Sunday, August 31, 2014


Playwright:  Tracy Letts

Venue:  Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street, Denver CO 80211

Running Time:  2 hours (includes 15 minute intermission)

Date of Performance:  Friday, August 29, 2014 (Opening Night Performance)

Bug is the kind of story we are all familiar with, at least in theory.  We know these characters exist, even if we've never personally encountered them.  And if we have encountered them, we probably made sure it was a one time event.  They are not the kind of folks with whom one has strong social connections.  

You may see them on street corners, panhandling for change.  You may see them gathering at homeless shelters or soup kitchens.  They are real people.  People on a downward spiral, unemployed, probably unemployable, and often with some level of mental illness.  

Tracy Letts gives us these destitute, desperate, lonely, and doomed characters, not to preach to us, but simply to make us look at them.  It's like watching a train wreck in slow motion.  Don't even try to look away.  You can't.

Jennifer Bass (Agnes) and Luke Sorge (Peter)

Agnes (Jennifer Bass) is living in a flea bag motel room, getting high with her best friend RC (Lisa Young), and trying to evade her abusive ex husband Jerry (Luke Terry), who just got out of the slammer.  She has lingering depression from losing her son Lloyd, and she has no plan to change a single thing in her life.  

As if that weren't enough challenge for Agnes, she becomes emotionally involved with Peter (Luke Sorge), an AWOL military veteran with some very strange ideas.  Neither Agnes nor Peter are looking for a relationship, but both are lonely, desperate people, thrown together in a bottomless swamp of drugs, alcohol, and bizarre conspiracy theories.  Stuff happens, and that's not always a good thing.

Without engaging in spoilers, I think it fair to say that this story does not end well.

The Equinox cast is strong and up to the challenge of the deep dive Letts has written for them.  Jennifer Bass, in her Denver acting debut, is a sassy, smart, but totally vulnerable Agnes.  Her descent into madness is both convincing and scary; Bass makes the implausible believable and the inevitable tragic.  

Lisa Young (RC) bounces about, probably the happiest of the sorry lot of characters on the stage.  She has an infectious smile and a mischievous manner that make her instantly likable.  She is the single beacon of sanity in the script, which explains why Agnes ends up kicking her out of the motel room.  

Cast, L-R:  Lisa Young (RC), Luke Terry (Jerry), Jennifer Bass (Agnes), and Luke Sorge (Peter)

It is, though, Peter (Luke Sorge) who is the center of our attention.  Sorge is a compelling, capable actor who makes Bug a powerful theater experience.  When we meet Peter in the first act, he is a likable but introverted loner.  Sorge is flawless as the shy guy who doesn't want to impose on anyone, and he is extremely scary as he loses his mind before our eyes. One never doubts his tailspin from passably and possibly normal to raving, homicidal lunatic. It is a frightening but amazing transition to watch, as Sorge sinks into a black hole of insanity and takes Agnes with him.  This is not a role for just any actor; it requires a full range of emotions and the ability to go off the deep end on cue.  Sorge has those qualities in abundance.  There were several times during his performance when I heard audible gasps from the audience. Those gasps, in my view, are a striking barometer of audience engagement, and it was obvious that Sorge's performance had connected deeply with everyone in the room. 

The backstage crew is always critical, but for Bug, the makeup artist (Jessamyn Geesaman) and the fight choreographer (Luke Allen Terry) are nearly as important as the actors.  Geesaman's makeup is bold and gruesome. Terry's fight choreography is spot on.  Without giving away much of the story, I will simply recommend that the audience take notice of how realistic the knife fight is in the second act.  

Co-directors Deb Flomberg and Patrick Brownson have demanded a great deal from their cast and crew. It is only when we reach down inside ourselves that we learn what we can really accomplish. Flomberg & Brownson demanded excellence. They got it. 

For all it's troubling, gruesome subject matter, I think Bug is well worth the considerable commitment it asks of it's audience.  This is a trip to the side of town we avoid. We know where it is, and we may even know some of the faces of its citizens.  But we drive by, and we look the other way. We don't want to see the reality of the desperate people who live there.  Tracy Letts forces us to look. 

Whether you consider people like Peter and Agnes to be responsible for their own bad decisions, or whether you consider them to be victims of a broken system, you will have a very difficult time rationalizing the consequences. You may be repulsed by the story, but I guarantee that you will not be able to look away from it.  And I guarantee that you will remember this play for a long time. 

Jennifer Bass (Agnes) and Luke Sorge (Peter)


Disclaimer:  the first paragraph of this review is personal; I've had little exposure to the problems of Agnes, RC, and Peter.  To the extent my personal experience is due to being white, middle class, and from a semi privileged childhood, my experience is not universal.  For that, I am very thankful.  Your experience may vary substantially.  

There is a public parking lot at the northwest corner of Navajo and 37th Avenue, a very short walk to and from the theater.  There are several art galleries in the neighborhood, so if you arrive early, consider browsing.  To find the theater, take Federal or Pecos to 38th Avenue, and go east.  Turn south on Navajo.

This show closes on September 20, 2014.  

This show includes adult language, adult situations, and partial nudity.  There is drug use and violence.  Leave the kids, including teenagers, at home.  Adults should consider the subject matter also; be prepared for a powerful but disturbing evening.

Pre or post show dining suggestion:  

We dined with friends before the show at Rodizio's Grill, 1801 Wynkoop Street, Denver, 80202. It's a Brazilian steakhouse with an extensive soups, sides, and salad bar.  Gaucho servers bring the meats to your table skewered on a sword, and slice off as much or as little as you like.  Meats include Brazilian tri tip, garlic sirloin, and glazed ham and pineapple. It's a tad pricey; the prix fixe full meal is $34.99, plus drinks and dessert.  

Rodizio's is about a 15 minute drive to theater in good traffic and weather, so plan accordingly. Parking is sparse.  The restaurant is next door to the newly remodeled Union Station. Stop by and check it out if you haven't been there yet.

Tickets HERE

Photo Credits: Equinox Theatre Company

Creative Team:

Directors:  Deb Flomberg & Patrick Brownson

Scenic Design/Lighting:  Colin Roybal

Sound Design:  Deb Flomberg

Fight Choreography:  Luke Allen Terry

Makeup/Effects:  Jessamyn Geesaman

Costumer:  Kristi Siedow-Thompson


Peter:  Luke Sorge

Agnes:  Jennifer Bass

RC:  Lisa Young

Jerry:  Luke Terry

Dr. Sweet:  Jim Landis

Monday, August 25, 2014

Dead Man's Cell Phone

Playwright:  Sarah Ruhl
Venue:  Mary Miller Theatre, 300 E. Simpson Street, Lafayette CO, 80026.
Running Time:  2 hours (includes 10 minute intermission).
Date of Performance:  Saturday, August 23, 2014
Dead Man's Cell Phone opens in a cafe, where the daily specials are on the white board:  Lobster Bisque and lentil soup.  We see Gordon from the back, and Jean, at another table, facing us, working at some task.  They are total strangers to each other.  The silence is interrupted by Gordon's ringing cell phone.  Gordon ignores it, Jean is annoyed by it.  The ringing phone is intrusive, disruptive, and persistent.  Jean finally gets up and confronts Gordon about it.
Despite Jean's complaints about his ringing cell phone, Gordon is unresponsive.  That's because Gordon is dead, sitting straight up in his chair at the cafe.  Dead, but not forgotten; his cell phone rings incessantly.
We are all pretty much like Pavlov's dog with ringing phones...they MUST be answered.  So Jean takes Gordon's phone, and answers it.  She never met Gordon, so she can't help the caller much, other than to say he's not able to come to the phone.  So she takes a message.  
Ruhl's script has Jean adopting an imaginary, if brief, relationship with Gordon, permitting her to answer Gordon's cell phone every time it rings.  Each time she answers, she pretends to know Gordon, trying to help the caller deal with Gordon's persistent unavailability.  The script has several messages for us, not the least of which deals with our technological connection to, and our technological disconnection from, other people.
It turns out that Gordon was a complicated guy; his business was not just was illegal.  He had wife, a brother, a mother, and a mistress.  Of course, that business and those relationships made some problems for Jean nearly every time she pretended to know Gordon.  Some hilarity ensues, but the this is a comedy where the message is superior to the medium.
Theater Company of Lafayette (TCL) embraces Dead Man's Cell Phone with a great deal of enthusiasm and energy; the production is fast paced and seamless.  Director Vonalda Utterback has a team of four stage hands who quickly move numerous set pieces between scenes in a what seems like a choreographed dance.  Utterback makes great use of a small space, as well as a tiny backstage area.
This is TCL's first production using their updated, state of the art LED lighting system.  Lighting designer Brian Miller put the new lights through their paces, using minimal lighting for the scene changes, and lighting each scene appropriately for a church, a cafe, or a home.
Fight choreographer Stephanie Roscoe brings realism and some hard knocks to Jean (Erica Young) and Carlotta's (Krystal Jakosky) knock down, drag out melee.  The set design (Pam Bennett, Chris Pash) is functional and minimal.  Bennett and Pash have created a set that cleverly maximizes the limited flexibility of a stage that has some serious limitations.
It is the performances, though, that will stick with the audience.  They are uniformly serious, fun, passionate, and emotional.  Gordon (Dean Espitallier) is a dead guy with no lines whatsoever in the first act, but he comes out alone at the start of the second act and knocks it out of the park.  We get a full explanation/rationalization of his "business," and some insight into his demise.  Espitallier is a confident, articulate, and fairly likeable Gordon, considering his substantial moral conflicts.  
Erica Young (Jean) & Dean Espitallier (Gordon)
Erica Young is the naive but persistent Jean.  Young appeared in The Other Place last year, and here again shows her full range of acting skills.  She's devoted to a dead man's cell phone, inserting herself into his life after he stopped living.  Young makes this somewhat unlikely premise credible; she's sufficiently neurotic, compulsive, and innocent to sell the story.   
Jay Miller (Dwight) is Gordon's under loved little brother with a justified inferiority complex.  Miller squints and grins, starved for attention, as he tries to compete with his dead brother.  Miller is a comedy lightning rod; he can get a laugh just by changing the expression on his face.
Katherine Myers (Hermia) & Erica Young (Jean).

There are no slackers in this cast.  Katherine Myers (Hermia) delivers one of the best inebriated scenes in recent memory.  Madge Montgomery (Mrs. Gottlieb) is perfect as Gordon and Dwight's mother, equally loving Gordon and ignoring Dwight. Krystal Jakosky (Carlotta) is scheming, sexy, and tough as nails.
The subtitle for Dead Man's Cell Phone is "a beguiling comedy."  There are some laughs here, but as I mentioned above, the messages are the real substance.  The message that hit home for me is an important one:  we all leave loose ends when our time is up.  Gordon had no advanced warning, and he frankly left a huge mess for others when he died.  In my personal experience, even with ample warning, we will ALL leave loose ends when we die.  
If you understand that your time is insufficient for all you need to do, you will be compelled to make the best possible use of the time you have.  To me, that is the central message of Dead Man's Cell Phone.  
Dead Man's Cell Phone is entertaining and enlightening.  What more could one ask for?  This is a fine production of an interesting script, done with skill and enthusiasm.  If you haven't seen it, you have until September 6 to get a ticket and get to the Mary Miller Theater.

This show has adult content and adult language.  Use your discretion if you're thinking of bringing teenagers.  
The lobster bisque in the cafe gave me a flashback to an old, but often controversial TV show:  Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.  There's an episode about death by chicken soup.
There is ample street parking on Simpson Street and on the cross streets in the neighborhood. 

There are no restaurants in the area, but the Odd13 Brewing Company is across the street from the theater.  They do not serve food, but have regular food truck service outside the brewery.
This show closes on September 6, 2014. 

Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
Since there are no restaurants in the immediate vicinity of the theater, we stopped by The Rex, 817 Main Street in Louisville.  The restaurant is located in one of the oldest buildings (1908) in Louisville, and it was formerly used as a movie theater.  The interior is decorated with a wide array of movie posters.
It's about a 15 minute drive from the Rex to the theater, depending on traffic and weather.  The Rex has rooftop dining (recommended in good weather.  The Rex burgers (highly recommended) are among the best in Colorado.  

Director:  Vonalda Utterback
Scenic Design:  Pam Bennett, Chris Pash
Lighting Design:  Brian Miller
Sound Design:  Tina Cich
Fight Choreographer:  Stephanie Roscoe
Costume Design:  Kim deJager

Jean:  Erica Young
Gordon:  Dean Espitallier
Mrs. Gottlieb:  Madge Montgomery
Hermia:  Katherine Myers
Dwight:  Jay Miller
Carlotta/Stranger:  Krystal Jakosky
Ensemble:  Joe Illingworth

Sunday, August 17, 2014


Playwright:  Yasmina Reza, translated from the French by Christopher Hampton
Company:  Springs Ensemble Theatre
VenueSprings Ensemble Theatre, 1903 E. Cache la Poudre Street, Colorado Springs CO, 80909.
Running Time:  90 minutes (no intermission).
Date of Performance:  Saturday, August 16, 2014
A single word describes Yasmina Reza's cultural/relationship drama.  The title Art  is a metaphor for the minimalist style of abstract paintings, but instead of a solid "color field", Reza gives us a simple, single "word field" that tells us everything we need to know about the play.  
Can a four by five foot canvas, with only a simple, white color field, really be art?  Can there be a message or meaning in what appears to be a blank canvas? 
Mark Rothko, Abstract Expressionist, thought so, at least if the color field is Red. Serge (Emory John Collinson) agrees.
Untitled (Red).  Mark Rothko, (1956).
Serge is a dermatologist who has just purchased a blank, white, abstract "masterpiece" for 200,000 French francs, the equivalent of about $40,000 US dollars at the time the play was written.  He shows the white canvas to his friend Marc (Aaron Jennejahn), who immediately deems it a "piece of white shit."  The ensuing scenes follow the conflict, first about whether a white canvas can be art, but ultimately about whether friendships can survive conflicts  over artistic values.
Reza's script is at turns funny, profound, and highly emotional.  Art is about ideas, relationships, and conflict.  It is provocative.  It is weighty.  It is complicated.  And it is as richly rewarding for its point about abstract art as it is for its point about friendships.
Springs Ensemble Theatre (SET) brings Art to life on a tiny stage with black leather furniture.  In the black box of the room, the white canvas is underscored by the straight, clean lines of the black chair and love seat.  Director/Scenic Designer Sarah Shaver gives us a set that immediately reinforces the white color field theme of the script.  
Cast, L-R:  Emory John Collinson (Serge), Matt Racliffe (Yvan), Aaron Jennejahn (Marc).
Emory John Collinson as Serge is appealing but pompous; he considers himself superior to those like Marc who don't appreciate modernism.  Collinson skillfully shows us Serge with a super sized ego, eager to criticize others for what are arguably his own worst faults.  He considers Marc to be smug and arrogant; perhaps Serge has no mirrors in his apartment.  Collinson's performance is filled with intriguing facial gestures that punctuate his lines.
Aaron Jennejahn is marvelous as Marc, matching Collinson's self-righteous pomposity at every turn.  Jennejahn is a perfect foil for Serge, challenging his world view and his sincerity with relentless retorts.
Matt Radcliffe (Yvan) is the peacemaker for Serge and Marc, although trying to make that peace is a fool's errand.  Rather than resolving problems between Serge and Marc, Yvan becomes the target of their anger.  Radcliffe is wonderful; he brings a sense of both innocence and impotence to the conflict.  When he becomes agitated, Radcliffe is at the top of his game.  His anger, his confusion, his frustration, and his impatience all boil over.  After all his attempts to resolve the conflict, he finally takes Marc's side about the white canvas.  Radcliffe's conversion from arbitrator to advocate is priceless.
If I have any quibble with Art, it's that the French terms used in the script were passable, but not very authentic.  A dialect coach for the actors would have been a wise addition to the crew.
SET has put together a fine production of an excellent script.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see it until near the end of the run.  It's too late to buy a ticket, but that doesn't change my recommendation.  Art is an engaging, provocative, and immensely rewarding experience; I highly recommend it, even though that recommendation is too late.
This show is suitable for teens and up.  That said, though, the subject matter may not appeal to younger teens.  The concepts and relationship issues are beyond the life experiences of some adults; younger teens may not relate well to the subjects. 
SET has ample parking; if the lot is full at the front of the theater, there is an empty school parking lot across the street.  There are no restaurants or bars in the area, so plan accordingly.
This show closes on August 17, 2014. 
Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
Since there are no restaurants in the immediate vicinity of the theater, we stopped by the Colorado Mountain Brewery (CMB), 1110 Interquest Parkway, Colorado Springs.  CMB was recently visited by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, who announced that "Meatloaf Wellington has taken over Colorado!!"  I can't confirm that; nobody at our table ordered the meatloaf.  
It's about a 15 minute drive from the CMB to the theater, depending on traffic and weather.  CMB has ample patio dining, with a marvelous view of the front range and the Air Force Academy (AFA).  Try the pulled pork sandwich (yummy).  One of the local brews, 7258 Blond Ale, is named for the altitude at the AFA.  According to our waitress, the CMB founders were affiliated with the AFA...thus the location of the restaurant and the name "7258" Blonde Ale.

Photo CreditsSprings Ensemble Theater, Jess Weaver

Director:  Sarah S. Shaver
Scenic Design:  Sarah S. Shaver
Lighting Design/Stage Manager:  Jenny Maloney
Sound Design:  David Plambeck
Fight Choreographer:  Max Ferguson
Costume Design:  Emory John Collinson

Serge:  Emory John Collinson
Yvan:  Matt Radcliffe
Marc:  Aaron Jennejahn

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Playwright:  A. R. Gurney
VenueAvenue Theatre, 401 17th Avenue, Denver CO, 80203.
Running Time:  2 hour, 15 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).
Date of Performance:  Friday, August 15, 2014 (Opening Night)
John Ashton (Greg) at The Avenue Theater

Whether your pet is a dog, a cat, or some other creature, you've almost certainly wondered at some point "what is he/she thinking?"  Of course, you'll never know.    And that mystery is a large part of the power of Sylvia.
Sylvia, you see, is a stray dog that Greg (John Ashton) finds one day in a park.  He's charmed, seduced, and he falls in love with "Sylvia" (it's the only ID he can find on her tags).  Greg brings her home, naively miscalculating how much disruption she will bring to his life.
A. R. Gurney's script gives Sylvia (Amie MacKenzie) a voice.  She speaks to us, giving us an insight to what our own dogs/pets might say.  Fair warning: Sylvia can toss out some F bombs, along with her canine insights.  That said, Gurney gives Sylvia a charming personality,and a total devotion to her master, Greg.  
Greg's wife, Kate (Abby Apple Boes) is disinterested in Sylvia (or any other dog, for that matter), to the point of open hostility.  Therein lies the conflict in Sylvia; Greg ultimately has to choose which female he wants in his life.  He cannot have both Kate and Sylvia.  
The script requires one to accept that Greg has an unhealthy but deep platonic love for his dog.  At some point (and Greg is WAY beyond this point), it becomes a mental health problem.  Greg's behavior is extreme, even for dog lovers.  You will want to accept this unlikely premise, because the payoff is worth it.  Sylvia's charm easily overcomes Greg's insanity. and we all benefit from Sylvia's insights and playfulness.
This Ashton/Abster Production is a reprise of Sylvia from some years ago, reuniting the original cast for a new romp through the non-stop laughs in Gurney's script.  They are all intimately familiar with their roles, which they attack with relish and respect simultaneously.  It's a marvelous script, and the cast knows how to make it sing...and bark.
Amie MacKenzie (Sylvia).
Although they struggled somewhat with their vocals for Cole Porter's Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye, the cast is uniformly excellent.  Amie MacKenzie's role as Sylvia is very physical; she spends a great deal of her stage time on her hands and knees.  MacKenzie never seems to tire of crawling on the stage, all while accurately demonstrating the mannerisms of every dog I have ever known.  To say that she is a convincing actress in Sylvia doesn't do her justice; it's better to say that she is a convincing dog.  Anyone who has any doubts about MacKenzie's ability to portray a dog need only watch her reaction to cats.
John Ashton is marvelous as Greg; his emotional commitment to both the females in his life is never in doubt, and when he finally makes his choice between them, the tears in his eyes are real.  Abby Apple Boes is strong as well, making Kate a loving but frustrated wife who forces a confrontation with Greg but then makes a difficult transition seem plausible.  
Tupper Callum (Tom/Phyllis/Leslie)
It is Tupper Callum, though, who steals the spotlight every time he is on stage as Tom, as Phyllis, and as Leslie. He masterfully plays all three roles, one male, one female, and one of undefined gender, and triumphs with all three.  Callum is fetching in drag as Phyllis, and casually androgynous as Leslie.  He brings a delicious mix of comedic mischief and dramatic seriousness to each of his peculiar characters.  
Pamela Clifton's direction is fast paced and focused.  She added some nice touches, such as the garbage can in the park.  Clifton uses it to deposit a large bag of dog poop with a thud, drawing audible "ewwws" from the audience.
As Sylvia says to Greg, "I'm a mystery."  She's right.  We can never know what our pets are thinking.  Sylvia lets us explore that mysterious gap between people and their pets, and the result is intriguing.
Sylvia has been produced multiple times in the last few years in Denver.  If you've seen it before, you should see it again.  This cast is recreating their original roles, bringing their experience and a huge amount of talent to the Avenue Theater stage.  If you've never seen Sylvia, now is the time to buy a ticket.  Whether you're a dog lover, a cat lover, or never had a pet, you'll be charmed by getting inside Sylvia's head.  This is a laugh out loud show with something for everyone.  
It's a no-brainer to recommend Sylvia.  I simply need to tell you this:  the house was nearly full for opening night, and the audience gave the cast a long, enthusiastic and well earned standing ovation.  
Buy a ticket.  You'll be charmed, entertained, exhilarated, and delighted by Sylvia.    And you too will be on your feet hooting, hollering, and clapping as the actors take their bows.
Cast, L-R:  Abby Apple Boes (Kate), John Ashton (Greg), Tupper Callum (Tom/Phyllis/Leslie), Amie MacKenzie (Sylvia).  And I think that might be Bob in front...

This show is suitable for teens and up; the sometimes crude language may not be appropriate for younger children.  
The Avenue Theater is in one of the most densely populated parts of Denver.  Street parking is your only option, so allow sufficient time to circle the block a few times.  There are a number of restaurants and bars within 2-3 blocks of the theater.
FULL DISCLOSURE:  I am now a part owner of a couple of dogs (my wife Roxie has two long haired daschunds).  They're both charming, but Lucky is one of the most intelligent creatures I have ever met.  I have no way of knowing what she's thinking, but I do know that she is ALWAYS thinking.  I wish she could talk, like Sylvia.  I know we could have some VERY interesting conversations.
This show closes on September 6, 2014. 
Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
It's only 3 blocks away at 700 E 17th Avenue, but it's a world apart from your standard comfort food.  Hamburger Mary's is gay, fun (the menu lists appetizers under the category of "Foreplay"), and delicious.  All, including heterosexuals, are welcome.  We had the Cilantro Lime Shrimp Salad and the fish and chips; both are delicious.  Oh...and by some coincidence, our waitress' name was "Mary."  Really.  
Tickets HERE.
Photo Credits Avenue Theater

Director:  Pamela Clifton
Scenic Design:  Patrick Gerace
Lighting Design:  Seth Allison
Costume Design:  Those Who Wear Them

Sylvia:  Amie MacKenzie
Greg:  John Ashton
Kate:  Abby Apple Boes
Tom/Phyllis/Leslie:  Tupper Cullum