Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bill's Best...A Look Back at 2012

Bill’s Best of 2012.

I created my “Theater Colorado” blog in March 2012, so I’ve been writing reviews of Denver area theater productions for nearly a year.  I’ve posted 32 reviews, which is far short of all the available theater out there.  I’m shooting for 50 reviews in 2013, but even that number is only a sampling of the theater buffet in Colorado.

In any event, I thought (granted, not exactly an original thought) that I should summarize the best of the shows I actually saw and reviewed this year.  This should not be taken as the “best” of Denver theater this year; it’s the “best” of what I saw this year.  It’s one person’s opinion, hopefully as valid as the next person’s opinion.

So here it is…”Bill’s Best of 2012.”

Bill’s Best of 2012:  Best Dramas

A very difficult category; three productions touched me deeply.  It’s like picking your favorite child.  It can’t be done.  So here are the three outstanding productions that I’ll never forget.  They are in no particular order.  Each could stand alone at the top of the list.

1.  “A Small Fire.”  The Edge Theater Company.

The script is a powerful statement about love, loss, and facing our mortality and preserving our relationships.  Kirsten Brandt’s performance, as she literally loses her senses before our eyes, was stunning.  Paul Page played her perplexed, compassionate husband with unusual delicacy.  “A Small Fire” was an unforgettable evening of theater.

2.  “The Laramie Project.”  Evergreen Players.

The tragedy of Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder in 1998 is compelling; the Evergreen Players made it moving and heartbreaking.  Director Angela Astle put together a fabulous cast and made the most of their many talents.  Each actor seamlessly played multiple characters, using simple props and costume variations for each character.  They brought themselves, and the audience to tears as they told the story of an unforgettable hate crime.

3.  “9 Circles.”  Curious Theatre Company.

Bill Cain’s script takes us to the heart of darkness…the March, 2006 massacre at Mahmudiyah Iraq.  The horror of war is brought home in this dark look into the soul of each of us.  How can we endure, much less justify, the atrocities committed in our name?  We can’t.  And that is an ugly, repugnant reality we rarely have to acknowledge.  “9 Circles” delivered that repugnant reality to us.  And I, for one, was both horrified and grateful for the experience.

Bill’s Best of 2012:  Best Musical

The Who’s Tommy.”  Littleton Town Hall Arts Center.

The perfect Pinball Wizard.  Where better to see a classic rock opera than in a small venue?  Think great music, played loudly, costumes ranging from flashy to trashy, and a talented cast of singers, dancers, and actors.  Mix in a smoking live band directed by Donna Debreceni, and you’ve got a rocking great evening of musical theater.

Honorable Mentions

Avenue Q,” Boulder’s Dinner Theatre. 

Spring Awakening,” Ignite Theatre.

Bill’s Best of 2012:  Best Comedy

Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche.”  Square Product Theater Company.

Laugh out loud funny, “Five Lesbians” put on a comedy clinic at each performance.  Director Rebecca Easton managed to turn the tiny Wesley Chapel space into a 1950s era bomb shelter with pastries.  The cast not only played their roles to the “hilt,” but obviously had a great deal of fun doing so.  I’ll never look at quiche the same way again, and that’s a good thing.

Honorable Mention

The Misanthrope,” Germinal Stage Denver.

Bill’s Best of 2012:  Best Actor
Sean Scrutchins, “9 Circles.”  Curious Theatre Company.

The script of “9 Circles” is a gem, and Sean Scrutchins role as Daniel Reeves is an actor’s dream.  Scrutchins put his entire being into the role. He became Daniel Reeves for an hour and half each night, and gave us an unforgettable, conflicted, and complicated character.  Reeves crimes were horrendous; the script is based on a true story.  Scrutchins gave us insight into why and how he went over to the dark side, and what it’s like to live with his reality.  This was a marvelous breakout performance for Scrutchins. 

Honorable Mention

Joey Wishnia, “Visiting Mr. Green.”  Cherry Creek Theater

Bill’s Best of 2012:  Best Actress

Rhonda Brown, “Red Hot Patriot:  The Kick Ass Wit of Molly Ivins.”  The LIDA Project.

Molly Ivins was a liberal Texas journalist with a razor sharp wit and a penchant for pot stirring.  She skewered Texas politicians with a wink and smile.  Rhonda Brown brought her back to life in a one woman show for the LIDA project.  Brown’s Ivins is brilliant, complicated, and tragic.  Brown delivered flawless performances (I saw it twice) that entertained, enlightened, and endeared her to audiences.  

Honorable Mention

Kirsten Deane, “Bug.”  Devil’s Thumb Theater Company.

Bill’s Best of 2012:  Best Ensemble Cast

The Laramie Project.”  Evergreen Players.

Twelve actors took on multiple roles to tell the story of Matthew Shepard’s 1998 murder.  They created all the characters seamlessly, moving from one to the next with ease.  Their performances were heartfelt, and the effect was stunning.  No one left the theater without leaving some tears behind.

Honorable Mention:  

Avenue Q.”  Boulder’s Dinner Theatre.

Bill’s Best of 2012:  Best Director.

Christy Montour Larson.  “9 Circles,” “Red” (Curious Theatre); “The Giver” (Denver Center Theater Company)

No contest.  No other director had a 2012 like Christy Montour Larson.  Many directors won’t have a career like Montour Larson’s 2012.  She challenged audiences and actors alike with her work at Curious Theatre.  She entertained and enlightened kids and adults alike with “The Giver.”  She had a truly marvelous 2012.

Honorable Mention

Angela Astle, “The Laramie Project.”  Evergreen Players.

Monday, December 10, 2012

"The Miracle of Tepeyac"

Playwright:  Anthony J. Garcia

:  Su Teatro, 721 Santa Fe Dr. Denver, CO

Date of Performance:  Sunday, December 9, 2012 (matinee)

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

Let’s be clear.  I’m not in Su Teatro’s target demographic.  By that I mean that my heritage is European (Irish, German), I’m not Catholic, and I don’t speak Spanish.  Despite my cultural, religious and linguistic differences, I totally enjoyed “The Miracle at Tepeyac.”

Culturally specific theater can also be universal in its message.  “The Miracle at Tepeyac” embraces the universality of faith, family, and redemption.  And therein lies its appeal and its power.

Playwright/Director/Executive Artistic Director Anthony Garcia bases his script on a 16th century miracle.  He not only tells the story of the miracle, but he throws in a few contemporary references (”There are no immigration laws in God’s house.”) to put a contemporary spin on the story.  Padre Tomas is a priest who is losing his faith; he can’t reconcile his spiritual duties with the social activism his flock seeks. 

For those who need more background on the plot, you might look here.  However, if you like good theater, you won’t need the background to enjoy this show.  “The Miracle at Tepeyac” is very good theater, and like all good theater, it succeeds no matter what heritage, religion, or historical knowledge you bring to the performance.

Impressive performances abound here.  Lara Gallegos (Virgen de Guadalupe) plays a statue with occasional lines; she maintains the statue pose like, well, a statue.  Gustavo Alonso (Juanito) brings a perfect mix of compassion, comedy, and charm to his role as the custodian of the church.  Aaron Vieyra (Juan Diego) skillfully portrays a persistent yet simple peasant who brings the Archbishiop a message of faith from the Virgin.

Jesse Orgas (Archbishop Zumarraga) and Marcos R. Martinez (Padre Tomas) give us conflicted religious leaders struggling to lead their people through difficult situations.  Their performances earn our sympathy for their struggles. Amy Luna (Señora Maria) is the maternal influence for the cast and for the audience; she anchors the church activities while riding herd on Juanito. 

The show opens and closes with indigenous native dancing provided by Grupo Tlaloc.  Don’t miss it; the dancing alone is worth the price of admission.

I had to come out of my cultural comfort zone for “The Miracle at Tepeyac.”  I had to look into the lives of others with whom I thought I had little in common.  I was wrong.  We have a lot in common. 

You may want to come out of your own cultural comfort zone too.  It can be a richly rewarding experience discovering what we ALL have in common.

Su Teatro has recently taken a big step forward that will help it remain a part of the Denver theater scene.  They have provided a valuable cultural outlet to a substantial part of the Denver community, and they will continue to do so in the future.  However, their message is not just for part of the community; it is for all of us.  Denver has two theater companies that serve distinct communities, and they both make Denver a better place to live.  Su Teatro and Phamaly provide enormous cultural benefits to all of Denver.

Theater, when done well, is universal.  It touches everyone who sees it.  Su Teatro is doing very good theater, and “The Miracle of Tepeyac” touched me deeply.  It will touch you too.


This show runs until December 23, 2012.  Performances are on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday evenings, and Sunday matinees.  You might want to reserve your tickets early, the 300 or so seats in the theater were packed at the December 9 performance.

This show is suitable for and recommended to children of all ages.  The music lyrics are in Spanish but most of the script is in English.  You don’t need to be bilingual to understand and enjoy the show. 

For the best view, sit in the back half of the house.  Arrive early; parking can be difficult in this neighborhood.

Director:  Anthony J. Garcia

Lara Gallegos:  Virgen de Guadalupe

Aaron Vieyra: Juan Diego

Jesse Orgas:  Archbishop Zumarraga

Gustavo Alonso:  Juanito

Amy Luna:  Señora Maria Galbadon

Marcos R. Martinez:  Padre Tomas

Ray Salas:  Kevin

Gia Valverde:  Cassandra

Camilo Luera:  Julian

Angelina Gurule, Yolanda Ortega, Frank Fresquez:  Coro

Veronica Ramirez, Heather Arellano, Manuel Cabral, Luzila Contreras:  Indian Dancers.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

"The Perfect Gift"

"Winter" (Winter Maza) & "Stacia" (Winnie Wenglewick) 
Playwright:  Winnie Wenglewick

Denver’s Dangerous Theatre, 2620 W. 2nd Ave #1, Denver, CO

Date of Performance:  Friday, November 30, 2012 (opening night)

Running Time:  1 hours, 10 minutes (no intermission).

Local Christmas productions tend to be either comical or traditional.  “The Perfect Gift” at Denver’s Dangerous Theatre is neither; it breaks the mold by offering us something totally different for this holiday season.

The Perfect Gift” brings back our memories of the childhood holiday traditions we knew; picking out a live Christmas tree, decorating it (lights first) with perfectly placed tinsel.  Back in the day, we spent quality family time together, and argued about whether the perfect tree had long needles or short ones. 

We cherish these memories, but these days Christmas is about material things: shopping, with those supposedly “perfect” holiday gifts appearing on store shelves right after Labor Day.  Just as Stacia (Winnie Wenglewick) struggles with the holidays, so do we.  The meaning is lost in the rush to finish the shopping, the wrapping, the Christmas cards.  We forget the real values of the season.

Stacia is not a happy person; in fact, she’s pretty miserable.  Her friendship with Winter (Winter Maza), a homeless guy with an invisible friend, seems to be the only relationship she cares about.  Winter invites Stacia to his traditional holiday festivities under a bridge with his equally homeless and totally gay friend APJ (j. nick dickert).  It is when Stacia sets the table for three that things start to come into focus for her. 

Without giving away too much of the story, I’ll just say that Stacia learns some things with her homeless friends, and so do we.  Life, love, and loss are universal.  And the holiday season is a great time to stop and think about those we have loved, and those we have lost.  Could it be that by thinking of them, remembering them, and talking to them from time to time, they are not really lost at all? 

Winter Maza and j. nick dickert are convincingly homeless and convincingly wise.  They bring a streetwise sassiness to their roles, and smiles to the faces in the audience.  They have very little (being homeless is even less glamorous than it sounds), but they live a life they choose.  Stacia, on the other hand, lives a life chosen for her by others.     

Winnie Wenglewick does it all here; she’s the playwright, the director, and the female lead actor.  She does all of it well, but she absolutely shines on the stage as Stacia.  She delivers her final speech alone on the stage with all the emotion she can muster.  We can feel her love, and her loss.  She brings herself and the audience to tears.  It’s powerful.  It’s personal.  And it’s memorable.

The Perfect Gift” is “perfect” if you’re looking for something different for the holidays.  It’s not a “wonderful life.”  It’s a real life, and it’s a real holiday.  It may not restore your faith in Christmas, but it will focus you on what really matters at the holidays. 

And for me, that’s a perfect gift for any season.

This show runs until December 23.  Performances on:  Thursday (December 13 & 20), Friday and Saturday evenings, and Sunday matinees (brunch included with tickets).  Mature themes and salty language.

Director:  Winnie Wenglewick


Winter Maza:  Winter

Winnie Wenglewick: Stacia

j. nick dickert:  APJ

Maeve Wenglewick:  Katie

All photo credits:  Denver's Dangerous Theatre.