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.
In this taut political play, written by an Israeli playwright, the first Intifada is covered from the perspective of a Palestinian family. Ami Dayan, who also directed, played the older of three brothers, Da'ud. This man was hardly likable. He was a compromised character, tough and clear-eyed, willing to shift, bargain, bully, do whatever it took to survive. As blame flashed among him and his brothers, it was hard to find the play's moral center. As an actor, Dayan has a strength and authority that's rare in this area, and he is committed to using his art to explore some of the most urgent questions of our time.
We've seen Mare Trevathan, one of the region's best actresses, far too little in the past few years, but her presence in what was essentially a cameo role galvanized Aphrodisiac, a play about a congressman and his mistress. Trevathan played Monica Lewinsky, and it was a tribute to her talent and conviction that the performance didn't evoke a thousand snickering late-night jokes. Blinking continuously, her Lewinsky was dopey but also somehow deep -- or at least full of emotion. When she spoke of her feelings for Bill Clinton and described how she wept on his chest after he'd refused to give himself fully by coming in her mouth -- because his attention was focused on his chair in the Oval Office -- we finally understood the tightness and intricacy of the sex-power knot.
Josh Hartwell is one of those intelligent, convincing actors who are never flashy but bring a low-key integrity to every role they play. As interpreted by Paragon, Hedda was almost a black comedy, a kind of nineteenth-century Heathers, but Hartwell's Tesman brought a depth and kindness to the evening. The character is usually played as a rambling, irritating bore, and while Hartwell was as blithery as the script required, there was also something concerned and sweet, a kind of suppressed awareness, flickering beneath his obtuse exterior.
With the theater's skilled performers having all kinds of fun with the nugatory plot and animating Gershwin's fabulous songs with their fine voices, Crazy for You was an evening of pure froth and fun. Scott Beyette was a lithe, leaping, tapping wonder as Bobby, a young man trying to revive an old theater out west and win the heart of a skeptical local lass. In furtherance of his plan, Bobby impersonated impresario Bela Zangler. When A.K. Klimpke as the real Zangler arrived in town, he and Beyette mimicked and mirrored each other's astonished reactions in a priceless extended sequence of mime.
Aldonza is the peasant wench that Don Quixote insists is his beloved Dulcinea. Jean Arbeiter, a fine singer and actress, made her so dirty and fierce, so angered by Quixote's fulsome praise ("Once, just once, would you look at me as I really am?") that when she finally capitulated, singing gently to the dying old madman, it was hard to hold back tears.

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