As You Like It Closing, Tribes and The Few Keep on Trucking

The Denver Center Theatre Company's superb production of As You Like It  closes on Sunday; catch it while you still can. Read the capsule review of the show below, along with assessments of another DCTC offering, and one in Boulder that has ties to the DCTC.

As You Like It. As You Like It is an extended examination of love set in the Forest of Arden — a place that the Elizabethans, steeped in a pastoral tradition that idealized country life, would have seen as far more pure and innocent than life at court. For Shakespeare, though, the forest is more complex: It can also be confusing and dangerous. There are identity crises here, and they go deep, raising universal questions about love, death, kindness, evil and the meaning of human existence — though the tone in this superb production remains playful and lighthearted throughout. At the center is one of literature’s finest love stories. Orlando and Rosalind, having met briefly at court and fallen instantly in love, have been separately banished, and both set out for the forest. Rosalind is disguised as a youth and accompanied by her beloved friend Celia. Finding the lovesick notes Orlando has pinned to trees, she accosts him and, in her new male persona, promises to help him deal with his lovelorn condition by impersonating his beloved – herself. Through a series of arranged meetings, she teases, provokes, scolds and flirts with him. Shakespeare is known for his amazing women – women of strength, wit, humor, clever calculation and steadfastness in love – and Rosalind may be the pearl among them. Speaking not in verse, but in a quicksilver prose that rushes and eddies like a running brook, she soon has Orlando dazzled. But theirs is not the only love story. The court jester, Touchstone, enjoys a faithless romp with rural lass Audrey. Corin, a shepherd, pursues scornful Phoebe. More seriously, lovely Celia eventually falls for Orlando’s wicked brother Oliver, who has been suddenly and conveniently converted. Perhaps the greatest strength of Kent Thompson’s production is his Rosalind: Carlyn Holding, on whose tongue the speech feels at home, and whose character alternates between giddy girlishness and a natural dignity. But though she’s a standout, Holding doesn’t outshine the rest; there’s just so much strength in this cast. The tech is gorgeous, and Denitsa Bliznakova’s costumes move fluidly and help create perhaps the most beautiful image of the evening: Rosalind, tall and slim in her lacy wedding dress, the luxuriant red hair that’s been concealed under a boy’s cap all evening falling to her shoulders — the very shape of love triumphant. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through November 1, Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, Read the full review of As You Like It.

Tribes. The family at the center of Nina Raine’s Tribes is dysfunctional in a highly verbal, entertaining and also dismaying way. Father Christopher is a writer and critic whose loud carping spills over into all of his relationships. His wife, Beth, is writing a mystery about a miserable marriage. Son Daniel is working on a doctoral thesis about language and getting himself so messed up on skunk that he hears voices. And sister Ruth wants to be an opera singer. At first we don’t know much about the third sibling, Billy: He’s deaf, enclosed in a cocoon of silence. Though he lip-reads, he was never taught sign language because his family needed to see him as “normal” — and because of Christopher’s contempt for those who define themselves by their disabilities. Signing would blur his son’s uniqueness and also wash out the subtleties and intricacies of language, Christopher thinks. At a gallery, Billy meets Sylvia, born to deaf parents and slowly losing her own hearing. She signs fluently, however, and soon draws him out of his isolation. One of the play’s most intense scenes occurs when Billy brings Sylvia home to dinner, where she endures the family’s curiosity and his father’s blunt questions with a mix of equanimity and vulnerability. The second act is a touch less compelling than the first, though still intriguing. Billy gains in confidence and finds employment, as well as some independence from his overwhelming family. But Sylvia is beginning to fully experience the fear and loss that come with her increasing deafness. And we in the audience are contemplating the possibility that Christopher, for all his rudeness, may be partly right: Perhaps there is something lacking in the culture of the deaf; perhaps there are concepts that sign language can’t express. Tribes is compelling theater, raising unanswerable questions about communication — verbal, silent, physical, written — and the function of sound in our lives. And also about the meaning of family: After the discordant dynamics at the play’s beginning, Billy finds that something in his family calls to him, and their need for him turns out to be as profound as his for them. They are his tribe, every bit as much as the world of the deaf. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through November 15, Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100,  Read the full review of Tribes.
The Few. Samuel D. Hunter’s dialogue in The Few is absorbing: You feel you’re hearing real people, people you care about, and finding yourself sometimes irritated, sometimes surprised or delighted, occasionally deeply empathetic. You’re also experiencing Hunter’s profound commitment to the power of written language. The focus of the play is a small newspaper started by two long-distance truckers, Jim and Bryan, to alleviate the existential loneliness of their trade. Working with a woman friend, QZ, they interviewed drivers and recorded oral histories. But Jim committed suicide four years before the play opens, and Bryan, who was in a relationship with QZ, walked out soon afterwards. Left alone, she revamped the publication, achieving solvency by tossing out almost all content and running personal ads. Bryan’s return, as unheralded and unexplained as his departure, starts the action. It infuriates QZ, who makes it clear she has no intention of allowing him to take The Few back to its roots. Bryan is unlikely to cross her. Depressed and dysfunctional, he barely has the energy to get through his days, let alone undertake a revamp of the paper. But Matthew, the nineteen-year-old who helps QZ and was abused by his stepfather for his homosexual inclinations, used to find solace in the narratives and longs for Bryan to resume writing. There’s not a lot of action in this ninety-minute evening — with the exception of one surprising and hilarious scene involving a BB gun — and there’s also a major and perhaps unnecessary disappointment in the second act. But Hunter’s moving and compassionate exploration of loneliness, his profound understanding of what Wordsworth called “the still, sad music of humanity,” makes this play a must-see. Presented by Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company through November 15, Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder, 303-444-7328, Read the full review of The Few.