We're going to go out on a limb here. Any company that has the guts and vision to evoke the bleak, war-torn Europe of Family Stories: Belgrade, the sinister fairy world of Caryl Churchill's The Skriker and the bad acid flashback that Manson Family Values represents is doing the kind of serious exploration that helps advance an art form. Theater needs this kind of daring if it's not to become smug and safe, a sea of jiggling musicals or a few hours' distraction for the wealthy.


In staging Bernice/Butterfly, the Denver Center did exactly what a major regional theater should do: It mounted an original play that, in part, celebrates the history of the West, cast it with respected local actors and asked the author to direct. The acting was superb, the technical values impeccable and the script funny, sad and wise. The audience could sense the inter-connectedness of the artists involved, and the result was a richly textured and satisfying evening.
This one-man show written and performed by the multi-talented Thaddeus Phillips was funny, soulful, brilliant and sweet as it followed a young tapper's education, progress through life and enforced exile in Cuba. Phillips himself is a prodigious tapper, a terrific actor and an iconoclastic thinker. For Lost Soles, he used objects -- a photograph of Fidel Castro, a small box that became a tiny bed with a handkerchief coverlet, a toy car, water glasses, video screens and washing lines -- in completely original and unintended ways, as if size were as mutable a concept as it was in Alice in Wonderland.
This play celebrates the kind of vanishing small-town eatery that once functioned as the heart of its community. Nagle Jackson's script was smart, literate, absorbing and feelingful. But part of its success laid with the actors, Kathleen M. Brady and Jamie Horton, for whom Jackson specifically wrote the play as tribute to the trio's long association. Brady and Horton created multi-dimensional, vulnerable characters who animated this funny and touching show and left a lingering sense of sweetness.
The LIDA Project developed this play through improvisational exercises, and the result was a hallucinatory and grimly humorous exploration of a feverish time in North American history and politics. You could see the months of rehearsal in the way the actors worked together on stage, strong in their individual segments, comically synchronized when they were singing and dancing, sometimes seeming like the tentacles of one breathing creature. Every performer, from Guy Williams as a mind-blowing Manson to Jadelynn Stahl as vicious Sexy Sadie, gave a deeply committed performance.

Best Tragic Gay Love Story Playing at a Punk-Rock Club

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

After a run at the Wave nightclub, the East German misfit who married an American G. I. belted out the borscht about the inequities of the rock-star life at the Climax Lounge, one of Denver's newest independent music venues. Do those angry young men and women dancing in the aisles know how far equal opportunity entertainment has come? You betcha!


Usually when Americans mess with anything British, we ruin it. But this musical version of

the award-winning 1997 film stayed true to what really is a generous-hearted fairy tale with perceptive and thoughtful things to say about the human condition. And among an excellent and well-seasoned cast, Christian Anderson was truly a standout, providing genuine feeling in the often sterile big-musical genre. He came off as a convincing working-class stiff -- graceful in a boyish, macho way, and appropriately awkward when he was actually trying to dance. He's a fine actor, a good singer and a complete charmer. Too bad the coy, backlit ending prevented us from really assessing the quality of his behind.

Mary Louise Lee's evocation of doomed, legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday was the kind of performance that stays with you for weeks. She shouted out her jokes and awarded them her own raucous laughter. She communicated raunchiness, pain and vulnerability. Her voice was smooth as glass, her phrasing sinuous as she brought the standards and a host of lesser-known songs to life. "God Bless the Child" was radiant and pure, and "Strange Fruit" chilled to the marrow.


We first met Geoffrey Nauffts when his character, Malcolm, was attempting suicide. Once resuscitated, Malcolm remained as swoony, strange, dreamy and off-kilter as when his car's exhaust was working on him. And his coming-out love affair with a fellow worker melted your heart -- at the same time it gave hope to true romantics everywhere. Bottoms up!


Charles Weldon gave Jim Becker, the uptight protagonist of August Wilson's play about life in a cab company, paternal gravitas and a rare, generous smile that seemed to forgive the sins of the world. Then -- just in case anyone thought this performance was a fluke -- he seduced the audience of King Hedley II this year as the raffish, silken con man Elmore.


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