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He's a would-be Black Panther; she's the spoiled, underage daughter of a Martha's Vineyard couple. After a night of sex, they agree to meet again, and the once-yearly affair continues for decades. He fights overseas. She becomes first a fire-breathing feminist and then a successful businesswoman. Years pass, and finally the couple faces the question of what exactly this relationship means to them and whether they should continue or let it die away. Has it been real life or a detour? Does it represent love? This is John She'vin Foster's take on Bernard Slade's Same Time Next Year, and it's sweet and funny and sometimes profound. Under the direction of Jeffrey Nickelson, Shadow gave the play a charming production, and Nickelson's young actors, Quatis Tarkington and Simone St. John, gave impeccable performances and demonstrated a real chemistry together.
Germinal picked a perfect time to stage this update on Moliere, a spoof of hypocritical religiosity. Among a strong cast, Michael Shalhoub stood out in the lead. His Tartuffe was juicy and outrageous, utterly repulsive and periodically rather appealing. Shalhoub's mobile, clearly defined features glistened with lustful sweat as he pursued the beautiful Elmire; the scene in which he rehearsed his dishonest sermon was a study in the art of inspired hamming -- gutsy, grimacing and side-achingly funny.
We first met Ashley while she was watching one of those smarmy television shrinks with her teenage son, Justin. The shrink's advice to a sexually incompatible couple inspired her to reveal far more than Justin wanted to know about her relationship with his father. By conventional standards, Ashley was clearly a rotten mother. She teased and flirted with her son, forgot to track the medications for his mono, offered him pot and advised him to sleep with a lot of girls before settling down. And if one of them were to get pregnant, he was to make sure she had an abortion. "You'll be traumatized for, like, two days," she explained. Ashley's saving grace was the fact that she clearly adored Justin. Yes, the script was clever and original, but it was Angela Reed's light, humorous voice, lithe physicality and emotional openness that made it memorable.
Michael is a hyper-literate writer capable of dismissing the work of Rainer Maria Rilke as "infantile nonsense." But he has nonetheless sold out to become a best-selling novelist. His wife has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. She wants him to read her diaries after her death -- and she wants to read his before she dies. The result is a knot of twisting truth and fiction that neither of them can quite unravel. These are not particularly sympathetic characters -- they're self-involved and sometimes precious -- but they're also urbane and witty. Hutton, an always-convincing actor, gave Michael a rueful, cynical intelligence as well as a seductive vitality.
A strange, disoriented, misogynistic and clearly half-mad, middle-aged man named Kemp shows up at the bedside of his dying auntie, apparently summoned by a letter from her. He then proceeds to take care of her -- that is, prepare meals and rant while she tries to eat them; ask whether she wants to be cremated and if she's thought about donating her organs ("I could do your autopsy if you like. Get to know you a little better"); and suggest that she hurry up and die because he really has better things to do than hang around with her. Who knows what inspired Modern Muse to select this savage, brilliant play by Morris Panych, but they deserve top honors for doing so. In addition, director Billie McBride cast it wonderfully. Kemp was played with lip-smacking relish by Lawrence Hecht, and the almost entirely silent Aunt Grace by a slyly plucky Patty Mintz Figel.
We've seen only sporadic appearances by Caitlin O'Connell at the Denver Center for the past few years, so her return to play Lane, the achievement-obsessed doctor who hires a reluctant maid in The Clean House, was a joy. Beginning as a rigid perfectionist in an icy white suit, she evolved into someone far wilder and woollier as the play progressed. At one point, she was called upon to laugh until her laughter turned to tears. She turned this fairly common dramatic device into a revelation. There's something catlike and mysterious about O'Connell, something intriguing going on beneath the surface. Half the pleasure of watching her comes from trying to figure out what it is.
Sydney Parks's big moment was a twisted hybrid reminiscent of both the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet and the courtship of Roxane by Cyrano de Bergerac on behalf of his friend Christian. Maybe there was a little Taming of the Shrew in there, too. Parks played Janice, who, at the play's opening, had driven her husband from the house with violent threats. Nonetheless, he wanted her back. When his best friend attempted to court her on his behalf, she hurled the roses he sent to the ground, howling. He appeared over the garden fence, clattering among the garbage cans, and she emerged on the balcony to rage at him. Slowly they began to reminisce about their school days. She calmed down. You glimpsed the loneliness she so desperately wanted to keep hidden. But just as you began to hope these two would become a couple, Janice reclaimed her inner shrew. Parks did full justice to all of this with a fiery, bravura performance.
Charlotte Booker's Virginia loved to clean so much that she offered to take the place of her sister's maid, who hated the chore. Happily, she sneaked over every day to set Lane's house to rights. But at one point, the plot required this devotee of tidiness to create an "operatic mess." She tried. Booker would toss a magazine to the floor and pick it up, overturn a piece of furniture and gaze at it, pained. As she struggled, and finally succeeded, all the while emitting stifled whimpers, you could actually see the actress's body fighting with itself. It was one of those theater moments you don't soon forget.
Over the years, Erik Edborg has provided us with a number of memorable characters, whether he's moping in a curly wig as Cinderella or attempting to slide a roll of toilet paper under a door. He's always been hilarious in a goofy, hyperkinetic way, but in the last couple of years he's also stretched his range to try very different characters -- some of them quite intense and subdued. He played several roles in this year's Winter in Graupel Bay, but the best was Toothy Bill, a drunk with a kick-stamp walk, wolfish grin and quietly poetic soul.
Williams's Talk to Me Like the Rain is more a tone poem than a play, a small, wistful piece between a woman and a man who has just returned to her after a several-day absence. Urged by him to speak, she launches into a long monologue beginning, "I want to go away. I want to go away." The woman imagines herself living in a town by the sea, growing older and more frail until she dwindles to almost nothing and is blown away by the wind. Trina Magness has a beautiful voice and a feeling for language. In her mouth, the speech sounded like a solitary flute or the thin, sad strains of Erik Satie. She played the role with such feeling -- now and then emitting a burbling, demented little laugh -- that what could have been an exercise in self-pitying solipsism became a lament for the essential isolation of every human being on earth.

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