Lion's Lair
Jon Solomon

There's always been plenty to say about the Lion's Lair. From the artists on the stage to the cast of characters who occupy its dark corners at all hours, the Lair is one of Denver's most storied haunts. Yet the conversation got more interesting when Matthew Hunter, the Lair's longtime manager, launched a bi-monthly series of art exhibitions last spring. Hunter, a painter, sculptor and bass player for local bumcore combo Slakjaw, invites artists to contribute works under a broad theme: A recent show featured ruminations on barns; another was a sublime and squirm-inducing homage to Christ. Hunter's own work, which blends a trampy innocence with dark humor and found objects, is intriguing, unsettling and original. Hunter's exhibitions prove that art can live anywhere — even nailed to the crackling red plaster of a Colfax dive.

Confluence Park

There are some seriously badass hippies hanging out at Confluence Park on Sunday nights. If you never thought you'd see the words "hippie" and "badass" in the same sentence, well, you have no idea how awesome things can get in a hurry when you give half the hippie crowd hand drums and the other half fire. These informal Colorado Fire Tribe practices are free to watch, but the participants are very serious about working on their moves, which include swinging flaming balls and other jaw-dropping techniques. Occasionally, one of them will catch fire and jump in the river, which you just don't see every day.

Sie FilmCenter

Every Friday and Saturday night at ten, Denver Film Society programming manager Keith Garcia brings in what he calls "the cooler films," films that don't always get the exposure they deserve. The Watching Hour incorporates all corners of offbeat cinema, including sub-series of zombie films and Ozploitation movies, the original Italian Inglorious Bastards, an archival print of the Dario Argento classic Suspiria, the '80s cult classic The Legend of Billie Jean and even Teen Witch, and provides a time for cinephiles to see all manner of excellent cult and genre films on the big screen, from obscure, overlooked gems to bona fide classics.

Long before they got their nicknames, the historic neighborhoods of LoDo and RiNo were defined by the railroads that brought commerce to Denver. That heritage creates the perfect conceptual tie-in for Joseph Riché's "Trade Deficit," a three-part sculpture spread near Broadway between Blake and Lawrence streets, with the most successful portion on Blake. For all three, Riché used discarded freight containers painted different colors to create constructivist piles that simultaneously refer to the area's past as a hub of transportation and to its present — and future — as an art center.

 

Artists Edward and Donna Marecak were major modernists: He was an idiosyncratic painter and she was a master potter. With the help of gallery director Paul Hughes, Z Art Department owner Randy Roberts tapped the estates of the couple to create a pair of intertwined retrospectives that showed just how great the talents of the late artists were. The Marecaks had been at the forefront of historic Colorado modernism and the subject of a number of shows since the 1990s, but amazingly, much of the material at Z had never been exhibited before, making for one of the year's best exhibits.

Best Show About the Intersection of Art and High Fashion

Mary Ehrin: Rockspace

Artist Mary Ehrin, a protegé of Clark Richert, made her initial claim to fame with feather paintings, one of which is in the Denver Art Museum's collection. In recent years, she's turned to installations of three-dimensional objects that, like those earlier works, refer to stylish garments and accessories. In Mary Ehrin: Rockspace, at Rule Gallery, viewers passed through a lattice-work gateway to enter a space filled with imitation rocks placed on white laminate stands. The phony rocks were covered with luxurious fabrics, including metallic and leather materials. They looked positively swank and very otherworldly — like swatches from the costumes in a Star Trek movie.

What a pleasure to see Kathleen Brady in a role worthy of her abundant talents. In the semi-autobiographical Well, playwright Lisa Kron explores her own mother's long-term debilitating, unclassifiable illness or persistent hypochondria (take your pick). As the actress representing Lisa tells her story, the mother herself appears in all her disheveled warmth, passion and humor to kvetch, talk to the audience, contradict her daughter and tell her side of the story. It's a rich, vital role, and Brady was simply irresistible in it. Poor Lisa didn't stand a chance.

Curious Theatre Company

Real-life conspiracy theorists tend to be boring people with bad breath who trap you in corners to expound endlessly on the actual author of Shakespeare's plays and how the CIA staged 9/11. But Yankee Tavern's Ray is way funnier and more ironic. He talks to ghosts, hates Starbucks and the facial-tissue industry, and carries a moon rock in his pocket — a rock from the real, invisible moon landing, as opposed to the highly publicized 1969 event. Marcus Waterman is always a pleasure to watch on a stage, but he tends to play dignified, somewhat authoritative roles. Given the juicy part of Ray, he got to mutter and shamble, poke and joke, and plain dominate the action whenever he was on stage.

Dinner theaters aren't called on to worship at the altar of art, but rather to satisfy down-home audiences looking for anxiety-free entertainment: families, young couples, church groups, business groups, people celebrating birthdays and anniversaries. But Boulder's Dinner Theatre nimbly accomplishes the two-step between commercialism and creativity, mounting summer productions filled with adorable kids; old chestnuts that reliably fill the house; smaller, quirkier shows; and the occasional sexy sizzler. This year, the roster was Annie, Singin' in the Rain, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Chicago, and BDT produced them all with style. Every show featured fine singing, energetic and sometimes inspired acting, well-conceived sets and costumes, the music of Neil Dunfee's talented small orchestra, and the cast's infectious exuberance. There's a lot to be said for pure enjoyment — and this BDT season said it all.

The Denver Botanic Gardens boasts one of the most beautiful — and intimate — open-air concert halls in the city, where it hosts its annual summer music series under the stars. Tickets can be pricey and hard to come by, but they're well worth the effort. And who better to choose the performers for such an exclusive venue than Swallow Hill, Denver's own acoustic-music stronghold, where music and beauty have always walked hand in hand? As Swallow Hill seeks to broaden its constituency by offering more diverse concert performers and the DBG continues to grow, the two organizations should make beautiful music together.

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