Okay, a cast consisting of John Hutton, Martha Harmon Pardee and Karen Slack gives a director a lot to work with, but under Jamie Horton's direction, these already fine actors shone even brighter. They worked with feeling and discipline, every gesture and intonation perfect. Written by Steven Dietz, Fiction was a great choice for Curious -- wordy and witty and raising questions about the link between fiction and reality, truth and lies. The cleanness and precision of Horton's production offset the ambiguity of the work the way a few drops of lemon juice can zing up the flavor of a dessert. Horton left Denver last year after decades of performing with the Denver Center Theatre Company, and we're only beginning to understand the depth of the loss we've sustained.
This year, Dodd gave us both a beautifully conceived and executed version of Pinter's The Caretaker and the best production of The Weir we've seen in Denver. The Weir is an odd, spooky piece, a collection of ghost stories told by lonely souls in an isolated Irish pub. Dodd knew exactly how to bring out the strands of longing and meaning beneath the script, and his cast, led by the luminous Laura Norman, was uniformly compelling. In addition to a deep love and respect for theater, Dodd brings to his work a gentleness and sensitivity unique in this area.
Sarah Ruhl's play weaves elements of magic and mystery. Set in the expensive home of a couple of New York doctors and moving to a bright, sunny balcony, with a thematic focus on cleanliness and creative chaos, it requires a designer with a strong sense of color and contrast who's also interested in the dynamic between freedom and enclosure. Alexander Dodge created a gray-and-white set with cool, elegant lines that featured an abstract but vaguely human-looking sculpture. For the second act, walls began to dissolve along with the characters' limitations. The production's visual elements were so beautiful, they provided a stunning aesthetic experience in themselves, quite apart from the play.
Buntport is located in a cavernous warehouse on the outskirts of town. Some theater groups might find this a difficult space to work in, but not the Buntporters, who use it as a goad to higher and higher flights of ingenuity. They've performed in front of a van that they push from place to place or in a series of cages strung from the ceiling. They've said their lines while sliding along on artificial ice. They've tried every kind of configuration of seats and platforms. For A Synopsis of Butchery, the troupe shrunk the acting area to a small, lighted box representing an ornate, old-fashioned, steeply raked stage. The resulting sense of artificiality only deepened the focus and intensity of the play. For the duration of the evening, this small space contained all the fervor of a bereaved mother and all the odd, dark, romantic notions the Victorians harbored about life and death.
Adding DJ Sara T, one of Denver's best on the turntables, to the mix of stories and styles in Jason Grote's 1001 was a stroke of genius on the part of director Ethan McSweeny. It jacked up the energy and contributed all kinds of electricity, dimension and excitement.
This show is a wonderful compendium of many of Gershwin's best songs, strung along a plot so thin as to be almost non-existent. Sung by the talented regulars at Boulder's Dinner Theatre, all the songs glimmered with life, from such favorites as "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Nice Work If You Can Get it," "I Got Rhythm," "Embraceable You" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me" to lesser-known numbers like "Slap That Bass" and "Bidin' My Time." The actors sang and danced their hearts out and had so much fun with the show that only the Grinchiest audience member could have resisted.
We're not awarding this for any one particular performance, though if we had to choose among this year's crop, it'd be Everything Old Is New Again, in which Annie Dwyer revived one of her old tricks: going out into the audience, snatching patrons' drinks -- beer, wine, Scotch, it was all the same to her -- and sucking them greedily down while never missing a line or a beat. Yes, the woman acts and dances and can sing raucous or beautiful depending on requirements. Sure, she teaches kids' classes and helps keep venerable old Heritage going. But that's not the reason for this award. Dwyer is fearless. She'll wade into the audience and corral some poor man, tousling his hair, accusing him of jilting her, snarking off to his wife or girlfriend, sitting on his lap, leaving a sticky lipstick ring on his bald pate. And it never gets old, because she does it with the same glitter-eyed intensity every time. She's a whiz with bubble gum, too. She can lasso you with it. Bottom line: Dwyer is a treasure and a true Colorado original. No one else can do what she does, and our theater scene would be much poorer without her.
This theater piece, put together by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, is about six innocent people who spent anywhere from two to 21 years on death row and were then released. The most unsettling case is that of Sunny Jacobs, who, along with her husband, Jesse Tafero, was found guilty of the killing of two police officers and spent sixteen years on death row. Tafero suffered a hideously bungled execution in 1990; Sunny was released two years later. There were some very strong performances in the OpenStage production, and also a couple that were less polished but touching and effective in their naturalism. Theater has historically been a forum for political action, and OpenStage should be applauded for rising to the challenge with this thoughtful exploration of an important topic, one that increases in importance with every current diminution of our civil and legal rights.
Producer-director (and marketer) Dan Wiley bet he could stage this edgy, contemporary musical about a city suffering a drought so bad its inhabitants are forced to pay to pee -- and executed for freelance urination -- in the Denver Department of Public Works' Wastewater Management Building. He rigged up a stage, cast a group of talented actors, tinkered with the continuing sound problems of his venue, and came up a winner. Urinetown was one of the brightest and most appealing musicals of the year, and it attracted the kind of alert young audience many local theaters would kill for.
William Hahn is one of those actors who always make an impact; you often find your eyes straying toward him, even when there's significant action somewhere else on the stage. In King Lear, sporting a gentle, soul-shrinking little smile, he brought an element of truly original creepiness to a rather staid and predictable production.

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