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.
Heritage Square Music Hall
Heritage Square offers fun in down-home style - first with food in a large, friendly dining room, followed by an outrageously hammy melodrama acted by seasoned and talented performers who are clearly enjoying themselves. These productions aren't weighted down with either concepts of high art or the huge costumes, multimillion-dollar sets or over-miked sound of the commercial, Disneyesque variety. They're funny and funky and unpretentious. Take the family, order a drink, sing along or heckle if you want, and be prepared to find yourself on stage or with a cast member perched on your lap if you sit too close to the front.
Songbird Lannie Garrett is the ultimate survivor, and her recent incarnation as Gloria Half Gaynor displays her savvy show-biz instincts. Not content with having created a Patsy Decline alter ego, Garrett now transforms herself into a disco diva one night a week, backed by a seven-piece band and singing all those songs you prayed you'd forget. For several frightening hours, the remodeled lounge at the Denver Buffalo Company becomes a '70s dance club, as audience members jump up and get down with their bad selves. (Very bad, in some cases.) For a hot case of Wednesday-night fever, dive into Garrett's Gloria Half Gaynor show. She will survive!

Best Drag Queen With a Degree in Quantum Physics

Anita Cocktail

Bud Bradshaw makes an imposing woman. He, er, she, is 300 pounds and nearly seven feet tall in custom-made platform heels and towering wig. But the most unusual thing about Bradshaw is the fact that she, er, he, has a degree in quantum physics. He doesn't much like to talk about that part of his life, though. It was only in the last eight years, he says, since he developed Anita Cocktail, that his life has had purpose. After all, he notes, "A little makeup and paint turns a boy into something he ain't." Bradshaw produces Live, Lip-Sync, & Laffs, a variety/cabaret show at 60 South that includes Ms. Cocktail, Barbie Blake (who can do cartwheels in five-inch stilettos), Starr Masters, Erica Benson, Tatyana Romanov and Ms. Tina Le Grande. He'll introduce a second show, Hell on Heels, at the Denver Buffalo Company soon. Come on out: This show is anything but a drag.
Not content with winning hearts and saving pooches with his appearances on cable TV's Emergency Vets (on Animal Planet), funnyman/animal doc Kevin Fitzgerald stages an irregular (very) variety show that seems to have found a home on major holidays at the Comedy Works in Larimer Square. What's not to love about the Love Show? An evening's lineup always includes a sampling of Fitzgerald's comic antics -- on a recent outing, he sang Doris Day's "Que Sera Sera" backed by the Well Hungarians, and then offered a Michael Flatley tap dancing imitation (wearing see-through tights). After that, he transformed himself into the emcee to introduce a cavalcade of Denver's most unusual performers, including a gaggle of jugglers, a roller-skating bird, a smoking pig and Shelvis, the fabulous female Elvis impersonator. "Denver has a lot of talent out there," Fitzgerald insists. And he's bringing that talent to you, one wacky act after another. Take this doctor's advice: Variety is the spice of life.
Most of the humor on Denver's Channel 8 is inadvertent: It's tough to take those endless city council committee hearings seriously. And while the people featured in @altitude: Life in the Mile High City aren't putting on an act, either, the production team definitely takes an entertainingly skewed view of life in Denver. This is altitude with an attitude. "Our purpose is to make each @altitude show reflect all the diverse energies that make this a great city," says producer Jen Caltrider. "The people, ideas and activities you won't find anywhere else." The monthly show (which is repeated, and repeated, and repeated -- this is Channel 8, after all) is hosted by familiar voices (if not faces) Paula Purifoy and Marcos Fernandez; it's featured a varied lineup in its first few editions, including an homage to Denver's romantic side, a whirlwind tour of the city's museums, and even some talking back to the mayor. Don't touch that dial!
As a youngster, Denise Nickerson participated in projects that have garnered her eternal fame among members of two separate cults: She was in the cast of the 1960s gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, and she co-starred as Violet Beauregarde, the obsessive gum-chewer who turned into a giant blueberry, in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Nickerson subsequently left show business, and in April 2001, she and her son moved to Denver, where she works for an accounting firm. For the most part, she leads a low-key life, but she happily participated in promoting the thirtieth-anniversary DVD of Wonka. Given how star-starved Denver is (why did Gary Coleman ever move away?), it's nice to have her here.

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