Best Reader's Theater 2002 | The Dead | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Around Christmastime, the Hunger Artists brought James Joyce's The Dead to lyrical life amid the gleaming lamps and dark wood of the Byers-Evans House Museum in Denver. The reading was adapted and directed by Jeremy Cole, and it was a jewel, glowing and multi-faceted, communicating all the wistful power of Joyce's short story as well as the expressiveness of his language. The performers seemed to genuinely love the text, and they gave themselves to it with humility and quiet passion. Among the standout performances were those of warm-throated Nancy Solomon as Aunt Julia and Diane Wziontka as the grief-driven Gretta.
This is a play about the sole survivor of a nuclear holocaust. Or about a man playing that survivor on a stage. Then again, the man may be Adam, tending the Garden of Eden. There's a woman directing the play. Sometimes she's helpful, sometimes mocking, sometimes downright capricious. Maybe she's God. Israeli director Ami Dayan's The End, created in collaboration with Open Theatre alumna Lee Worley, is an exploration of human nature and the consolations of art. It pays homage to Shakespeare, Chekhov and Beckett and is particularly relevant now, as the Middle East threatens to burst into flames. In production at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, the play packed the kind of wallop that sent you out of the theater thoughtful, dazed and oddly elated.
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.

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