Organized by Pamela Jamruszka of the Red Rocks Community College theater faculty, and with the support of the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, the first Playwrights Showcase of the Western Region featured three intense days of panels, workshops, discussions and play readings. The series was designed to inform and inspire, and to begin the process of putting Western playwrights on the map.

Edward Albee's play about a man in love with a goat makes you question every assumption about sexual mores you've ever made. Just where are the boundaries between the permissible and the impermissible, and what do they mean in the lives of actual people? The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? is skillfully written, funny, silly, profound and disquieting all at once; the script includes one of the most extraordinary scenes in modern dramaturgy, as the wife who's discovered her husband's animal obsession careens from rage to helpless laughter, laughter to anguish and anguish to bitterness, breaking vases and furniture as she goes. Director Nagle Jackson gave this strange, daring piece a top-notch production at Curious, with an expressive cast, intelligent direction and an elegant set.

Inventing Van Gogh unleashes a torrent of ideas about art -- possibly enough for a dozen plays. But its primary achievement is illuminating the artist's struggle to wrench meaning from a recalcitrant world, and to ransom his own soul. Steven Dietz's script incorporates historical fact without lecturing; bits of Vincent van Gogh's letters erupt into the text like cries from the grave. We're told that by the time van Gogh created his later works, he was squeezing paint directly onto the canvas rather than using a brush, and shaping it with such force that it retained fragments of his fingernails. There's something of this intensity in the form and content of the play itself, with its swirling structure, density of allusion and furious commitment to discovery.

In a luminous portrayal, Brett Aune made Vincent van Gogh an essentially gentle and guileless man, a little uncomfortable in his own body. Aune possessed an arrogance that stemmed from the artist's bone-deep understanding of the rightness of his work, coupled with the insecurity of someone who has laid bare his heart and received only contempt and indifference in return. The image of Aune's van Gogh wandering into the night with four flickering candles on his hat remains indelible.

Angels in America's Harper is a pill-popping young Mormon wife who spends half her time yearning for her faithless husband and the other half in a fantasy. She could easily seem fey or just plain irritating. But Laura Norman moderated Harper's dopey ethereality with a wry humor and a sense of groundedness. Her interpretation was potent, but also wonderfully unassuming.

Christopher Leo gave two confident star turns in Inventing van Gogh -- as an unscrupulous art authenticator named Bouchard, and as the painter Paul Gauguin. Bouchard was self-mockingly mannered, effete in the most amusing way, while Gauguin was arrogant and thick-skinned. Both characters possessed a juicy vitality that served as a perfect foil for the other actors' lower-key interpretations. Leo was obviously having a lot of fun on stage, and his enjoyment was infectious.

Harold Pinter's Old Times is a bleak, enigmatic play, but Denise Perry-Olson's sensual energy and radiant smile animated it. Her Kate -- sophisticated, sexy and well-traveled -- flirted equally with onetime best friend Anna, and with Anna's husband, Deeley. It sometimes seemed she was about to stride off with Bas Blue's entire production.

Many regular customers of Boulder's Dinner Theatre stayed away from Cabaret. The show's seedy settings, writhing dance numbers and uncomfortable focus on fascism clearly set it apart from most BDT fare. But in a just world, it would have attracted dozens of people who normally never set foot in a conventional dinner theater. Director Michael J. Duran's production was a visceral treat, with fantastic music, deft staging and vivid, all-stops-out performances. Brian Mallgrave, with a fresh take on the familiar Emcee character, and Alicia Dunfee as Sally Bowles were especially good.

Bat Boy: The Musical is based on a character in the Weekly World News, a bat-human creature found in a cave. In this musical, he's discovered by some teenagers, one of whom he bites. Nicholas Sugar -- an actor we should be seeing a lot more of -- plays the role full-tilt. He's weird, comic, scary, athletic and pathetic. He squeaks and gibbers, scuttles about the stage and hangs upside down from furniture. Sugar is particularly funny in the show's My Fair Lady takeoff, as he's taught to speak with a BBC accent and to drink his tea with his pinky primly raised.

Dulcet-voiced and warm, Shelley Cox-Robie is always a joy to watch. As Joseph's narrator, she was the constant presence that stitched together all of the jokes and wild goings-on in the Boulder's Dinner Theatre reading of this early Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Cox-Robie's empathetic work with the children in the large ensemble cast was particularly charming.

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