Monday, April 23, 2012

"Forever Plaid"

Playwright:  Stuart Ross

Venue:  John Hand Theater, 7653 E. 1st Place, Denver, CO
Companies:  Firehouse Theater Company, Spotlight Theater Company (co-production of both companies)

Date of Performance:  Sunday, April 22, 2012

Disclaimer:  I was one of the throngs of Coloradans who saw “Forever Plaid” at the Galleria Theater in the 1990s.  I saw it multiple times, going back from time to time to share it with friends who hadn’t seen it.  In short, I’m a “Plaid Fan.”  Just wanted to make that clear up front.

I’ll also make clear up front that I truly enjoyed this show.  I laughed.  I sang along with Harry Belafonte’s “Matilda.”  Johnny Ray’s classic “Cry” brought me to the edge of my seat.  I was toe tapping to “Crazy ‘bout ya baby.”  And the audience, me included, loved it all.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it involves four young, eager male singers killed in a car crash in the 1950's on the way to their first big concert.  Lucky for us, though, the have been trapped between life and death long enough to come back and do one great farewell concert.  It’s the “goodbye” concert that they never got to do in life.

That story line may sound a little weak (because it is), but “Forever Plaid” is not really about the story.  It’s about the unforgettable music.  It’s about the innocence of the 1950s (real or imagined).  It’s about a time when, in retrospect, everything was better.  At least that’s how we want to remember it.

“Forever Plaid” requires a highly talented cast.  It requires strong voices that blend into stunning harmonies.  And this cast is so close, but the harmonies could have been tighter.  The cast has the energy, the timing, the moves, the charm, and the humor that makes for a great time. 

Pat Payne’s direction had all the right moves, and the sound and light designs were functional. 

“Forever Plaid” is a Denver area favorite; I’m sure tens of thousands of us saw it in its two runs at the Denver Performing Arts Center.  If you loved “Forever Plaid” at the Galleria, you will enjoy this show at the John Hand Theater.  It’s two hours of non-stop fun, music, and memories. 

NOTE:  This is a family show.  Bring the kids, even if they don’t think they’ll like the ancient harmonies they have never heard on rap radio.

This show runs through May 13, 2012.

Director:  Pat Payne


Timothy Kennedy (Frankie)
Paul Jaquith (Sparky)
Adam Shelton (Jinx)
Ken Paul (Smudge)
Trent Hines (Keyboards)

Saturday, April 21, 2012



Playwright:  Luciann Lajoie

Venue:  Off Center @the Jones, in the Denver Performing Arts Center, 1245 Champa Street, Denver, CO

Date of Performance:  Friday, April 20, 2012

Single white female, 32. Creative, educated, intelligent, funny, sexy, confident but vulnerable. 
Looking for:  intelligent, single male, 25-35, with a sense of humor, a real job, and no felony convictions.  Work as a fashion model is a plus.  Contact LJL.

OK. I admit it.  I made that up.  But it’s actually a pretty good approximation of Luci’s internet profile, and her internet dating dilemma.  Luci is Luciann Lajoie, the writer, researcher, and the only performer in the one-woman show “Date.” 

Well, maybe not “the only performer.”  Luci has interviewed more than 100 internet daters and collected their stories of the modern dating minefield.  Their stories are told through video cameos done by local actors.  In reality, each of these video actors is in the cast, but only in their electronic form.  It’s a nice irony; actors in electronic form representing real people who date in an electronic forum.

The story is a simple one:  it’s a dating JUNGLE out there.  Everyone lies on his or her profile.  Photoshop your face…or any other flaw.  Favorite book?  Google “list of books men like.”  Cut and paste.  It’s not necessary to read it first. 

But it’s not just about the internet rituals.  It’s also about the real life meet ups.  Making your first impression in person…figuring out what to wear (little black dress, perhaps), where to go, what to say.  And most importantly, you have to remember what you already revealed online.  The true stuff is easy to remember; the other stuff is a little more tricky.

One-person performances are difficult, especially when the subject is basically, well, you.  Autobiographical.  It can easily come off as self-serving, indulgent, and vain.  Not here, not her.  Not Luci.  She reveals herself (literally) so we can see her vulnerability and her pain.  We learn that the magician dressed in purple that she met up with rejected her!  Yes.  She didn’t even get a chance to say “this isn’t going to work.”

And we can see that while it IS about Luci, at least superficially, it’s also about the real dating victims out there.  The one who was attacked on her first date.  The one discovered that her date lied about his profile on  Turns out he wasn’t really Jewish.  And it’s about the one whose online boyfriend scammed her out of $500,000.  Really.

There’s hope though.  At least one of the 100 interviews ended well.  I won’t spoil it, but you’ll be relieved to know that you really can find love online.

I’m in the demographic (married) that doesn’t need to worry about the dating scene, online or otherwise.  That said, though, I don’t think dating was ever a picnic, and meeting people in bars, churches, and coffee shops was risky well before internet dating started.  So I’m not sure I’m learning anything new, but “Date” definitely reminds of something true:  be careful out there.  Finding Mr. or Ms Right is a crapshoot.  And internet or not, old or young, gay or straight, white, black, or brown, it’s always a lot harder than it looks.

Bottom line:  Luci is funny, cute, smart, and engaging.  And she has something to say.
NOTE:  This is not a family show.  In fact, it probably has the most value to those who are, or who have been, involved in internet dating.
This show runs through May 6, 2012.

Director:  Ashlee Temple

Cast:  Luciann Lajoie (“LJL”)

Friday, April 20, 2012



Playwright:  Pete Townshend & Des McAnuff (book)

Music/lyrics:  Pete Townshend, John Entwhistle, Keith Moon

Venue:  Littleton Town Hall Arts Center, Littleton CO

Date of Performance:  Thursday, April 19, 2012

Rock. Opera. 

The Who pretty much invented the genre when they released “Tommy” in April, 1969.  It’s not exactly opera, but it’s definitely rock and roll.  It was a radical concept then.  It’s much less radical now, 40 years later, but “Tommy” is still a theatrical feast for the eyes and ears.

The story line is, well, not Shakespeare.  It does a decent job of stringing the songs together, which is the goal for a rock opera plot.  The story is somewhat darker than one might expect from rock and roll rebels like The Who.  Be prepared for some implied sexual abuse of the young Tommy.  But in the end, this show is about the music more than the story.

So…how was the show?  It was marvelous.  The production values, the cast, the set, the music (a five piece live band), the lights, all came together to create the mood and the music of The Who…and “the when” from 1940 to 1963. 

The entire ensemble is an energetic mix of acting and dancing talent, but Tommy is clearly the center of attention.  Russell Mernagh’s Tommy is splendid; his powerful voice, charismatic stage presence, and remarkable resemblance to a young Roger Daltry are precisely the ingredients one needs for this role.  Add his facial expressions, ranging from bleak depression to a charming and disarming smile, and you can easily see that he fully embraces Tommy.

Dakoda Hubert plays Tommy as a boy, and his performance is no less engaging than Mernagh’s.   In fact, the two of them share the stage at times, and Hubert holds his own with Mernagh and the rest of the ensemble.  And that’s high praise indeed for a sixth grader.

The set is imaginative, the choreography is inventive, and the band is fantastic.  Donna Debreceni, Music Director, knows how to put together a smoking hot band.  The sound was set to just the right volume; rock music can tend to blow away eardrums closer than the third row.  Not so here.  The volume was ample but never overwhelmed the actors.

I do have a couple of minor issues with the production.  First, the sound, while overall done very well, suffered occasionally from brief squeals of feedback.  Second, I was sitting in the last row, but at times the lighting was directed at the audience.  Perhaps, given the rock show nature of the staging, this was unavoidable.  Nevertheless, there were times when I was blinded, even in the remotest part of the room, by brief doses of what seemed to be landing lights for a 747.  Not only was that uncomfortable, but it made it impossible to make out the actors on the stage until the lights changed and my eyes readjusted to the darkness usually reserved for the audience.

If you’re looking for a great time, with great music, done by a talented cast and crew, get a ticket for “Tommy.”  You’ll walk out humming…

”Right behind you, I see the millions,

On you, I see the glory,

From you, I get opinion,

From you, I get the story…”

And when you leave a musical but can’t get the songs out of your head, well, that means it worked.  It really worked.

NOTE:  This is not a family show.  (There’s drug use and implied sexual abuse.)  That said, though, most kids aren’t really that interested in ancient rock and roll from the 1960s anyway.  So find some adults to go with and celebrate the 60s. 

This show runs through May 6, 2012.

Director/Choreographer:  Nick Sugar

Music Director:  Donna Debreceni

Tommy:                        Russell Mernagh
Captain Walker:          Markus Warren
Mrs. Walker:                 Lisa Finnerty
Uncle Ernie:                 Rob Janzen
Cousin Kevin:              Matt LaFontaine
Young Tommy:            Dakoda Hubert

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"A Small Fire"

"A Small Fire"

Playwright:  Adam Bock

Venue:  The Edge Theater, 9797 W. Colfax Avenue, Lakewood CO

Produced by:  The EdgeTheatre Company

Date of Performance:  Monday, April 9, 2012

"A Small Fire" at the Edge Theater has turned into a fairly large hit.  And for good reason.  It's an intelligent, probing drama with a very strong cast.  The set is flexible and formidable.  The sound and lighting are superb.  The costumes are first rate.  And it's obvious that the director has a strong connection with the actors.  He has coaxed, coached, and inspired his cast to reach deep inside themselves to give their maximum on the intimate Edge stage.
I don't want to disclose too much about the plot; I'd rather you see it for yourself, without a lot of background, just as I did.  That said, though, you will see a mature married couple, Emily and John Bridges, deal with a crisis that will change, and possibly end, their relationship.  It starts with "a small fire," of sorts; a dish cloth or a napkin left near a burner on the stove.  The small fire is easily extinguished, but the larger crisis has only begun.
And as the crisis overtakes Emily and John, we see a below average marriage become a better, stronger, and more meaningful relationship.  That result is not mandatory; the relationship could just as easily have disintegrated.  But it doesn't.  And that is why this play is so powerful.
Sometimes life gives us challenges for which there is no User's Guide, no Owner's Manual, no right or wrong answers.  We must deal with those challenges the best way we can.  How we respond to a crisis will ultimately define our relationships and ourselves.  And so it is for Emily and John.  They are challenged, and they are defined by their responses to that challenge.
Paul Page and Kirsten Brant become John and Emily.  They are both gifted actors, and they deliver outstanding portrayals of both the desperate and the tender moments in "A Small Fire."  And they do something else.  They connect with the audience.  You can feel their pain.  You can sense their fear.  You witness their intimacy.  And you may even have a tear in your eye at times.  Their performances are that good.
Haley Johnson and Christian Mast are also accomplished actors who deliver strong performances.  Johnson's petulant, brooding "Jenny" is a Daddy's girl who has little patience with her mother.  Mast is the brash but immature "Billy" who is totally loyal to Emily.  Even when he screws up and she verbally berates him, he is not just her employee.  He's her best friend.
John and Billy have an important scene in which Billy is trying to connect with John as a friend as well.  Something he says to John provokes a powerful response:  John says of Emily..."she's leaving me."  Three simple, powerful words that are ironically both true and false at the same time.  Those three words, delivered with all the sincerity and drama Paul Page can muster, tell us all we need to know.  The crisis will consume Emily. 
"A Small Fire" gives us the chance to reflect on the question "what would I do?" in John's circumstances.  None of us really knows the answer, nor does John know what to do, for that matter.  But we can all put ourselves in his shoes, and wonder what the right answers are.
I see a lot of local theater productions.  This one is different.  It's in a class by itself.  It's not just a performance.  It's an experience.  It's personal.  And it's a game changer.
"A Small Fire" only runs through April 15.  My advice:  SEE THIS SHOW.  If you don't see any other local theater this year, go to this one.  You  will be entertained.  You will be challenged.  And maybe, just maybe, you will be changed.  Forever.

NOTE:  This show includes adult themes and adult language.  Regardless, I would recommend it to all, including mature teenagers.
This show runs through April 15, 2012.

Director:  Robert Kramer
Kirsten Brant ("Emily Bridges")
Paul Page ("John Bridges")
Haley Johnson ("Jenny Bridges")
Christian Mast ("Billy")

Sunday, April 8, 2012

"Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche"

"Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche"

Playwrights:  Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood

Venue:  Wesley Chapel, 1290 Folsom St., Boulder

Date of Performance:  Friday, April 6, 2012

If there were a prize for the most interesting title of a play, I'd nominate "Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche."  Try to get THAT image out of your head.  So here's some inside information for the curious:  five lesbians eating a quiche.  That's what this play is about.  You will get to see precisely what the title promises.  And you will be engaged, entertained, and impressed with those five southern belles when they get together in 1956 for their annual quiche breakfast.  
It's the annual meeting of the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein, and there are 50 quiches entered into the contest for "Quiche of the Year."  All are perfect variations on the perfect food (the egg), and all are meatless.  If this sounds like fun, you're right.  It's knee slapping, belly laughing, eye rolling fun from start to finish.  
The Wesley Chapel is not really a "theater," and the space is very limited.  The audience is virtually on stage with the actors.  To her credit, Rebecca Easton's direction makes the maximum use of the limited space.  She makes the audience feel like part of the performance.  And in a way, the audience IS part of the performance, if only by being inches away from the performers at times.  I sat in the first row at this performance, and I could smell the delicious aroma of the prize winning quiche.  Whoever bakes the quiche for the show should be listed in the program credits.  Add some slices to the concessions and give "bake sale" a whole new meaning.   I know I would have bought a slice, as I enjoy a good quiche as well as the next guy...or gal. 
And the five thespians/lesbians?  All talented actresses who play it over the top from start to finish.  This is a show where "overacting" may be a requirement, not a detriment.  While all the performances are delightful, Emily K. Harrison ("Dale") stands out as the lesbian martyr.  Lori Lee Wallace ("Ginny") literally "takes the cake."  Or should I say "takes the quiche?"  Her enthusiasm for prize winning breakfast food is titillating.
The Square Product Theatre Company asks little of its audience.  If you come to the show with an open mind and a sense of humor, you will be entertained.  In fact, you may not have laughed this hard in a very long time.  But they do ask the audience not to divulge specifics about the show, so that others may fully enjoy it.  So, no spoilers here.  But if you're looking for a rollicking good time, get some tickets for you and your boyfriend, or girlfriend, or both. "Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche" will not disappoint you or your date(s).

NOTE:  This is not a family show.  It includes adult themes and adult language.  
This show runs through April 28, 2012.

Director:  Rebecca Easton

Cast: Joan Bruemmer, Emily K. Harrison, Laurie Lynch, Michelle Moore and Lori Lee Wallace

Monday, April 2, 2012

"Confessions of a Mormon Boy"

Confessions of a Mormon Boy

Playwright:  Steven Fales

Venue:  Denver’s Dangerous Theater, Denver CO

Date of Performance:  Saturday, March 31, 2012

Yes, this really is a one man show about a gay Mormon guy, and yes, it’s really a true story.  How could you miss with a premise like that?

Easy.  Unless you’re a talented, confident, engaging, honest, and compelling performer, the risks are off the charts.  Steven Fales is all of the above, and more.  He’s the writer, the director, the actor, and the producer.  He doesn’t run the concessions, but he does everything else.  And he does it all very well.

Fales recounts his Mormon upbringing, his “sexual disorientation,” and his failed attempts to conform to his religious beliefs.  He did his mandatory missionary work in Portugal as a young man, and confessed his sexuality to his church elders.  He went through counseling, but he could never be the man his family and church expected.  His Mormon elders excommunicated him because there is no such thing as a gay Mormon. 

He gives us a very personal look into his marriage to Emily, his love of his two children, and his ultimate inability to be straight in a religious culture that permits nothing but straightness.  We see him selling his body to wealthy gay men in New York, trading his dignity for dollars.  It is a complete transformation from religious family man to drug addled prostitute.

The set is sparse; a weight bench and a coat rack for a costume change.  It’s all Steven, all the time.  Ninety minutes of sharing, caring, and brutal honesty.  And not once during those ninety minutes can you look away.  You will be engaged from Steven’s first line and his first smile.
Ironically, in the end, Steven is still a Mormon.  His faith rejects him, but he does not reject his faith.  

How is that possible?  I don’t have an answer, and Steven provides us none.  Faith is personal, and Steven has his, even though he does not fit in the Mormon religion or lifestyle.  His capacity for love, forgiveness, and understanding is far greater than his Mormon elders displayed to him.

This is a story about universal values:  love, family, rejection, loss, and ultimately, acceptance.  Some of it is funny, and some of it is painful to watch.  All of it is honest.  Fale’s tale gets its power from these values and his willingness to share the most intimate moments in his life.  

And that, frankly, is what the theater experience is all about.

Unfortunately, this show runs for a single weekend.  That’s a shame.  It should be required viewing for every adult who has ever struggled with life, with sex, with love, with family, or with faith.  Oh. Wait.  That’s all of us.

NOTE:  This is not a family show.  It includes adult themes some vulgarity.  All of which makes it an excellent choice for Denver’s “dangerous” theater.

This show runs through April 1, 2012.

Cast:            Steven Fales as himself