Best Use of Bubble Gum by an Actress 2004 | Annie Dwyer, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, Heritage Square Music Hall | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Annie Dwyer must have spent every waking hour for many, many months playing with bubble gum before appearing in Heritage Square's production of Take Me Out to the Ball Game. The woman can blow a bubble the size of a basketball and then retract it slowly, with perfect control, back into her mouth. She can let a deflated bubble dangle from her lips like a used condom, create an inverse bubble or pull the gum into a sheet and make patterns on it with her lips. She can also stretch it into a lasso several feet long and swing it out over the audience. As gangster moll Rose Louise Romberg, Dwyer was all over the stage, whining, seducing, twitching, mugging and waving her hands about. She went too far, and then went further still. Her recklessness was magnificent.
The popular Buntport Theater, with its adventurous comedy troupe, has an abundance of hilarious regulars. None, however, are as side-splitting as Erin Rollman. Her characters are so funny, because although they're impossibly overblown and shamelessly ridiculous, Rollman herself completely believes in them. And you almost believe in them, too. She fills them with feeling and life; she is these people, and they're always complete originals. The monstrous adolescent she played in this season's Idiot Box took the cake: The girl, who had just won a science fair with her world-conquering board game "Monopolize Your Risk," was a bullying, self-satisfied, evil, lisping, megalomaniacal danger to both her little brother and the world -- but you couldn't take your eyes off her. No matter whom she's playing, Rollman comes up with a winner every time.
In the Denver Center Theatre Company's Lobby Hero, Bill Christ played a cop who seemed to have no insides, a kind of parody of a cop. He mouthed the heroic, tough-guy lines you so often hear in television dramas, bullying and prevaricating, and fluidly took on whatever persona suited his needs at any particular moment. Christ's character was both goofy and vicious, but he did have his own code of honor that he believed in with all his heart -- until that code of honor became inconvenient. The brilliance of Christ's performance was his ability to give this squirrelly character a real core, showing the mix of insecurity and arrogance that animated him. It was a stellar performance in a bright spot among this season's theatrical offerings.
Bright Ideas is a story about a yuppie couple's fight to get their toddler into the best preschool, and Ethelyn Friend played a mother who succeeded. The woman is so smug, bitchy and professionally successful that you know she won't survive the first act. But Friend was riveting while her character lived, a slinking, posing pencil stroke of concentrated loathsomeness. And even playing dead, Friend kept raking in the laughs.
Ed Baierlein may be the most interesting, subtle, intelligent and multi-layered actor in Denver -- a role he's played for more than two decades. In Alan Ayckbourn's hilarious comedy Relatively Speaking, which he also directed, Baierlein played the male half of what seemed at first like a very conventional English couple. But we soon discovered that what these people felt for each other wasn't affection, or even the mutual acceptance of a couple of old codgers who'd been rubbing along together for ages. No, it was dislike. It amused him to cheat on her; it amused her to trip him up. Ed Baierlein played Philip like an elephant riding a bicycle through a minefield strewn with his own lies. He was scheming, but also perpetually baffled: mildly baffled, struck-dumb baffled, oh-my-God-I've-just-realized-what-this-means baffled or raging in furious, impotent bafflement. And underneath it all there was a shiver -- just a shiver -- of genuine nastiness.
Who but Sallie Diamond -- Ed Baierlein's real-life wife -- could play opposite him in Relatively Speaking? In the face of all her husband's blustering, she stood her ground and gave as good as she got. With her fluting voice, dithery gestures and impeccably timed slow comic takes, Diamond was a hoot, whether she was explaining why she failed to buy marmalade or plotting Philip's downfall.
Directed by David McClendon for the intimate Jones Theatre at the Denver Center, Lobby Hero was an impeccable production of a charming play, one with just enough substance and insight to keep the viewer from going away hungry. The four quirky characters were played to perfection by Rick Stear, Bill Christ, January Murelli and Terrence Riggins, whose portrait of a rigid, lonely man revealed an almost tragic dimension. Add Kevin Copenhaver's costumes, Charles R. MacLeod's warm lighting and Robert Mark Morgan's meticulously beautiful set -- in which every detail cohered, from the light sconces to the dead leaves at the edge of the sidewalk -- and it was a recipe for pure pleasure.
Ben Hammer is living proof that the Method approach to acting is still one of the most effective imaginable. His interpretation of the title character in Visiting Mr. Green was rich and grounded, and it made the production soar. Hammer was so deeply immersed in the character that he didn't have to say a word to communicate what he was feeling; his face and body did it for him. His silences expressed a world of pain, love and experience. In the play's very last scene, the set of Hammer's shoulders alone was eloquent -- even before he spoke the two quietly vibrating words that ended the evening.
Jamie Horton spent much of the past year working in New York, and from the moment he stepped on stage in John Brown's Body, we all realized how much we'd missed him. His John Brown was stunningly authoritative, a rock-hard, unreasoning, narrow, immovable, plainspoken man who seemed simultaneously contemptible and heroic. This larger-than-life characterization reminded us that historical heroes are often far from admirable; many are men who cannot entertain contradiction and who have an unshakable sense of their own implacable rightness.
In this excellent production, Randy Moore played Theodore Middleton, the schoolmaster husband of one of the sisters. Middleton was a boring man who had only to open his mouth to send the other characters fleeing. Nonetheless, he loved his mocking, angry, miserably unhappy wife. He even found his own odd little way of comforting her when she was prostrate with sorrow after parting with the man she really loved. Moore's portrayal of Middleton was solemn, touching and sincere with, every now and then, a moment of genuine, if muffled, tragic grandeur.

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