Best Costumes 2015 | Clare Henkel, The Great Gatsby, Arvada Center | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

A white suit, worn with a pale lavender shirt and a yellow bow tie. A patterned, slightly darker lavender dress that gently skims slim hips and beautifully complements the shirt. Long strings of beads, men in braces, a woman's cloche hat and a man's boater. Clare Henkel's costumes for The Great Gatsby were so elegantly form-flattering, and moved so beautifully with the actors wearing them, that you half wished for a return to the 1920s.

Courtesy Denver Art Museum

Exhibition-goers in Denver have gotten used to seeing the work of internationally famous artists, from van Gogh to Warhol. Rarely are the examples that wind up here the best efforts of those artists, however. Instead, we often get the middling if still noteworthy exemplars. Such was not the case with Modern Masters: 20th Century Icons From the Albright-Knox Gallery. Not only did the show include some of the biggest names in art show business — Gorky, Pollock, Motherwell and Rothko — but they were each represented by one of their most important works.

Readers' choice: Whales: Giants of the Deep, Denver Museum of Nature & Science

A pilot who's been carrying out air strikes in Iraq and loving the solitary blue of the sky she inhabits is grounded when she becomes pregnant, then tasked with launching drone attacks from the safety of an air-conditioned trailer in the Nevada desert. Between the hours of excruciating boredom she endures and the vivid images of the dead and dying recorded by the drone camera, she begins to break down. Grounded, a brilliantly written, tough-minded exploration of the effect of war on a particular woman, couldn't be more timely, as the issue of PTSD becomes more and more pressing and veterans' organizations discover that the illness is affecting drone operators as well as soldiers in the field. Laura Norman turned in a brilliant, nerve-shattering performance as the Pilot.

Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1 is filled with complex and fascinating characters, and one of the most fascinating, at least as played by Geoffrey Kent, is Hotspur. Though tough as nails, this hothead was as much joker as warrior. He was both tender and rough with the wife he loved, he punned relentlessly and fully appreciated his own wit, and he was willing to attack any male he encountered for any slight — big or small, real or imagined.

Hotspur's wife, Lady Kate, is usually played in Henry IV, Part 1 as a gentle charmer, and Jamie Ann Romero was indeed charming and gentle in the role. But underneath the charm, this was a strong-minded woman, more than capable of keeping the bull-headed husband she loved in check.

In the ironically named Lucky Me, Tom, played by Erik Sandvold, comes to the aid of Sara, a woman who claims to suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity, after she's fallen from a roof. He soon discovers that lightbulbs pop and fizzle in Sara's vicinity and that she hasn't had a hot meal for over twenty years because she can't handle a stove, knife or microwave. Tom, who works for the TSA at the airport, is determined to rescue Sara, even as her ailments threaten his own health and sanity. Sandvold was wonderfully strong and sympathetic — and also appealingly goofy — in this story of two fortyish people who've been beaten down by life but still entertain a flicker of hope that love is possible.

The character of Jane is at the heart of This, a bittersweet comedy. Widowed, she's having trouble coping with her young daughter and life in general — and she hasn't yet dealt with her husband's cremains. Jane is brittle, moody, cynical and quick to anger. It takes a complex actor to bring a complex woman like this to life; fortunately, Jessica Robblee is one of the most multi-layered performers we have. She gave a wired, vibrating performance in the role, every now and then allowing us just a glimpse of the real feeling behind Jane's defensiveness.

Josh Hartwell isn't one of those larger-than-life actors: no booming voice, no huge presence. His work is quiet, intelligent and subtle, and he slips into a role rather than overpowering it. All this made him perfect for the character Alan in This. Because he's a mnemonist and can remember entire conversations verbatim, Alan's become the chronicler for his group of friends, a charge that makes him a little crazy. He's anxious and neurotic in general, but, as played by Hartwell, also unexpectedly compassionate.

Having dressed up for a costume party, Sonia, played by Amelia White, transforms from a down-at-the-heels, enraged and self-pitying nobody in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike into a magnificent sequin-clad dowager. She's going to the party as the Wicked Queen as played by Maggie Smith on her way to the Oscars, she explains. White's utter delight in herself is glorious, and so infectious you can't help sharing it. The woman is full of piss and vinegar, and she may just be ready for love.

For our money, this smaller-scale version of Next to Normal was more moving and involving than the Broadway production that came through a while back: You cared more about the characters; the plot made more sense; the songs came across more clearly. Director Nick Sugar couldn't have found a stronger cast for this musical drama about a family torn apart by a mother's mental illness, and he coaxed wonderful performances from all of his actors.

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