Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy 2015 | Josh Hartwell in This | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

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.

Professor Bernard Barrow (aka Jeremy Make) explains the passion for William Blake that led him and his colleague Ellen Barker (Amanda Berg Wilson) to make love naked on the campus quad, an act that threatens their jobs. For him, Blake's poetry is pure, ecstatic celebration. Ellen, fighting a private torment, has a fiercer take. She sees Blake's message as "Fuck someone. Fuck someone hard." This is a very smart play. Written in verse, it takes well-deserved digs at academia while also asking viewers to contemplate a mystical poet they may not have thought about since high school. It takes two very talented actors to give the ideas emotional weight and make the verse sound like natural speech, while still coming across as funny, bewildered and very real human beings.

Best Opportunity to Meet English Teachers at the Theater

Colorado Shakespeare Festival

The literati are pretty much guaranteed to appear for each summer's three productions at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. And since professors often assign the shows to their students, you'll see lots of bright young people there as well. It all makes for a pleasant and congenial vibe in the lovely open-air Mary Rippon Theatre. But professors also go because these shows can open up new interpretations or illuminate a facet they think they know by heart. It's fun overhearing or joining their discussions at intermission — and just as much fun to listen when they take a poor production apart scene by scene.

The Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company realized early on that many top scientists live and work in town, and director Stephen Weitz decided to reach out to them — for both audience augmentation and creative symbiosis. He staged science writer Dava Sobel's fascinating play about Copernicus, And the Sun Stood Still, last year, and has also formed a creative partnership with the Fiske Planetarium through a grant from the Boulder Arts Commission. Local author William C. Kovacsik's Vera Rubin: Bringing the Dark to Light will be shown at the Fiske — with astonishing visual effects — and then taken to local schools. Judging by their numbers at even non-science-related shows, Boulder scientists appreciate the effort.

You want the kids to learn to love theater; you want to stimulate their pliant young minds with something more interesting than the usual children's-theater fare. Most of all, you'd like them out of your hair for a couple of hours while you enjoy a grown-up play. The Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company is offering on-site theater classes led by artists for grade-school-aged children during certain of this season's performances. Everyone has a good time, and the entire family gets to talk theater afterward.

All the world really is a stage when you take your theater to the trail. At a Theatre-Hikes performance, participants are greeted by a trail leader and guided along a moderate hike to the first scene of a play. Viewers kick back and enjoy the act, then pack their seats and trek to the next scene. Last year, the company saw its widest age range yet — 1 to 92 — at thirteen sold-out shows. This summer's show, a fairy-tale mash-up, premieres in June, and the fall offering, 10 Ways to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse, runs through September and October.

Known for its unusual adaptations and quirky original comedies, the Buntport crew brings innovative, affordable entertainment to the metro area. And for theater-loving families, there's Duck Duck Dupe. On the second Saturday of each month, a five-person Buntport ensemble performs three themed stories. Two are true, the other is false, and for a fun, game-like spin on traditional theater, audience members are asked to figure out which story is the phony.

If you buy tickets for a Catamounts production early, you'll be amazed at the low prices for the company's brain-teasing, hip and funny shows; some seats go for as low as $12. And you never find yourself seated miles and miles from the action, either, because the troupe performs in small venues where every seat affords a good view. Even better: If you book for certain nights, you'll be fed after the show — not just crackers, cheese and cheap wine, but serious, delicious snacks like tiny croissants or macaroons accompanied by craft beer or specialty cocktails.

Best Of Denver®

Best Of