Monday, December 16, 2013

One For The Road

Playwright: Harold Pinter

Venue:  Springs Ensemble Theatre, 1903 E. Cache la Poudre Street, Colorado Springs CO, 80909.

Running Time:  40 minutes (15 minute intermission)

Date of Performance:  Friday, December 13, 2013
Harold Pinter is probably one of the most influential of 20th century British writers; he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005.  His plays are a melange of politics, activism, and absurdity; his characters are often innocent but subjected to threatening, intimidating situations in which the results are unpredictable.  "One for the Road" is a one act play with Pinter's style and attitude on full display.
Springs Ensemble Theatre (SET) chose "One for the Road" as its holiday offering.  Hardly a traditional "holiday" play, "One for the Road" is not intended to be warm, fuzzy, or sentimental.  It's a brief but hard look at government run amok, riding roughshod over innocent citizens for no apparent reason.  While I would not have chosen "One for the Road" as a holiday treat, SET reminds us how fortunate we are this holiday season.
Absurdity should be understood through comparisons; the disconnect between the apparent meaning of a situation and its very lack of meaning creates absurdities.  "One for the Road" presents us with government detention, interrogation, torture and murder, all of which cry out for a legally justified context.  Pinter gives us no such context or meaning to which we can compare the cruelty.  The absurdity of Victor, Gila, and Nicky's situation is extremely painful to watch.
Director Sarah S. Shaver punctuates Pinter's absurdity with Christmas carol interludes between scenes.  It's a stark and somewhat shocking way to emphasize the depravity and desperation for the characters, and by extension, for the audience.  
Shaver's direction and pacing is crisp, the entire production plays out in a fleeting 40 minutes.  Staged in the round, one gets a very intimate experience.  Never more than dozen feet or so from the actors, the audience is part of the production.
Matt Radcliffe (Victor) is particularly effective.  Much of his performance is delivered through gestures and facial expressions; he actually has very few lines.  He flawlessly conveys the stupor, the distrust, and the emotional damage of a torture victim.  Two tours in Iraq gave Radcliffe a close up look at the absurdities of war; he brings that experience to the stage and it shows in his performance.
Miriam Roth Ballard (Gila) and Aidan Carter (Nicky) both shine their roles.  Carter is a 7th grader who is a gifted actor well beyond his years.  Roth Ballard gives us a frightening look at the face of a victim of torture and repeated rape.
Aidan Carter (Nicky) and Karl Brevik (Nicolas)
Karl Brevik (Nicolas) plays the principle character in "One for the Road."  He is convincingly evil as the purveyor of mayhem and torture, all of which occurs offstage.  Brevik's lack of any discernible justification or emotional connection to the entire situation make him a particularly menacing character.  Unfortunately, he stumbled on his last line at this performance.  That last line is crucial to Pinter's story.  Brevik quickly corrected the line, but some of the impact was lost.
While not a traditional holiday play, I would recommend Pinter's script and SET's production in any season.  Torture is an important, if somewhat obscure, moral dilemma in US politics.  While some may casually justify it on the grounds of self-defense, Americans generally consider torture beneath us and morally reprehensible. Although water boarding and other means of torture were legally justified during the Bush administration, public opinion is still basically opposed to torture.  
Pinter forces us to observe victims of torture, and SET puts us in the room with those victims.  We can see their faces, their physical and emotional injuries, and their humanity.  Pinter and SET challenge us to morally justify what we see.  
It's a challenge that, in my view, cannot be met.

This show closed on December 14, 2013.  
"One for the Road" contains adult language and adult situations.  Mature teens can probably handle Pinter and this performance, but it is not appropriate for younger children. 
Pre or post show dining suggestions:  China Village, 203 North Union Boulevard, Colorado Springs CO.  Close to the theater, ample parking in the back, and delicious Sesame Chicken.

Director:  Sarah S. Shaver
Scenic Design/Props:  June Scott Barfield
Sound Design:  Max Ferguson
Lighting Design:  Jenny Maloney
Costume Design:  Stephanie Schlis

Nicolas:  Karl Brevik
Victor:  Matt Radcliffe
Gila: Miriam Roth Ballard

Nicky:  Aidan Carter

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Rancho Mirage

Playwright: Steven Dietz

Venue:  Curious Theatre, 1080 Acoma Street, Denver CO, 80204.
Running Time:  1 hour, 45 minutes (15 minute intermission)
Date of Performance:  Friday, November 1, 2013 (Preview performance)

Like a lot of things in the Bible, John 8:32 is debatable.  Truth is an ideal.  It's hard to define, open to debate, and ultimately more painful than liberating.  That debate is the core message of Rancho Mirage.
The reality is that we all prefer "truth" to be a relatively small part of our social exchanges.  Rancho Mirage is an exercise in bringing "truth" to a circle of friends.   The results are both laugh out loud funny and explosively destructive.
Steven Dietz' script is witty, funny, inventive, and awkward for its characters.  How does one tell one's best friends that your life is a lie?  That your beautiful suburban home is in foreclosure.  That your desire for children ended in a painful miscarriage that no one ever knew about?  Or that, many years ago, you had a one night stand with the wife of your best friend?  These are awkward, painful truths that Dietz cleverly brings to the Rancho Mirage stage.  
Dietz' conclusion here is a bit of a shocker (I will not spoil the surprise).  Although I didn't anticipate the arc of the last scene, it reinforces Dietz' message that truth is optional, not mandatory.  the title Rancho Mirage is significant; think about it when you're walking out of the theater.  It is the perfect metaphor for Dietz' message.
Let's make one thing clear from the outset.  Rancho Mirage is a hit.  Tickets will be difficult to get, so don't waste any time.  Get yours now.
The ensemble here is marvelous.  Bill Hahn (Nick Dahner) is well known on Denver stages, and he delivers a strong, nuanced performance here.  Watch him even when he has no lines; his facial gestures are always putting context on his performance.  Erik Sandvold (Charlie Caldwell) plays the conflicted, insecure Charlie with conviction; we never doubt his faith or his naiveté.  C. Kelly Leo (Diane Dahner) delivers one of the biggest surprises in the script when we learn that Diane has been lying all along about her trip to Tuscany.  Leo's completely convincing portrayal of innocence and duplicitousness in the same character is a pleasure to watch.
If the ensemble has a standout, it is Emily Paton Davies (Pam Caldwell).  Her Pammy is a quiet woman in a lot of pain.  Caldwell has an exquisite sense of timing, using pauses to her delivery in all the appropriate places.  Her pain is genuine, and her life is a dead end.  Paton Davies brings humor and suffering to Pammy in equal measure.
Director Chrisopher Leo brings Dietz' witty, fast paced script to the stage without missing a beat, making the most of the wealth of talent he has put on the stage.  At his direction, characters react to each other with gestures as well as wit, making the entire Rancho Mirage experience richer and more robust.
Rancho Mirage reminds us that we don't really know each other, and that sometimes it's better that way.  We show others the things we want them to see, and conceal our deepest secrets as much as possible.  Rancho Mirage demonstrates why we do that, and what happens when we don't.  It's a message worth hearing, delivered with sincerity and humor by the Curious cast and crew.
Curious Theatre is a Denver gem, giving the community a consistently high quality theater experience.  As Producing Artistic Director Chip Walton has put it, "no guts, no story."  The performances will always challenge and entertain the audience.  
Rancho Mirage is a perfect example of the "guts" and the "story" making for a rewarding night of theater.  This show is highly recommended; Rancho Mirage is why we go to the theater.  See it, and take your friends if you can.  You may learn as much about your friends as you do about yourself at Rancho Mirage.

This show closes on December 7, 2013.  
Rancho Mirage contains adult language and adult situations.  The subject matter would interest mature teens, but it is not appropriate for younger children. 
In addition to street parking, Curious Theatre has permission to use space at the credit union across the street as well.
Pre or post show dining suggestions:  The Hornet, 76 Broadway, Denver CO, or Racine's, 650 Sherman Street, Denver CO.  We had dinner at Racine's before the show; the Buffalo Chicken sandwich and the Cedar Plank Salmon were both excellent.
Get your tickets here.
Photo Credits:  Curious Theatre Company

Director:  Christopher Leo
Scenic Design:  Guy Wright
Sound Design:  Alex Ruhlin
Lighting Design:  Dick Devin
Costume Design:  Kevin Brainerd

Charlie Caldwell:  Erik Sandvole
Pam Caldwell:  Emily Patton Davies
Trevor Neese: David Russell
Louise Parker Neese:  Karen Slack
Nick Dahner:  Bill Hahn
Diane Dahner:  C. Kelly Leo

Julie:  Devon James

Sunday, October 6, 2013


Playwright: Theresa Rebeck

VenueThe Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder CO
Running Time:  1 hour, 35 minutes (no intermission)
Date of Performance:  Saturday, October 5, 2013

"The biggest problem for writers is that their readers are all human beings....Writers aren't people."
Paraphrased from Seminar.

Indeed.  Writers aren't least not what we might call normal people.  They suffer from being insecure, introspective, and they have a burning passion to say something profound to the rest of us.  Obviously, failure is nearly guaranteed.
The chasm between novice writers and their potential readers must seem insurmountable to those trying to break into the business.  That is, if it can be described as a business; perhaps it's better to consider it a bleak, soul sucking career choice. 
Theresa Rebeck's (you may know her as creator/producer of TV's Smash) Seminar could hardly be described as an action piece; the topic here is not action but ideas.  Profound, interesting, and important ideas wrapped in smart, crackling dialogue that humanizes the creative process.  Rebeck's densely packed prose puts four aspiring writers at the mercy of a ruthless "master" (Leonard, played here with a brutal glee by John C. Ashton) of the craft.   
Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company's (BETC) current production of Seminar sparkles and soars.  Director Stephen Weitz brings the creative process into razor sharp focus with a brisk pace that keeps both the actors and the audience engaged.  He orchestrates a blue chip cast, and coaxes marvelous performances from each of the five actors.
L-R:  Mary Kay Riley, John C. Ashton, Devon James, Matthew Blood-Smyth
Ashton is a master of his acting craft, and his Leonard is a conflicted but dedicated writer and teacher who can't suffer fools for a moment.  He can crush dreams with a glance, or, occasionally, create those dreams with casual indifference.  He's a joy to watch, even when he's brutally savaging a student.
Sean Scrutchins (Martin) is so sensitive that he can hardly bring himself to share his writing with Leonard.  Scrutchins deftly struggles with the conflict between the freedom he needs to be creative and the stifling requirements of a "successful" writer.  He has no literary connections, no friends in publishing, no famous parents, no money, no editor, and he's not willing to suck up to any publishing authorities.  In other words, he's doomed as a writer.  
Martin (Sean Scrutchins)
Scrutchins brings the conflict into focus for us as he struggles with taking the next step in his career.  Should he sacrifice some of his creative freedom for a key to the successful writer's world?  It's a profound question, and one that all writers must eventually answer for themselves.  
For those who have followed Scrutchins' Denver acting career, there was a delicious irony in Rebeck's script.  Leonard tells Martin that a writer's life is comparable to the "nine circles of hell," a reference to Dante's Inferno.  The irony is that Scrutchins won the 2012 Henry Award for his performance in Curious Theatre's 9 Circles.  Scrutchins is well acquainted with the concept of Hell; that he finds himself in Seminar being damned to that fate a second time is an unexpected twist.  
Mary Kay Riley as Izzy (willing to sleep her way to success) and Devon James (oversensitive, self indulgent, and marginally talented) as Kate play roles that border on stereotypes.  Both are marvelous, providing foils for Leonard's ceaseless indignities and seducing him for potential career opportunities.
Matthew Blood-Smyth as Douglas is insufferable, and that's a good thing.  He's a self centered, egotistical empty suit, capable of speaking in circular paragraphs totally devoid of any substance.  Portraying the least likable character in a production is a dubious distinction, but Blood-Smyth delivers an annoying Douglas as only a gifted actor could.
Ron Mueller's set design is gorgeous; it got an ovation from the audience as it morphed from Kate's apartment to Leonard's.  Costume designer Kevin Brainerd has dressed the performers in appropriate and functional outfits that enhance the performances.  Both the onstage and offstage talent here is gifted and in synch; they create a seamless, top shelf performance. 
There are important questions in Seminar:  
Is a successful writer one who writes great stories, or one who makes a lot of money writing mediocre stories?  
Can creativity ever be taught, or is it an internalized gift only a few will ever have?  
Is brutal criticism an effective teaching tool or a sadistic way to cull the weak from the herd?  
Important questions, to which Seminar provides no simple answers.
Seminar reminds me somewhat of Master Class, Terrence McNally's vision of Maria Callas teaching opera to very talented but hapless victims of her enormous ego.  Neither Master Class or Seminar are easy to watch.  The deliberate emotional destruction of talented, dedicated people is not pretty.  The difference between the two plays is that Seminar offers some hope, some redemption for the truly talented; whereas Master Class offers no such hope.  
The last line of the play is Leonard's:  "So do you want to be a writer or not?"  While one can criticize the play for not answering that question, it is unquestionably the proper question for Seminar.  The answer, ultimately, is personal rather than universal.  There is no right answer.  It's a choice, and each writer must make that choice for him or herself.
Last season, BETC gave us an excellent insight into writing with the extraordinary Ghost WriterSeminar is a potent follow up hit.  If you're a fan of thought provoking, profound theater that will make you think about important issues, you need to see Seminar.  

This show closes on October 20, 2013.  
Seminar contains adult language and adult situations.  The subject matter would interest mature teens, but it is not appropriate for younger children. 
Pre or post show dining suggestion:  Trattoria on Pearl, 1430 Pearl Street, Boulder CO.  Reasonably priced pasta and pizza in on the Pearl Street Mall.
Photo Credits:  Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company

Director:  Stephen Weitz
Set Design:  Ron Mueller
Audio Design:  Andrew Metzroth
Lighting Design:  Rachel Atkinson
Costume Design:  Kevin Brainerd

Leonard:  John C. Ashton 
Douglas:  Matthew Blood-Smyth
Kate: Devon James
Izzy:  Mary Kay Riley
Martin:  Sean Scrutchins

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Full Monty

Book by: Terrence McNally
Music & Lyrics:  David Yazbek
Company:  Boulder's Dinner Theater
VenueBoulder's Dinner Theatre,  5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder CO
Running Time:  2 hours, 45 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission)
Date of Performance:  Saturday, September 21, 2013

I suspect that few among us have not seen the 1997 film version of The Full Monty.  It was a surprise hit that year, partly because it portrayed male strippers in delicate detail.  The real charm of the film, however, was the six unemployed steel workers who faced daunting challenges and overcame them, proving themselves both provocative and responsible citizens, fathers and husbands.
The stage version of The Full Monty deviates somewhat from the original (the six British steelworkers are now from Buffalo NY), but the script still tells the story of six regular guys who have the courage to do whatever it takes to put food on the table.  The stage version also differs in format; its a musical.  Music in the film was more about the dancing than the story telling.
Boulder's Dinner Theatre production is an eye popping, high energy triumph of regular guys over desperate circumstances.  The fun starts in the opening scene as the female ensemble is hooting, hollering, and gawking at a gorgeous male stripper (Jason Vargas).  It takes about a millisecond for the audience to join in the fun, clapping, yelling, and escalating the estrogen fueled mischief.
Director Scott Beyette has assembled a fine cast, starting with Seth Caikowski as Jerry.  Jerry lost his job at the steel mill, and is about to lose his son Nathan (Thomas Russo) because he's behind in his child support.  Caikowski deftly handles the huge dramatic range from desperation to inspiration with seeming ease.  
Joel Adam Chavez, (Dave), delivers exactly the right performance for all us regular guys, as he struggles with his body image issues and his need for validation as a husband and lover.  Chavez carries a few extra pounds to the stage and he can't imagine showing his "goods" to 1,000 screaming women.  Chavez got my sympathy, my empathy, and finally my delight when he triumphantly demonstrated how sexy regular guys can be.
Robert Johnson's performance as he auditioned for the stripper gig is a total showstopper.  Big Black Man is great music, great lyrics ("every woman's fantasy is a big black man"), and when done by Johnson, a laugh out loud masterpiece.  Johnson brings a big bass voice and some fabulous dance moves to the party, whipping the audience into a frenzy.
Perhaps the best musical moment in the show (OK, the guys are fully dressed, so this is debatable) is the tune Michael Jordan's Ball.  Matthew D. Peters' choreography is superb, and the cast pulls off the precision moves as if, well, they are actually Michael Jordan.  It's a beautiful moment; the regular guys find a way to "fake, spin, and shoot," opening the door for the novices to become real dancers.  
Scenic Designer Amy Campion has constructed a beautiful, functional set that includes bringing an actual automobile on stage.  She gives us set pieces for bedrooms, street scenes, and both on stage and back stage at a strip club.  All are well done and create a real sense of place in each case.
The Full Monty is a musical, and Neal Dunfee leads a great orchestra here.  They play from behind a wall, which is unfortunate.  They deserve to be front and center, so we can see as well as hear them.  It's the music that makes a musical, and Dunfee and crew are masters of the genre.
For those who have seen the movie, you may be wondering about the "finale" of the stage show.  Do they do the "the full monty?"  You'll have to find a spoiler somewhere else.  I will say this, however.  You will NOT be disappointed.  The finale is the female fantasy (and a male fantasy as well), that you bought the ticket for.  As a bonus, the actors are also your servers.  I doubt that many of us have ever come to know our waiters this well.
If I have any criticism of The Full Monty, it is not with the production but with the script.  The play is about (or at least should be about) the dancing; a fair amount of the music was for story telling rather than dancing.  The ballads slow the pace.  At 2 hours and 45 minutes, The Full Monty could be better with less music, more dancing and faster pacing.
The bottom line here, though is that The Full Monty is a hit; it's a fun, entertaining, inspiring production in the best tradition of Boulder's Dinner Theater.  Get a ticket, get to The Full Monty, and cut loose.  Bring your husband, your wife, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, or any other consenting adult.  It's your chance to get a strip club experience without going to a seedy night club on East Colfax.

For obvious reasons, this show is rated R.  It contains adult language and adult situations.  
Boulder's Dinner Theatre was closed by floods in earlier this month, and had to cancel five performances.  They are now back in full operation.  If you want to do something for flood victims, support Boulder's Dinner Theatre.  Like the characters in The Full Monty, Boulder's Dinner Theatre has triumphed when times got difficult.  The show must, and does, go on.
As usual, you will find the dinner selections at Boulder's Dinner Theatre varied and delicious.  
This show closes on November 9, 2013.  
Photo Credits:  Boulder's Dinner Theatre

Producer:  Michael J. Duran
Director:  Scott Beyette
Scenic Design:  Amy Campion
Audio Design:  Wayne Kennedy
Lighting Design:  Rachael Dugan
Costume Design:  Linda Morken
Choreographer:  Matthew D. Peters

Jerry:  Seth Caikowski 
Dave:  Joel Adam Chavez
Harold: Scott Beyette
Ethan:  Burke Wilson
Malcolm:  Brett Ambler
Horse:  Robert Johnson
Nathan:  Thomas Russo/Kaden Hinkle
Pam:  Alicia Dunfee
Georgie:  Amanda Earls
Vicki:  Joanie Brosseau
Jeanette:  Shelly Cox-Robie
Teddy:  Matthew D. Peters/Bob Hoppe
Keno:  Jason Vargas
Reg/Tony:  Scott Severtson
Susan/Molly:  Tracy Warren
Joanie:  Jessica Hindsley
Estelle: Norelle Moore

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Book by:  Fred Ebb & Bob Fosse

Music by:  John Kander
Lyrics by:  Fred Ebb
Based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins

Produced by Barry and Fran Weissler

Venue: Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Boulevard, Colorado Springs, CO
Date of performance:  September 18, 2013

Running time:  2 hours, 15 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission)

“So I started fooling around.  And then I started screwing around.  That’s the same as fooling around, but without dinner.”  Roxie Hart, Chicago.

Chicago is one of my favorite musicals; it’s a fitting and fun tribute to bad girls everywhere.  The Pikes Peak Center’s professionally produced touring production is no exception.  The show played to a packed house, all of which was standing and cheering as the final curtain fell.
Chicago is the opening act for the Pikes Peak Center’s “Broadway in Colorado Springs” season.  It’s a promising season; Chicago is a hit, to be followed by The Addams Family, Hello Dolly, and Memphis.  That’s a powerful lineup; I got my season ticket early.
A Broadway touring production has a very tall order.  They must deliver the Broadway Experience (state of the art staging, special effects, music, and talent) in a different theater every few days.  The audience expects, and the production must deliver, a flawless performance every time.  This cast, crew, and orchestra does exactly that, delivering a high energy, fast paced, pitch perfect blend of great music, comedy, and glitz to the Pikes Peak Center stage.
Roxie Hart is the bad girl star of Chicago, and she’s played here by Paige Davis (of TVs Trading Spaces fame).  Davis’ Trading Spaces gig gave us the cute and perky Paige, but in Chicago she takes great pleasure being the sassy, sexy, unrepentant criminal Roxie Hart.  If you’ve only seen her on Trading Spaces, you might be surprised to see her in Chicago. Davis has musical and acting chops in abundance.  In fact, you may be asking yourself as you leave the theater who is the real Paige Davis?  Is she the cute TV hostess, or the saucy, sultry, provocative Roxie Hart? 
Terra C MacLeod plays Roxie’s foil, Velma Kelly, with equal gusto.  MacLeod is a gifted performer, and she brought her A game to the Pikes Peak Center stage.  She can belt out a tune with the best of Broadway, and she has made pouting an art form.
Brent Barrett as attorney Billy Flynn (“all I care about is love”) is a delight; he can turn on the charm for a jury while spinning a web of half- truths and outright lies into a plausible (but not very plausible) defense.  His singing voice is magnificent; it’s a shame he doesn’t get more opportunities to use it here.
I love “Mr. Cellophane,” Amos Hart’s (Todd Buonopane) solo.  By "solo" I mean that he has no back up vocals, but also that he is really, truly alone as Roxie’s neglected, disrespected, and somewhat pathetic husband.  Buonopane does not disappoint; he’s a dour, glum Amos that no one notices.  Or loves.
The set is minimal but interesting; the entire stage appears to be enclosed in a picture frame.  There are no real set pieces, save the orchestra at center stage.  The 15 person orchestra is seated on three levels rising from the stage.  It is a musical, and the orchestra is certainly central to any musical.  However, the set reduces the stage area by half, and that restricts some of the larger production numbers. 
Chicago is a dynamite opening for the Broadway in Colorado Springs season, and it’s a great omen for the other Broadway touring productions headed to the Pikes Peak Center. 


This play had a limited, two night run, September 17-18.  If you missed it, well, you really missed a very good time.
This show is not appropriate for pre-teens; it includes adult themes, adult situations, adult language, and simulated violence.
Preshow dining suggestion:  Saigon Café, 20 East Colorado Avenue, Colorado Springs.  It’s about a 3 minute walk to the theater, and the Vietnamese menu is impressive.  I tried the hot and spicy beef lemongrass, which was excellent.  Bottled beers include Saigon, which is brewed…wait for it…in Saigon.
Photo Credits:  Pikes Peak Center


Director:  Walter Bobbie  (Director/Recreation:  David Hyslop)
Choreography:  David Bushman

Music Director:  Jack Gaughan

Set Design:  John Lee Beatty
Lighting Design:  Ken Billington

Sound Design:  Scott Lehrer


Roxie Hart:  Paige Davis
Velma Kelly:  Terra C. MacLeod
Amos Hart:  Todd Buonopane
Matron Mama Morton:  Carol Woods
Billy Flynn:  Brent Barrett

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Bengal Tiger At The Baghdad Zoo

Playwright: Rajiv Joseph
Company:  The Edge Theatre Company
VenueThe Edge Theater,  1560 Teller Street, Lakewood, CO
Running Time:  2 hours, 10 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission)
Date of Performance:  Sunday, September 1, 2013

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (also referred to as Tiger below) is a dramatization of some real events in 2003.   As American soldiers and marines attacked and occupied Baghdad, the Baghdad Zoo was destroyed.  Only 35 of the approximately 650 animals survived.  The rest were released or killed by looters.  Many were eaten for food, and many others starved when the zookeepers were no longer able to feed and care for them.
Rajiv Joseph's script uses the destruction of the Baghdad Zoo as a springboard for some very serious themes:  the cruelty of war, the loss of human dignity, and the conflict between one's mission and one's morals.  However, Joseph's overarching goal in Tiger is to ponder what appear to be the mutually exclusive concepts of war and God.
I think it is safe to say that the American public was only aware of the Iraq war in a superficial, sanitized sense.  The reality, of course, was much more brutal, much more cruel, and much less moral than we may have imagined.  Stories of torture and murder at Abu Ghraib and Mahmudiyah notwithstanding, war coverage rarely included the daily grind of death and destruction.
Joseph spares us no messy details as he confronts the paradox of moral depravity, cruelty, and suffering in a world supposedly ordered by a Supreme Being.  "What God would create a predator, then condemn him for preying?"  It's a question each of us must answer for ourselves.
The Edge Theatre's production of Tiger is an outstanding example of what a talented cast and crew can do with a pointed and profound script.  From the opening scene, one cannot look away for an instant.  We quickly become engaged with the moral dilemmas as we discover that Tom (Nathan Bock) is not the soldier/savior we imagine, but a looter who wants to get rich with his stolen booty.
Kev (Kevin Lowry) and Tom (Nathan Bock)
With only a few props, Director Richard R. Cowden and Scenic Designer Price Johnston have transformed the small Edge Theatre stage into a working war zone.  It's no easy feat, but the Tiger set is a small marvel. 
Cowden wisely stages Tiger in the round.  In this intimate setting, the audience feels that it is in the "action," as opposed to observing it.  The effect is especially noticeable near the end of the second act, as Tom (played by Kevin Bock) lays dying of a gunshot wound.  His proximity to the other actors is virtually the same as it is to the audience.  We cannot help but feel his anguish as his life slips away before our eyes.  
In another nice touch, Cowden helps the audience distinguish between Kev (Kevin Lowry) the soldier and Kev the ghost.  Although still in his combat fatigues, Kev appears barefooted as a ghost.  It's a small but telling clue that Kev is no longer among the living.
Tiger (Paul Page)
The performances are all very strong.  Paul Page gets an excellent opportunity to show his acting chops as Tiger, and he wastes none of that opportunity.  He paces in his cage, he growls, and takes on all the big cat mannerisms while acting as a narrator who tells the story and asks the important questions in the process.  Page benefits from Joseph's strong writing in the first scene of the second act; Joseph benefits from Page's compelling, engaging monologue about the young girl in God's Garden.  Page's 5-10 minutes of intimate story telling here may be the best 5-10 minutes of drama this season.
Nathan Bock (Tom) and Kevin Lowry (Kev) embody the moral dilemmas of those sent to do a very dirty job.  They are, literally and figuratively, ghosts of the people they once were.  They have lost parts of themselves, and will never be the same as a result.  Bock and Lowry run the range of their roles like the expert actors they are, going from friends to enemies, from dedicated soldiers to lost souls, eliciting sympathy and even pity from the audience.
Sam Gilstrap (Musa), Yasmin Sweets (Iraqi Woman), and Miranda Vargas (Hadia/Iraqi Teen) have difficult roles; they not only have to act out the delicate situations the script hands them, but they also have to do it with credible Arabic lines.  They nail the Arabic, just as they nail the hopeless situations they find themselves in as citizens of an occupied country.  Alberto Ocampo (Uday) adds the look and the personality of Uday Hussein.  Ocampo's Uday is as cool as he is cruel, as confident as he is insensitive.

The offstage talent here deserves special credit.  Firyal Alshalabi has done a superb job of coaching the cast on their Arabic lines; the results are consistently credible.  Diana Ben-Kiki's wig work is excellent.  Costume designer Caroline Smith has somehow gotten her hands on some very authentic combat gear, and has made the Iraqi women on stage look like they just stepped out of the streets of Baghdad.
This is one of those productions that many will find challenging, and even disturbing.  Those are two very good reasons to see it.  We are currently undergoing a political and policy discussion about whether to get involved in yet another armed conflict in the Middle East.  Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo is a thought provoking punch in the gut about the consequences of our military adventures.  
Could there be better time for The Edge Theatre to produce a play that confronts us with the gravity of our military decisions?  I think not.  This is an excellent script in the hands of a talented cast and crew presented at a critical point in time.  See it.  Ask yourself the question:  how do I reconcile the brutality of war with the existence of God?  If you can't answer that question, perhaps you will have a good start on how you feel about military action in Syria...or any other place for that matter.

There is ample parking on the street and on the north side of the theater.  This show is not suitable for younger teenagers or preteens.  Seating is limited, and tickets will be difficult to get.  You may want to book seats as early as possible.
This show closes on September 29, 2013.  
Photo Credits:  The Edge Theatre Company

Director:  Richard R. Cowden
Scenic Design:  Price Johnston
Sound Design:  Richard R. Cowden
Lighting Design:  Andy Killion
Costume Design:  Caroline Smith
Wig Design:  Diana Ben-Kiki
Arabic Language Consultant:  Firyal Alshalabi
Stage Manager:  Nina Harris

Tiger:  Paul A. Page 
Tom:  Nathan Bock
Kev: Kevin Lowry
Musa:  Sam Gilstrap
Iraqi Woman:  Yasmin Sweets
Hadia/Iraqi Teen:  Miranda Vargas
Uday:  Alberto Ocampo

Sunday, August 18, 2013


 Playwright: Mary Zimmerman

Original Source:  The Myths of Ovid; The Metamorphoses
Venue:  Aurora Fox Studio Theater,  9900 East Colfax, Aurora, CO
Running Time:  2 hours (includes 20 minute intermission)
Date of Performance:  Saturday, August 17, 2013
From the moment you enter the intimate Studio Theater at the Aurora Fox, you know this is a special production.  The set is stunning.  To say it is unusual does not do it justice.  The stage is dominated by a large pool of water, softly lit in a soothing blue color.  As you wait for the show to start, you will have a very hard time taking your eyes off this beautiful set.
For those who haven't heard, the play takes place in and around this body of water.  One might wonder if that is simply a gimmick.  I assure you it is not.  The pool is the perfect metaphor for the sustenance and transformations water provides us.  The set enables many dramatic opportunities, including full immersion, splashing, paddling, and cleansing. That said, though, the best use of the set is for telling Ovid's stories through the power and promise of the water that sustains our lives.
The play is based on Ovid's 8 A.D. poem The Metamorphoses (translation:  "The Book of Transformations").  The original work is a collection of approximately 250 myths organized into 15 books.  Ovid's recurring theme is love, and Mary Zimmerman's play focuses on the best of those love stories.
Some of the myths, King Midas, for example are familiar; others are more obscure.  Each, however, teaches us something about love, be it courting, the price of incest, the loss of a loved one, or the last request of a poor married couple.  Each is exquisitely staged, performed, and lighted to bring the impact of  Ovid's messages to us 2,000 years later.
Ryan Wuestewald, Zachary Andrews, Justin Walvoord
Every cast member plays multiple roles, and all wind up in the pool of water.  The physical demands are substantial, as actors plunge into the pool from every angle, including from above. The constant temperature changes, from the water to the air, in soaking wet and heavy costumes, is a unique acting challenge.  
The cast is equal to that challenge, using the pool as if it is their normal acting environment.  Every actor here brings his or her A game while dealing with multiple costume changes and a constant shift between being dry and soaked.  Singling any of them out is impossible; each delivers a gifted, inspired, unique and flawless performance.  
Director Geoffrey Kent makes full use of the unique set and all the talent he puts on it.  The first time we see an actor unexpectedly emerge from under the water, Kent has us asking ourselves "how did they do that?"  Kent moves actors around, through, in, and above the pool in an elegant dance that keeps the audience totally engaged in the action and the set.
However, it is the final scene that one remembers when leaving the theater, and here Kent has given us a beautifully staged, powerful love poem to take home with us.  The beauty of that exquisitely lit scene, with the entire cast onstage, is emotionally moving and unforgettable.
Metamorphoses is one of those rare theater experiences that reminds us why we love theater.  We get to spend two hours submerged in the beauty of the story, the setting, and the 2,000 year old messages delivered to us by very talented professionals.  It's a mesmerizing, captivating, and gratifying experience. 
You almost certainly have not seen anything like Metamorphoses before, and you may never have the opportunity to see it again. The venue is small (I'd guess about 50-60 seats), and the run is over on September 22.  If you're a theater fan, you do not want to miss Metamorphoses.  Get your tickets before they're gone.
Zachary Andrews, Jaimie Morgan
There is ample parking behind the theater and on the nearby streets (except Colfax).  This show is suitable for all ages.  Seating is reserved, and tickets will be difficult to get.  Patrons seated in the first row will be provided plastic rain gear to avoid getting too wet.  The room is kept warm for the actors comfort.

Due to the extraordinary efforts needed to create such an elaborate set, I have included the construction crew in the credits below.
This show closes on September 22, 2013.  
Photo Credits:  Aurora Fox Arts Center

Director:  Geoffrey Kent
Technical Director (Water):  Brandon Phillip Case
Scenic Design:  Charles Dean Packard
Sound Design:  William Burns
Lighting Design:  Shannon McKinney
Dramaturg:  Bianca Gordon
Costume Design:  Meghan Anderson Doyle
Stage Manager:  Lindsay Sullivan
Construction Crew:  Brandon Case, Jeff Jesmer, Dustin Hartley, Miles Goeglein, David Kading, Grace Crummett, Wyatt MacNeil, Hannah Brunner, Katy Dawson, Blake Nelson-Dunki, Sammy Landau, Robert Michael Sanders.
Cyex and others:  Zachary Andrews  
Aleyone and others:  Michelle Y. Hurtubise
Aphrodite and others: Jaimie Morgan
Midas and others:  Michael Morgan 
Nursemaid and others:  Jada Roberts 
Myrrha and others:  Carmen Vreeman 
Erysichthon and others:  Justin Walvoord
Phaeton and others:  Ryan Wuestewald 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Wonder of the World

Wonder of the World.  Haley Johnson, Lindsey Pierce.

Wonder of the World
Playwright: David Lindsay-Abaire
Company:  Miner's Alley Playhouse
VenueMiner's Alley Playhouse, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, CO
Running Time:  2 hours, 30 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission)
Date of Performance:  Friday, August 16, 2013

Spoiler alert.  No...not that kind.  I'm not going to give away the plot here.  Rather, I'm alerting the reader that I'm not recommending this play.  Please take my recommendation with a grain of salt.  For personal reasons, this was not a good experience for me; it may be different (and better) for you.
The title, Wonder of the World, refers to one of the wonders of the world (but the reference is debatable):  Niagara Falls.  Niagara Falls is no doubt spectacular, and it is not just the setting for most of the play, but nearly rises to the level of being an actual character as well.  
To be completely fair, there is a lot that is worthwhile in the Miner's Alley production.  
Cast of "Wonder of the World," including stage hands (back row) John Kramer, Tyler Roach, Melissa Rios
The acting is top notch; Haley Johnson as Cass is alternately thoughtful, playful, distracted, and angry...all done with the conviction and force she can muster.  Matthew Blood-Smyth is marvelous.  His Kip is mousy, frightened, disturbed, perverted, but not without a dash of charm. Lindsey Pierce as the suicidal Lois is especially striking.  She has a quick wit, attitude, and an excellent sense of timing, despite her chronic desperation.  Christian Mast (Captain), is a seasoned stage veteran who appeared in one of my favorite all time local productions.  He is on top of his game here, playing a Captain of a Maid of the Mist vessel who is seduced by Cass and ultimately dispatched permanently right on stage.
My problem is not with the acting, nor with the technical (sound, lights, etc) elements.  Robert Kramer's direction was creative and well paced, although I did find the helicopter scene rather juvenile.  In what is a fairly unusual move, Kramer made the stage hands part of the entertainment, and it worked.  In fact, it worked very well.
Christian Mast, Haley Johnson.
I have one small quibble with what is otherwise a very creative set.  Couldn't we get an actual, rather than an imaginary, door?  It was distracting to watch actors enter and exit through an imaginary door when all other set elements were well defined.
My disappointment here is principally with Lindsay-Abaire's script.  It attempts to be a profound look at life, how we make decisions that may or may not change our lives, and, in the end, what any of it all means.  Instead of profound, it comes off as a muddled self-indulgent trip through life crises with no redeeming or unifying message.  
The script is darkly funny, although audiences with recent experience with death, loss, and grief (I include myself in this group) may not be very amused.  Likewise, those with suboptimal relationships/marriages may find the plot too critical of their own bleak circumstances (I do not include myself in this group).
As a personal matter, I find suicide to be a poor subject for humor.  Lindsay-Abaire gives us abundant punch lines based Lois' suicidal arc.  If you have lost a loved one to suicide, you are probably not in the demographic for Wonder of the World.  If you haven't lost a loved one to suicide, you may still not find the subject amusing.  
It's never a good sign to me when I am accurately anticipating the next line in a script.  Wonder of the World presented several opportunities for me to correctly guess the next line, and I did.
I can't leave the script without mentioning "The Newlywed Game."  It's one of Lindsay-Abaire's plot devices.  It's cute, no question about that, but it also seemed a misplaced and lazy device.  Granted, I'm not a fan of the actual game show, but coming as it did near the penultimate scene, it just seemed odd.
Finally, the central plot device here is Kip's perversion.  I don't do spoilers, so there's no chance I would disclose the perversion in question.  I would say, however, that even if I regularly disclosed plot details in my posts, I would refuse to do so in this case.  Not because I don't want to spoil the story, but because the details are entirely too disgusting.  I expect Lindsay-Abaire gave Kip this unusual character flaw to make him funnier.  For me, the effect was not amusing; it was revolting.
Reviews here are subjective; there may be few who agree with me.  That's fine.  Theater is personal, and for me personally, this is not a show I can recommend to others.  I will admit that most of the audience was laughing and evidently enjoying the show.  I respect that, but I just couldn't join them in this case.

There is ample parking behind the theater.  Enter from either 12th Street or 11th Street.
This show closes on September 1, 2013.  
Photo Credits: Miner's Alley Playhouse
This show closes on September 1, 2013.  

Director:  Robert Kramer
Assistant Director:  Veronica Kramer
Set Design:  Rick Bernstein and Jonathan Scott-McKean
Sound Design:  Len Matheo and Jonathan Scott-McKean
Lighting Design:  Jonathan Scott-McKean
Costumes:  Ann Piano

Karla:  Debra Caamaño  
Glen:  Verl Hite 
Barbara, Helicopter Pilot, Waitresses, Janie:  Erica Johnson 
Cass Harris:  Haley Johnson  
Captain Mike:  Captain Mike 
Lois Coleman:  Lindsey Pierce 
Kip Harris:  Matthew Blood-Smyth