Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
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.
No bones about it: Over the past few years, the Denver Blues and Bones Festival has grown into a great weekend. There are much bigger festivals -- the Taste of Colorado, the Cherry Creek Arts Festival, the People's Fair -- and much smaller neighborhood fairs, but Blues and Bones is just the right size, every inch and minute packed with great blues music from a variety of national acts and finger-licking good barbecue from both amateur and professional locals. Cross your fingers that the atmosphere survives a relocation from the Golden Triangle to Invesco Field at Mile High; see for yourself at this year's event Memorial Day weekend, May 24-26.
Barry, Barry, Barry: How can we miss you if you won't go away? Last summer, in a battle plan that rivaled the Invasion of Normandy for buildup and strategizing -- although the plans for D-Day were kept secret -- longtime concert promoter Barry Fe re-entered the fray, joining up with House of Blues (the outfit he sold his concert-promotions company to four years ago) to take on Clear Channel for Colorado's concert business.
Many tried, but after several area runs of The Vagina Monologues, it was local chanteuse Hazel Miller who really shone among the guest actors participating in touring versions of the acclaimed show. Monologues typically pairs local female celebrities -- swimmer Amy Van Dyken and radio DJ Nina Blackwood are examples -- with professional actors to perform the various readings, which range from moving to funny to serious. Miller's eight standing-room-only performances at the Boulder Theater raised the roof, though, so much so that she was asked to return to the role when the show comes back in August 2002. And that's something we can all shout about.
As part of the Denver's Public Library's Special Readings Project, children's librarian Heath Rezabek held a birthday party last fall for Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, two of the heroes in J.R.R. Tolkien's masterful books on Middle Earth, followed by a ten-week reading of The Fellowship of the Ring, book one in Tolkien's trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Rezabek, who abridged the book himself for purposes of the reading, held a similar series the year before for The Hobbit, the trilogy's prelude, and he plans to follow up with the final two books in the next two years. Although the readings are scheduled to coincide with the three Rings movies, Rezabek's goal is to help kids of all ages use their own imaginations rather than Hollywood's, and to introduce a new generation of fans to Hobbitdom. No special effects needed.
Call her madam! Lou Bunch ran the most successful whorehouse in Central City back in the days when the mining town was known as the "Richest Square Mile on Earth." These days, it could be the saddest square mile on earth, since Central City's plan to mine the wallets of would-be gamblers was blocked by nearby Black Hawk, which literally moved mountains to make sure that its big casinos would snag all the suckers before they could head farther up the hill. As a result, though, Central City has managed to retain some of its classic character -- and you'll never see more classic characters than at Lou Bunch Days. Held every Father's Day weekend, the festival features includes bed races up and down Main Street (complete with appropriately attired female riders), costume contests and a dance; a recent, unofficial addition to the lineup is the return of many old Zekes, Central City residents who were frightened away or pushed away by gambling but return for this wild, wacky weekend. "It's a great time to be in Central City," says Lew Cady, publisher of the Little Kingdom Come newspaper ("published whenever we damn well feel like it"). "Especially for people who are longtime lovers of the town." And current lovers of good old-fashioned frolics. "If New Year's Eve is amateur night," Cady adds, "this is for the professionals." And no one was more of a pro than Madam Bunch.
Cool! The little mountain town of Nederland came up with a novel way to heat up the winter tourism business: Frozen Dead Guy Days, a festival celebrating Bredo Morstoel, the Norwegian man whose body was frozen after he died back in 1989 and is currently stored in a shed behind the former home of Morstoel's grandson -- a skinny-dipping nutcase who was sent back to Norway several years ago but is still hoping to thaw and revive his grandfather one day. Festivities at the first annual incarnation of the reincarnation celebration included a showing of the Beeck sisters' acclaimed documentary Grandpa's in the Tuff Shed, coffin races, a parade and a pancake breakfast -- fresh, not frozen.
Dragon-boat racing originated some 2,000 years ago in China. But here in the United States, it's an up-and-coming sport in which anyone who's willing (and has a strong constitution) can participate. All that you and your twenty-person team have to do is paddle like hell and hope you can maneuver your dragon-headed, canoe-shaped vessel faster than the other teams. Denver joined a growing list of race-sponsoring communities across the nation last summer, and you couldn't ask for a better debut: The inaugural event drew thousands out into the sweltering heat of August to enjoy pan-Asian culture and food while cheering on the sixteen teams who competed. In the end, the Colorado Mongolian Project's team took top honors -- quite a feat, apparently, since Mongolians tend to lack sea legs.
Introduced on the City of Denver's Web site in February, Denver's Beat Poetry Driving Tour and Denver's Literary Landmarks were designed to give both visitors to and residents of the Mile High City a little lesson in local literary lions. The first tour focuses on Beat Generation legends Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, who spent some time in the area in the 1940s, as well as Allen Ginsberg, who later moved to Boulder and taught at the Naropa Institute until his death in 1997; it includes descriptions of (and driving instructions to) six local Beat poetry landmarks. The second driving tour highlights seven places associated with well-known writers, including editor and poet Eugene Field, who penned "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod," and Katherine Porter, author of Pale Horse, Pale Rider. What you'll find on these tours may surprise or inspire you, and will surely makes for an a-muse-ing day.
Back in the '50s, a group of Denver journalists and authors would gather at local watering holes to trade wet witticisms about writing. The Evil Companions, they called themselves -- and not without reason. A decade ago, this admirable tradition was resurrected in the form of the Evil Companions Literary Award, an honor presented to poets and writers living in, writing about, or having ties to the West. Sponsored by the Colorado Review, Colorado State University's literary journal, the Tattered Cover Book Store and the Oxford Hotel, the annual ceremony -- held at the Oxford, a classic in its own writes -- has honored writers ranging from Tom McGuane to Annie Proulx, the 2001 winner. This year's deserving recipient, Kent Haruf, is the author of the lyrical Plainsong.
Eleanor Gehres, who spent 25 years as head of the Denver Public Library's Western History/Genealogy Department and made it the institution it is today, is gone -- but very far from forgotten. Before her death from cancer last year, she had almost finished a massive mission: determining the "best" fiction of the twentieth century. Golden-based Fulcrum Publishing finished the job for her. The result, The Best American Novels of the Twentieth Century, Still Readable Today, is itself eminently readable, an impressive lineup of 150 terrific books, complete with Gehres's assessments and profiles of authors ranging from John Steinbeck to Jane Smiley. Read alert!
How much do we love the Tattered Cover? We don't have enough time to count the ways. And now this Denver institution has given us yet another reason to give thanks. Not content with bringing in an impressive lineup of national authors for readings and signings on an almost-daily (and often thrice-daily) basis to its LoDo and Cherry Creek locations, the bookstore has also started the Rocky Mountain Land Series. Working in conjunction with the Rocky Mountain Land Library, the series features authors whose works are devoted to Western issues, and it covers a lot of literary territory. This land is your land, this land is my land.