Best Theater Production 2012 | Ruined | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer-winning Ruined is based on interviews that the playwright conducted in refugee camps with women from the Democratic Republic of the Congo — a lawless, bloodstained place where women are raped and mutilated by the thousands. She set the action in a whorehouse run by Mama Nadi, a raucous, tough-minded soul who both protects and exploits her girls. Despite the protagonists' desperate circumstance, the play is full of vitality, and even snatched moments of joy — and the Denver Center Theatre Company production caught this perfectly with a bright, evocative set; warm lighting; colorful costumes; a highly talented cast; and the pulsing, on-stage presence of a couple of talented musicians, Ron McBee and composer Keith E. Johnston.

Readers' Choice: Wicked

If Curious Theatre Company had only brought us Clybourne Park — Bruce Norris's witty and insightful update of Lorraine Hansberry's famed A Raisin in the Sun — this season, well, dayenu, as we say at Passover: It would have been enough. If artistic director Chip Walton had seized only on Tony Kushner's Homebody/Kabul to introduce to Denver audiences, that might have been enough, too. But instead, in a season that also included Caryl Churchill's strange little brain tease A Number, the (frankly forgettable) On an Average Day, and Alison Moore's clever comedy Collapse, Walton presented another regional premiere: Bill Cain's 9 Circles, a play about a war crime in Iraq that left audiences stunned. Curious is one of those rare theaters where programs are shaped by a unified artistic vision: There's no pandering, no holding a finger to the wind to see what's likely to sell. Which means that over the years, the company has developed the kind of discriminating audience that makes its risk-taking possible.

Readers' Choice: Curious Theatre

The life of the Vic — a 75-seat theater in the basement of a Victorian house in northwest Denver — was closely interwoven with the history of the city. The venue was created by a Shakespeare-loving tuberculosis patient named George Swartz, who moved to Denver for the climate and loved reading the plays to his friends. In the 1950s, Paul Willett took over the space, transformed it into the Gaslight Theatre, and ran it for almost twenty years. After his death, it became the Denver Victorian Playhouse, and then, after its purchase by Wade and Lorraine Wood in 2005, the Denver Vic. In this venue, the Woods staged everything from an evening of Tom Lehrer to John B. Keane's searing The Field — but they never figured out the formula for keeping the place solvent. Early last year, they put the building that housed the Vic up for sale, and the buyers turned it back into a single-family dwelling. And so that creaky, ghost-ridden, venerable old landmark of a theater — where Swartz's friends once gathered for Shakespeare evenings and contemporary audiences sipped tea and nibbled cookies during intermissions — has slipped into the history.

Over the past year, Bar Standard has steadily risen to the top of the underground electronic-music scene. Although Vinyl and City Hall might be bigger venues that play to more mainstream crowds, the lush and lovely Bar Standard stands out for presenting some of the top names in electronic music today: Doc Martin, Mark Farina, Hugh Cleal, Lisa Shaw with Q-Burns Abstract Message and many more, including some of the best underground house, electro and straight-up techno spinners in Denver. Manager Brandon Gonzalez has his fingers on the pulse of the underground electronica scene, and given what he's done in a few short months of programming, we can't wait to see where he goes next.

The Lotus Dream Emporium isn't only (or, arguably, even mostly) an underground electronic-music venue. It's also a women's boutique with new and used clothing, home decor items, greeting cards, shoes, purses, jewelry, tea sets, art and much more. Owner and dreamer Melissa Enyeart opens the emporium for private events, and on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays for open-mike poetry sessions, movie screenings and some of the best club nights and after-hours parties in the area. It's a lovely and relaxed atmosphere, where some of the city's most talented mixers showcase their skills for little or no investment at the door. Did we mention the massage space, drawing classes and spa nights? It's a place sweet dreams are made of.

When Bon Iver earned a Grammy nod for its self-titled 2011 album — besting heavyweights like Radiohead, Death Cab for Cutie and My Morning Jacket — it wasn't just a victory and upset for Justin Vernon and Jagjaguwar, the indie label he records for. It was a major win for Colorado's own Brian Joseph, a former member of Achille Lauro and the Fray's road crew, who engineered the album. Although Joseph currently hangs his hat in Wisconsin, he grew up and cut his teeth in Denver. And although this award wasn't part of the televised ceremony, we all beamed with pride when we heard the news.

Civic Center turns into a carnival of mellow craziness every 4/20 — and this year's pot celebration, which falls on a weekend in a year when a half-dozen marijuana-related measures could be headed for the ballot, promises to be the toke of the town.

In the alley heading north off the 600 block of East Colfax Avenue is the coolest unsolicited advertising in Denver. Local graffiti artist Theo took it upon himself to spray-paint a ten-by-twenty-foot love letter to Kilgore Books and Comics, a Capitol Hill institution at 624 East 13th Avenue. Featuring images of such bohemian writers as Kurt Vonnegut (creator of the character Kilgore Trout), Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, the mural points the way to the store with an arrow and the helpful instruction "2.5 blocks." As a teaser for the books you'll find there, Theo also included quotes below each picture, including this classic from Vonnegut: "We were put on this earth to fart around. Don't let anyone tell you different."

Readers' Choice: Graffiti by David Chloe

Take a contact mike and one or more of the following: water bottle, stacked cymbals, detached hood of a car, a sheet of metal, floor tom, chains, bricks, file cabinet — any item that can make a sharp, clattering sound — and process or amplify the sounds these items make together, and you'll get a bit of the confrontational and eruptive sounds that Echo Beds uses in all of its sets. Echo Beds is to noise or the avant-garde now what Suicide was to the New York underground scene in the 1970s. These are not percussive sounds and textures for the sake of a cheap startle; they work in the context of unconventional songs and compositions. With its distinctive approach to rhythm, Echo Beds is effectively creating a new industrial music to reflect the harsh realities of the current era.

VJ Dizy Pixl (aka Alie Lane) may be a VJ based in Denver, but the excellence of her craft landed her a gig doing visuals for cEvin Key of Skinny Puppy on his tours, as well as for group tours with Download, Otto Von Schirach and Dead Voices on Air. At home, Lane is an in-demand VJ for various shows, mostly at events hosted by the Backwards Records collective and avant-garde musicians including Orbit Service. She was originally inspired by experimental filmmakers like Alejandro Jodorowsky and Stan Brakhage, whose own unforgettable imagery clearly informs her own approach. Her early interest in the visual presentation of bands like Meat Beat Manifesto and Skinny Puppy also clearly taught her a thing or two about fusing the visual with the musical, which you can see from her intuitive and interactive co-performances.

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