Saturday, October 27, 2012

"Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins"

Rhonda Brown as Molly Ivins.  Photo Credit:  Ryan Gaddis, The LIDA Project

Playwrights:  Margaret and Allison Engel

VenueThe Laundry on Lawrence, 2701 Lawrence Street, Denver CO

CompanyThe LIDA Project

Date of Performance:  Saturday, October 27, 2012

Running Time:  85 minutes (no intermission).

First, I need to make something abundantly clear.  Molly Ivins was a liberal columnist.  This script is taken from some of her best writing.  It’s political.  Given the deep political divisions these days, roughly half the population would have no interest in the “kick ass” wit of anyone not of their political tribe.  So if you’re a conservative who didn’t or wouldn’t read Ivins under any circumstances, this show probably isn’t for you.

It’s for the rest of us.  And we LOVE it.

If you are not familiar with Ivins, she was a Texas liberal.   Yes, there is such a thing, but they should probably be on a “Politically Endangered List.”  Ivins delighted in the abundant material the Texas Republican Party showered upon her.  In return, she skewered them in print, working, at one time or another, at the HoustonChronicle (the “Cronk”), the TexasObserver, the New York Times, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.  Her column was syndicated to more than 300 other newspapers.

Rhonda Brown plays Ivins in what amounts to a one-woman show.  Carrying the entire show is a huge responsibility for any actor, but Brown nails it.  She becomes Ivins on the stage.  She has the Texas accent, the piss and the vinegar, and the comic timing to pull off Ivins.  Standing ovations are all too common, but Brown gets one here for bringing Ivins to life.  This standing ovation was sincere, immediate, and well earned.

The script could have been called “Molly Ivins Greatest Hits,” but that show would have run for days, not just 85 minutes.  I laughed until tears were running down my cheeks.  Yes.  It’s THAT funny.  I see a lot of theater, but rarely do I leave with my sides hurting from laughter.  Presuming you’re in the demographic that finds some humor in the antics of your political rivals, you’ll be laughing just as hard as I was.

Conservatives will not be as amused.  However, that could be because no one is ever going to write about the “kick ass” wit of the right leaning writers out there.  Think about it.  “The Kick Ass Wit of Ann Coulter?”  Not going to happen.  How about “The Best of Right Wing Humor featuring Ann Coulter?”  Nope.  How about “The Comedic Genius of Rush Limbaugh?”  Hardly.  I could go on, but I think I made the point.  Ivins was as unique as she was talented.

Ivins used jokes because they made people “open their ears.”  Not many writers or pundits use humor of any kind anymore.  It’s been replaced with hyperbole, distortion, insults, and volume. And we’re poorer for it.

We still need Molly…or at least someone like her.  As she taught us, we have more political power than any population in any country in history.  We’d be wise to make better use of that power.

Don’t take my word for it.  Whether you’re curious, interested, or passionate about the liberal political viewpoint, DO NOT miss this show.  It’s a very limited run, and the tickets will not last.  If you miss it, you will have missed a rare and wonderful theater experience.

This show is scheduled for an extremely limited run (October 25-28).  All the performances are sold out.  However, the run has been extended at the Aurora Fox for six additional performances (November 2-10).  If you’re interested in this production, get your tickets as far in advance as possible.  It will almost certainly sell out for the extended run.

Director/Artistic Director:  Brian Freeland  

Projection Designers:  Brian Freeland, Maya Ciarrocchi

Sound Designer:  Maximillian Peterson

Lighting Design:  Jacob Welch


Molly Ivins:  Rhonda Brown

The Helper:  Rhea Amos

Saturday, October 20, 2012

"The Thugs"

Photo credit:  Band of Toughs

Playwright:  Adam Bock

:  We’re House Performing Arts Center, 5763 Arapahoe Avenue, Unit P, Boulder, CO

CompanyBand of Toughs

Date of Performance:  Friday, October 19, 2012

Running Time:  90 minutes (no intermission).

Work is a four letter word.  We trade time for money.  We are expected to please the boss, even if he or she is clueless.  We put up with it despite the drudgery and the constant friction between the “leadership” and the assorted misfits who pass for co-workers.  It almost doesn’t matter what the workplace is; we sell our time and talent to the highest bidder and then try to survive a toxic environment, one day at a time. 

The Thugs” is a 90 minute visit with seven characters trapped in a modern “Myth of Sisyphus.”  It’s a little scary; I recognized many of the characters from my own work experience: 

·      The one who sucks up to the boss and snitches on the rest of us. 

·      The boss who is clueless. 

·      The slacker who pretends to work.

·      The one who whispers gossip, just to stir things up.

·      The co-worker who is a little crazy, takes credit for your work, and whines to the boss when he or she isn’t getting enough attention.

I know these people.  And chances are you do too.

Adam Bock’s script (he also authored one of my favorite new plays, "A Small Fire") tosses these “temp” worker stereotypes into a mind-numbing task:  reviewing class action documents at a law firm.  That task can suck the heart and soul out of any sane person. Mercedes (Colleen Mylott) and Elaine (Cynthia Ward) don’t start out with a particularly good grasp on their sanity.  The others start losing theirs as well as the focus turns from work to survival.

The performances here are spot on.  Colleen Mylott (Mercedes) is the perfect snitch.  She’s socially deficient, insecure, and on a never ending, but futile, search for acceptance.  Elaine (Cynthia Ward) is a perfect mix of pouty, provocative, and brief episodes of becoming slightly unhinged.  Laura Ann Samuelson (Daphne), the gum chewing slacker whose boyfriend knocks her around, is bound for tragedy.  Bart (Matt Madsen) is the crew’s gossiper, and he nails it. 

Fortunately, there is one temp who seems fairly normal.  Mary (Alana Eve Burman) tries unsuccessfully to bring the crazies back from the edge.  In one of the best scenes in the show, she takes a two minute vacation from the whole mess, putting on her headphones and dancing to the music in her head.  That two minute dance reminds us that we all need to escape the craziness from time to time, even if it’s just a brief respite. 

Director Rebecca Easton carefully paces the show by raising and lowering the lighting between scenes to demonstrate the passing of time.  Some of those scene changes resemble photographs; the characters are briefly seen posed in a realistic portrait.  The effect is quite extraordinary. 

Easton also makes creative use of the limitations of the warehouse space. The stairway needed to get backstage becomes an access to the rest of the world.  The banker boxes stored upstage provide seclusion for Joey to confront Daphne.  Easton injects abundant doses of reality into the entire performance; when the crew goes to lunch, they are eating real food at their desks and tables.

This production is a quirky, interesting venture into a working world we know.  It’s a place we go to every day, and escape from every night.  It doesn’t matter whether you work in a law office, a restaurant, a hospital, a school, or anywhere else.  You’ll see the same characters in every work place.  This play works because it holds up a mirror to our lives.

If you’re looking for interesting, edgy theater that will entertain you and perhaps enlighten you, check out “The Thugs.”  You will definitely enjoy the performances, the characters, and the tasks they have.  Heads up, though.  You may look at work differently on Monday morning when you punch in.


This show runs through Saturday, November 3, 2012.  If you haven’t been to this venue before (or to the nearby Avery Brewery), leave a little early.  It’s in a complex of small businesses, set back from the street.  Be careful where you park; some of the available spaces are reserved for other businesses. 

Director:  Rebecca Easton  

Production Designer:  Andrew Metzroth

Sound Designer:  David Ortolano


Diane:  Joan Bruemmer

Mary:  Alana Eve Burman

Chantal:  Gustine Fudickar

Joey:  Kevin Lowry

Bart:  Matt Madsen

Mercedes:  Colleen Mylott

Daphne:  Laura Ann Samuelson

Elaine:  Cynthia Ward

Monday, October 15, 2012

"The Giver"

Photo Credit:  Denver Center Theater Company.
Author:  Lois Lowry

Adapted for the stage by:  Eric Coble

:  The Ricketson Theatre, 1101 13th Street (Denver Performing Arts Center), Denver, CO

Date of Performance:  Saturday, October 13, 2012

Running Time:  1 hour, 15 minutes (no intermission).

“Utopia is that which is in contraction with reality” 
Albert Camus, “Between Hell and Reason.”

The Giver” gives us a view of an alternate reality, and that reality is someone’s version of Utopia.  It’s a perfect place.  All difficult decisions have been made years ago.  Correct decisions are imposed on the population, so no one has to suffer the consequences of his or her poor decisions.  Everyone is polite, happy, and without any substantial worries.

But this place is not really perfect.  Far from it.

Life here is programmed; there are no deviations.  Those who are deemed unsuitable for the community are “released.”  “Releasing” is a process for making certain that the unsuitable person will not create any disruption to the community.  Ever.

The Giver” is taken from Lois Lowry’s successful (Newbery Medal, 1994) novel of the same name.  The plot poses an important question for the 12 year old protagonist:  should he stay in his home, where he will never know love, emotions, color, or freedom, or should he run away to pursue a fuller life?  It’s a great premise, and “The Giver” tells the story through its target audience:  children.

My mixed feelings about this production require a disclaimer:  what follows is personal opinion.  Your personal opinion may differ, and that’s fine.  Take my opinion for what it’s worth.  If it’s worth nothing to you, feel free to discard it.  Opinions are subjective, and mine is as valid (or as invalid) as any other.

I very much liked the performance.  The actors were all very capable, and the child actors were especially so.  The set was eye popping.  When the backdrop lit up, I literally sat up straight in my seat.  The technical effects were impressive; it snowed on stage.  The lighting was imaginative.  Director Christy Montour Larson is a gifted director who has had an outstanding 2012 (see, for example, “9 Circles” and “Red”), and “The Giver” has her personal touch.  This is, in every sense, a production of the quality we all expect from the Denver Center Theatre Company (DCTC).
That said, though, I have reservations.  Those reservations are principally related to the script, over which the DCTC has no control. 

I may be old fashioned, but dystopian works, be they novels or plays, are more appropriate, in my view, for adults than children.  It’s not that I have a problem with children being exposed to subjects that require critical thinking on complicated subjects.  Quite the contrary, children should be encouraged early on to think outside the box and to challenge the world they will inherit.

My principle problem is that “The Giver,” along with some other contemporary dystopian works (for example, “The HungerGames”), involve the torture and/or murder of children.  I realize that kids now see more violence on TV and in video games than I’ve probably seen in my lifetime, but that doesn’t comfort me.  “The Giver” includes “releasing” a newborn identical twin baby.  Perhaps that doesn’t disturb children, but it disturbed me.

The DCTC has designated “The Giver” as part of its Youth Series.  DCTC offered workshops and study guides to teachers to help them effectively present “The Giver” to their students.  That’s a great service to teachers, but whether it’s a great service to students is an open question for me. 

That’s quite enough of my reluctance to expose children to such unpleasant concepts. So here’s a final thought about this script.  I found the last scene of the play abrupt, unexplained by the script, and unsatisfying.  Since I don’t do spoilers, you’ll have to see or read “The Giver” yourself to understand my objection. 

If you are wondering if I can recommend “The Giver,” the answer is yes.  It’s a dynamite production of a script I’m not crazy about.  You may disagree with my view of the script.  If so, you will definitely like this excellent DCTC production.


This show runs through Sunday, November 18, 2012. 

Director:  Christie Montour-Larson

Scenic Designer:  Robert Mark Morgan


Father:  Timothy McCracken

Mother:  Diana Dresser

Lily:  Aliza Fassett/Amelia Modesitt

Jonas:  Jackson Garske/Alastair Hennessy

Asher:  Gabe Koskinen-Sansone/Evan Sullivan

Fiona:  Brynn Gauthier/Isabel Sabbah

Chief Elder:  Billie McBride

The Giver:  Philip Pleasants

Voice of Speaker:  Hilary Blair

Sunday, October 14, 2012

"Visiting Mr. Green"

Playwright:  Jeff Baron

Cherry Creek Theatre, 2414 East 3rd Avenue, Denver, CO

Date of Performance:  Saturday, October 13, 2012

Running Time:  2 hours, 20 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).

Visiting Mr. Green” throws two unlikely characters together into a situation neither expects or enjoys.  Mr. Green, (Joey Wishnia) a retired dry cleaner, and Ross Gardiner (Cajardo Lindsey), a 29 year old corporate type, meet when Gardiner “almost” hits Green with his car as he crosses a street in New York City.  Gardiner’s community service sentence is to visit and assist Green once a week for six months.  The sentence apparently is meant to punish both of them.

Joey Wishnia
It turns out that both Green and Gardiner have hidden issues with their family relationships.  And therein lies the appeal and message of “Visiting Mr. Green.”  Chances are pretty good that we all have family relationship issues. “Visiting Mr. Green” holds up a mirror to the audience, provoking some soul searching about who we have loved, who we have lost, and whether we can ever recover from the broken relationships. 

Joey Wishnia must have a couple of rooms full of acting awards.  His resume includes work on several continents, and acting in no less than nineteen of Shakespeare’s plays.  As Mr. Green, he is a cranky curmudgeon who recently lost his wife of 59 years.  He’s abrasive but approachable, self centered but compassionate.  Wishnia plays the role to the hilt, bringing a frisky playfulness to the character.

Cajardo Lindsey
Cajardo Lindsey (as Ross Gardiner) has his hands full with Wishnia’s Mr. Green.  Lindsey brings his own impressive resume to the Cherry Creek Theater (CCT) stage, and measures up extremely well with his older, experienced co-star.  There may well come a time when Lindsey’s resume will rival Wishnia’s.

The talent these two accomplished actors bring to the CCT stage make “Visiting Mr. Green” a powerful adventure.

A great theater experience does not always require the elaborate sets, special effects, and resources of a Broadway extravaganza.  A simple set, a thoughtful script, and a talented cast and crew can provide the necessary ingredients for an unforgettable evening of theater.  And that is exactly what you get here.

As CCT founder Mark Rossman pointed out before the show, audiences at Shakespeare’s original productions had no chairs.  Everyone stood through the whole performance.  It had to be pretty uncomfortable, but who among us wouldn’t have loved to see Shakespeare at the Globe…with or without comfortable seating?

The good news is that you won’t have to stand to see “Visiting Mr. Green” at CCT.  In fact, the chairs are quite comfortable.  That said, though, you will be watching the performance in what is normally a sales venue for exotic rugs. The lighting is minimal, as is the set.  There are no special effects, no curtains, and no microphones.  Nevertheless, in this unlikely minimal setting, theater magic happens.

Like Shakespeare at the Globe in 1599, Joey Wishnia and Cajardo Lindsey show us the power and the substance of theater done well.


This show runs through Sunday, October 28, 2012.  Parking is limited, and seating is general admission.  Arrive early enough to walk from nearby Cherry Creek Mall parking areas.

Producer/Director:  Pat Payne  

Set Designer:  Richard Pegg


Mr. Green:  Joey Wishnia

Ross Gardiner:  Cajardo Lindsey

Monday, October 8, 2012

"Avenue Q"

Princeton.  Photo Credit:  Boulder's Dinner Theatre

Music/Lyrics:  Robert Lopez & Jeff Marx

Book:  Jeff Whitty

Boulder’s Dinner Theatre, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, CO

CompanyBoulder’s Dinner Theatre, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, CO

Date of Performance:  Thursday, October 4, 2012

Running Time:  2 hours (includes 20 minute intermission).

Hypothetical question:  Assume you’re a producer of Broadway musicals.  Someone wants to pitch an idea to you.  It’s a contemporary musical, using puppets, and it’s described as “Sesame Street Meets South Park.”  It’s got everything:  music, humor, satire, sarcasm, gay puppets, monsters, racism, and it asks the musical question:  “What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?”  (The irony of asking that question in Boulder was not lost on the audience.)

Oh.  It also has puppets doing naughty things.

So…as a producer, do you green light this project and invest millions of dollars in it?  No…of course you wouldn’t.  Neither would I. 

And we would both be wrong. 

Avenue Q” won the Tony Awards “Triple Crown” (Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book) in 2004.  And as Boulder’s Dinner Theatre amply demonstrates, “Avenue Q” deserves the awards, recognition, and praise that have been heaped on it since its debut.
The plot is Sesame Street simple.  Princeton (Brett Ambler) is an unemployed twenty something college graduate lost in the city and looking for his “Purpose.”  Boy puppet Princeton meets girl puppet Kate Monster (Ellen Kaye).  Girl puppet falls in love with boy puppet.  You can probably see where this is going, but revealing more would spoil the fun. 

The entire production is first rate from start to finish.  The two-story set is both impressive and functional.  The lights, sound, and live music are seamless.  And the stars of the show, the puppets, are colorful, creative, and in their own way, beautiful. 

But the not so secret ingredient here is the cast that Director Scott Beyette has put on the BDT stage.  Actors in “Avenue Q” do not just deliver their lines.  They perform as if they are the puppets, bringing their characters alive through a hand held prop.  It’s amazing to watch; the cast here totally blurs the line between puppet and actor.  They become one presence with two parts. 

BDT Avenue Q Cast.  Photo Credit:  Boulder's Dinner Theatre
This is a very strong ensemble; there is no weak link.  They bring the right mix of playfulness (“It Sucks to Be Me,” “My Girlfriend Lives in Canada,” “I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today”) and emotion (“A Mix Tape,” “It’s a Fine, Fine Line”) to the music.  They are high energy, talented actors, and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  They are truly a pleasure to watch on the BDT stage.

Neal Dunfee’s live musicians are hidden behind the set; they are heard but not seen.  That’s a shame, because they are pitch perfect. 

Avenue Q” is not exactly a conventional Broadway musical.  It’s NOT “The Sound of Music.”  It delves into some sensitive subjects (“If You Were Gay,” “The Internet is for Porn”), and it offends nearly everybody (“Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist”)Avenue Q” is a risky offering for Boulder’s Dinner Theatre.  Producing Artistic Director Michael Duran deserves a great deal of credit for bringing it to the BDT stage. 

I probably wouldn’t have invested in the original concept.  That would explain why I’m neither a Broadway producer nor wealthy beyond my wildest dreams.  I would have totally missed the boat on a genuine hit show.  

Avenue Q” may not be for everybody, but for Boulder’s Dinner Theatre company, this production is an artistic triumph.  For the rest of us, it is a rare and special treat.  If you don’t have tickets, get them.  Now. 


This show runs through Saturday, November 3, 2012.  This production includes adult themes and adult language.  Not recommended for children. 

For those who prefer family friendly fare, Boulder’s Dinner Theatre has often brought you great theater, such as “Cinderella.” 

Families will also be pleased with upcoming productions of “The Gift,” and “The Differentest School of All.”  Both productions are part of Boulder’s Dinner Theatre “Kids Kabaret” program.) 

If “Avenue Q” is not for you, book the family for any of the “Kids Kabaret” programs, or “42nd Street” (opens November 9, 2012) or “The Wizard of Oz (Summer 2013).

Director/Choreographer:  Scott Beyette  

Costume Design:  Linda Morken

Music Conductor:  Neal Dunfee


Princeton/Rod:  Brett Ambler

Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut:  Ellen Kaye

Trekkie Monster/Nicky/Boy Bad Idea Bear:  Seth Caikowski

Gary Coleman:  Ashlie-Amber Harris

Brian:  Scott Beyette/Brian Jackson

Christmas Eve:  MariJune Scott

Mrs. Thistletwat/Girl Bad Idea Bear:  Tracy Warren