Some observers speculated that Dirty Story represented departing artistic director Donovan Marley's raised middle finger to the Denver Center Theatre Company. Others viewed it as an intelligently provocative selection. Either way, it was a brilliant choice. The production transformed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a sadomasochistic relationship between a middle-aged English professor and a bright young student, with a dopey, gun-twirling cowboy periodically erupting into the action. There was something in it to offend both Jews and Palestinians, and plenty there to make all of us think.

Racism is a common enough topic in theater, but Dael Orlandersmith's Yellowman explored a different kind of bigotry: the contempt felt by some lighter-skinned African-Americans toward their darker-skinned brethren, and the reciprocal rage it engenders. The play dares to evoke all kinds of stereotypes as Alma, one of the two lead characters, describes the revulsion she feels toward her own mother, whom she describes as fat, drunken, ugly and uneducated. The "high yellow" Eugene is rejected by his far darker father. Orlandersmith deserves tremendous credit for her honesty and courage in dealing with this topic, and Curious must be commended for its serious-minded production.

Director Stephanie Shine set her Comedy of Errors in nineteenth-century New Orleans and gave the actors a lot of freedom to improvise, resulting in many hilarious bits. But she also reined them in when necessary and protected the music of the lines. The result was funny, relaxed and magical -- the perfect amusement for a summer night.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's Dreamcoat is a mishmash of silly jokes and pulsing tunes. For his first show as artistic director at Boulder's Dinner Theatre, Michael J. Duran energized the company's talented actors, including a group of delightfully unself-conscious children. He tossed in just enough zaniness to keep the audience engaged and giggling. Duran's feat was amazing, indeed: He brought a swirling joy and excitement to a tired old musical.

True, it's hard to continue loving an outfit that started cheeky and small but is now a multimillion-dollar endeavor that becomes more expensive by the year. But these folks keep delivering. Where does Cirque du Soleil find these extraordinary people -- clowns, dancers and athletes who combine precision, explosive power and balletic grace? Varekai's musicians and performers, like its settings and costumes, were evocative, amazing and totally enjoyable. It was a performance that left audiences incapable of thought, suspended, wishing the show would never end.

The Fourth Wall gave pleasure on many levels. It was erudite without a trace of pomposity, forceful without ever becoming mean-spirited. Well cast and directed by Billie McBride, the production had audience members snorting with surprised laughter time and again. It also gave them something to think about on the way home.

What kind of director would think of staging chapter fifteen of James Joyce's Ulysses, with its stream-of-consciousness representation of one man's mental processes during a single day? Who'd want to tackle all those puns, metaphors, allegorical riffs, allusions, fragments of liturgy and bits of drama, poetry, Shakespeare and even Gilbert and Sullivan? Germinal's Ed Baierlein, that's who. At first confounding, even stunning, the production's magnificent stream of language was ultimately an exhilarating experience. Within Germinal's small space, Baierlein and his talented cast communicated the unwieldy, magnificent uncontainability of Joyce's magnum opus.

Buntport is known for wacky, iconoclastic humor, but the group is also highly literate. So it makes sense that this ice-skating version of Franz Kafka's life (along with an exposition of his most famous story, "The Metamorphosis") would be both laugh-out-loud funny and respectful, even beautiful. No one but the Buntporters would have thought to use artificial ice to such good effect. No other troupe has the ingenuity to write messages in light. No one else combines levity with genuine insight in quite this way.

In A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, set during the Depression years, Tennessee Williams was exploring less poetic lives than in his earlier work. He used caricature, slapstick, even diarrhea jokes, and maintained a fine balance between humor and his customary melancholy. He also gave us moments of grace in which the characters overcame their essential separateness to minister to one another. Williams's later work has often been dismissed as a thin echo of his powerful early plays, but it's clear from this lovely piece that he continued to develop as an artist. Director Laird Williamson and an excellent cast delivered a fine production of Williams's script; Kathleen M. Brady, whose warmth and humor were on full display, was especially riveting as the loud, sweaty and excessive Bodey. The Denver Center Theatre Company deserves kudos for unearthing the play.

Last year, Bas Bleu, which has been presenting theater in Fort Collins for over a decade, moved from its exquisite small theater building to a roomier location. For the first event in the new space, the group staged a two-evening production of Tony Kushner's brilliant seven-hour epic, Angels in America, in collaboration with OpenStage, another Fort Collins institution. The presentation benefited greatly from the combination of resources. Angels boasted some of the best talent around, including OpenStage founders Denise Burson Freestone and Bruce K. Freestone in pivotal roles, and directors Laura Jones and Terry Dodd. This was an understated but emotionally committed production that did full justice to Kushner's mind-bending script.

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