For five years, some of the area's most interesting theater took place on a small, square stage above the galleries at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, courtesy of Brandi Mathis, artistic director for the space. There was Eric Bogosian skewering the zeitgeist, singer-actress Ethelyn Friend singing Songs My Grandmother Taught Me, Nancy Cranbourne kvetching about menopause, the subversive performance art of Michelle Ellsworth and the first ever Colorado performance of a work by Suzan-Lori Parks. Almost every performance found the place filled to overflowing. Mathis left her post last spring, a few months after directorship of the museum was taken over by Penny Barnow and Joan Markowitz. No one is saying why.
It takes a lot of poise and talent for a teenager to romance a middle-aged woman on stage, but that's what high school sophomore Scott Ryan was called on to do in Kimberly Akimbo. The protagonist is a teenage girl suffering from a rare disease that causes her to age at warp speed. Jeff can see the young soul behind the wrinkled facade, and he grows to love her. Ryan made his mark on this quiet but telling role and revealed a stage presence many older actors would envy.
He was lewd. He was lurid. He was omnisexual. He was delicious. Whenever Nick Sugar steps onto a stage, he owns it, and Dr. Frank-N-Furter is a role he was born to play. What can we say, except that he strutted and preened and sang and flashed that crimson-lipped, lemon-wedge-shaped smile until he'd worked his way into the nightmare fantasies of every person in the audience.
There were a number of fine performances in this edgy production, but the most memorable was that of Todd Coulter as the mad evangelist Charles Guiteau, who shot President James Garfield because he was angry at not being named ambassador to France. The real-life Guiteau wrote a poem before his execution, "I Am Going to My Lordy," that became one of the most grotesquely effective songs in the musical. Todd Coulter made an indelible impression as a mad and darkly luminous Guiteau -- particularly singing this song and high-kicking his way across the stage as he was led to the gallows.
Brian Mallgrave can produce a melodious soprano when he wants to, but he gave Sylvia St. Croix a strong and surprising baritone -- even though he played the role in drag. A multiple-threat performer -- Mallgrave can sing and act, be funny or serious, take on straight plays or musicals -- he was a hoot as bossy St. Croix, tutoring his nasty little child prodigy, arguing with her mother and sulking quietly but eloquently in corners when he didn't get his way.
Gina Schuh-Turner deployed a huge, bright voice, perfect poise and perfect timing in this extended piece of camp. In the first act, she was Judy Denmark, prissing around in a belled-out skirt and gauzy little apron as the perfect housewife and mother. In the second act, she transformed into stage goddess Ginger DelMarco and was dealing with two overwhelming mothers, a spying newspaper reporter, a beautiful maid who was intent on stealing her place in the spotlight, and her ruthless little daughter. Need we say that she more than held her own?
Though it's not as well-known as Death of a Salesman, and though it has dated and creaky moments, All My Sons showcases Arthur Miller's genius and reveals his emotional and ethical depths. An excellent choice for the Denver Center, it raises questions that are as pertinent today as they were in the 1940s. Bruce K. Sevy directed this fully realized and quietly powerful production, the greatest strength of which lay in the masterful performances of Mike Hartman and Jeanne Paulsen as Joe and Kate Keller. Hartman was bluff and charming until his past corruption caught up with him and he began to crumble from within. Paulsen gave full weight to Kate Keller's mean-spirited conventionality, and also exposed the grief that underlay it.
Artistic director Jeffrey Nickelson scored a coup in acquiring Pulitzer winner Suzan-Lori Parks's script for production, and he and director Hugo Sayles did the play proud. Nickelson and Damion Hoover played a pair of inner-city brothers named Lincoln and Booth. Both gamesters, they spent their time together sparring, telling tall tales and attempting to trick each other. At first lighthearted, even affectionate, their cons eventually turned violent. Hoover and Nickelson were brilliant, both separately and together: Hoover celebrating a shoplifting spree with a humorous striptease in which he divested himself of the loot, item by item; Nickelson demonstrating the intricacies of three-card monte; both of them bringing this fast-talking, bitter, sad, funny script to life.
Kent Thompson's first Shakespeare production in Colorado was the best the state had seen in years. What worked? Almost everything: The setting in fin de siecle Vienna, the music, the costumes, the cast, which included the luminous Ruth Eglsaer as Isabella, Brent Harris as a surprisingly human Angelo, John Hutton as a Duke who brings the affable manner of England's Prince Charles to his duties, Sam Gregory's sarcastic Lucio and a horde of vital performances in smaller roles. You could argue about Thompson's interpretation, but you couldn't dispute his directorial artistry.
Commissioned to create a play about Gertrude Stein for the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture, McCarl came up with this fractured, episodic meditation on Stein's art and relationship with the faithful Alice B. Toklas. Each scene was given a semi-nonsensical title -- "Scene Sic Tea Nine: Definition of a Secretary," "Scene 5,462: Testimony Against Gertrude" -- and the play consisted of jests, insights into Stein's writing or the times, bits of biography, character exploration. Some of the scenes were a wash, but others seemed a perfect marriage of language and feeling, as when Toklas, stung at being called Stein's secretary, looked up the dictionary definition of the word, while a hovering and irrepressibly punning Stein teased at it until it became wondrous. Many of the play's bons mots were worthy of Oscar Wilde, particularly delivered with actress Billie McBride's dry wit, or in Erica Sarzin-Borrillo's flute-like tones.

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