Keith L. Hatten has brought grace and vitality to a number of small roles over the past few years. No matter how little he has to do or say, you can always sense his character's inner life. Hatten was charming and funny in this year's Christmas Carol, stalwart as a servant in The Three Sisters. In John Brown's Body, he played a house slave, imbuing the role with such feeling and dignity that you didn't know whether to laugh or cry when he said he was "proud of my white folk. Proud of it all." With Blue-Orange, Hatten was finally given a lead role, and he performed it with jittery energy and humor.
Buntport Theater Company
Courtesy Buntport Theater Facebook page
In the past year, Curious Theatre Company has demonstrated its commitment to variety, quality and audience outreach. Under Chip Walton's direction, the company staged Proof, a well-made contemporary play illustrating the abstract beauty of mathematics; Nickel and Dimed, a piece that evolved from Barbara Ehrenreich's exposé of the plight of working Americans; and the farcical Bright Ideas. The standard of acting was high in all three, as were the technical values. The set for Proof was a meticulously designed house front and porch, while the Bright Ideas set looked like a tumble of children's blocks. And despite Nickel and Dimed's theme, the play was anything but polemical. Instead, it was full of laughter and shared humanity.
Where but at Germinal Stage Denver could you suffer through Edward Albee's truth-saturated Three Tall Women, giggle at the light comedy of Relatively Speaking, puzzle through one of Harold Pinter's most mysterious offerings, No Man's Land, and be reintroduced to Arthur Kopit, whose Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad was a 1960s sensation that is still savagely contemporary? Ed Baierlein has been expressing his own artistic vision at Germinal for thirty years, making no concessions to marketing, fashion or focus groups. The result -- whether you're watching Tennessee Williams or an obscure European playwright -- is independent, uncompromisingly intelligent theater.
Thaddeus Phillips, creator of the Earth's Sharp Edge, fuses intellect and feeling with an entirely original vision, making theater out of dented desks, toy airplanes, memory, politics and his own voice and body. This piece began with Phillips -- playing himself -- getting stopped by airport security for carrying the book Extreme Islam. Phillips's explanations and descriptions of his trip to Morocco made up the body of the play. At one point, a suitcase opened, and Palestinian hijacker Leila Khaled stepped out. At another, a man was asked to empty his suitcases onto a table. They contained nothing but sand, and within minutes, the table became a miniature desert. Sharp Edge was about many things, but above all, it was about maps, borders and crossings, the interstices between one place, time or culture and another. Brilliantly acted by Phillips and the Buntport troupe, it was an exhilarating evening of theater.
In his interesting play Reaching for Comfort, Denverite Josh Hartwell defied stereotype and created Pam Lynch, an abusive wife who was not only vicious, but also complex and human. In a daring, close-to-the-edge performance, actress Cini Bow brought this woman to coruscating life, exploring the character's self-pity and hair-trigger rage, her professional competence and smooth, chatty way of presenting herself in social situations -- and also her profound inner longings.
It's notoriously difficult for playwrights to get their work produced, particularly if the works are full-length rather than one-act plays. Steven Tangedal and Nicholas Sugar, Theatre Group's executive and artistic directors, are to be applauded for mounting two evening-length plays by Denver writers. Josh Hartwell's Reaching for Comfort and Melissa McCarl's Painted Bread, which featured a powerful performance by actress Karen Slack in the role of Frida Kahlo, both had flaws, but they were also vivid and original. It's only through collaboration with other theater artists that a playwright can develop, and it's this kind of risk-taking that keeps the theater scene alive.

Best Introduction of a Major Contemporary Playwright

Fucking A, LIDA Project

Suzan-Lori Parks has been a force in the theatrical world since she won an Obie in 1996, following it with a MacArthur Fellowship and a Pulitzer Prize in 2002. But until the LIDA Project produced Fucking A, none of her work had been seen in Denver. Artistic director Brian Freeland deserves a lot of credit for mounting a solid production of this evocative play. It's set in a cold-eyed, amoral world in which misery is so universal that a knife drawn across a throat can be an act of love. The rich exploit the poor; the poor hate the rich; there's no such thing as justice; and just about everyone is plotting murder.
Mare Trevathan Philpott directed Waiting for Godot with an immediacy and clarity of vision that cleared away the crust of time, fashion, opinion and academic analysis to let us see the play's bones -- and what a solid, extraordinary pattern they made. She brought a sophisticated sensibility to the fifty-year-old script, and everything about the production came together. The set and costumes were clean and defined, the on-stage groupings were carefully composed, and -- most important -- Philpott won first-rate performances from a group of excellent actors.
Donovan Marley has been the artistic director of the Denver Center Theatre Company for 21 seasons. During that time, he founded the company's acting school, mounted a thoughtful mix of classic and contemporary dramas -- including a ten-hour production of Tantalus staged in conjunction with the Royal Shakespeare Company -- and brought Denver a Tony Award for outstanding regional company in 1998. Frustrated by budget cuts, Marley resigned this year, effective July 2005.
Cymbeline is rarely mounted these days, but it was performed at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival last summer. It was last seen there in 1975, directed by festival founder Jack Crouch. At the age of 84, and shortly after attending this season's offerings, Crouch died. His friends say that one of his favorite lyrics in all of Shakespeare came from Cymbeline:

"Fear no more the heat o' th' sun

Nor the furious winter's rages;

Though thy worldly task hast done,

Home art gone and ta'en thy wages.

Golden lads and girls all must,

As chimney sweepers come to dust."

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