Smarmy reductionists have accused playwright Martin McDonagh of lacking heart, exploiting cheap theatrics and failing to justify his characters' behavior. However, like the works of such master language architects as Anton Chekhov, Harold Pinter and even Irish expatriate Samuel Beckett, McDonagh's creations attain full flower only when nurtured by a seasoned director's artful touch. As expertly deciphered by the Denver Center Theatre Company's first-rate cast, McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane evolved into a vibrant portrait of contemporary Irish mores. By looking beyond obvious horizons, director Anthony Powell and company kindled feeling without lapsing into sentiment, startled the intellect without cudgeling the mind -- and helped to explain why the upstart McDonagh has reawakened dramatic imaginations on both sides of the Atlantic.

Smarmy reductionists have accused playwright Martin McDonagh of lacking heart, exploiting cheap theatrics and failing to justify his characters' behavior. However, like the works of such master language architects as Anton Chekhov, Harold Pinter and even Irish expatriate Samuel Beckett, McDonagh's creations attain full flower only when nurtured by a seasoned director's artful touch. As expertly deciphered by the Denver Center Theatre Company's first-rate cast, McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane evolved into a vibrant portrait of contemporary Irish mores. By looking beyond obvious horizons, director Anthony Powell and company kindled feeling without lapsing into sentiment, startled the intellect without cudgeling the mind -- and helped to explain why the upstart McDonagh has reawakened dramatic imaginations on both sides of the Atlantic.

Best (theatrically speaking) political farce

Nixon's Nixon

While Russell Lees's imagined conversation between Richard Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, might have seemed like ancient history to the younger set, the Aurora Fox's production resonated with older viewers who, having been subjected to Tricky Dick's endless television appearances, learned to think of his sweaty upper lip as the equivalent of Pinocchio's growing nose. Duane Black's Nixon and Gregory Price's Kissinger riotously pointed up the dynamic between pygmy-warrior king and Machiavellian power-grubber while evoking decades-old feelings about being robbed of our trust in government by the man who kept insisting, "I am not a crook!" Luckily for Fox audience members, the only thing that got stolen during this enjoyable production was the halftime bathroom break -- a situation that prompted a few patrons to pop out of the theater whenever they got the urge. Evidently, director Bev Newcomb-Madden's well-staged regional premiere was vivid enough that some folks thought they were watching the country unravel once more on television.

Best (theatrically speaking) political farce

Nixon's Nixon

While Russell Lees's imagined conversation between Richard Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, might have seemed like ancient history to the younger set, the Aurora Fox's production resonated with older viewers who, having been subjected to Tricky Dick's endless television appearances, learned to think of his sweaty upper lip as the equivalent of Pinocchio's growing nose. Duane Black's Nixon and Gregory Price's Kissinger riotously pointed up the dynamic between pygmy-warrior king and Machiavellian power-grubber while evoking decades-old feelings about being robbed of our trust in government by the man who kept insisting, "I am not a crook!" Luckily for Fox audience members, the only thing that got stolen during this enjoyable production was the halftime bathroom break -- a situation that prompted a few patrons to pop out of the theater whenever they got the urge. Evidently, director Bev Newcomb-Madden's well-staged regional premiere was vivid enough that some folks thought they were watching the country unravel once more on television.

Even though Larry Kramer is a pugnacious sort who regularly vilifies newspaper editors and intimidates talk-show hosts, his brand of political crusading is ultimately a compassionate one. At least that's the effect his polemic had on actor Brian Houtz, who played all of the characters in the Theatre Group's production of The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me. Helped in no small measure by director Nicholas Sugar's astute guidance, Houtz performed David Drake's one-man show as if it were a forthright conversation with a good friend. He also became more androgynous as the show progressed, speaking for an entire generation of men and women who have never known a world without AIDS and are struggling, somehow, to claim their place in it. Which, all things considered, was the greatest tribute that Houtz and Sugar could pay to Kramer's persistent head-banging.

Even though Larry Kramer is a pugnacious sort who regularly vilifies newspaper editors and intimidates talk-show hosts, his brand of political crusading is ultimately a compassionate one. At least that's the effect his polemic had on actor Brian Houtz, who played all of the characters in the Theatre Group's production of The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me. Helped in no small measure by director Nicholas Sugar's astute guidance, Houtz performed David Drake's one-man show as if it were a forthright conversation with a good friend. He also became more androgynous as the show progressed, speaking for an entire generation of men and women who have never known a world without AIDS and are struggling, somehow, to claim their place in it. Which, all things considered, was the greatest tribute that Houtz and Sugar could pay to Kramer's persistent head-banging.

Like the rotting entrails of the butchered animal that someone dumps in the backyard, a Queens family's darkest secrets ooze with stultifying frankness in Pig. But while Tammy Ryan's unflinching drama shines a harsh light on domestic discord, Tracer Productions' close-quarters approach gave artful restraint to the sometimes-gruesome goings-on. That's mostly because Raymond Fernandez's stark setting transformed the now-defunct Shop Theatre into an urban pressure cooker brimming with fear, love and failure. And Christopher Leo's largely hands-off direction imbued the action with intensity without turning the play into a Chekhovian shouting match. Led by a swaggering James Ryan, who summoned an impressive range of emotions as the clan's embittered patriarch, the top-notch performers spoke to the power of parental caprice to make itself felt for generations.
Like the rotting entrails of the butchered animal that someone dumps in the backyard, a Queens family's darkest secrets ooze with stultifying frankness in Pig. But while Tammy Ryan's unflinching drama shines a harsh light on domestic discord, Tracer Productions' close-quarters approach gave artful restraint to the sometimes-gruesome goings-on. That's mostly because Raymond Fernandez's stark setting transformed the now-defunct Shop Theatre into an urban pressure cooker brimming with fear, love and failure. And Christopher Leo's largely hands-off direction imbued the action with intensity without turning the play into a Chekhovian shouting match. Led by a swaggering James Ryan, who summoned an impressive range of emotions as the clan's embittered patriarch, the top-notch performers spoke to the power of parental caprice to make itself felt for generations.
The thunderous applause that typically greets a successful Broadway opening could hardly compare to the joyful noise made by children clapping in anticipation of Babe, the Sheep-Pig. And once the Arvada Center's production began, the peals of delight that filled the auditorium served as further indicators that a well-mounted children's show can stimulate the imagination even better than the Great White Way's techno-musical creations. In addition to a bevy of performances that blended old-fashioned sentiment with off-the-wall wit, Jane Shafer's fanciful costumes, Gail Gober's rich lighting effects and Crow Productions' colorful pastel setting augmented David Wood's work. Nicely seasoned by director Christopher Willard's sure hand, the kindhearted effort made one wish for an even steadier diet of children's fare.

The thunderous applause that typically greets a successful Broadway opening could hardly compare to the joyful noise made by children clapping in anticipation of Babe, the Sheep-Pig. And once the Arvada Center's production began, the peals of delight that filled the auditorium served as further indicators that a well-mounted children's show can stimulate the imagination even better than the Great White Way's techno-musical creations. In addition to a bevy of performances that blended old-fashioned sentiment with off-the-wall wit, Jane Shafer's fanciful costumes, Gail Gober's rich lighting effects and Crow Productions' colorful pastel setting augmented David Wood's work. Nicely seasoned by director Christopher Willard's sure hand, the kindhearted effort made one wish for an even steadier diet of children's fare.

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