Best New Novel 2001 | Kissing the Virgin's MouthDonna Gershten | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Before she moved to Colorado, Donna Gershten ran a health club in Mexico -- and she put that experience to good use in Kissing the Virgin's Mouth. Her haunting, lyrical novel won not only raves from critics, but also the first $10,000 Bellwether Prize for Fiction, established by Barbara Kingsolver when the best-selling author was feeling flush and decided to do her bit to help out other authors. "This is the kind of book you inhale in one breath and can't forget afterward," Kingsolver says of Gershten's work. Mexico's loss is our gain.

Jim Hughes and Will Graveman's musical, ...And Now Miguel, examined an adolescent boy's agony in wondering whether anyone else understands what it's like to feel like an adult and be treated like a child. Thanks to Tony Garcia's astute direction, the joint production of Denver's El Centro Su Teatro and the Arvada Center successfully delivered that message to audiences of teens and preteens. Hushed silence greeted the leading character when he crooned, "Grownups can do whatever they want, but for me, life is different." And not a soul looked bored when Miguel offered the refrain "I can't express the feelings in my heart that come easily/ Being Miguel is not easy to be." It was a valuable reminder that plays can illustrate what parents and politicians sometimes can't.

Three words: atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere. Sure, you might be able to get a bigger selection of fancy java drinks at Starbucks, but can you drink your skinny caramel macchiato with sprinkles in a locale imbued with such genuine art-deco flair? Arrive early at the Mayan Theatre, buy some tickets for the 4:30 show, and head up to the second floor, where you can drink your cuppa joe at a cozy, tucked-away table. The jolt of pre-movie caffeine is sure to keep your eyelids from drooping during even the most slow-moving French art flick.
What began as a creative outlet for multi-instrumentalist Dave Willey has turned into a real band -- and a unique one, at that. Carnival Detournement (Cuneiform) is a cornucopia of jazz, art rock and Eastern European folk music that's at once endlessly intriguing and unexpectedly accessible.
Randal Myler and Brockman Seawell's adaptation of onetime Boulder resident John Fanté's novella 1933 Was a Bad Year entranced from start to finish. That's mostly because Myler, who also directed 1933, staged the play with near-cinematic fluidity. He was aided by an ever-shifting backdrop of photographic montages: Vintage Boulder neighborhoods were suggested by contemporary snapshots that had been digitally sanitized to make each locale look as it did seventy years ago. The overall effect was largely one of an unbroken, almost symphonic backward glance -- peppered with bursts of hijinks -- at the forces that shaped a young man's destiny.

Bradford Lee Folk's voice is the musical equivalent of Rogaine, a hormone-rich wonder that raises the hair on the head, neck and everywhere else. One of many highlights in his stellar acoustic group, Open Road, Folk sings pre-country music with ache, anger and appreciation for his forebears. His ghostly, coal-dusted voice is high lonesome in the flesh.

An outstanding quartet of local actors drove beyond the shortcomings of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change to offer up an insightful, sometimes hilarious look at America's love-hate relationship with dating games. Whether they were dovetailing in four-part harmony, pairing off in warring/cooing duets or going it alone during a few gratifying solos, Mark Devine, Jordan Leigh Gurner, Elizabeth Rose and Gina Schuh-Turner exuded a winning combination of artistry, timing and humanity. Best of all, they ushered in a welcome change in area casting trends, proving that local talent can bring as much -- if not more -- to the Denver Center's stages than most any assemblage of ringers.

3Deep Presents, which started in 1992 as a mobile DJ unit on the University of Colorado at Boulder campus, consistently brings some of the best hip-hop music to town. In the past year, the crew promoted the DMC Technics Regional DJ championships at the Fox Theatre. And in conjunction with House of Blues Concerts -- where founders Francois Baptiste and Alvin LaCabe now work -- the company co-produced and laid down the street promotion for such rap luminaries as Method Man and Redman, Common, and the Cash Money Millionaires. 3Deep has also given props to local artists such as DJ Chonz, Don Blas and Kingdom, who have all opened up for a number of the Deep's shows. Area hip-hop heads know that 3Deep events are bound to be banging.

Eric Gruneisen
The sound can be murky, the toilets are often dubious, and the neighboring establishments range from simply divey to dangerous. But, hey -- no one ever said rock and roll was pretty. The 15th Street Tavern is still the best place to get rocked, both for the quality of its musical fare and for the, er, uniqueness of its environs. The Tavern's concert calendar is consistently jammed with the most buzzed-about indie rock, pop and punk bands going, and the atmosphere -- equal parts Barfly and CBGB in the '80s -- is its own sensory experience. Just don't be offended by the brusque doorman, and remember to bring along your earplugs -- and maybe a small bottle of Febreze.
Okay, so the pinball machine is poorly maintained. And the music is generally targeted at only the most grizzled eardrums in Denver. But the walls in the men's bathroom at Seven South offer enough philosophical lunacy (okay, idiocy) to amuse those with even the most television-addled attention span. Some key phrases: "The next millennium is ours!" "Philip K. Dick is dead..." "Sometimes I think about cats and bunnys [sic]. Is that wrong?"

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