Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Jonathan Bitz has an unbridled passion for local music. The mastermind behind Syntax, the well-regarded literary-arts publication, his love for the scene has resulted in much-needed exposure for such vital Denver artists as Ian Cooke, Bela Karoli, Gregory Alan Isakov and Rachael Pollard. Last spring, Bitz and the Late Jack Redell created a three-day singer-songwriter confab titled A Moveable Feast, which spotlighted these acts and other emerging artists. That led to a traveling version of Feast, as well as the like-minded Living Room series at the Meadowlark, where Bitz currently handles booking duties. The scene would be nowhere near as vibrant without tireless evangelists like Bitz.
What's much more fun than watching American Idol every week? Trying to become the British Bulldog's Rock Idol. Competitors had to choose songs from such categories as "'90s" and "female vocalists." With the Bulldog's buy-one-get-one-free drafts and well drinks, there were plenty of people in the audience for the would-be Rock Idols to entertain, and in this competition, singing was second place to entertaining. Will Rock Idol return for a second season? Let's hope the folks at the British Bulldog are up for another round.
Gene Gillette held the stage with complete authority in The Lieutenant of Inishmore, a crazed, cathartic bloodbath of a play dominated by scenes of torture, murder and dismemberment. As the psychotic Padraic, unhinged by the death of his cat, he was dopey, sentimental and terrifying, and you believed he was capable of every violent act attributed to him — and a good deal more.
Everyone's bigger than life in Tennessee Williams's melodrama about familial battles in the hot, lurid South, and everyone talks nonstop, but Brick is required to say very little for a long, long time. Chris Reid made the character complex and multi-dimensional, so that his extended silences pulsed with feeling and thought — and when he exploded, everything around him went white, like the landscape during a lightning flash. His Brick was cruel and cowardly, passionate, tormented and subtle, with a quietly twisted sense of humor. A deeply felt and resonant performance.
In Soul Survivor, Vincent C. Robinson clearly had a great time portraying the Devil as he attempted to win the soul of a quiet, rational man already quite happy with his life. He swaggered, teased and seduced the audience, uttered tee-hees of laughter that were both sinister and self-mocking, mugged, grimaced and, at one point, broke into an outrageous triumphal dance — and the audience enjoyed every moment just as much as he did.
Seymour is a nerdy soul who's faced with a Faustian bargain when he finds and tends a man-eating plant that offers him money, prestige and the love of Seymour's beautiful co-worker, Audrey — but only if Seymour keeps feeding it flesh. It's a ridiculous premise that fuels a goofy show, but Brandon Dill, an expressive actor with a strong voice, actually made you feel for the guy.
Jim Hunt has turned in some fine performances over the years, but in The Gin Game, his portrayal of an angry, agitated, aging man was his best yet — deep and committed, with every thought and emotion given its due. In the Paragon Theatre production, it was fascinating just watching the conflicting feelings traveling across his face, heart-rending to see this bluff, hale man fighting the increasing decrepitude of his own body with profoundly ill grace.
The old lady of My Old Lady comes with the dignified Paris apartment the protagonist has inherited and has to share with her until she dies. Now in her nineties — and with no intention of going anytime soon — the woman has led a life of culture and adventure, was for many decades the mistress of the protagonist's father, and can't understand why he's being such a big American baby about it. Neither could the audience, when Patty Mintz Figel brought this woman to wise and enchanting life.
Cordelia is utterly demented, way out in la-la land most of the time. But there's one marvelous moment in Squall when she's forced into something approaching sanity. It happens when the supposedly sane woman she's been stalking seems to flip into madness, and in a sudden reversal, Cordelia tries to comfort her. This is a role that's hard to play and could easily become monotonous to watch, but Karen LaMoureaux's performance in the Modern Muse production was so honest, naked, sad and frightening that we remembered it long after the play was over.
As Jen, the sister in the two-person musical John and Jen, Gina Schuh-Turner turned in a wonderfully committed performance. She not only acted well and sang beautifully, but she brought a particular subtlety to the stage — at times heart-meltingly tender, at others hilariously funny. And in one memorable song, she morphed into a loud, shrewish sports mom, screaming out instructions as her young son struggled through a Little League game.
The thought of sending naive teenagers into the heart of the Ballpark neighborhood can be daunting for parents. But thanks to Soda Jerk Presents' Mike Barsch and Ben Davis, such apprehension is unfounded when it comes to the Marquis Theater. Although all ages are welcome, the longtime promoters, who successfully put on all-ages shows at Tulagi and Rock Island for years before taking over here, clearly cater to the underage set. Barsch and Davis consistently put together stacked bills of emerging acts that appeal to the MySpace generation. Younger fans are ushered into a massive area in front of the stage that has clear sightlines and is completely separate from the space occupied by folks of legal drinking age — and the shows end well before the witching hour.
The hoopla over the new DAM complex shouldn't drown out the props due to the downtown library as a vibrant art source all its own. Quite apart from the permanent offerings in and around the DPL that have survived the endless construction next door — Daniel Lipski's little horse on a big chair, the Edward Ruscha murals — the library continues to offer an impressive roster of exhibitions at its Western Art Gallery and Vida Ellison Gallery. Recent shows have featured the work of George Elbert Burr, Herndon Davis and Frank Mechau; fresh perspectives on Native American and Chicano artists; a host of offbeat art and children's books; exhibitions devoted to the work of the DPL's own staff; and, early last year, the 120-foot scroll manuscript of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, accompanied by some revealing photos of Denver during the Beat era. DAM the titanium torpedo, the library keeps on rolling.