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Contrived Ending

[The following review ran in Variety the week of February 24th.]

Jeremy Make as Nathan and Jamie Ann Romero as Laurel
Jeremy Make as Nathan and
Jamie Ann Romero as Laurel
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Just in time for Oscar season, Denver scribe Josh Hartwell delivers a slice-of-life tribute to film buffs, seen through the lens of four twenty-somethings who work at an art cinema specializing in classic Hollywood fare. The movie house, its proprietor, and his mistress (the theatre manager), have seen their better days, worn from the complexities and multiplexes of life. The kids who work there are itching to get out and see the world.

Matt Mueller as Jack
Matt Mueller as Jack
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Looking back only a few years, Hartwell gets to the core of post-teen, pre-adult angst with honest dialogue that reveals distinctive, archetypal characters. Jack, a high school graduate and usher at the local bijou, gets a job at the refreshment counter for his best buddy, film school dropout Nathan (Jeremy Make).

Steven J. Burge as Shane
Steven J. Burge as Shane
Photo: Michael Ensminger
There, in the lobby, offices, and closets of the single-screen throw back, they: compete for the affections of the cute ticket seller, Laurel (Jamie Ann Romero); fend off advances from the lascivious manager, Wendy (Rhonda Lee Brown); malign the nerdy ticket taker, Shane (Steven J. Burge); and endure the beaten down owner, Mr. Vincent (Paul Page).

Rhonda Lee Brown as Wendy
Rhonda Lee Brown as Wendy
Photo: Michael Ensminger
As the characters sort out their lives, gutsy performances all around provide testament to Hartwell's gritty straight-talk, helmer Jim Hunt's fluid staging, and Biz Schaugaard's authentic set. Mueller gives an aching perf as the live-wire, sexually-conflicted Jack just discovering the root of his attraction to Nathan, who, in Make's well-focused portrait, never suspects the true feelings behind his friend's attentions.

(Left to right) Paul Page as Mister Vincent and Jeremy Make as Nathan
(L to R) Paul Page as Mr. Vincent
and Jeremy Make as Nathan
Photo: Michael Ensminger



Romero shares Laurel's big heart and delicate dreams, winning over Nathan and the aud with her charm. Burge's quirky Shane draws consistent laughs as a shameless and finally penitent clown. Brown's no-nonsense nympho, Wendy, completely disarms. Page discovers all the wrinkles in foundering Mr. Vincent, who's searching for a lifeline in his flask and in the arms of Wendy.

Story has built-in big screen potential for contempo brat-pack crowd and celluloid aficionados.

Conundrum Productions' world premiere of Josh Hartwell's Contrived Ending runs through March 15th. 303-601-2640.

Bob Bows

 

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