BEST DUELING SHOWS 2006 | Leaving Aztlan and Never Leaving Aztlan | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Politically aware realist painting has been the mainstay of Chicano art for decades. In recent years, however, more and more Mexican-American artists have branched out into what's known as "post-Chicano" art. This switch was the topic of last spring's Leaving Aztlan at Metro State's Center for Visual Art, which was organized by guest curator Kaytie Johnson. In response, George Rivera came up with the idea for Never Leaving Aztlan to discuss the ongoing power of Chicano art. But in the show, as realized at the Museo de las Americas by Patty Ortiz, the post-Chicanos come out on top again.
There were no overt references to the war in Iraq in Iswaswillbe, but there were plenty of things that referred to war in general. The title painting, in particular, was tough to look at: A robust SS officer in full Nazi regalia drapes his arm around a skeleton wearing a prayer shawl. The Singer is in the Mizel Center, a Jewish institution, and artist Geoffrey Laurence is Jewish, but that didn't prevent some from being deeply offended. The chilling anti-war messages in this show were delivered via meticulously done paintings, and, in truth, well-crafted pieces are rare in political art.
The Independence Institute's Jon Caldara isn't in favor of public support for art, believing that it should be left to the private sector. So when he was tipped off that Tsehai Johnson, who had received a grant from the Colorado Council on the Arts, had earlier used dildos as an inspiration for a ceramic installation, Caldara went ballistic. The whole coterie of right-wing talk jocks and assorted Republicans quickly followed. Though Johnson's pieces were shamefully removed from the council's website, she still got the best of her critics: Her installation was beautiful even in the face of the ugliness it generated.
Ten bucks per person to see live theater? That's downright insanity. But the Colorado Theatre Guild made it so by launching Theatre Night Out in 2005. For just $80, subscribers get to see eight different shows at eight different theaters, everything from next month's musical Chess at Next Stage Theatre to last month's Lovers, Split, Strangers, a loopy melding of romance and headlines at the Mercury Cafe. At this price, there's enough money for a decadent pre-show dinner and a few post-show cocktails. Drink up.
Tuesday nights are tough. It's hard to justify hitting the town when there's still three days left of the work week. Still, sometimes a little tippling is in order. Self-Made is right there for you. The weekly salon, hosted by artist Katie Taft, brings in other local artists to talk about everything from how to market to how to manage the collaborative process. Plus there are cocktails and free hors d'oeuvre. Never feel guilty again for drinking on a Tuesday night.
School vacations sound good on paper, but when the break actually arrives, children and parents are suddenly faced with a lot of hours to fill. Theatre Daze provides a great stopgap for vacationing kids ages three to twelve. The program offers fully planned and expertly taught daylong activities that include art projects, voice and movement training, play-making and more. At the end of the day, young participants come home with smiles on their faces. So do their parents, who know a good thing when they see it.
Thaddeus Phillips has a knack for simultaneously thinking large and small: huge themes, ingenious low-tech devices for carrying them out. He can create a desert from a sand-filled suitcase, an army out of toy soldiers. In The Earth's Sharp Edge, he brought Palestinian guerrilla Leila Khaled back to life, and he once performed two Shakespeare plays by himself on a single evening, using such objects as a plastic flower and a high-heeled shoe as the other characters. El Conquistador! told the story of Polonio Castro, a Colombian peasant and lover of telenovelas, whose crops were wiped out by U.S. aerial spraying and who took a job as doorman at a apartment building in Bogota. The tenants -- all played on video by well-known Colombian actors -- turned out to be a crazed and outrageous lot, some of whom were involved in very shifty activities. Drugs, murder and a case of mistaken identity entered Polonio's life, which soon resembled his telenovelas. Phillips makes his own theatrical magic, combining the joy of a four-year-old absorbed in play with a sophisticated understanding of the possibilities of theater.
This was a bridge year for the Denver Center Theatre Company. Former artistic director Donovan Marley went out in style with the beautiful sepia visuals of Fire on the Mountain, a compilation of music, photographs and accounts of the lives of miners that became more and more tragically relevant as accounts of modern mining accidents multiplied. Marley also oversaw a rich and lively The Madwoman. In the fall, Kent Thompson blew in to take things over and shake them up, increasing the overall number of productions, focusing on new plays -- particularly those by women and people of color -- and reaching out to the community and other theaters around the country. There have already been a couple of clunkers on his watch, but you really can't fault a fall and early spring that included the exquisite comic timing of A Flea in Her Ear, a potent staging of Arthur Miller's All My Sons and a production that shone the light of reason and understanding on the grim comedy Measure for Measure.
It's a telling comment on the shortage of roles for women that almost no local actress has worked in more than one or two productions this year, but Erica Sarzin-Borrillo made her two appearances -- in Poignant Irritations at the Mizel Center and A Delicate Balance at Germinal Stage Denver -- count for a lot. Her Agnes in A Delicate Balance was all haughty, enameled elegance, the head of a crazed household, fighting to keep things in balance through meticulous attention to routine. In Poignant Irritations, she played Alice B. Toklas, the woman who dedicated her life to Gertrude Stein and became the narcissistic poet's maid, secretary, wife, muse and even writing paper. Borrillo made the character self-consciously affected -- as was fitting for the hostess of Parisian salons -- but also a vulnerable and conflicted woman.
Sometimes Ed Baierlein makes it look almost too easy. Along with his wife, Sallie Diamond, he is the soul and driving force behind Germinal Stage Denver, the city's oldest serious theater company, directing plays he selects and starring in many of them. Baierlein's performing style is so low-key and relaxed that it's easy to miss the skill and authority that shape it. In Habeas Corpus, he played Wicksteed, a doctor disgusted with sex because he's examined so many genitalia. Disgusted, that is, until the nubile, young Felicity swans into his orbit. Baierlein also brought ferocious but carefully repressed depths to the upper-middle-class Tobias of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance. But it was in Heartbreak House that he showed the passion that animates his work, particularly in the magical scene in which the female protagonist, Ellie, realized her love for him, and he advised her with soul-penetrating sincerity not to marry for money: "You are going to let the fear of poverty govern your life, and your reward will be that you will eat, but you will not live." It was one of those moments that stay with you long after a play's over.

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