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EMMA

EMMA – Written by Kate Hamill (Based on the novel by Jane Austen); Directed by Meredith McDonough. Produced by the Denver Center Theatre Company (14th and Champa, Denver) through May 5. Tickets available at 303-894-4100 or DenverCenter.org. 

When I think of this delightful production, the words “spritely” and “whimsical” come to mind. There is such a lightness, such an honesty about it. Amelia Pedlow playing Emma Woodhouse is a force of nature to be reckoned with. She flits, she dances, she berates the audience, she flirts, she is a ball of energy all over the stage and in everyone’s face. As an Emma Stone look-alike, she has an animated face and nature that seems totally at home on the stage. She’s having a long conversation with the audience, explaining, cajoling, blaming us for her mistakes, and allowing us to rejoice at her triumphs. We go along for the story step by step with her. 

Her co-workers along this journey enter into the frivolity wholeheartedly, sometimes playing multiple roles, sometimes absorbing Emma’s wrath or dictates, but along for the ride, no matter what. Annie Barbour is the dreaded Jane Fairfax (to be said with disdain in your voice), Emma’s sometime rivel for the affection of the man she doesn’t even meet until later in the show, Frank Churchill (Marco Robinson). Everyone has raved about this superman and how he was bound to fall in love with her so much that she couldn’t understand why she wasn’t immediately attracted to him. But by this time, even the audience has figured out Emma’s problem. It has to do with her “old” friend, George Knightley, the patient and handsome Carman Lacivita. 

Emma is an educated and thoughtful woman, bored to death with the sedentary life she is forced to live as a born and bred member of the upper class. She gets into matchmaking as a side hustle and soon realizes that she’s very good at it. Her first outing was a successful matching of her former tutor (Joey Parsons) and a local widower. However, it isn’t hard to believe that the two would have gotten together with or without Emma’s assistance. Her success with her first experiment leads her to take on a new project with Harriet Smith, a girl from the local school who is almost catatonic in her shyness. Emma discourages a match with someone she considers lowly and pushes her toward a match with a man everyone knows is unsuitable for her. But in the process, she bolsters Harriet’s confidence to the point that she ultimately stands up for herself and determines her own path. Samantha Steinmetz’ transformation from bumbling terrified pupil to confident and determined young lady is a miracle to behold. Watching Emma work her wiles and Harriet responding to this new world was fun beyond words. 

The whole evening is just a delight. Using modern music and dance moves in the transitions and as wedding music immediately determines our mindset toward fun. As always, the sets are magnificent and move into place silently and smoothly. While the costumes reflect a Regency air, most of them could also be worn on the red carpet today. Costume changes are carried off on-stage with an almost unseen gracefulness. 

Emma learns a valuable lesson in humility along the way with the audience tracking right with her. We all know how this is going to end; Emma even questions the audience with “You think you know where this is going, don’t you?” But it’s so much fun getting there. You don’t need to know the novel to enjoy the frolic; Don’t be a snob. Jane Austen is the Nora Roberts of her day. 

A WOW factor of 9!! 

The Mousetrap

E MOUSETRAP – Written by Agatha Christie; Directed by Sam Gregory. Produced by Lone Tree Arts Center (10075 Commons Street, Lone Tree) through April 21. Tickets available at 720-509-1000 or LoneTreeArtsCenter.org. 

“Written by Agatha Christie.”  Quite often, that’s all it takes to get someone to walk through the door of a theatre.  The devious twists and turns of the plot – the suspense that builds throughout the performance – the possibility of any of the characters being the murderer – the old English atmosphere . . . . all signposts of Mrs. Christie’s work. 

But this particular potboiler has had a long and colorful history.  After a short tour around the provinces in 1951, THE MOUSETRAP began its London run in November of 1952 in the Ambassador Theatre where it played to nearly sold-out houses for 22 years.  Continuing the tradition, the show then moved to the St. Martins Theatre where it has added to its history by performing continuously for 68 years, until Covid shut it down.  After a closure of 14 months, it was the first show back on the boards in London. 

In 1939, the cast gave a performance to the Wormwood Scrubs Prison to entertain the inmates.  Two prisoners took advantage of the distraction and managed to escape during the show.  In 2002, Queen Elizabeth attended the 50th anniversary performance.  In 2012, a touring company in the UK featured such noted actors as Hugh Bonneville (DOWNTON ABBEY), as Giles, the husband; Julie Walters (BILLY ELLIOT) as the nasty Mrs. Boyle, and Patrick Stewart (STAR TREK) as the mysterious stranger Paravicini.  What fun to have seen that production! And most noteworthy, in the summer of 2021, a visitor from Denver attended the 28 thousand something performance on her first trip to London since 1966.  And it’s still going strong. 

Even though you have probably seen the show before and may (or may not) remember who the killer is, it’s just fun seeing the story acted out again in the hands of a director who knows what he is doing and a cast that revels in the tradition.  The current production at the Lone Tree Arts Center is tight, well presented, pretty and extremely professional.  This cast could absolutely stand shoulder to shoulder with the London cast I saw during that recent visit. 

Among the cast of ten, only three are making their Colorado debut.  Alex Esola and Erika Mori do a fine job as the married couple nervously opening their brand-new guest house to a mixed bag of patrons.  Their ease with each other before the guests arrive provides a contrast as suspicion raises its ugly head later in the show.  Guest No. 1 is Sean Johnson who plays the skittish over-the-top pseudo-architect with a full helping of nervous energy and wildly fluctuating mood swings.  Guest No. 2 is the mean-spirited Mrs. Boyle (Tara Falk) who complains endlessly about the lack of a full time staff to see to her every need.  She makes herself a target of derision from the other guests because of her rudeness.  Guest No. 3 is the mild mannered and quietly efficient Major Metcalf (Brik Berkes) who moves into action when the lights go out.  Fourth is Rachel Darden as Miss Casewell, a cool professional woman who goes her own way and makes her own rules. 

A winter storm leads to two unexpected guests.  Mr. Paravicini (Soren Oliver) claims his car ran off the road into a snow drift and he has walked through the snow to the house (although his coat displayed no clue of having been exposed to snow) (hmmmm?).  The last to arrive on the scene is Sgt. Trotter from the local constabulary who skied to the house to warn everyone of the danger in their midst (played by Colton Blair). 

Sam Gregory, the director, has found the humor in the script and created some character bits to devise even more comical situations which the actors seem to relish unleashing.  The single set is the Great Hall in Monkswell Manor, and it is Gorgeous.  Designed by Kevin Nelson, built by Jen Kiser and her tech crew, painted by Mallory Hart and Sherry Hern, dressed by Katie Webster, lit by Jon Dunkle, and provided with appropriately creepy Three Blind Mice music by Jason Ducat, the Manor is Grand, Gracious and Grandiose.  Elegant with a capital E. 

It seems a shame to only run for two weekends after you have spent all that effort to rehearse and build.  But that seems to be the case. If you want to revisit your old friends at Monkswell Manor, you’ve only got one more weekend left to get there. 

A WOW factor of 8.75!! 

THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF AMERICA (ABRIDGED)

THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF AMERICA (ABRIDGED) – Written by Adam Long, Austin Tichenor, and Reed Martin; Directed by Mellisa Taylor.  Produced by the Wheat Ridge Theatre Company (5455 West 38th Avenue, Wheat Ridge) through April 21st.  Tickets available at 720/244-5204 or WheatRidgeTheatre.com. 

Three insanely talented and quick-witted guys got together in college and decided to take on an examination of Shakespeare as seen through the eyes of hippy-dippy beach bums.  They reduced the entire Shakespearean folio (sonnets included) to a mock football game, a cooking show, and a backwards/forwards version of ROMEO AND JULIET.  Their frivolity left audiences bent over in pain laughing and began to make them serious money as they toured the United States and had a NINE YEAR run in London.  So what did they do then?  They formed the Reduced Shakespeare Company and kept going with Abridged versions of everything they could think of, like the History of Comedy, Hollywood, Great Books, a prequel to HAMLET, the Bible, Sports, and Western Civilization . . .  to name a few.  They have not run out of humor yet; Wheat Ridge Theatre bring their popular Reduced  History of America to life in their current production. 

Instead of three guys doing this one, WRTC has chosen two rapid-fire women and one quick on the draw man to explain American History from Columbus to Clooney.  No, wait, further back than that – from the cavemen crossing the Bering Strait to Lady Gaga.  From George Washington to George Bush and beyond.  From the Revolutionary War to STAR WARS.  In vaudeville like skits, often featuring song and dance, they move through American History like a knife through butter.  In-between all the frivolity and nonsense, you might actually learn something.  Not required, but an interesting side effect. 

One disadvantage of trying to write about a show like this is that it is so fast paced with so many loony tunes going on that if you try to take notes, you miss too much.  But let me just say that the scenes depicting American history range from corny vaudeville routines to a song about Amerigo Vespucci – from a Civil War slide show to a comparison of the startling statistics linking Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy.  A bit about WWI morphs into a number by the Andrews Sisters.  The era where radio was King is given life in a scene from Queen for a Day – who remembers that??  We visit with Detective Spade Diamond, Private Eye as he pursues Tony the Tiger, cereal killer.  One of the players ended up taking the blame for all the terrible things that have happened in the last twenty years – Monica! Covid! Watergate!  And on and on. 

The three whirlwinds giving us this history lesson while dressed in red, white, and blue costumes are Camilo Luera, Kayleigh Hudson, and Tara Spires who are all equally adept at this type of humor, moving through each scene with dedication and determination.  They are having fun, and they want you to have fun watching them.   There are tiny bits of audience participation but nothing to be fearful of if you’re sitting in the front row and nothing to set your teeth on edge. Director Mellisa Taylor has mined every bit of schtick out of each “lesson” to guarantee your good time. 

Wheat Ridge Theatre Company is getting its feet under it with each production finding its strength.  The comfort of having their own space for performances gives them the courage to try all sorts of shows and appeal to all sorts of audiences.  For instance, their next play is FUENTEOVEJUNA (literally the Sheep’s Well) about a group of peasants in 1476 who revolt against the tyrannical rule of the military commander sent to their village, written by Spanish playwright Lope de Vega. Then the one after that follows to two elderly gay men who hire a “manny” (not a nanny) to help take care of them in their old age. Follow through all the way to the holidays and we have SCROOGE IN ROUGE, a take-off on a British panto in which the whole cast of CHRISTMAS CAROL becomes sick leaving only three actors to take on the whole play themselves. See what I mean – they aren’t afraid to try anything. 

A WOW factor of 8.5!! 

BIG FISH

BIG FISH – Book by John August; Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa: Directed and Choreographed by Noah Racey; Music Direction by Victor Walters. Produced by OpenStage Theatre and Company (presented at the Lincoln Center, 417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins) through April 20. Tickets available at 970-221-6733 or lctix.com. 

It’s a bit of a slog to drive all the way up to Fort Collins to see a play. But most of the time, it’s worth it. There’s really good theatre going on in the Fort Collins area that needs to be checked out. A leisurely drive up in the afternoon, a nice dinner in one of the hundreds of restaurants in this college town, and then a sit-down with a good show. Great way to spend a day. OpenStage has been doing theatre for generations of Fort Collinsians and it shows. 

Their current production is a lovely mystical story about a father who liked to exaggerate aspects of this life to make it more exciting for his son. Or was it that he was so in love with life that he found everything about it a miracle? Either way when Edward (Scott Hurst as the father) grew older and ill, Will (Brian Wilcox as the son) felt he had to find out how much of these grandiose tales were true. Thus began his journey into his father’s past. 

With a script that takes us back and forth in time to the son’s youth and later life as a doubting adult, we explore the origin stories and what the son found out. What was the truth behind the witch’s insights (Courtney Kofoed) about how Edward would die? Regardless, knowing what his death would look like gave him the courage to live without fear. This led him into adventures with the circus, a town about to be flooded, and a once-in-a-lifetime romance. 

The creativity of the production team brought all the magical aspects of Edward’s stories to life with both whimsy and believability. He had an interesting good-hearted life. So, if he wanted to make it even a little more exciting to teach his son to “be his own hero” and how to “fight the dragons,” no harm done. The audience got to see both the true adventure and the slightly inflated version he shared with others. But there really was a mermaid (Ruby Duka) and a giant named Karl (Cisco Saavedra) and a magical field of daffodils. 

Scott Hurst is one of those actors you can always count on to bring his character to startling authenticity. Playing older was a bit of a stretch for him, but so much more effective than having two actors play the younger and older Edwards. His musical journey was made more exciting by Scott’s charm and commitment. His once-in-a- lifetime romance Sandra, who became his patient understanding wife, was brought beautifully to life by Brikaih Flore. Her magnificent voice taught us about the “Magic in the Man” and reminded us that she didn’t “Need a Roof” over her head to be happy with him. 

I’m so happy to see gifted young performers. The very young Will was created by the uber talented Marlon Rothstein who showed no hesitancy about being on stage with the big guys and held his own in the music department. OpenStage is grooming the next generation of performers for Fort Collins. Bryn Frisina gets a nice turn as Jenny, the girl who doesn’t want to leave her hometown that is about to be flooded and must be persuaded to “Start Over.” 

The singers and dancers were provided with musical accompaniment and sound effects by a five-member live band behind the curtains that kept the energy up and the music moving along. 

All in all, it was a joyful musical evening . . . the sort I’m beginning to expect every time I visit this company. It’s not really SO far to Fort Collins. 

A WOW factor of 8.5!! 

THE MUSIC MAN

THE MUSIC MAN – Book, Music and Lyrics by Meredith Willson; Story by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey; Directed and Choreographed by Kelly Van Oosbree; Music Direction by Andrew Fischer. Produced by Performance Now Theatre Company (Presented at the Lakewood Cultural Center, 470 South Allison Parkway, Lakewood) through April 7. Tickets available at 303-987-7845 or Lakewood.org/LCC presents. 

Do we have trouble right here in Denver City? Nope, we sure don’t. What we got is a lively, energetic, professionally performed celebration of the glorious music of Meredith Willson. Can you even begin to fathom the creative depths of a mind that could produce the beautiful love songs of this show, such as “Good Night, My Someone, ““Lida Rose” (what an ear worm that one is!), and “Till There Was You”? Then he turns around and balances those with a nonsense song like “Shapoopie” and a march like “76 Trombones.” This man was a genius. This beautiful story of deception and redemption should be performed yearly to remind us of the power of community and the healing nature of music. 

Mr. Wilson would be shouting “Good for You!” at this cast and crew were he able. Under the always amazingly creative direction of Kelly Van Oosbree, the story unfolds with joy. Her ability – in this case – to get children as young as the second grade and seasoned performers such as Karen Krause and David Novinger all learning the same dance routines and performing them with precision and smiles on their faces – well, let’s just say I’m agog!  

The decision to pare down the technical aspects of the production was a thoughtful and brilliant solution to the many sets normally required by this show. Instead, a gazebo in the upstage third of the stage contained the nine-piece orchestra that provides the music for all this fun. It also provides an appropriate backdrop for the story, with the steps in front creating an acting space for the “indoor” scenes, leaving space for the marching boys band and scenery to be moved in and out smoothly. Keeping the stage uncluttered allowed the focus to be on the story, the music and the dancing. “Good for You!” to whoever dreamed that arrangement up. 

It’s hard to highlight specific members of the cast because all 38 of them moved as a unit and functioned as a family. But if you don’t have a charming Harold Hill and a winsome Marian Paroo for your show, you’re sunk. At first glance, Jeffrey Parker may seem too nice for the role of a conniving duplicitous con man, but he soon shows that there’s a cutting edge under that niceness. His charm is part of the plot as he explains to his former sidekick. He always flirts and flatters the person who might undermine his scheme. In this case, that’s the immediately suspicious town librarian, played by Carolyn Lohr. Winsome with a capitol W, it takes a lot of genuine kindness to her shy little brother Winthrop (an adorable Ethan Hershman) to win her over. But Hill soon finds himself beginning to be won over instead. There are just so many cute touches, sweet moments between the lovers, and the number of talented little kids on that stage. You can’t get the smile off your face. The harmonies of the barbershop quartet, the ladies Grecian urns, the anticipation of the arrival of the musical instruments, watching little Winthrop come out of his shell, and on and on. 

Just one of the things that makes this production out of the ordinary is the number of family members that are performing together. There are husbands and wives, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons – all singing and dancing together as they play the townspeople of River City. Just like they were a real family . . .. and they become one. It’s lovely to behold. 

I could go on and on about this production, but if you’re reading, you’re not picking up your phone and buying tickets. I’ll shut up so you can get to it. This is a good one, folks. Don’t miss it! 

A WOW factor of 9!! 

GEM OF THE OCEAN

GEM OF THE OCEAN – Written by August Wilson; Directed by donnie l. betts.  Produced by the Aurora Fox Arts Center (9900 East Colfax Ave, Aurora) through April 14.  Tickets available at 303-739-1970 or AuroraFox.org. 

The Aurora Fox team kicked off its 2024 season under the new leadership of Richard Cowden with an announcement of their intention to produce August Wilson’s entire 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle in chronological order over the next ten years.  This means we can anticipate a production of MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM next year and THE PIANO LESSON in the following year and so on through the cycle.  An ambitious undertaking.  While the Denver Center completed the cycle with a production of Wilson’s final script, RADIO GOLF, in 2008, it did not present the stories in chronological order.  

This Aurora Fox production of the play GEM OF THE OCEAN set in 1904 held the potential for an outstanding beginning to this project.  donnie l. betts (lower case deliberate) was given the task of directing this first effort.  His experience in filmmaking, directing and acting is legend in Denver and includes a Henry Award as Best Director for THE MOUNTAINTOP in 2020.  He has directed multiple productions at the Fox, including PORGY AND BESS and COLOR PURPLE. 

A cast of some of the finest Black actors in Denver was assembled to tell this story.  Chris Davenport is familiar to theatregoers as Hoke in a recent production of DRIVING MISS DAISY at Vintage and for his award-winning turn in THE ROYALE for BETC.  Anyone who had the good fortune to see Faith Goins-Simmons perform in PORGY AND BESS at the Fox will never forget it.  Abner Genece has cut a swath through Denver theatres with a recent season as a member of the Black Box Repertory troupe at the Arvada Center and a fun turn at the Savoy in UNDONE: The Lady M Project. Alicia Young is well known in theatre circles as an award-winning actress for her work in THE ROYALE and her recent cabaret-type performance at the Fox in BLUES IN THE NIGHT. Joshua Levy just finished a demanding role in Benchmark’s production of BLASTED.  Chaz Grundy is a familiar name to those of us who go back a few years and Steffen Beal is the new boy in town turning heads.  You couldn’t find a more qualified group of people to bring Mr. Wilson’s story to life. 

The production team at the Fox has been assembled over the years and has created some of the finest produced works in Denver.  The sets by Technical Director Brandon Phillip Case have and continue to astound.  Who could ever forget the revolving bus in PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT and the field of daffodils in BIG FISH, just to name a few?  Jen Orf has been their long time Production Manager and Lighting Designer and knows the space intimately.  El Armstrong has been designing sound for decades and Casey Burnham knows how to make it shine in every production.  Linda Morken has been designing costumes for generations of people on stage, most notably at BDT Stage, right up to the end.  Brett Maughan is a familiar face to Fox folk, while the new people on the staff that Rich Cowden has brought in are some of the best in the business in their field. 

There are some truly memorable things about this production.  Abner Genece plays Caesar, a Black Simon-Legree type constable for the community.  He has become arrogant and belligerent because of the powers bestowed upon him.  Abner’s characterization is bombastic, bigger-than-life, and dynamic.  He doesn’t bother with knocking on the door before he ENTERS a room and throws fear into anyone he finds there.  Except his younger sister Black Mary, played by Faith Goins-Simmons, with quiet dignity and a non-nonsense attitude toward all men.  Especially Citizen Barlow, a newcomer from the South who has come to the house in search of healing but feels a masculine obligation to suggest a liaison to Black Mary.  Steffen Beal plays him as a good man tormented by guilt and a little puzzled by the inhabitants of the house at 1839 Wylie Avenue where they gather.   

Aunt Ester, played by Alicia Young, is a spiritual healer for her community, a woman with deep understanding of human nature and an almost mystical comprehension of the soul of her people.  One of the most moving scenes in the production is a visual journey to the spiritual City of Bones deep under the ocean.  The cast and crew recreate in ritual form a journey deep into the water to visit the place where the bones of those who didn’t make it across the ocean on the slave ships lie.  Aunt Ester describes their journey and the reason they are making it to heal and forgive Citizen. The projections, lighting and music used in this scene are moving and add depth to the whole experience. 

Despite everything working in favor of this production, it did not come together with mind-blowing clarity the way it should have.  Why do we remember moments but not the overall journey of these people? Why, when the actors on stage are relaying something to someone else on stage, do they turn away from them and speak instead to the audience?  Why do so many speeches have a ten-second pause before continuing to the next line? Why does it take three and a half hours to tell this story? 

Part of my purpose as a theatre writer is to tell whoever reads this article for guidance about what you are going to experience when you attend this (or any) theatre is to tell you what to expect.  GEM is the first of Wilson’s cycle; that alone should generate your interest as a serious-minded theatregoer.  You have the opportunity to see a script that isn’t done often and is part of an honored piece of American theatre.  You are going to see a production professionally presented.  You are going to see some moments of brilliance and you are going to have a loooong theatre evening.  Just saying . . . . . 

A WOW factor of 8! 

NOISES OFF

NOISES OFF – Written by Michael Frayn; Directed by Geoffrey Kent.  Produced by the Arvada Center (6901 Wadsworth, Arvada) through May 5.  Tickets available at 720-898-7200 or arvadacenter.org. 

NOISES OFF was the first show I remember literally falling out of my chair laughing.  It was a touring production and I think I was sitting in the last row of the old Auditorium Theatre watching the madness on stage and hardly believing what I was seeing.  There was a magnificent production a few years back at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival which featured the imminent director of this production.  But this current show at the Arvada Center pulled some of the best actors in Denver together with a director who knows the show intimately, a set designer and crew of builders who know how to put a set together that isn’t going to fail any of the raucous stunts it must support, a team of designers that know how to work together to create a work of freaking art, and a theatre producer that isn’t afraid to pull out all the stops to bring this complicated show to its audience. 

An octopus only has eight arms with which to move through space.  This octopus of a show has nine crucial moving parts – each as important as the next.  I would like to call your attention to each of these arms which will wind around your funny bone.  On stage first is Dotty Otley, the benefactor of this touring production who is making a last stand against retirement as an actress and just trying to “put a bit beside” for her old age pensioner days.  Kate Gleason gives her an optimistic hopeful air that slowly disintegrates when her ego overtakes her thoughts of the future.  She is, after all, the “star” of this show, the one everyone is coming to see because of her long career in a telly sitcom.  [Sorry, Dotty, you are going to be working well into your dotage if you’re counting on this show to finance anything.]  Next comes Brooke Ashton, a ditzy blonde who recites her lines robotically and doesn’t dare deviate from the path carefully laid out for her because she’s not smart enough to get back to the path once lost.  Her loose contact lens, her willingness to disrobe, her steadfast delivery of lines gives Noelia Antweiler a chance to shine.  You must be really smart to play that dumb.  Jenna Moll Reyes plays the hapless Assistant Stage Manager Poppy who gets caught in an unwilling love triangle and is willing to jump into any role if required.  Jenna’s portrayal of a weary and somewhat bewildered girl in a sort of starter position with the theatre company leads to many “Ahs” and “Oh Oh’s” as her part of the story plays out.  The final female in the troupe is Belinda Blair, who, as played by Shannan Steele, seems to have a modicum of good sense and realistic expectations from the whole touring experience . . .. until her gossipy “I have to know everything first” side comes out.  Her “fixing” does no one any good and occasionally further complicates an already complicated situation.  She does try, however, 

The members of the company are being directed by noted (at least busy) director Lloyd Dallas, given sarcastic life by Gareth Saxe (whose acting range is incredible as he goes from part to part all over Colorado).  His appearance from the back of the auditorium carrying a mic to talk to the cast rehearsing on the stage; his movement on and off the stage in authentic directing mode; the reveal of his busy off-stage life; and his final disintegration is a wonder to behold.  The oh-so-professional lead actor with his rote delivery of lines and gestures and undisguised but unfortunate admiration for Dotty is created by Adam Schroeder in a debut role in Denver.  His agility and willingness to perform some of the stunts required of him is breathtaking.  Rodney Lizcano, long recognized as one of the best in Colorado, does a slow take on the other lead in the play on tour.  His need for praise leads him to self-deprecate and proclaim stupidity with every other line, only so someone in the company will give him the ego boost he wants.  He really is a little dense and doesn’t realize the harm he is doing to the whole company with an innocent friendship with Dotty. He plays “seeming oblivious” very well.  And then there’s Teej Morgan-Arzola, one of my favorite graduates from DSA making a name for himself here at home.  He brings to life the bone-weary Stage Manager/Make Up Designer/Fight Choreographer/Dialect Coach/Props Master/Light Board Operator/Deck Crew and everyone’s understudy in the company.  He seems to be walking around in a daze as Lloyd shouts orders to him and Selsdon hides from him.  But when the time comes for him to step up, he’s there. 

And the last member of the company is the gender-bending Leslie O’Carroll who loves breaking the rules occasionally by donning the garb of a gentleman. Playing the most experienced actor in the company – the one legitimate trodder of the boards – not the one who found mediocre fame on television – Selsdon Mowbry. She makes the most of this role of the resident drunk in the cast. Her eternal search for the next full bottle becomes a pivot point for much of the humor. 

Act One introduces us to all the characters, their interdependence, and their roles in the play they are rehearsing to tour with everyone being SO sweet to each other, SO understanding of forgotten lines and misplaced sardines, and SO hopeful for a successful run. 

Act Two takes place halfway through the tour with the set turned around so we (the audience) are watching what’s going on backstage as the play is performed on the stage. In a word, CHAOS. Director Kent has created a kaleidoscope of activity depicting how far those sweet loving people we met in Act I have fallen. The gymnastics swirl around a fire axe, a full bottle of booze, a cactus, and multiple plates of sardines. There is so much happening onstage, your eyes cannot take it all in. There is so little time between silent sight gags and screamingly silly stunts that if you look at one too long, you’ll miss two or three on other parts of the stage. But the general picture of dissention in the ranks and the specific animosities that have been developed are revealed with clarity. 

Act Three turns the set around again to show their final performance at tour’s end. Everyone is hell bent for leather and the knives are out. The only hope is that all the actors on tour make it out alive. As one playgoer remarked, it was the actor Olympics as the action and the dirty tricks get even more violent, dangerous and hilarious in the hands of this talented cast. 

The set is a two-story authentic depiction of a typical touring set on a turntable that moves flawlessly from front of house to backstage and back. Everything looks perfect, works perfectly and supports the many demands of this script. All the special effects – flying phones, disappearing sardines, a movable cactus – worked without a hitch. One of the most amazing parts of the production was the choreography that allowed everything to get to the right place at the right time to complete the joke. It was a jigsaw work of art. 

This is the MUST SEE show for March and April!! 

A WOW factor of 9.25!! 

CUARENTA 7 OCHO

CUARENTA 7 OCHO (48) – Written and Directed by Anthony J. Garcia.  Produced by Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center (721 Santa Fe Drive, Denver) through March 23.  Tickets available at 303-296-0219 or suteatro.org. 

As a piece of nearly forgotten history, Tony Garcia’s script sheds light on those events without providing answers, as he himself confesses, “just speculation.”  As a theatrical evening, the same script entertains and supposes an interesting scenario at what “might” have happened back in 1974. 

In May of that year, in an effort to have their grievances heard, a group of Mexican American students took over an office building in Boulder on campus.  Anticipating being arrested and being able to make public statements when that happened, they were disappointed when the school administration basically ignored them and didn’t try to make them leave.  After two weeks and graduation which left the campus deserted, the stand-off was at a draw and the protesters began talking about standing down.  On the 27th of May, the night was shattered by the sound of a bomb going off near Chautauqua Park.  Three young Hispanic students were killed when their car exploded.  48 hours later, a second bomb was detonated in another part of town also killing three Hispanic students.  Theories abounded about how that could have happened.  Deliberate sabotage of their cars or accidental detonations by students planning their own acts of rebellion?? 

Tony’s script supposes one possible theory about what might have occurred in those 48 hours through the eyes of four students involved in those activities.  An act of kindness pulls one female student into the maelstrom of activity around these events and the story spills out.  Told in the language of the young and the imagery of the 70’s, this unsolved mystery gets a re-telling.  

Four young actors – Paola Miranda, Lucinda Lazo, Camilo Leura, and Brian Sanchez – illustrate the cross-section of students involved in the incident. Rosa is the novice, brought into the story almost by accident.  But because of her non-participation previously, she was the voice of the innocent to whom theories and history had to be explained.  Sylvia is the firebrand female – the voice of the angry.  Miguel is the intellectual one who knows the history and talks like he knows exactly what’s happening and how it’s going to end, if only everyone would listen to him.  Salcedo is angry but mostly just wants to get high.  They are abetted by three other characters who act as a sort of Greek chorus, adding to the story with impassioned speeches and music at graduation and memorials.  Davey Gonzalez, Nina Marti, and Natalie Fuentes fulfill their roles as the voice of the reasonable but angry students well.  You could see them becoming the negotiators as the protest winds down. 

From a purely historical standpoint, Su Teatro has upped its game in terms of technical support of its productions.  The evening is graced with projections that ominously mark the passage of time with periodic day and hour announcements projected against the walls accompanied by a ticking clock that creates a sense of anticipation.  Scenes in the second act take place in a forest clearing made realistic by a three dimensional yet surreal representation of trees with light filtering through to create an ominous “what’s going to happen in the woods?” kind of feeling.  The explosions are authentic and startling. 

 The twist at the end was kept a surprise even from the actors during rehearsals so that they would not inadvertently give it away earlier during the production.  Only days before opening, the last six pages of the script were given to them to learn. 

So is this what was actually going on?  Or was there something else operating behind the scenes?  You have now entered the Twilight Zone. 

A WOW factor of 8.5!! 

ELEANOR

ELEANOR – Written by Mark St. Germain ; Directed by Christine Kahane. Produced by Vintage Theatre (1468 Dayton St, Aurora) through March 27. Tickets available at 303-856-7830 or vintagetheatre.org. 

I have the deepest, most profound admiration for women (or men) like Jessica Robblee, Betty Hart, Billie McBride, Adrienne Martin-Fullwood and others who have the moxie to stand up on a stage alone with the thought in their mind that “I am going to tell this story and tell it well. Help me, Goddess!” Now we underline and rewrite the name of Deborah Persoff to that list. Deborah’s first solo outing (that I’ve seen) was an epic story about Rose, a Jewish woman who immigrated to Florida. Now in the cabaret setting of the Berg-Young Theatre in the lobby of Vintage, she lives out the high points of the life of Eleanor Roosevelt. 

Both Eleanor and Deborah have displayed amazing resilience and determination to live their lives to the fullest. They both seem to possess the ability to wield a hammer while wearing velvet gloves to quietly and with the gentlest possible public voice accomplish exactly what they think is the right thing to do. I’ve heard Deb’s backstage voice when she feels someone is being wronged (not necessarily herself) or something is bound to go wrong if it’s not changed. I’m guessing Mrs. Roosevelt possessed those same traits and that same determination. Based on what she accomplished during her long public life, we know of her outstanding philanthropic works and the changes she made that are still standing. Her acceptance of and work for all people of the United States and humanity at large is legend. No wonder Deb wanted to tell this story. 

Sitting quietly on a park bench, she begins by reading to the audience letters she found from Franklin to Lucy Mercer, her friend and Franklin’s lover. Then she went back to the beginning telling stories of her youth, her unusual courtship and subsequent marriage to Franklin Roosevelt and of being thrust into public life. She tells the stories through her own voice and those of others in her life, most notably Franklin’s disapproving mother. An early influence was Madame Marie Souvestre, her mentor at the Academy she attended as a girl in London. Imitations of Winston Churchill, Louis Howe (Franklin’s campaign manager and advisor), Alice Roosevelt (her cousin) and others sprinkle the story. 

Large projects, such as Eleanor’s commitment to civil rights and her work as delegate to the United Nations are explored, as well as small details, such as her and Franklin’s sterile but companionable relationship as man and wife and the care she gave him when he was first struck by a paralysis in his legs. Deb displays her pride in working with unions and in the work she did with those affected by World War Ii and returning veterans. 

Deborah’s quiet voice and joyful first person rendering of the stories of Eleanor’s life make for an enjoyable and enlightening portrait of a woman before her time. Most of us can only remember Eleanor as an older woman still representing woman’s issues and campaigning for Kennedy. This amusing and factual script gives us a view into the private musings of this First Lady to the World, as she was called. 

A WOW factor of 8.5!! 

A JUKEBOX FOR THE ALGONQUIN

A JUKEBOX FOR THE ALGONQUIN – Written by Paul Stroili; Directed by Len Matheo.  Produced by Miners Alley Performing Arts Center (1100 Miners Alley, Golden) through April 7.  Tickets available at 303-935-3044 or minersalley.com. 

When you are called upon to write about theatre in Denver, you soon run out of superlatives.  We are having such a good run of excellent shows.  But talk to ANYONE who has seen the current production at Miners Alley and you’ll hear the highest praise about this funny, touching, sarcastic, imaginative, funny (yes, I meant to say that twice) show.  The wonderfully “seasoned” performers in this show have a gift for throwing out a comic comeback or one-liner as if people really talked that way.  Most of us wish we were that quick and clever with a quip. 

As a lively senior myself with one foot in the nursing home, I hope I can find a place as convivial as Placid Acres and a group of comically intelligent folks as the quartet we get to know and love through this script.  Each player brings their own magic to the stage.  Abby Apple Boes does a short bit at the beginning as a daughter checking out the place potentially for her mother but is soon run off by Annie (Edith Weiss) and a decidedly pointed “survey” she administers to all newcomers.  But then Abby comes back as Peg, the new resident who must have the daily routines and how things work explained to her by the ones that have been there longer.  They consist of Annie, who delivers one-liners with a deadpan no-thought-to-it delivery that catches you off guard each time; Dennis, played by Chris Kendall in a wheelchair, whose grouchiness covers a heart of gold and a wicked sense of humor; and Johnny, given life by a sarcastic determined Dwayne Carrington.  Johnny has his daily routine that involves personal habits, doing the daily crossword puzzle, and gathering in the Algonquin Room for talk with his friends.  He knows how important that socialization is and that it’s the little acts of quiet rebellion that keep them all from descending into craziness.  

Abby as Peg is the peacemaker and the shaker who accidentally comes up with their scheme for making money to buy a jukebox for their part of the facility so they can have dances.  Johnny wants to dance with Lena Horn; Dennis wants to dance with Montgomery Cliff. When the group discovers that Peg’s patio has some very interesting plants left behind by the last resident, the men formulate a plan that the ladies – either through Catholic guilt or just plain fear of being caught – resist at first.  And then they don’t!  And then the fun starts. 

I have to say just a few more words about Edith Weiss as an actress.  She is so innocently funny with perfect timing that she makes you smile just watching her walk around the room.  Every move, every line seems so uncalculated and derive from her own sense of whimsy that you forget that she was ever involved in rehearsals.  She projects ditzy just by the way she looks at someone. I’m sure if it were her choice, she would be working constantly in play after play.  So, it must be her decision to only work when she has a worthy project. Use the occasion of this production to fall in love all over again with her. 

The cast is rounded out with Arlene Hicks as Josefina, the harried director of the facility in which they are housed; John Hauser with a decidedly Elvis-look to his demeanor as the handy man and friend to this group; and Paul Stroili as Chuck, the new custodian who is part of a rehabilitation program for ex-cons.  He has an interesting history that slowly reveals itself as he gets into the rhythm of the place and people.  All three enter into the humor of the situation yet remain appropriately a little separate from the residents.  But their individual stories also become part of the big picture of life at Placid Acres. 

I can’t tell you how much you fall in love with these feisty ol’ folk and enjoy the camaraderie they share with each other.  All of us wish for friends like this.  All of us – especially those who attend the theatre during matinees – hope that we have the companionship of people like this when our time comes for slowing down.  It’s heartening to see them controlling their own environment and creating a place that’s theirs and theirs alone.   

The Algonquin Room created by Scenic Designer Jonathan Scott-McKean and his crew is appropriately stark, yet hospital friendly.  The devise of an invisible fish tank is carried off well and creates funny differences in how each of the residents “feed” the fish.  Vance McKenzie’s lighting design creates a black-out that also creates chaos for the residents.  John Hauser’s sound design introduces the music they all long for.  The costumes by Crystal McKenzie are comfortable and casual – just what you would wear when no one cared much what you wore. 

If I were as good a writer as these people are actors, you would all be reaching for the phone to call for tickets.  EVERYONE I’ve talked to in the last two weeks since the show opened has raved about how delightful the whole experience was and how touchingly funny the characters carried off their parts and the brilliant words of the script.  We all enjoyed the added charm of having the playwright himself in the cast and I KNOW he must be pleased with what Miners Alley has done with his new script.   

The message you walk away with is that your quality of life is what you make it.  You can either enjoy your last years or live in sadness for the time gone by. This one is a true NOT-TO-BE-MISSED. 

A WOW factor of 9.25!!