This weekend is your last chance to see three worthwhile plays: Hysteria, She Kills Monsters and s. Keep reading for capsule reviews of these productions, as well as two more shows on local stages.
A Man of No Importance. The year is 1964 and the setting Dublin for this gentle, high-spirited musical. Inspired by Oscar Wilde, bus conductor Alfie Byrne longs to devote his life to art. His plans for a production of The Importance of Being Earnest have come to nothing, but now he has ideas for another show: Wilde’s Salome. His actors will be the motley group of passengers he encounters every day on his bus; his theater St. Imelda’s Church. Absorbed in his ideas, mesmerised by such phrases as “like the shadow of a white rose in a mirror of silver,” Alfie somehow remains innocently unaware of just how scandalous this piece about a prostitute’s seductive dance and the beheading of John the Baptist is likely to prove in his religion-driven country. Alfie’s unmarried sister, Lily, longs to begin married life with Carney, the butcher who’s courting her, but she can’t do it until her middle-aged brother is safely married off. When he tells her one evening about Adele, a charming young woman who boarded his bus that day for the first time, she’s hopeful. But it turns out that Alfie wants Adele to be his Salome, not a romantic partner. His interest there lies in handsome bus driver Robbie. When the powers that be learn of plans for Salome, they quickly shut down all Alfie’s theatrical hopes. And it turns out that Adele has a secret as dangerous in this puritanical world as Alfie’s own. By now the mood of the evening is sadder and darker as Alfie finds himself ostracized and defeated. But not everything about the evening is serious. There are moments of wonderfully impish humor. Director Rod A. Lansberry had the inspired idea of bringing in the local band Colcannon to serve as his orchestra. The five musicians are on stage throughout the performance, and with their authentic sound and infectious rhythms, they do the Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty songs proud—whether those songs are joyous, touching, or danceable. Presented by the Arvada Center through May 17. 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200, arvadacenter.org. Read the full review here.
Hysteria. Terry Johnson’s Hysteria could be considered a tragi-farce. It’s full of farcical elements: multiple doors, unexpected exits and entrances, mistaken identities, a naked woman in a closet, silly accents, women’s panties and a man without his trousers. But horror presses in urgently. The year is 1938. Sigmund Freud is dying of cancer in leafy Hampstead, having fled to London after the Nazi invasion of Austria. Over the course of the script, three visitors enter his book-filled study. One is Salvador Dalí, who in fact did call on Freud during this period, and who identified the Viennese psychoanalyst’s exploration of the unconscious as the inspiration behind surrealism. A second visitor, Abraham Yahuda, Freud's doctor, has come both to tend to his patient and to pressure him not to publish his latest work – which argues that Moses was not Jewish, but Egyptian – at a time when Jews are in such danger. Perhaps the most significant visitor is Jessica, a strange young woman who appears in the pouring rain outside the French windows and refuses to leave until she gets what she came for – though we won’t know for a while exactly what that is. This hallucinatory coming together of the ordinary with the fantastical and preposterous is studded with all kinds of absurdist and evocative imagery. Snails and mucus. Sex and touch aversion. Salt, semen and bird shit. Phallic statues. Swans and starlings. And, of course, a melting clock, a roaring train, and solid objects that turn to rubber. The story is full of sorrow, as well as many serious themes. Now, at the end of his life and confronted by Jessica, Freud faces the possibility that his life’s work lacked integrity and his methods created more damage than healing. There’s a lot more to this strange, complex, brilliant and often moving play than can be absorbed in a single viewing, but it isn’t dense or hard to watch, and it makes for a funny, absorbing evening. Presented by the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company through May 17, Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder, 888-512-7469, boulderensembletheatre.org. Read the full review here.
Jerusalem. When Jez Butterworth titled this play Jerusalem and began it with a young girl singing Blake’s hymn of the same name, he signaled that the work concerned more than just the escapades of a dissolute outcast in a West Country village who was in danger of losing his trailer home as new housing developments hemmed him in. Johnny “Rooster” Byron is a braggart, liar and tall tale-teller. On the literal level, he’s a bone-headed loser. Metaphorically, he’s a more significant figure, a manifestation of the Lord of Misrule appointed in ancient times to upend law and custom during winter festivities. Jerusalem, which is set on St. George’s Say, is in part a commentary on the state of England, the war being waged on history and tradition by modernizers and gentrifiers, the relentless metastasis of development in once-green places. There are echoes of Shakespeare when someone goes to sleep in the woods and wakes up crowned with flowers, and of both Shakespeare and the Victorians when people talk about fairies. And something deep in the culture of the island honors muddle, eccentricity and defiance. This is a very ambitious production for a small company, a big, rambunctious, brilliant play that slides effortlessly from raucous comedy to violence, pathos to mockery. Augustus Truhn does a terrific job of making the central character a true and towering original, and director Warren Sherrill keeps everything moving through nearly three hours. Presented by the Edge Theater through May 24, 1560 Teller Street, Lakewood, 303-232-0363, theedgetheater.com. Read the full review here.
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Motherhood Out Loud. This collection of short plays on motherhood by several well-known playwrights was a big hit last time at the Avenue Theater, and now it's back. You meet bored mothers, elderly mothers, stepmothers, adoring mothers, a mother accompanying her tween-age autistic son on his first date, another trying to protect a seven-year-old son who likes wearing sparkly princess dresses, a mother who happens to be a gay male. While there are no out-and-out evil mothers here — these people do exist — and most of the pieces are moving rather than acerbic, the evening isn't Hallmark Card sentimental. It's witty, well-balanced and well put-together, and the cast of five women and one man performs the show with integrity and heart. Nor is it for women only — the men in the audience laugh just as hard. Presented at the Avenue Theater through May 31, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, avenuetheater.com.
She Kills Monsters. Geoffrey Kent is a jokester, a nationally known fight choreographer, a restless, funny and kinetic actor who possesses a wickedly off-beat sense of humor. So you know it’s dangerous to give him control of a production that features major battles with unorthodox weapons, elves and fairies, puppets, monsters, cheerleaders doing a dance-off, costumes that look as if someone’s mother had run them up for a quick Halloween fix, lots of ’90s pop music, monster-slaying girls and many, many sword fights. Qui Nguyen’s She Kills Monsters is a prolonged game of Dungeons & Dragons that mingles fantasy scenes with supposed real-life ones; with Kent directing, the result is a flowing, fast-moving, high-spirited evening of pure fun, with a few insightful and touching moments thrown in. The story is set in 1995, a time “before Facebook, World of Warcraft and Massive Multiplayer Online RPGs,” we're told, when “there once existed simply a game.” Our protagonist, Agnes, lost her entire family in a car crash and is grieving in particular the death of her sister, Tilly, who died at fifteen and whom Agnes felt she’d never had a chance to really know. She discovers Tilly’s notes for a game and takes the folder to Dragon Master Chuck, who initiates her into Tilly’s world. Many surprising adventures ensue. Agnes is a teacher at the high school Tilly attended, which means she soon encounters the real, flesh-and-blood people on whom her sister based her fantasies. She’s now coming to understand a lot about her sister and the way a lonely, geeky teenager who never felt she fit in at school was able to find strength, conquer her fears and come to terms with her sexuality in a world of supernatural enemies, magical allies and dangerous tasks. The evening is a silly, hyperkinetic good time and a primer on what it means to tell your own fantastical story – because don’t we all have a few dragons to slay? Presented by the Aurora Fox through May 16, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora, 303-739-1970, aurorafox.org. Read the full review here.