as well as three more on stages around town. (By the way, if you have tickets for either Arvada Center show, you can exchange them for a later date by contacting the box office.)
Marvin's Room. Scott McPherson’s play was first mounted in 1991, when the AIDS virus was ravaging the gay world; his partner died of the disease in 1992, and McPherson himself succumbed some months later. Marvin’s Room doesn’t deal directly with AIDS, but certainly the disease was on the author’s mind, and his play focuses on illness, dying and the responsibilities of caring for the sick. In Marvin’s Room, forty-year-old Bessie has spent twenty years watching over her stroke-stricken father, the Marvin of the title. He stays in his room throughout the play, his presence manifested only by an occasional muffled exclamation or moan. Also under Bessie’s care, though able to move from room to room, eat for herself and enjoy her soap operas, is sister Ruth, crippled by collapsed vertebrae, her pain relieved by electrical implants. When Bessie herself receives a diagnosis of leukemia, everything starts to shift. Who will help her? Who will take care of Marvin and Ruth if she dies? Enter Lee, a long-estranged sister. Director Bernie Cardell has given this script a well-acted, moving, respectful and never maudlin production that allows us to hear the music of the dialogue and provides moments of genuine revelation. At one point Bessie surprises Lee by saying that she feels lucky to be taking care of Marvin and Ruth. “They love you very much,” suggests Lee, who herself has never been deeply loved. “No, that’s not what I mean,” says her sister. “I mean that I love them. I’ve been so lucky to have been able to love someone so much.” Presented by Vintage Theatre Productions through April 5, 1468 Dayton Street in Aurora, 303-856-7830, vintagetheatre.com.
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A Midsummer Night's Dream. What a delight to discover a version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that’s approached with energy, lightheartedness, originality, playfulness and a refreshing lack of veneration. Director Emily Van Fleet has imagined the action being presented in a deserted, weed-grown schoolyard by a small troupe of actors, each of whom plays multiple roles. What we’re seeing is a bleak future where most of the things we rely on and cherish — clean air and water, art and music, civilization itself — have vanished. These actors intend to bring some sense of joy to a devastated world. The concept works, creating a fast-flying evening, raising huge clouds of audience laughter, bringing new brightness and color to a play many of us already know inside and out. Still, I never felt the magic or music of this play about love’s mysteries. The comedy is played very broadly, much of the acting is presentational, and the lyrical parts of the story tend to be passed by. Above all, what I found missing was love itself. Even so, the production is a lot of fun, with an ending as lovely and lyrical as anyone could wish for. Presented by the Arvada Center’s Black Box Repertory Theatre through May 16, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200, arvadacenter.org. Read the full review of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
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Murder on the Orient Express. At the beginning of Murder on the Orient Express, a little girl is abducted by a murderer — which seems a grim beginning to a comically lighthearted play, though the silhouette of the approaching killer is a villainous-looking cartoon that tells us not to take things too seriously. Cut to well-known sleuth Hercule Poirot, who's in an Instanbul hotel, anxious to catch the luxurious Orient Express back to London. From here, all the action takes place on the train, which gets stuck behind a giant snowdrift. During the night, a murder occurs, and after some hesitation, Poirot agrees to solve the crime. The many clues are baffling. All of the passengers are unique characters, though who knows if any are who they claim to be. Eventually, after some cogitation and a lot of keen observation, Poirot gathers everyone in one place and explains whodunit. There are some surprises, but the suspense isn’t very high. For one thing, the murdered child has pretty much faded from memory. And besides, the murder victim was so thoroughly dislikable we could all rejoice in his death. But if the plotting is a touch flat, the production is still brilliant. Geoffrey Kent directs with élan, humor and elegance. Scene changes are stylized and accomplished by the actors with such focused precision that each becomes a kind of dance. Kevin Copenhaver’s costumes are a visual feast. They’re not just authentic to the mid-1930s, but each costume also expresses the character of the wearer. The set and lighting make the newly configured, in-the-round space warm and beautifully inviting. In fact, every element of the evening clicks into place like one of those detailed, moving, and still-exact medieval clocks that are the wonders of old Europe. Presented by the Arvada Center’s Black Box Repertory Theatre through May 17, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200, arvadacenter.org. Read the full review of Murder on the Orient Express.
The Scottsboro Boys. This intense and daring musical mingles dark and light, comedy and profound tragedy. With a book by David Thompson, the show represents the last collaboration of the famed songwriting duo of John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb (lyrics). It recounts an event that occurred in Alabama in the 1930s: Nine black teenagers, the youngest only thirteen, were falsely accused of raping two white women. The action is presented as a minstrel show in which performers act out the incident, complete with a cakewalk and a startling late-in-the-show number in blackface. Of course, the fate of those teenagers was anything but amusing. Although they somehow managed to escape execution, some remained in prison; those released were never able to resume their lives — one of them joined the Marines so that he could get a gun to shoot himself. There’s a song in which the two accusing women sing about “Alabama Ladies”; the rendition is very funny, but the lyrics are frightening, and you can’t help remembering what an accusation of rape against a black man almost certainly led to in 1930s Alabama. It takes a lot of guts for a small theater company to tackle something as demanding as this show, and director Betty Hart, along with her talented troupe of actors, has struck just the right note, with skillful but never over-the-top musical numbers and characters who feel like real people, folks you might know. Presented by Vintage Theatre Productions through March 15,1468 Dayton Street in Aurora, 303-856-7830, vintagetheatre.com. Read the full review of The Scottsboro Boys.