It's impossible to imagine anyone matching Nancy Cranbourne's lunatic genius in Two Women Avoiding Involuntary Hospitalization: A Hormonal Cabaret. Since she's also a dancer, her comic bits -- most of them created through improvisation -- involve her head, her heart, her soul, her mind, and every nerve and muscle of her body. That's why she can have you howling with laughter one moment and genuinely moved (usually by something utterly nonsensical) the next. Watch her as a full-out diesel dyke trying to bring the requisite seductive charm to "Hey, Big Spender" and getting looser and goonier as she goes along, though never an iota more feminine. Note how she whispers "Ssshhh" to the crinkling bag while trying to hide from her roommate the fact that she's sneaking chips. Cranbourne loves these characters, and she makes the audience love them too. Could this woman succeed in a serious role? Could she play one of Shakespeare's women? Who cares?
There's a lot of acting talent in Denver, so best actor is a hard call to make. How do you compare a larger-than-life performance like Bill Christ's Cyrano with Gene Gillette's affecting portrayal of a skinhead in Coyote on a Fence? Or to Brett Aune's squawks and flutters in The Swan? What about Nicholas Sugar as the leering emcee of Cabaret? Or David C. Riley, with his manic energy in Brother Mine? But in the end, we went with Christ by a nose, because his performance in the title role of Cyrano de Bergerac deserves the recognition. It's a huge, challenging role, and Christ had the chops, the presence, the physical endurance and the sheer heart to fill it magnificently. In the Denver Center Theatre Company's production, his performance was pure poetry.
Director Ed Baierlein knows his onions. For his production of the Edgar Lee Masters classic Spoon River Anthology at the Germinal Stage, he kept the production values low-key and snared the services of six fine and very different actors. The script is less a play than a collection of monologues, spoken by the imagined dead of a small town; some are humorous and a couple affectionate, but most are filled with bitterness and regret, and the actors are called on to play many roles. Under Baierlein's direction, they gave themselves fully to the text, becoming vessels for Masters's words and for his ghosts. In the process, they created a changing and absorbing tapestry of sound and meaning.
Rachel York is a spectacular performer, larger than life and meriting a boxload of descriptors: beautiful, passionate, volcanic (yet subtle), able to rage or weep on the instant, mesmerizing. The finest element in a very fine production of Kiss Me, Kate, York gave Cole Porter's brilliant score everything it required, singing "So in love..." with profound warmth and emotion, finding a ferocious chest-deep growl for "I Hate Men." Next time, we'd like to see her given a romantic partner who's her match for energy and charisma. A young Kevin Kline would do...
"Over the top" doesn't begin to cover Marc G. Dalio's performance as Belle's oafish and ultimately rejected suitor, Gaston, in Beauty and the Beast. He came across like a huge, muscled and inexplicably animated cardboard cutout, prancing and preening, utterly in love with himself, his grin revealing teeth as large and white as pillowcases. Dalio has a big supple voice and oodles of stage presence, and his song and dance with his mates in the tavern brought down the house.
There's a reason that I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change! has been running forever: In it, four attractive, talented and energetic young people whip through the joys and traumas of dating and coupling (and re-coupling) in scene and song. There are a couple of insightful comments and touching moments, but for the most part, the evening is pure peach soufflé. It gets audience members wincing or nodding in recognition, touching fingers under the table or just laughing themselves breathless.
Donald Margulies's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Dinner With Friends, muses on marriage and the substitute families that married people form with other couples. Two people, immersed in their own misery, separate. Their close friends -- a pair of trendy and dedicated foodies -- immediately sense the cracks in their own relationship. The original two move on, but the second two continue to struggle. That's about it for plot, but there's all kinds of resonance here having to do with affection, commitment and the changes brought about by time. The dialogue is evocative and clever, and, under Bruce Sevy's engaging direction, this cast was strong.
Normally, when you find yourself paying attention to technical details in the theater, it means you're bored and the production's a flop. Not so with The Immigrant. Lighting designer Don Darnutzer's effects were both lovely in themselves and integral to the musical's theme: transparent skies with clouds flowing across them, the amber light of Sabbath candles. Ralph Funicello managed the same with his set, using pure, clean lines, muted colors, the shape of a lone house on endless plain and dry grasses rustling in clumps at the front of the stage.

Best Proof That Action Can Be Worth a Thousand Words

A Skull in Connemara

Playwright Martin McDonagh has a wicked way with words, but he also understands that they're only one of the ways theater communicates. Mick Dowd, the protagonist of A Skull in Connemara, is a handyman who has to dig up old skeletons in the village cemetery every year to make room for more. In the particular year in which the play is set, he's forced to exhume the body of his wife -- whom he may have murdered. Eventually, Dowd's kitchen table is covered with skulls, femurs and pelvises, and he and his teenage assistant, falling-down drunk, are pulverizing the bones with hammers. The dialogue remains uproariously funny, but under the skilled direction of the Denver Center's Anthony Powell, it was the action that riveted and illumined. The splintering bones in this play told a story. It was about the protagonist's mental state, certainly. But it also suggested that on some level, all of us are flailing around in a charnel house.
The Everyman Theatre Company has done wonders with the bland, inhospitable 1950s-style office building it calls home, making one room into a snack area, another into a focused and inviting theater through the use of platforms and artfully placed lights. As for the sets, they reveal the same vision and attention to detail. Using a few props and a stack of suitcases, artistic director Richard H. Pegg managed to suggest a rich fictive world for The Baltimore Waltz. For Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, he designed a young girl's bedroom that was beautifully detailed, convincing, solid and multi-dimensional as a house.

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