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ESSAYS

Index of Social Topics

As discussed in other essays on this site, it behooves the theatre to vigilantly criticize unexamined yet accepted norms. To this end, we offer the following examples of social relevancy in contemporary theatre as explored through criticism.

Below, you will find various subject matter titles linked to excerpts from reviews of plays that directly or indirectly comment on these topics. Please note that the indexing and cross-referencing of these ideas is based upon the archives of this site, but is in no way a complete explication of the content found herein. Have at it!

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Compilation of quotes from theatre reviews, by subject:

Aging

From The Road to Mecca

One of the principal victims of the loss of the extended family is the elderly. Without protection from relatives and friends who care, older folk often fall victim not just to scam artists, but to upright folks who genuinely believe they know what's best for others.

In Industrial Arts Theatre and Mirror Players joint production of Athol Fugard's The Road to Mecca, Miss Helen is an elderly artist living alone in New Bethesda, South Africa in 1974. Miss Helen's lifestyle, living independently and alone, and her art form, provocative sculptures that face Mecca, not heaven, rub many of her fellow villagers the wrong way. Assuming the responsibility for the community, the village priest attempts to convince her to move to a home for the aged. In the midst of this process, Miss Helen's young friend Elsa, a graduate student, shows up after receiving a letter from Miss Helen calling for help. The battle for Miss Helen's soul is on. Ultimately, though, it's Miss Helen who must save herself.

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Apartheid

From Gumboots

Whether it be the tortured soul that generated the passionate art of Van Gogh, or the slavery that engendered the blues, much of our greatest art arises out of suffering…

Such is also the case of gumboot dancing that is now being performed in the international tour of Gumboots now playing at the Buell Theatre. Gumboots are, essentially, Wellingtons—rubber boots that were used by slaves to keep their feet from rotting in the diamond mines in South Africa during Apartheid.

This makes the origins of gumboot dancing much like the manner in which tap dancing arose out of prohibitions against blacks using drums during slavery. Forced to work over 11,000 feet underground under the worst conditions, the slaves slapped and slogged their boots to communicate with each other…

These are the rhythms of oppression and liberation, Soweto soul music, that declares "The men who stole the gold is the men who stole the sun." Here is the fortitude and spirit that enabled South Africa's blacks to eventually overcome the depraved Boer regime.

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Battle of the Sexes

From Oleanna

David Mamet is one of America's most acclaimed contemporary playwrights. His unique approach to dialogue and the discontinuity of consciousness that he expresses through it, as well as his brutally honest excursion into seamier side of how we socialize and capitalize with and at the expense of each other, have made Mamet an oft performed artist...

Oleanna is a deeply troubling play that wraps the power struggle between the sexes within a corrupt and doctrinaire educational system. Despite Mamet's one-sided presentation under his own direction, other directors have found great interpretive latitude between the characters of John, a college professor, and Carol, his student. Is John patriarchal and patronizing? Is Carol angry and naive?

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Black Struggle

From Dream on Monkey Mountain

When colonial powers reek their havoc on native cultures, the result for the indigenous peoples is often a loss of both collective and personal identity. One of the most eloquent voices on behalf of the oppressed in the late 20th century is the Nobel Prize winning Caribbean poet Derek Wolcott, whose Dream on Monkey Mountain is now being presented in an ambitious collaboration between the Denver Center Theatre Company and Cleo Parker Robinson Dance.

Dream on Monkey Mountain is a full blown phantasmagorial dream quest of a dirt poor, old and ugly charcoal burner, Makak, a Carib, who is imprisoned by the local constabulary for "drunk and disorderly" conduct. While incarcerated, Makak's subconscious soul wrestlings with revenge, self discovery, and freedom are played out through original music and dance performed by the local West Indian population and apocryphal African tribes that represent Makak's divided self.

But while playwright Wolcott's lyrical language is complimented by Robinson's choreography and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson's score, and the native costuming quite spectacular, the story remains largely symbolic and lacking coherent integration between the dreaming and waking elements. And while this may be exactly what the author has in mind, one might argue that effective dream therapy is ultimately a clarifying process not an irrational one.

From Two Trains Running

August Wilson is, at this time, America's most best known African-American playwright. His body of work consists primarily of a series of plays, each of which represents a decade of the Black experience in 20th century white America. Two Trains Running, currently in production at the Space Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, is Wilson's commentary on the '60's. But unlike characteristically radical plays of the '60's by Imamu Amiri Baraka (aka Leroi Jones) and Ed Bullins, Wilson's answer to oppression and racism is not violence. Rather, Two Trains Running is about dignity that transcends color.

From Mama, I Want to Sing

At it's best community theatre serves to bring folks together to celebrate their shared aspirations, fears, and life's transitions. Mama, I Want To Sing, the current production at Eulipions, goes to the root of one of the black community's greatest gifts—Music. Whether it's inspirational or secular, jazz, rhythm and blues, rock or gospel, reggae, or world beat, the influence of black musicians and singers is everywhere.

Mama, I Want To Sing, may be the story of one black girl whose introduction to music came through the church, but it is the tale of many black artists who, at one time or another in the quest for professional employment, had to leave the sacred fold for the jazz clubs, dance halls, speakeasies, and recording studios. Getting permission from god-fearing parents for such a life was often trying, sometimes leading to permanent divisiveness in families. Never-the-less Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cook, Whitney Houston, Sarah Vaughn, Gladys Knight, Roberta Flack and many others succeeded in sharing their gifts with large audiences.

From Showboat

When Florenz Ziegfield, Jr., the man whose name became synonymous with the Broadway extravaganza, originally commissioned Jerome Kerns and Oscar Hammerstein II to write Show Boat he expected a gaudy, vacuous comedy, as was the style of the times. What he got instead was a serious discourse on American musical and social history, with a complicated plot that mixed personal tragedy, national racism, and great musical entertainment. Ziegfield protested, but Kerns and Hammerstein held their ground, and Show Boat has become a permanent part of the American musical theatre repertory.

The national tour revival of this classic, now being presented by Denver Center Attractions at the Buell Theatre, has undergone a variety of changes from the original to its present incarnation as Hal Prince's six and one-half million dollar blockbuster. There has also been some very serious public dialogue over the manner in which the play deals with racism.

But after viewing Wednesday night's opening, I find myself agreeing with John Lahr, the talented critic for the New Yorker magazine who writes: "describing racism doesn't make Show Boat racist. The production is meticulous in honoring the influence of black culture not just in the making of the nation's wealth but, through music, in the making of its modern spirit."

From Having Our Say

Having Our Say is the story of two very remarkable women. After Amy Hill Hearth, a correspondent for the New York Times, finally convinced the Delaney sisters to be interviewed for a Sunday feature, the reaction was more than anyone could have imagined. Soon a publisher came calling, and the book sold over 1.5 million copies. Next came the critically acclaimed Broadway play, which ran for 8½ months.

At the time of their interview, the sisters were both over 100 years old. Bessie, the youngest at 101, was one of the first two black woman dentists in the United States. Her sister Sadie, 103 then, was the first black woman to teach home economics in the New York City public schools. After moving from North Carolina, where their father was the first black minister of the Episcopal Church, the sisters spent their working lives in the city, meeting a host of remarkable people including W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

In a remarkable three acts, the sisters recount their family story, their successes, the humiliations they suffered because of their race, and the wonderful people they met and worked with in the course of their extraordinary lives. Micki Grant, an award-winning author and composer, who plays Sadie, and Lizan Mitchell, who plays Bessie, reproduce the inspirational oral history of the maiden sisters as if they were siblings themselves, finishing each other's sentences and anticipating each other's every need.

If there's a more honest history of the Twentieth Century in America around, I haven't seen it.

From Innocent Thoughts

The Shadow Theatre Company, Denver's first professional black theatre company opened its doors with a production of William Downs' Innocent Thoughts, a tale of a black lawyer and his expert witness, a Jewish anthropologist, who meet in the context of a murder trial and learn to come to grips with the racist views each has of the other.

Jeffrey W. Nickelson as Ira Aldridge, a one-time independent black civil rights lawyer turned corporate attorney, and Matt Cohen as Arlen Weinberg, a liberal Jewish Ph.D. candidate, who still owns his father's slum properties, give explosive yet grounded performances as they convincingly wrestle with deeply felt issues between two strong, vastly different sub-cultures.

While some of the arguments that the playwright draws from everyday life are sometimes nothing more than the reiteration of shallow bigotry, and in other cases over-simplifications that still pass as the truth, the basic questions are there for the taking: How do two groups which both have histories of persecution, and which shared an activism for common causes in the late '60's, find themselves so often at odds today?

Although the play deals with the power struggles between two minority groups it never discusses the overriding economic and political assumptions both groups are making. While they never see that they both are victims of the same machine, they do eventually understand on an emotional level they have common enemies. At least that's a step.

From Spunk

Smokebrush Theater's production of Spunk, now playing at Eulipions based on three short stories of Zora Neale Hurston adapted by George C. Wolfe, author of The Colored Museum and Tony Award winning Jelly's Last Jam, and currently Artistic director of Joseph Papp's New York Shakepeare Festival.

Zora Neale Hurston was born to a family of sharecroppers in 1891. Later, her family moved to Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated black town in America.

During the Harlem Renaissance, she began collecting Southern black folklore, for which she was criticized by other black writers because she remained faithful to the dialect in which they were recounted to her.

From Bring In 'Da Noise, Bring In 'Da Funk-

From the grief of the slave ships to the uprisings that led, temporarily, to the banishment of the use of the drum by slaves and through the horrors of slavery and the carpetbaggers, and even the lynchings and riots, tap, like the blues, grew as an expression that preserved the soul.

From Blues for an Alabama Sky

What was Harlem really like in 1930? Was it like the movie The Cotton Club, or countless other interpretations done by white writers? Perhaps they caught part of what was going on, but if you're interested in an insider's perspective, the Denver Center Theatre Company's current production of Blues for an Alabama Sky has got it.

Written by Pearl Cleage, a black woman, for the Cultural Olympiad preceding the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Blues for an Alabama Sky is filled with rhythmic language, colorful characters, collective dreams, and the hard truths of being black in America during the Great Depression.

From Big River

Free At Last! Echoing the words of Martin Luther King, Huckleberry Finn's traveling companion, the one-time slave Jim, captures the essence of his battle to live as a man in a country institutionally designed to deny him those rights…

While the literati may still be waiting for the great American novel, just folks will tell you it's already been done. It was written over an hundred years ago by a clever humorist from Joplin, Missouri named Samuel Clemens. Better known by his nom de plume, Mark Twain, Clemens' Huckleberry Finn, upon which Big River is based, tells us as much about America today as it ever did—the sure sign of a masterpiece…

Big River speaks the troubled soul of a great country, brimming with compassion and optimism, embroiled in racism and greed…

The genius of Clemens' story lies in his ability to get the reader to question, through Huck's eyes, the whole notion of slavery and bigotry. All sorts of excuses were and are used to justify racism and property rights over human rights, but in the end Huck simply follows his own heart, something that the so-called religious folks seem to forget is supposed to lie at the center of the teachings they presume to follow.

From Riff Raff

Black males have the lowest life expectancy of any group of people in the United States. The reasons for this are inherent in the cycle of prejudice, poverty, violence, and chemical abuse. Most Americans, however, have little interest in trying to understand the insidious nature of these conditions.

Not content with allowing this neglect and willful ignorance to continue, the noted black actor and now playwright Lawrence Fishburne penned Riff Raff, an explosive, in your face examination of three inner city males attempting to cope within the limited options available to them.

From Waiting to be Invited

On the heels of Martin Luther King's holiday and as we head into Black History Month, it's appropriate that we set aside time to recall the faith and courage of those who were willing to sacrifice in order that they and their children might live a world free from bigotry and oppression.

There are many names that we naturally associate with this struggle including Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Reverend King, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and others. The beauty of Sherry Shephard-Massat's Waiting to be Invited, which received it's World Premiere last Saturday at the Denver Center, is that its heroines are people that you and I have never heard of.

Based on a true story that included Ms. Shephard-Massat's grandmother, Waiting to be Invited follows four black women on the day they plan to integrate the lunch counter in a prominent downtown Atlanta department store in the early '50's.

On a simple, yet cleverly designed roundtable set that serves as the changing room of the factory where they work, the bus that takes them downtown, and the park where they gather their nerve before going to lunch, the ladies detail their commitment to and air their fears over what they are about to do. Their animated discussion ranges from good-naturedly getting each other's goat, with zingers that would make Bill Cosby jealous, to serious moral accusations, all brought to life by Shephard-Massat's loving recreation of the joyousness of the regional dialect.

From The African Company Presents Richard III

The African Company was the first African-American theatre company in the United States, opening the African Grove theatre, in what is now the South Village in New York City, in 1821. This play, which both dramatizes and chronicles the company's history, was written by Carlyle Brown, and first performed in 1987.

Forty years prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, the creation of a black theatre, even in the midst of the nation's most heterogeneous metropolis, was more than white theatre producers could handle. The polished oratorical and theatrical skills of the actors attracted full houses of whites and blacks and thus threatened the success of white theatres, eventually leading to its closing by authorities…

While the African Company's dream of performing Shakespeare may have been vexed, their trials did lead Brown, their producer, to have his own play King Shotaway performed, a first for an African American. The African Company Presents Richard III is a unique and moving statement on the empowerment that theatre can bring to a disenfranchised community in their struggles to be free.

from Minstrel Show: The Lynching of William Brown

The worst race riot in the history of Nebraska is the subject of the current work presented by the Front Row Center Productions. Minstrel Show: The Lynching of William Brown is told as an eye witness account by two black men to the audience that they install as an investigatory committee.

David Lewis and Jonathan Wilson, straight from a successful albeit controversial run in Omaha, where the events actually took place 79 years ago next month, are extraordinarily engaging as they mix the sordid facts with selections from their top hat and tails song and dance act.

The horror of thousands of white Omahans, gathered in a carnival atmosphere, storming their county courthouse to drag an elderly, crippled black man to his death for a crime he couldn't have committed is a powerful reminder that the recent events in Jasper, Texas (the dragging death of a black man), or even Bosnia for that matter, are part of a long history of humankind's bigotry. And yet, without such testimony we surely have no chance of evolving past such bestial behavior.

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Campaign Financing

From Born Yesterday

Fifty years after it was first written, Born Yesterday laments the same sad state of affairs in our nation's government: Bucks have more to say about how it's run than ballots. We still haven't figured out that campaign reform means no private monies controlling democracy. "They" may say it's their constitutional right to spend their money to buy politicians, but I say that ain't "one man, one vote". In fact, even the Supreme Court has ruled that money isn't protected under "Free Speech."

From Chicago

On a deeper level, it's a spectacle about the clueless cult of celebrity, the cynical manipulation of justice, and sex as a commodity. Ultimately, these very themes that give the musical its swagger and style also rob it of any sympathy and redeeming value. For in celebrating what Chicago stands for we de facto condone the decadent state of our country's "bought and paid for" legislative, judicial and executive branches and the confused and manipulated public that allows the withering of its freedoms.

The live band, clever pantomimes, vaudeville routines, and marionette shtick aside, Chicago then seems much like the USA today, with little redeeming vision to offer us a way out, only a banal acceptance of cynicism and greed. If you think not, tell me why we tolerate a Congress that refuses to address campaign reform and gun control in any meaningful and lasting fashion.

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Capitalism

From All My Sons

When the American Century reached full bloom following the Allies' victories in the summer of 1945, the future was painted with glowing visions. Prosperity and success were simply available for the price of hard work, and the American Dream was within reach of anyone who could follow the prescription.

For Arthur Miller, however, something was drastically amiss, and he wrote about it incessantly, including two plays that are currently in production in Denver: All My Sons, Industrial Arts Theatre's current offering at The Denver Civic Theatre, and the national touring production of Death of a Salesman, with Hal Holbrook, at the Auditorium Theatre.

Perhaps our greatest living playwright, Miller explores the devastation that is left behind by generations that worship material gain over all else as the determiner of success. In All My Sons, written in 1949, the fates of two families are tied to events that took place at a factory both fathers worked at during the war. Faulty aircraft parts had been shipped out to meet government production quotas and keep lucrative contracts, resulting in the deaths of twenty-one young pilots. Two men are convicted, yet one is released after appeals.

From Julius Caesar

"Their story is our story," The National Geographic proudly boasted of the Roman Empire it worshipfully recounted in two special issues a year or so back, and truly, the mantle of Caesar's world-enveloping imperialism that had been passed down through the European colonial powers now lies squarely upon America's shoulders.

from The Adding Machine

One of the most famous scenes in the silent movies was from Modern Times, where Charlie Chaplin gets caught in the gears of industrial machinery. During the same era, the playwright Elmer Rice found the relentless quantification of life by our economic engine equally debilitating, and captured it in the metaphor of The Adding Machine, now in production by The Director's Theatre in Boulder.

Given a decidedly late Twentieth Century twist by director Jeremy Cole through the use of multiple television monitors, and video and audio playback, including taped appearances by many of metro Denver's finest actors, The Adding Machine reminds us of just how paltry our efforts have been to loosen the tyranny of capital and technology over human affairs.

from Three Hotels

If there was ever a generation that thought its idealism would change the world, the baby boomers were it. Of course, this did not go for the entire generation, but a significant portion certainly believed this—and it was a portion significant enough to stop an imperialist war in Southeast Asia and get branded communists for starting Earth Day. So what happens when these folks age, have children, and run into the social realities of multinational corporations and saving for their children's college education?

These are some of the questions that lie behind playwright Jon Robin Baitz' Three Hotels, currently in production at the Nomad Theatre in Boulder. Kenneth and Barbara Hoyle, former Peace Corps volunteers, are a globetrotting corporate couple. Kenneth has worked his way up the ladder to a vice president of a baby formula company whose principal markets are in the Third World. While Kenneth has long ago rationalized away any conscience that he may have had, Barbara resists such complacency while continuing to be supported with the proceeds from Ken's activities...

One of playwright Baitz' remarkable achievements in Three Hotels is the manner in which he takes an intensely political subject and invests it with human scale and interest. The production consists of three scenes, each a compelling monologue, performed without intermission.

From Evita!

With the American political season in full swing and the promises flying thicker than politicians around a pile of pork barrel legislation, it's informative to compare our time-honored process to that of one of our neighbors to the South—Argentina! And what better way to immerse oneself in the electoral charade than to enjoy Andrew Lloyd Weber's razor-sharp satirical musical Evita! now in production at Boulder's Dinner Theatre.

Evita! is, of course, the life story of the sometimes Madonna, sometimes Jezebel of the Pampas—Eva Peron. Did I say Madonna? You may remember that the pop star queen played this role on the silver screen a few years back, stealing scenes and songs from her fellow actors in much the same fashion as the real life title role subject stole the hearts and wallets of her fellow countrymen.

Eva Duarte connived and cavorted her way up the social hierarchy of Argentina until she finally had her man—General Juan Peron. With the media savvy and charismatic Evita leading the way, the two of them charmed and bilked the country from the mid-40's through the early 50's.

From Was He Anyone?

It's only been a couple of weeks since we've witnessed the Great Western Powers do a turnabout with their rescue mission of Rwandan refugees. Suddenly, over a million hungry, besieged people don't need as much help because they have dragged themselves over an invisible line.

This is by way of saying that the amount of red tape and bureaucracy that gets in the way of charity and relief efforts is often so overwhelming that the human suffering which motivated us in the first place gets lost in the shuffle.

From Titanic: A New Musical

The story and book by Peter Stone draws clear class lines between the passengers, which are reflected in the architecture of the boat and the shepherding by the crew. And we learn, in fact, it was the arrogance and greed of the owners of the mighty ship, with their concern over marketing their product, that regrettably caused this great calamity.

Scrimping on life boats so as not to unduly clutter the 1st class deck, and pushing the Captain to make New York in six days to compete with its German counterparts, the Titanic was forced to steer a northerly course through the Atlantic, ignoring iceberg warnings from other ships. When the telling moment came, there were simply not enough lifeboats to save the likes of elite likes of John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim and hundreds of middle class sightseers and hope-filled immigrants.

What a telling metaphor for the ship of state that caters to wealth at the expense of life and limb. Titanic, A New Musical, is a trim, fit, vessel, that faces the tough questions of this monumental disaster head on, in an exuberant and telling presentation.

From The Importance of Being Ernest

While his life may have ended tragically, Oscar Wilde left behind many wonderful works, including the frothy and scathing The Importance of Being Ernest.

Wilde had a fascinating love-hate relationship with privilege: While he adored the finer things in life, he despised the shallow conservatism and artlessness that those of means usually display. In The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde has a marvelous time both playing with and skewering the idle rich.

From Angel City

Sam Shepard is a well know film actor and powerful playwright who has given us such classics as American Buffalo, Buried Child, and Fool for Love. Back in the '70's, at the front end of his career, Shepard went through a frustrating spell in Hollywood and out of that experience fashioned a sardonic look at the dream machine that generates the images of unattainable perfection which drive American materialism.

The piece, Angel City, is now running at the Bug Theatre. Like so many of his political and artistic contemporaries at that time, Shepard's take on the movie capital of the world was one of cynicism, outrage, and surrealism. Even today, Hollywood is an easy target for those who enjoy pointing fingers while failing to see that the devil, indeed, is the shadow of the image reflected in one's mirror…

However, Shepards' script offers us little new in the way of insight into Hollywood's moral decrepitude. Witch hunters can rant and rave all they want about gratuitous violence—and find communists or non-Christians behind it all—but the fact is, Hollywood is just a reflecting what it takes to support an society that depends upon economic expansion and consumption of nearly half the world's annual use of resources.

Luckily for us, Shepard turned his clever mind inward, and went on to write some very insightful plays.

From Of Mice and Men

In the heartland of the wealthiest nation on earth, in the midst of the longest sustained period of economic growth in American history, it's easy to forget that there was a time in this country during our parents' and grandparents' lives when there was barely enough money and food to go around. And no one captured those trying days better than John Steinbeck in novels such as Cannery Row, The Grapes of Wrath, and Of Mice and Men.

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Censorship

From Tango

Even during the most repressive eras, theatre has usually managed to find a way to cleverly evade censorship, preserve freedom of thought, and provide social criticism. In modern times, whether within states that use propaganda and mind control as a matter of course, or within societies that think they're free but are chained by conformity and materialism, it becomes increasingly more difficult to cut through the walls of emotional protection to reach truths that, hopefully, we're all still capable of understanding.

Tango, now in production at Germinal Stage Denver, is the best known work of Polish born Slawomir Mrozek. The play was sensationally received in 1964 before it was banned by the Polish government. Tango manages to ask serious questions in an indirect manner, that is, in an attempt to avoid censorship.

Although there are elements of the theatre of the absurd in Tango, it is not the sort that we find in Beckett, Pinter, and Ionesco who, in speaking to people who thought they were free, found it necessary to warp time and dialogue. Mrozek's originally intended audience suffered no such illusions. Here, the absurdity arises from circumstance and character, much like life in an authoritarian state.

From A Tale of A Tiger

They say the pen is mightier than the sword. Even saber rattlers like Ronald Reagan paid credence to this idea. That's why Nancy's husband kept the likes of Dario Fo out of the country as long as he could. Fo, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1997, knows how to tell a story that cuts through class lines and knee jerk ideology to the crux of the human condition, a subject with which most politicians are uncomfortable.

From Picasso at The Lapin Agile

Steve Martin is a very funny man. He is also a fine dramatic actor and accomplished playwright. It's easy to see why he has decided to devote the-time-he-has-to-write to the theatre: He has a lot to say and the stage is the place he can state his case unhindered by the commercial constraints and shallow audiences of television and, to a large degree, film.

From Chapter Two

When the NBC censors and Joe McCarthy finally had their way and shut Sid Caesar down for exercising his right to free speech, and the cast and crew went their separate ways, Neil Simon is the one who ended up on Broadway. Chapter Two, now running at the Nomad Theatre in Boulder, is the piece that marks the beginning of Simon's graduation from comedy with a message to drama with a punch line.

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Chicano rights

From Luminarias

In her own words Evelina Fernández describes her play Luminarias, now running at El Centro Su Teatro, as an exploration of "the Love and Rage that...Chicanas/ Chicanos feel." In Fernández' case, her love comes from life itself—to be shared with friends and lovers, but her rage stems from the disenfranchisement of her people who lost their homeland in southwest portions of North America to Europeans.

Hundreds of years later in Los Angeles this means that gringos still have more money and power than Latinos. Oftentimes this leads to violence and hatred on both sides. Sometimes, however, folks become friends or lovers despite this history. In Luminarias, Andrea is a Chicana lawyer, split between her seething political convictions toward an imperialistic culture and her spiritual acceptance of the differences and similarities among all peoples.

From Barrio Babies

The creed of America is that it is a melting pot, but the reality is that most of the melting that has gone on has been a result of the heat generated by those who are being denied a place. Each minority has had to struggle to have its voice heard.

What gives courage to each generation which renews the struggle is often found in the art and literature of those who preceded them. Barrio Babies, now receiving it's world premiere by the Denver Center Theatre Company, is just such an ode to the struggle of Latinos in Hollywood…

Reyes' script, which begins as his personal story of growing up Puerto Rican, ends up, through the successive intervention of outrageous studio producers, being rewritten from Caucasian to Chicano to Cuban flavored plots, all calling for stereotypical, demeaning characters. Each turn of the plot is set to catchy Latin rhythms that include tango, salsa, cha-cha, tex-mex, and afro-cuban played by the live band flanking both sides of the stage in elegant elevated crows' nests…

Despite the high spots of catchy tunes, hot rhythms, splashy sets and polished acting, Barrio Babies still needs work before it fulfills it's scheduled date with Broadway. While the show makes a point of focusing on the shallow patronizing treatment that Hispanics receive in Hollywood, when the protagonist Rey is given the opportunity to show us a glimpse of what he would do when given the chance, the plot inexplicably returns to the same satire that got us here. What catharsis demands is a scene with Rey directing from his original script—a gritty scene that speaks a universal message. In that would be the proof that a minority has risen above ethnocentrism and its own narrow interests and found the means to flavor its humanity in its own unique manner. Only in this would it be showing us that it is focusing on something other than its own victimization.

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Children

From Peter Pan

One of the most remarkable achievements of the 20th Century was the fulfillment of humankind's dream of controlled flight. As everyone believes, this was first achieved by Wilbur and Orville Wright at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17, 1903. But the preceding year, J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan flew from London to Never Never Land and back and continues to do so daily in the hearts and minds of millions of children.

This feat may be deemed impossible by any self-respecting aeronautical engineer, but it's actually quite easy.

"You just think lovely wonderful thoughts," Peter explained, "and they lift you up in the air."

Of course, most adults just scoff at this notion, but that's because they have made the mistake of growing up. Somewhere, somehow, they lost their sense of play and childlike sense of wonderment and awe of the world around them. Well, there's still time to repent. Former world gymnastic champion Cathy Rigby and her husband, Tom McCoy, have once again brought their tour of Peter Pan to Denver, this time to the Buell theatre.

From Cinderella

There are all sorts of children's stories. Some have morals to tell, like Aesop's Fables; some are simply silly and fun, like Mother Goose; still others are meant to give us hope. Into this last category fall the fairy tales, such as Cinderella. Even the names of the characters are dead giveaways for their functions: Prince Charming (the knight in shining armor), the Fairy Godmother (the angel of mercy), the stepmother and stepsisters (the demons), and of course, Cinderella herself, (the rags to riches girl)—now all common everyday terms used to denote specific, archetypal roles.

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Christmas

From A Christmas Carol

Every year at this time the Denver Center Theatre Company reprises its polished masterpiece, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. But unlike the Nutcracker Ballet, and The Night Before Christmas, A Christmas Carol does not indulge the childhood fantasies of Sugar Plum Faeries and Jolly Old Saint Nick. Instead, Dickens addresses the part of Christmas that has to do with the unassuming teachings of the man whose birth is associated with the holiday, a message that has nothing to do with money and everything to do with love.

And that's really what has compelled me to go back year after year. The last two years the production has also been blessed with the finest performances of Scrooge yet, by Richard Risso. The key to Risso's success here seems to be that he captures the wounded boy within the erascible old man of Ebenezer Scrooge, so that when he is finally dragged through the hereafter by the spirit of Death his childlike rebirth is completely within character. When he wakes up and discovers it's Christmas morning, why you could jump up and click your heels!

From A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens' reputation as a great man of letters is rightfully secured by such works as David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, The Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, and A Tale of Two Cities, but it is with A Christmas Carol that Dickens is regularly remembered by the Western world.

Dickens loved to travel and give dramatic readings from his work, and this penchant contributed to the immediate popularity of this magnificent seasonal tale, which he performed regularly for 20 years. Often lost among Christmas celebrations is the influence that A Christmas Carol has had in shaping the way we make merry and exchange cards and gifts…

In the course of this annual event we've been treated to a number of first rate actors' interpretations of Ebenezer Scrooge. All the more reason to go see Richard Risso's performance which, in my estimation, is the finest of all. What makes Risso's Scrooge so convincing is his ability to let us see the hurt child within himself that led to his irascible, scornful behavior. Later, when Scrooge undergoes his transformation, it is the release of his suppressed boyishness that convinces us he has changed. It makes me wonder why we don't remember Scrooge as the man transformed, not the way he was.

From The Nutcracker

If ever there were a holiday ritual meant to exalt the delights and dreams of children, The Nutcracker ballet is it. Since it was first performed in St. Petersburg, Russia in December of 1892, to Tchaikovsky's fanciful Suite, The Nutcracker has become one of the foremost money-makers for ballet companies world-wide, to a large degree underwriting much of their other work. The ballet first came to the United States in 1940, and though it took a while to catch on, it has established itself with a vengeance, as evidenced by the variety of productions performed along the Front Range each holiday season.

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The Civil War

From The Civil War

No event in U.S. history has had a more profound and deeper effect than the Civil War, and the repercussions are still with us today. Witness the controversy over the Confederate flag in South Carolina, Mississippi, and elsewhere, the institutional racism still plaguing our schools and courts, and the far reach of the industrial behemoth that was largely solidified during this period.

Yet, most Americans have very little understanding of these forces and how they continue to buffet us on a daily basis. This lack of clarity led Broadway composer and record company executive Frank Wildhorn to write this piece, The Civil War, The Broadway Musical, for his son. And though it started out as an educational exercise, it quickly joined Wildhorn's other two current successes, Jekyll and Hyde and The Scarlet Pimpernel, on Broadway…

The entire cast is filled with splendid voices. And while some of the choreography falls a bit flat, the overall impact of the piece is not only very moving, but offers a number of insights into The Civil War and its echo throughout our history. As composer Wildhorn had hoped, this production goes a long ways toward healing the most fractious event in national history.

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Comedy

From Die Fledermaus

Opera has the deserved reputation of being a presentational form, produced in a long-favored style where the focus was on the singing, with acting and stage direction kept to a minimum. This habit, thankfully, is not only no longer being fostered, but moreover, it is being destroyed with a vengeance.

While Opera Colorado has, due to the in-the-round strictures of Boettcher Concert Hall, been forced, up until this year, to fortify the dramatic elements of its productions, it is now Central City Opera's turn to show its theatrical flair. In it's current production of Johann Strauss, Jr.'s Die Fledermaus, director David Gately has orchestrated one of the funniest, most delightful productions I've ever seen, in the opera or theatre.

At its debut, Strauss' Die Fledermaus shocked conservative Viennese critics with its frivolity, wit, and contemporary dances, exactly the qualities that make it so popular. The story revolves around a disenchanted married couple that end up, unbeknownst to each other, attending the same ball in disguise. The action is filled with physical comedy, mistaken identities, impeccable timing, hyperbolic accents, clever schtick, and very inventive hilarity.

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Commoditization

From Other People's Money

Since it's introduction, money has always stirred strong human emotions. "Show me the money." "Money doesn't talk it swears." "Money Can't Buy Me Love." "Thou cannot serve both God and mammon." "If you have money you are of the elect."

It's easy to see very quickly that talking about money is like discussing politics and religion. It stirs the gut and kindles passion. Money can humble spiritual philosophies, just as the Industrial Revolution did to Christianity. What place do the money lenders have in the temple, or the temple of democracy for that matter?

Such are the questions that arise out of Cat & Mouse Productions' presentation of Other People's Money. In purely economic terms, Other People's Money is about the abstraction of value into purely numeric terms, equating right thinking and so-called economic progress. In this atmosphere, quality of life is something you can buy. Does this remind you of some place you've been?

From Kingdom

Walt Disney was a curious storyteller who turned a talking mouse and detailed animation into a major studio and a theme park. In Walt's wake, however, the quality of the Disney product suffered, caught in the miasma of Norman Rockwell's America. After years of declining profitability, Michael Eisner took over and the next thing you know there are magical kingdoms popping up in Paris and Tokyo to mixed reviews by the locals.

In the Denver Center Theatre Company's world premiere of Richard Hellesen's Kingdom, we are brought inside the corporate headquarters of a similar entertainment company that, coincidentally, started in an orange grove and ended up bumping into the sprawl it had created in the first place…

If this were just a play about the greed and cynicism of the Disney Company, we could shake our heads, "tut, tut," and go on, but Kingdom is an indictment of a whole culture that feeds the acceptance of this type of behavior and the homogenization of diversity.

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Death and Dying

From The Lady from Dubuque

Hunger Artists Ensemble Theatre opened it's season last Saturday night with The Lady From Dubuque, three-time Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Edward Albee's drama on dying and loss.

The Lady From Dubuque herself is a sophisticated guest that arrives at the home of a young couple to aid in the wife's transition as she dies from a terminal disease. Why is this lady from Dubuque of all places? As industrialization seems to produce estrangement from natural cycles, including Life and Death, apparently Albee suggests an Angel from the farm country, for surely Iowa is the heart of what was agrarian America, would be best suited to represent this everyday force. The intrusion of this perfect stranger from Dubuque into the lives of the young woman, Jo, her husband, Sam, and their friends, throws the group into an uproar. Is she Jo's mother? Her husband says she's not, but their friends are charmed and let her ease Jo's pain. Does it matter if Jo is her mother at all? Or can spiritual midwives, like hospice volunteers, substitute for family?

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The Devil Within—Our Shadow

From The History of the Devil

Speaking of those who abuse the deity for their own angry and selfish reasons, who is it that they blame for everything they disagree with? Why the Devil, of course! Kind of makes you wonder what this entity did to deserve all this abuse, especially when so many have used the name of God to perpetrate daily atrocities worse than his.

In The Lida Projects' opening production of the season, The History of the Devil, we get to attend the trial of the so-called fallen angel himself who has sued to be returned to heaven. All this makes perfect sense if you consider that the dark one is no more separate from The All and The Everything any more than anything else in the universe, so why shouldn't he be reconciled with his parent?

Well, for one thing, those who blame the Devil (as "other") for their own misbehavior, rather than accepting responsibility for their own shadow, find it in their self interest to get a guilty verdict pinned on Lucifer—all because he has the tough job of testing our worthiness at every turn. And when we turn away from a loving response and violate others and ourselves, the Devil makes a easy mark for our blame because it was his test that we failed…

While playwright Clive Barker's drama has it's persuasive points, especially that Hate is what creates Hell and that while God forgives us it's people that don't, there are a number of theological loose ends that leave us wanting for a more holistic cosmology that would help us overcome our instinctive "self" orientation and help advance human spirituality. Nevertheless, History of the Devil provides great food for thought.

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Dialect

From The Playboy of the Western World

One of the hardest dialects (in the theatre) to simulate consistently is Irish, but when it's done well the payoff is handsome. The tonal beauty, vivid expressions, and melodic patterns are a joy to hear. So, the Upstart Crow's production of The Playboy of the Western World held particular interest for me because the playwright, John Millington Synge has a reverential ear for the richness the Irish bring to our language.

In 1907, Synge wrote, "In Ireland, for a few years more, we have a popular imagination that is fiery and magnificent, and tender; so that those of us who wish to write start with a chance that is not given to writers in places where the springtime of the local life has been forgotten, and the harvest is a memory only, and the straw has been turned into bricks."

From The Beauty Queen of Leenane

What is it about the Irish dialect that has produced so many great poets and lyricists? Is it its Gaelic roots? Perhaps it's the climate that produces the lilt that makes every conversation a song? Could it even be the wee people? Regardless, when a new Irish writer comes along, folks flock to hear his or her work, in the hope that the next Yeats, Joyce, Shaw or Wilde is at hand.

From Spunk

Smokebrush Theater's production of Spunk, now playing at Eulipions, is based on three short stories of Zora Neale Hurston adapted by George C. Wolfe (author of The Colored Museum and Tony Award winning Jelly's Last Jam, and currently Artistic Director of Joseph Papp's New York Shakepeare Festival).

Zora Neale Hurston, born to a family of sharecroppers in 1891, family moved to Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated black town in America...

Later, during the Harlem Renaissance, she began collecting Southern black folklore, for which she was criticized by other black writers because she remained faithful to the dialect in which they were recounted to her.

From The Cripple of Inishmaan

Perhaps no other breed of writers are as scrutinized as the Irish. Writing is, after all their pastime in the way that painting is French. No doubt, Sheridan, Shaw, Wilde, Joyce and Yeats have had something to do with this perspective. To these immortals you can add J.M. Synge (Playboy of the Western World), Brian Friel (Dancing at Lughnasa), and Sean O'Casey (Juno and the Paycock) as evidence of a surfeit of linguistic wealth from one island.

The latest Irish wunderkind, playwright Martin McDonagh, is now being evaluated for his worthiness to be mentioned in the same breath. Not but two years ago, at the tender age of 28, McDonagh's breakthrough work, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, was the toast of London and New York. It seems, though, that McDonagh's unadorned honesty has prodded a few critics to reconsider whether the bestowal of the laurel wreath was perhaps premature.

Despite whatever doubts may have arisen in snobbish quarters due to his razor-edged tongue, McDonagh's gifts continue to exhibit themselves. His latest effort to reach us, The Cripple of Inishmaan, which opened last week at the Denver Center, is a story filled with jolting surprises, sweet lyricism, and memorable characters.

From The Playboy of the Western World

Tir Ná nÓg's current production is J.M. Synge's classic The Playboy of the Western World, a tale rooted in the thick Gaelic lilt of the Aran Islands. Gaelic enjoys the distinction of being a non-Indo-European language, and to this derivation we must attribute its magical and foreign nature. Like so much of the great Irish storytelling, this piece basks in hyperbole and understatement, pulling at us with stark realism and pushing us with elfish mirth…

Director Martin McGovern has assembled a convincingly ethnic and charming cast. In fact, the only drawback to the production is the authentic thick brogue that everyone uses but O'Neill, who flavors his speech so as to remain understandable. It might be noted here that theatre dialect is at its best when it is representational, not verité, and though this is an Irish Theatre company, the audience is not comprised of Aran islanders. Sadly, significant moments of the story were unintelligible to much of the audience, taking the edge off a number of excellent performances and some of the most musical and rich language ever written for the stage.

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Drugs

From The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

It was also disturbing that in it's present staging Dr. Henry Jekyll's obsession with his animal nature becomes, instead, an obsession with the drug that acts as a catalyst to the Edward Hyde within him. Jekyll becomes a caricature of a poster boy for the D.A.R.E. campaign, prancing about the stage, poking himself with a syringe in any available appendage.

Rather than seizing the opportunity for making Jekyll & Hyde a metaphor for man's struggle with his shadow, this production instead leaves us stuck in Victorian limbo, abandoned at the altar, much as Jekyll's betrothed.

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Dysfunction

From Buried Child

If there's a contemporary American playwright better than Sam Shepard at exploring the ramifications of the loss of love and the resulting obsessions on mind and family, I haven't seen him or her.

City Stage Ensemble's current production of Shepard's Buried Child, directed by Laura Cuetara finds the rhythm and sense of a repressed secret's dramatic march through and decimation of a family. Although this family's crimes are horrific, many "normal" families have near-equally devastating suppressed memories of "buried children".

From Misalliance

Ostensibly, it is the story of a dull bourgeois English family whose wealth is accumulated by the father in the business of underwear, just prior to the first world war...that is until a light plane falls into their greenhouse.

But below the surface, Shaw's inspired honesty concerning the family and the raising of children is anything but dull. Freedom to learn and develop according to one's own soul may be the basis for his point of view, but his illustration of this point is a wild tale of people raised in anything but such an atmosphere. As Shaw said, "All great truths begin with blasphemies," and I'd have to agree with him. For example, what gets passed off on a day-to-day basis as normal, say, having to do with church and state, in general has very little to do with spirituality and democracy.

So, in particular, Misalliance is Shaw's take on the relationship between parents and children. Indeed, Shaw prefaced this work, as is his norm, with a lengthy essay, this one entitled "Parents and Children". To quote Shaw again, "The right to knowledge must be regarded as a fundamental human right." Yet this is not the way Shaw perceives that most of us bring up our children. "There may be some doubt as to who are the best people to have charge of children," Shaw quipped, "but there can be no doubt that parents are the worst."

Overall, the idea of producing one of Shaw's parlor pieces in the round works well as a metaphor for the playwright's all-encompassing intellect and unpredictable plot. Again, Shaw writes, "Moliere's technique and mine is the technique of the circus with its ring-master discussing all the topics of the day with the clown. It is however, sometimes difficult on the audience, as the vocalizations rotate forward, backward and to the sides.

From Dearly Departed

Have you noticed that the phrases "dysfunctional family" and "dysfunctional behavior" have fallen out of use lately? Certainly this can't be attributed to any decline in the incidence of deplorable or simply clueless behavior. No, rather we don't use the term "dysfunctional family" anymore because what we associate with this type of behavior has become so commonplace.

Perhaps this epidemic of spiritual and cultural poverty is partially a result of industrialization itself. Thirty years ago, Marshall McLuhan commented that what was once considered eccentric in small town America becomes dangerous when transferred to the fast lane of urban society.

That is part of what is so refreshing about the reprise of the Avenue Theatre's 1992 hit Dearly Departed. Starring many of the original cast members, Dearly Departed transports us back to the rural South, where local characters grow like topsy, posing no threat to anyone but themselves and the emotional lives of their acquaintances.

From Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

When Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was first produced in 1962, the country was scandalized by the raw language and behavior of the characters. Despite its critical acclaim and the commercial success of the play on Broadway, the Pulitzer committee refused to honor the playwright (though it did so for four other plays, a few of which pale beside this one).

Now in production by Shadow Theatre Company, Denver's resident African-American theatre company, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? reveals that behind all the surface fireworks, it's really a play about humankind's incredible capacity for self-deception.

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Education

From Fakulty Frolix

Now that school's out for the summer, there are lots of kids celebrating their disengagement from, how shall we put it, less than inspirational educational relationships. After our parents, our teachers often end up being the most influential people in our lives, for better or for worse. In the case of the professors we encounter in Germinal Stage Denver's Fakulty Frolix, a collection of three one acts, these are decidedly not pedagogical role models, yet they are unfortunately all too familiar.

In his customary cerebral manner, Director Ed Baierlein has woven together characters from Anton Chekhov's On the Harmfulness of Tobacco, Maria Irene Fornes' Dr. Kheal, and Eugene Ionesco's The Lesson into a cohesive, if surreal, triptych that depicts the psychological menagerie at play behind what passes for instruction…

At a time when education has become increasingly ineffective in teaching our children personal and interpersonal skills, Germinal Stage's three one acts go a long way toward illuminating the skewed values that lie at the heart of this male-dominated tenure system.

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Farce

From One Foot on the Floor

We all know a farce when we see one, but describing the essential ingredients are another matter. The French seem to be particularly adept at this art form, and to a lesser degree, the English. Occasionally, even American playwrights are successful at it. For my own part, the recipe seems to take shape starting from some very simple little white lies, and through the compounding coincidences of time and place, creating some very compromising, embarrassing, and down right hilarious situations. We laugh not just because it's funny, but because it's often at the expense of some less than sympathetic character.

From Moon Over Buffalo

Farce often relies on a number of techniques, including physical comedy, mistaken identity, and multiple door sets to create juxtapositions of characters that cause preposterous (and hopefully hilarious) situations to develop. To be sure, devices of one sort or another are a common modus operandi for even the greats. How many times did Shakespeare use the ruse of identical twins?

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"The Fifties—Emergence of the Empire

From Night of the Iguana

The '50's were a time of The Organization Man. There was a formula for material success, as well as a prescription for spiritual deliverance. In the wake of World War Two and the apparent defeat of fascism, God was smiling down upon us. Or was he grimacing? Alcoholism, abuse and bigotry were rampant, and Tennessee Williams was in the cat bird's seat to tell us all about it.

"The Night of the Iguana," Williams later reflected, "is a play whose theme, as closely as I can put it, is how to live beyond despair and still live." In his final masterpiece before taking up seriously with the bottle, Williams plays out his generation's repressive sexual and religious practices in a run-down motel somewhere South of the Border.

From How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying

Americans in the Fifties were people that took themselves very seriously. The economic miracle that grew out of the industrial and military successes of World War Two gathered a certain giddy arrogance from its indulgences. The Vietnam War was nowhere in sight, and Brown v. The Board of Education had only begun to desegregate the nation's schools.

Enter J. Pierpont Finch, a young man with a plan. Though only a lowly window washer, he is armed with the determination of Horatio Alger, the scruples of Billy Sol Estes, and a secret weapon: a little book entitled How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.

How to Succeed, the Broadway revival of Frank Loesser's How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, is an updated and still satiric look at the rigid, often arbitrary, and sometimes downright silly practices of modern corporate life.

From Orpheus Descending

Though spread out over three acts, William's Orpheus Descending is a very coherent and focused portrait of the ravenous passions of the mid-fifties Southern culture. Repressed sexual tensions, limited economic opportunities, and religious hypocrisy all contribute to self-hatred that finds expression in racism.

From Laughter on the 23rd Floor

As if the collective hangover from World War II and the Holocaust wasn't enough, the '50's ran smack into the Korean War and Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities—the pot calling the kettle black; A communist witch hunt...Finding Satan under every rock—a very interesting psychological phenomena otherwise called projection. Admiring this successful political tactic, Richard Nixon made his way to the top with foils Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs...

The '50's were also a time when creativity flourished on live television, until corporate sponsors, with the help of Congress and the commercial networks, removed art and social criticism from the airwaves, "dumbing it down" as it were. Today, it seems, very few Americans have any idea what they're missing.

From Our Town

RiverTree Theatre's Our Town, directed by Mary Chandler, takes playwright Thornton Wilder's own description of the play to heart—it takes place on a nearly bare stage with the simplest of props—and accomplishes what Wilder says it sets out to do:

"It is an attempt to find a value above all price for the smallest events in our daily life."

Wilder does this by giving us the everyday folk of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, doing what is their habit each day, between 1901 and 1913. That is, the unthinking routines of our lives that remove us from the significance of each and every moment—for what we really have to spend in this life is not money, but time: A well chosen thought for this season.

From Picnic

On the surface the '50's may have been a time of order and moral certainty in America, but beneath this repressive facade lay all sorts of smoldering passions and dark secrets.

In the midst of this tug-of-war William Inge carved out his fame with his Oscar winning screenplay Splendor in the Grass and his Pulitzer Prize winning play Picnic.

Picnic, now in production at the Arvada Center, is a day in the life of a small town that, at first glance, might have appeared right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Everything seems aright when we first meet these Kansans, that is, until a handsome drifter shows up on the eve of a Labor Day celebration.

From Bye, Bye, Birdie

There probably was no greater schism between generations than that which began in the late '50's, lasted through the '60's, and drew to a close in the early '70's. Every would-be social philosopher of that era has a theory about what caused this cultural battle: people who believe in beating their children blame it on the so-called permissiveness that they identify with the teachings of Dr. Benjamin Spock; others point toward the Vietnam War or marijuana as the culprit; on the younger side of the fence, fingers are pointed at the hypocrisy and materialism of the generation running the show. But one thing each side can agree upon, the difference between the generations at that time is clearly defined by music.

From the time that Elvis Presley began to turn on white people to his imitation of black music, the line was drawn in the sand. When Elvis was drafted into the army, Elvis' handlers did their best to make good thing out of what threatened to be a dent in their commercial approach to cultural transformation. The musical Bye, Bye, Birdie, now in production at the Littleton Town Hall Arts Center, is based on that event.

From Grease

Ruminating about the "good old days" seems to be a habit of those who are dissatisfied with the present, wary of the future, and blind to the past. Take the '50's for example, which often seem to be held up as some kind of tidy, well-mannered period. As long as one turns a blind eye and deaf ear to racism, chauvinism, the Cold War, nuclear testing, suppressed emotions of every variety, and denial, then sure, the '50's were great.

The best thing about the '50's is making fun now of what went on then. Recently, we've seen a couple of pieces that did this very well, i.e., Bye, Bye Birdie and That's Still Too Loud. Following this groove, Country Dinner Playhouse has just opened Grease, which did so well on Broadway and the silver screen in the '70's.

As to be expected, the Playhouses' talented cast enjoy every minute of sock hops, slumber parties, pomade, teased hair, leather jackets, and juvenile delinquency.

Grease, though, has an edge. Unnecessary ethnic bashing remain in the scrip, and ultimately, what was once a satire about adolescent excesses now cuts very close to home as we now see the results of unchecked high school caste systems which lead to psychological battering and violence. Like many American musicals, Grease is in need of a re-write if it's going to mine the humor in its subject matter and present a less mean-spirited view of growing up. After all, the play never purports to be much in the way of serious social commentary, just light-hearted after dinner entertainment.

From The Young Man from Atlanta

Harrison Foote is undoubtedly one of America's least known most decorated playwrights. He has won two Oscars for his screenplays for Tender Mercies and To Kill A Mockingbird. His The Trip to Bountiful was produced for television, theatre and cinema. And there are many, many more.

Presently, his 1995 Pulitzer Prize winning play, The Young Man from Atlanta is in production at the Arvada Center. In his notes to the play, director Terry Dodd compares Foote's work to painters Edward Hopper and Grant Wood where, beneath seemingly straightforward simplicity, lie volumes of emotional subtext. And that is the key to this production.

Featuring William Denis, a current member of the Denver Center Theatre Company's Tony Award-winning ensemble, as Will Kidder, Dodd's production easily sends us back to the repressed '50's, where everything seems so tidy, composed, and civilized on the surface, belying an emotional cauldron boiling just beneath the surface.

Denis' performance as Will is powerful, all about the old school of Horatio Alger, a handshake, a man's word, and free enterprise ("…There's no stoppin' a man with vision and competitiveness," he says)…that is, until the company for which he has worked for forty years lets him go. Then his failing health and the unspoken emotional repercussions of his adult son's death begin to catch up to him.

Sandra Lafferty as his wife, Lily Dale, is the epitomy of the sheltered housewife of the era, stiffled by the social mores of the times and the South Texas locale. Joey Wishnia, as Pete, Lily Dale's stepfather, draws a convincing portrait of the genial elder statesman of the family. The supporting ensemble work from Mark Devine, Julie Payne, David Russell, Debbie Lee, Jordan Gurner and Ruthay is all excellent.

Ultimately, though, Foote's play is about the consequences of refusing to express one's feelings in the present and running away from the truth. The deep seated racial divisions that are evident in the Kidder's treatment of their hired help, and their refusal to deal with the truth about their son's relationships or even facing the changing economic times, eventually come back to them in a way they can't ignore. Here, Foote's remarkable ability to find redemption in everyday life leaves room for his characters and the audience to find their own way home.

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Friendship

From The Common Pursuit

British playwright Simon Gray, though not particularly well known in this country, has written a number of cultured, emotionally resonant pieces including the West End and Broadway hits Butley, Otherwise Engaged, and Quartermaine's Terms...

As the years go by and the cracks and flaws begin to show in these characters—the "best and brightest"—it is the palpable caring between such friends that gives The Common Pursuit meaning and sustenance. While the words are exceedingly well chosen, what matters more is how they are spoken, and in this case the shadings of tone and inflection are remarkable.

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Fundamentalism and Religious Intolerance

From Inherit the Wind

Intolerance towards the opinions or beliefs of others has been a central theme of human history. In an attempt to free us from the tyranny of those who would impose their views on the rest of us, the framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights of the United States attempted to legislate the freedom to think, speak, and teach as we so choose. This intent, however, has not prevented those convinced of their righteousness from attempting to limit such individualistic expression.

Inherit the Wind, now running at the Arvada Center, is the story of just such an attempt. Based on the famous Scopes Monkey Trial that took place in Tennessee in 1925, Inherit the Wind tells the tale of a young schoolteacher who dares to introduce his high school science class to the teachings of Charles Darwin. This act runs counter to the laws of state, and sets in motion a trial pitting the literal interpreters of the English translation of Genesis against the discoveries of modern empiricism.

From Galileo

Humankind has walked on the moon, the space shuttle regularly leaves the atmosphere, and a semi-permanent space station orbits the earth; we receive visual transmissions from satellites at the far reaches of our solar system, and our probes have landed on Mars and Venus and beyond. All of these achievements are traceable, one way or another, to a revolution that began with Copernicus and Galileo. But while today we may find it an annoyance that Patrick Buchanan and his dim-witted ilk can't reconcile scientific discovery with spiritual amazement, in Galileo's time the belief that the earth traveled around the sun was punishable by death.

Denver Center Theatre Company's current production of Bertolt Brecht's Galileo explores the great scientist's passion for inquiry, his exaltation in life's pleasures, and his spiritual strength in the face of the dogmatic ignorance and the cynical worldview of the religious authorities of his day. Set in the company's Space Theatre on a slightly domed, rotating stage amidst planets and arcs designed to simulate an armillary, that is, a mechanical model of the solar system, Galileo celebrates the wonderment of our incredible universe and the joys of asking questions. Initially written by Brecht after his flight from Nazi Germany, and updated after the splitting of the atom and Brecht's own questioning before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Galileo also exposes the double edged repercussions of science and the dark impulses of political and religious intolerance.

From Reading the Mind of God

Reading The Mind of God captures the relationship between Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, scientific pioneers whose work help lay the foundation for Newton.

Much like Brecht's Galileo, which we saw last season at the Denver Center, the forces of darkness are represented by greed, egotism, ignorance, and the inflexible doctrines of the Church which, as it turns out, are only peripherally related to the teachings of Jesus.

Brahe spends his life amassing the greatest collection of star observations on earth, and is reluctant to share the results with Kepler, who is a genius astronomer and physicist. On his deathbed however, Brahe relents and Kepler, with the help of Brahe's calculations, eventually reads the mind of God, that is, discovers the elegant equations which represent the motion of the stars and planets.

Under the deft direction of Greg Ward, Douglas O'Brien as the bombastic Brahe and Brian Freeland as the inspired Kepler magically reinvent this stormy and earth shattering relationship that irretrievably led to the proof that Copernicus was right—the sun, indeed, is at the center of our solar system (which by the way the Church recognized formally about 15 years ago).

From Dancing at Lughnasa

But the trials of the family—one sister is retarded, one has a love child (that's Michael), and two lose their jobs—take place against a much larger picture of economic deprivation and the narrow moral latitude of the Roman Catholic Church. The few pleasures that the sisters have—listening to the radio, dancing, partaking in the annual harvest festival (la Lughnasa, an ancient Celtic rite)—are dampened by the overriding so-called religious strictures imposed by the oldest sister Kate, a school teacher and the principal breadwinner.

This is further complicated when the girls' long lost uncle, Jack, a one-time Catholic missionary turned native in Uganda, shows up, horrifying Kate and the locals at what they term his "paganism". Whether it's the intermittent and short-lived music of the radio, the nearly forbidden dances and harvest festival, or the exuberance of Jack describing tribal rites, all these passions fall victim to the harsh realities of the social forces of the day.

From Eye of God

Playwright Tim Blake Nelson's approach, to what is turning out to be a common scenario of violence mixed with religious fanaticism, traps us within a story that collapses upon itself, mixing time sequences until we anticipate, but can't prevent, the events that unfold before us…

Joel Stangle as Tom Spencer, the ex-con who has found Jesus, is convincing as both a contrite murderer and violent bible thumper. (Interestingly, this week a new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes documents the behavioral ties in the Conservative Christian movement to violence. How these people get away with calling themselves Christians only goes to show us how forsaken the teachings of love and tolerance have become.)

From The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

At the time that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his second major novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in 1886, psychology was a relatively simplistic new social science and morality was decidedly black and white. One hundred and fourteen years later, it seems, not much has changed.

The Broadway road show of Jekyll & Hyde, which opened Tuesday night at the Buell Theatre, spotlights the polarized life of a promising young London doctor who, in his quest to extricate the instinctive so-called "evil" element from humans becomes the epitome of it himself. If this sounds a bit melodramatic, your right, it's a sign of both when it was written and its author's style.

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Gay rights

From Shakespeare's R & J

One of the sure signs of great playwrighting is that adaptations of the work add to the relevancy and understanding of the message. A good example of this was the Director Ed Baierlein's production of Tennessee William's Suddenly Last Summer performed as Japanese Noh Theatre last fall at the Germinal Stage Denver. This is not unlike the re-interpretation of great compositions that goes on constantly in jazz. In the theatre, no playwright is adapted and re-interpreted as much as Shakespeare. After 400 years, this compliment speaks for itself.

One of the most heavily adapted plays by the great bard is Romeo and Juliet. At the time it was first performed, it was revolutionary to place romantic love above the social conventions of duty to family and arranged marriages. The Theatre on Broadway's current re-staging of Shakespeare's R & J is no less revolutionary today.

Shakepeare's R & J, which had a successful run in New York a couple of years ago, begins in a Catholic boarding school with four young men who take respite from the oppressive regimentation and authoritarianism imposed upon them by spending their evenings rehearsing Romeo and Juliet. Finally, one evening, they doff their ties and school sweaters and perform the entire play.

As the play progresses, it becomes clear that the relationship between the two young men playing Romeo and Juliet is not just play acting, but their heartfelt real life affection for each other. At first this is more than the other two players can tolerate and, much like the Montagues and the Capulets of the story or, for that matter, society in general, they seek to separate and shame the pair.

But love is love, whether it's between opposite sexes, the same sexes, and all the variations in-between under the sun. That this production is able to transcend these issues, and make us see that love, not sexuality, is the issue, is a tribute to the astute direction of Nicholas Sugar, the fine work of the cast, and the playwright's astute vision.

From Executive of Justice

While the trial of those accused of murdering Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, remains to be played out, a dramatic re-enactment of another even higher profile hate crime against gays and their supporters is now in production at the Theatre on Broadway.

In 1975 San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated by Dan White, a former Supervisor himself. Emily Mann's Execution of Justice, details the trial of White, and the aftermath following the verdict.

Directed by Chip Walton, who won the Denver Drama Critics Award for Best Director two years ago for Angels in America, the play is an explosive revisitation of the shocking bigotry exhibited by the courts and police force of San Francisco before the city's transition to the somewhat kinder, gentler politics we know it for today.

The well matched ensemble keeps a roaring pace, underscoring the urgency of the events and the feverish emotions that polarized the Bay Area, and Walton's imaginative use of video equipment and exemplary direction adds to the charged atmosphere of the piece.

If the trials of the '90's haven't convinced you that the legal and political systems in America still have more to do with manipulation, money, and prejudice than with justice, then the experience of the Theatre Group's Execution of Justice will surely raise your concerns.

From The Laramie Project

At the very time that the Colorado legislature attempts to pass a law banning gay marriages, as if by doing so they could legislate who their deity favors in this life, the Denver Center Theatre Company has opened the world premiere of Moises Kaufman's The Laramie Project, based on the hate-crime/murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming.

The play is a result of a remarkable project undertaken by the Tectonic Theatre Project of New York, the same group, under the artistic direction of Moisés Kaufman, that developed Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, which was so popular that the Denver Center ran it both this season and last, helping make it the third most produced play in the country last year.

The Tectonic Theatre Project made six trips to Laramie, the first in November, 1998, just four weeks after Shepard was brutally murdered by two locals, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. During their visits, the writers and actors on this project conducted over 200 interviews with the citizens of Laramie, including police officers, medical technicians, clergy, ranchers, the university community, and friends and acquaintances of Matthew Shepard.

The result is a compelling three act performance and docu-drama as told through the hearts and minds of the Laramie community. Each of the eight actors recounts their experiences and feelings, and those of their co-workers, as a set-up for their re-creations of the stories told them by folks they met there. In doing so, they tell this tragic and, yes, inspirational story in a way that the so-called journalists who converged on Laramie could not.

While the news media attempted to point fingers at Laramie as a hateful place for being the site of such an abhorrent event, the production makes it clear that Laramie was as shocked by the event as the rest of the world, a world in which such incidents are entirely too common everywhere. The Laramie Project not only captures more truth about the life and death of Matthew Shepard than the international press corps were able to do, but it does so with greater objectivity, using the words of those who live there and lived through it.

Presented on a bare stage not unlike the workshops in which the piece was developed, with articles of clothing, video cameras, microphones and monitors as props, the ensemble of the Tectonic Theatre Project brings the people of Laramie alive in the intimate setting of the Ricketson Theatre. The dignity with which the town dealt with its tribulation and the courage and compassion extended by the Shepard family makes The Laramie Project a story that deserves to be retold as widely as the broadcasts that originally depicted the events which it recreates.

From The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde

One hundred and four years ago, a kangaroo court posing as a series of trials took place in London, the result of which was the imprisonment of one of the most brilliant writers in the history of the English language—Oscar Wilde. Wilde's so-called crime was the fact that he was born gay in a society that had no means of understanding his make-up other than a series of prejudices based on pseudo-spiritual beliefs and civil laws that supported the institutionalization of this bigotry and hatred.

This is, of course, nothing new. Two weeks ago we reviewed Execution of Justice, which is the story of the assassination of San Francisco Board of Supervisors' member Harvey Milk. Milk's murderer escaped with a handslap for the same sorry reasons detractors got away with this charade. As we speak, there's a murder trial in progress in Wyoming for a similar crime. And just last week here in Denver, the principal of Palmer High School in Colorado Springs turned down a student request for a gay club at the school with the pitiful excuse that if he approved their club, then he would also have to recognize devil worshipers, white supremacists and hate groups.

Hmm. Seems to me those groups must already control the school district, not to mention our Colorado legislature. Last week, a panel of Senate Republicans killed a bill that would have recognized gay marriages.

All of this is by way of saying that the Denver Center Theatre Company's production of Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, is as relevant today as it ever was.

From Beirut

While the pace of the AIDS epidemic may have slowed in America, worldwide incidence, particularly in the Third World, continues to take victims at ever-increasing rate. Meanwhile, so-called moralists and pseudo-Christians continue to stymie efforts to distribute literature and condoms abroad.

Amidst this atmosphere, fifteen years after it was first written, Alan Bowne's Beirut still captures the essence of fear surrounding this plague.

From The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me

What does it take for society to drop its prejudices and live up to the spiritual and ethical practices promulgated by groups claiming to be religions and spiritual? Consider the dedication and organization it took to get women the vote in this country: It's not hard to imagine the excuses cooked up by those who, in ignorance of the manner in which the Bible was developed, opposed equal rights for women. Then there was slavery and institutional racism—how many years did this and has this gone on? More recently, there was Earth Day. Do you remember what the original celebrants were called? Communists! Now, it's a corporate sponsored event.

So where are we with gay rights? We still have the Bible thumpers clinging to the prejudices of the words of strict tribal survivalists, electing representatives who are more than happy to spread this bigotry in the name of, of all things, Jesus, in trade for a vote and of course a few buck to line their pockets.

Depending on the time in history you choose, try to imagine what it was and is like growing up female or black or environmentally conscious or now gay. If you don't get it, the Theatre on Broadway's current production of the New York hit The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me will help. It's not so much different than growing up straight, except that you are at home somewhere else on the genetic-psychological-emotional spectrum. This raises a lot of problems in a world where you can be persecuted for being born this way.

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Gun Control / Arms Control

From Red, White and Tuna

Texans are, of course, known for their love of guns and religious adherence to interpreting the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States as guaranteeing the right of each citizen to possess more firepower than George Washington's original Continental Army. In Tuna, Texas, these needs are taken care of by Didi Snavely, the proprietress of Didi's Used Weapons, who dispenses sawed off Uzi's to any life form with a pulse. Didi's mangy hairdoo and camouflage patterned plastic raincoat serve as the perfect springboard for actor William's hyperactive, trigger-happy, nicotine addicted viper…

Into this hot bed of Bible Belt conservatism drive Amber Wind-Chime and Star Bird-Feather, two former Tuna residents who changed their names in the early '70's to reflect their new values. How these vegetarian hippies fare in para-military barbecue country is anyone's guess.

It should come as no surprise that Texan's are humor-challenged given the unbearable heat and humidity, fatty diets, scorpions, intellectually-deprived politicians, declining football teams, and lingering embarrassment over the Alamo that they must put up with. Thank goodness that Sears, Williams, and Howard know how to mine this treasure trove of dysfunction. While some of the pot shots miss the mark, and there are some dropped lines, there are plenty of zingers that will make your chaps flap.

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The Holocaust

From Kindertransport

There have been many holocausts, but in our recorded history none so vast, coldly efficient and thoroughly documented as the one perpetrated by the Nazis. If one can place any value on such monumental acts of depravity, perhaps it is that by remembering them we can hope to learn lessons that will prevent any recurrence.

Since my own family was touched by this terror, I've made an effort to come to grips with it through books, films, theatre, discussions and simple meditations. Much of the popular work on the holocaust deals very directly with the exterminations themselves, and the end of Jewish cultural life in Eastern Europe. Now, fifty-one years after the liberation of the camps, perhaps it is time to try to understand what happened to those who managed to live through it.

From Good

How do good people end up doing bad things? I suppose when they make little rationalizations, one after the other, until they are so far along they can no longer stop.

Hunger Artists Ensemble Theatre's current production, Good, is the tale of such a man. John Halder is a professor at a German university before The Third Reich takes over. His best friend is a Jew and his psychiatrist, yet he seduces himself into joining the Nazi party.

C.P. Taylor, the gifted English playwright (And A Nightengale Sang and scores more), and a Jew as well, has crafted a masterpiece that is at once frightening and comedic. The play is filled with musical and physical comedy, and immense tragedy. How can this be? We need look no further than Bill Cosby's stand-up performances last week after the death of his son—laughter in the face of the void.

Jeremy Cole, one of our most talented local directors, fluently blends a gifted cast led by Curt Pesika as Professor Halder. Pesika masters the soggy reasoning that allows nations to blind themselves to the terror they inflict on others. This play is not obviously just about one particular holocaust, lest we forget the world's deaf ear to Tibet, Somalia, the Amazon, Bosnia, or your backyard. You name it.

From Nine Armenians

During World War I the Armenian people were nearly annihilated by the Turks. Millions died in a variety of insidious ways. Later half of what remained of Armenia was swallowed by Russia.

Nine Armenians, just opened at the Denver Center Theatre Company, is the story of three generations of an Armenian family that fled this genocide and settled and prospered in America. As with all real life tragedies of this sort, those that survive are haunted by the experience, and struggle to gain any understanding from it.

Playwright Leslie Ayvazian captures a family life that is both natural and representative of shared experience. From the elders to the grandchildren, the performances ellucidate the subtle transformations of immigration and assimilation, as well as the joys and pathos of the family.

So, in addition to the play serving as a witness to the Armenian holocaust, it is also a celebration of Armenian culture. Like most cultures, family life centers around meals, and on opening night the press was given a gift of an Armenian cook book. It's easy to find the similarities with one's own culture, whatever it may be, in this family. It is also not much of a stretch to share Armenians' tragedy.

From Cabaret

Mendes's desire to recreate the show with a gritty taste of pre-World War II Berlin dictated a number of interesting artistic choices, including using actors, not musical theatre denizens, for the song and dance numbers as well as for the Kit Kat Klub orchestra itself. The result is a natural, warts and all vision of a society about to collapse under the weight of a severely repressed national psyche, resulting in the most efficient death machine in history.

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Jesus

From Corpus Christi

Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally was raised in Corpus Christi, Texas in the 50's. It must have certainly been difficult for him as a man born gay in a town of macho football fanatics and other assorted roughnecks who deal savagely with anyone that doesn't fit into their narrow-minded vision of acceptable behavior. And all this in a place named after their professed savior.

When McNally's play Corpus Christi opened in New York, Catholic organizations protested vehemently, and the theatre producing the piece received bomb threats. On top of this, the same Imam who placed a Fatwah on the head of Salman Rushdie for supposedly blaspheming Islam in his novel The Satanic Verses, issued a Fatwah on McNally for "blaspheming a prophet that is part of the Islamic heritage." I mean, does this sorry excuse for a religious teacher get the ironic hypocrisy of a professed believer in Jesus condemning someone to death. Who's casting the first stone here? All of this commotion is centered around McNally's retelling of the New Testament story with the interpretation of Jesus as a gay man growing up in Corpus Christi. Many of the critics and the audiences, however, found much spiritual and intellectual sustenance in the work.

"Corpus Christi provides a frequently fascinating experience... It explores a quest for faith by a segment of the population—homosexuals—that has for centuries been excluded and condemned by the pious God-fearing." Eric Jackson, Time Out New York.

"One of McNally's best, most moving and personal works...His updating of the Christ story is witty but not patronizing, as sober and cleansing as a dip in baptismal water." Richard Zoglin, Time.

Of course, anyone who believes in the New Testament as the literal truth would be offended, because that point of view paints Jesus as a divine being, devoid of human frailties, in the context of eternal pronouncements made by desert patriarchs suffering from siege mentality. There is, however, ample evidence in The Essene Gospels which escaped the early editing of the Church authorities, that Jesus was, in fact, a human being who believed in love, both the divinely inspired and the humanly expressed versions. Whether or not he was straight, gay, bisexual, or non-sexual is beside the point.

In the Theatre on Broadway's recently opened production of Corpus Christi, McNally's insightful choices of biblical text, which overlay the Texas-flavored setting, indicate that the playwright understands what many of his critics do not: that the Prince of Peace's message was first and foremost about love and acceptance. Director Steven Tangedal and his cohesive ensemble bring a natural and joyful affirmation to this message based on the same document that many currently use to preach intolerance toward those who don't fit in the their preconceived mold of sexual predisposition, social perspective, or racial stereotype.

Charles Dean Packard's simple yet effective lighting and set design support the overall production objective of keeping the focus on the words and actions of a simple carpenter from a small town whose faith in the potential of the human soul forever changed our concept of spirituality. Playwright McNally's adventurous interpretation is a worthy challenge to all those who think they know what Jesus' life looked like, or would look like if he chose to reappear.

Corpus Christi reminds us of the inherently radical approach Jesus expressed relative to the common beliefs of his time. No wonder the authorities of his day took offense, for their power and control was threatened by a teaching that challenged their cynical and greedy presumptions, all the while teaching its followers a new and simplified way to live and pray.

As McNally's play reminds us and as the Roman version says, "Hold yourselves ready therefore for the Son of Man will come at a time you least expect," and I might add, "in a way you expect it not."

From My Magdalene

A week ago, Good Friday, seemed like an appropriate time to take in the current production, My Magdalene, at the Nomad Theatre up in Boulder. As the title suggests, the play is a personal interpretation of the life and spiritual legacy of Mary Magdalene.

Jane, a young married woman adrift in the late '60's and early '70's, has a near death experience as a result of an accident, which opens up access to the spiritual plane upon which Mary Magdalene dwells. Through this portal, Jane not only redeems this saint who has been so long disparaged by the church, but learns healing and meditative techniques from her.

Although the research upon which this story is based is not accepted or understood by mainstream Christians, it is, nonetheless backed up by more evidence than the stories that got edited by the Romans and placed in The New Testament. In 600 AD, Pope Gregory pinned the label of penitent prostitute on Magdalene, though there are no references anywhere that confirm this. This position was reversed by the Catholic Church 1400 years later, in 1969.

But The New Testament and The Essene Gospels, which have survived largely unedited, do tell us that it was Mary Magdalene that anointed Jesus. This would make her the high priestess from an esoteric tradition dating back from before The Flood. According to all four books of The New Testament, she was also the first to experience the risen Jesus and, according to the Essene text, written in the original Aramaic, she was not only first among the Apostles, but the beloved and partner of Jesus. These relationships are substantiated by the early Church texts of the Gnostics which were later abandoned by the patriarchal elements that won control of the Church.

Be that as it may, the play itself stumbles in a number of areas while attempting to convey the significance of these historical events. First, the autobiographical basis of the story is never elevated to art, instead dwelling in the humdrum of the lives of the confused contemporary characters. Second, we can hardly believe that Jane's husband, Paul, would, as the son of a preacher and supporter of the Vietnam War, have been wearing long hair at this time. Third, the language of Mary, Jesus, and other ancient spiritualists is so stilted as to sap the interpersonal loving life out of them. Are we supposed to believe that these people spoke in the everyday tongue of Aramaic as if they were in the Court of King James? Fourth, there is entirely too much telling and not enough showing in the story line. And finally, the depiction of Jesus (whom they call Yeshua, which is close, but still not the proper Hebrew pronunciation of the man from Nazareth's name) comes off as the Anglo wonder bread version of the wide-eyed Semitic ascetic who revolutionized the foundation of Western religious tradition.

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Language

From The Philanthropist

Philip is a philologist. He means what he says and says what he means. This makes him very vulnerable in a world where people's words and actions have little relationship to one another.

From A Life in the Theatre

American playwright David Mamet (American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross, Oleanna, et al.) is a master of realistic (some might call it combative) dialogue, much of which he picks up from sitting in cafes and listening to the conversations around him.

A prominent feature in Mamet's representation of dialogue is the discontinuity of our speech patterns, that is, how much we interrupt each other in our conversations and how this reflects our own lack of focus.

The implications of this behavioral pattern are scary, particularly when seen in the context of George Orwell's essay Politics and the English Language, in which he posits that freedom is partially dependent upon vocabulary and conceptual diversity. Clearly, in contemporary society, the degradation of language through commercial intrusion, and the homogeneity of thought through mass media, makes us less insightful about our surroundings and easier to manipulate...

One of the keys to successfully producing Mamet's plays is the exactitude of the timing exhibited by the actors as they work with the sentence fragments that the playwright metes out to them and cross-hatches with other characters.

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Manifest Destiny

From Madama Butterfly

The philosophy of Manifest Destiny, that America has a God-given right to rule the Western hemisphere and any other place where the populace is perceived to be "less developed" than our own has been around since the early 19th Century. It led to the aggressive western march of Europeans across Native American land, the Louisiana Purchase, the Mexican American War, and even the threat of war with Canada to secure the incredible expanse that makes up our current U.S. borders. This zealotry didn't stop when the ports of San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle had been secured. In 1853, with a show of American naval force, Admiral Matthew Perry began the process of opening Japan to trade with the Western powers. Following the Civil War and the industrialization that it stimulated, American expansion and so-called "gunboat diplomacy" continued in the Far East, with acquisition of the Philippines, and in the Caribbean, all following the Spanish-American War.

This then, is the political setting underpinning to Giacomo Puccini's masterful opera, Madama Butterfly, Opera Colorado's winter production, which opened last Saturday. The turn-of-the-century story revolves around a geisha, Cio-Cio-San, who marries a visiting American naval officer, and the tragedy that results from his frivolous attitude toward their marriage and Japanese culture in general. This theme is not unlike the behavior of "The Ugly American" so poignantly reflected in the novel of that name written some 50 years later.

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Materialism

From Pig

And speaking of pop culture, judging by the success of such films as American Beauty, it appears that a growing number of citizens of the wealthiest nation on earth may be ready to explore the angst and ennui generated by their materialistic existence. Whether they know what they're up against, or whether they're willing to actually face the remedies for such diseases remains to be seen. This week two plays opened in Denver that reflected this exploration, and both, in their own way, were calls for help.

From As Bees in Honey Drown

"Up on Housing Project Hill
It's either fortune or fame
You must pick up one or the other
Though neither of them are to be what they claim…"

That's how Bob Dylan described the scene back in 1965 in "Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues" on his Highway 61 album, and things haven't changed much—fortune and fame are the drugs of choice of the spiritually deprived.

Thirty-five years later, playwright Douglas Carter Beane finds the inhabitants of New York City still wallowing in this sorry state in his wry off-Broadway hit As Bees in Honey Drown, now running at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.

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Millennium

From inna beginning

Over the years the Denver Center Theatre Company has attempted in various ways to encourage the art of play writing and the production of new and/or experimental works. They've held annual readings from which new productions were selected and mounted, and sponsored an in-house Playwrights Unit from which new and experimental pieces have been staged.

As it goes in theatre, many of these new works are never heard from again. Occasionally, however, something incredible comes out of all this hard work and a production is mounted across the country and, perhaps, overseas. In the past couple of years, The Laramie Project and Waiting to Be Invited are two such works.

Well, hold on to your hat folks, because we've got another hot property on our hands—Gary Leon Hill's inna beginning, which not only captures the dizzying overload of information, out of control materialism, and spiritual bewilderment that is the Millennium, but does so using innovative techniques befitting such an ambition.

Hill and his co-conceivers, director Jamie Horton and composer Lee Stametz, along with their supporting craftspeople, take us on a multimedia roller coaster ride along the subways, highways, and bi-ways of New York and the minds and hearts of some of its most eclectic inhabitants. In our breakneck journey we encounter Dodge, a ruthless yuppie fast lane publishing CEO, whose reckless quest for ever more money, power, and status results in a derailment that alters his life. Along the way, he meets new age healers, a guitarist channeling music of the spheres, the timekeeper at the National Institute of Standards in Boulder, and a host of other refugees reeling from the maelstrom of the cybernetic age.

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Molière

From The Miser

If laughter is the best medicine, then Molière may be the theatre's best physician. Whether the subject is the church, the medical profession, the state, other instruments of power and dogma, or just our everyday hang-ups of greed, hypocrisy, or pretentiousness, Molière is relentless in getting us to laugh at ourselves in recognition of truths we would not otherwise face.

Molière plied his trade during the reign of Louis XIV, managing to take elements of Italian commedia dell'arte and French farce to a new level, while ingratiating himself to the crown and honing his steely wit. As his security grew through his fluffy, entertaining and lucrative court performances, Molière's social critiques became more incisive at the public theatres in Paris.

In The Miser, Molière holds up the mirror of greed through Harpagon, a wealthy widower who holds money above love, family, and friendship. Moore glides effortlessly from domineering skinflint and compulsive tightwad to comical tramp, mindless egotist and clueless lover—in all, a nouveau riche, cultureless bourgeois gentleman.

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Myth and Madness

From Richard III

When a vacuum of resoluteness is left by good men, then shall the ambitious and thirsty for power seize the state. Richard III, in Shakespeare's drama, is such a man. Richard is no indecisive Macbeth, prodded to the crown, nor a Lear whose power leaves him bereft of sensitivity. No, Richard, crippled and hunchbacked by birth, shunned by those who should have encouraged him, knows what he wants straight away. Through deception, sophistry, and physical violence, Richard eliminates everyone that stands between himself and the throne.

Though history may dispute this portrayal, much the same way that apologists have maligned Oliver Stone's films on Nixon and JFK, it fits Shakespeare's political and artistic purposes. As always, poetic license speaks truths greater than the surface facts.

From The Madwoman of Chaillot

When the world's gone mad, perhaps madness is the only sane response. Industrial Arts Theatre's current production of Jean Giraudoux's The Madwoman of Chaillot explores this paradoxical yet compelling argument for radical actions.

In a world where rivers burn, breezes bring tears to our eyes, and the greedy and cynical claim to follow divine teachings, Giraudoux's heroine, Countess Aurelia, lives in a Paris of the mind, untouched by the Industrial Revolution and the Reformation. She is surrounded by friends from every walk of life—artisans, politicos, beggars, le bourgeois, laborers and peasants. When these friends complain to her that their world of refined salon conversation, street artists, and joie de vivre is being systematically poisoned by those who would drill for oil in the Louvre if they thought it would fill their coffers, Countess Aurelia responds with a wave of the hand and pooh-poohs their alarm. Anyone that is so driven by money, she assures them, can easily be done in.

From Fables

Joseph Campbell spent a lifetime researching the parallels between the mythologies of different cultures. Despite the difficulties of this task (given the destruction of much of civilization in the catastrophic events of approximately 13,000 years ago [including huge floods and an axis shift probably caused by the proximity of a large gravitational body]), Campbell eventually succeeded in clarifying and reestablishing inter-cultural connections.

In Fables, the latest creation from Pavel Dubruvsky and Per-Olav Sorenson, the Denver Center Theatre Company's resident playwrights, we are given the hope that the play will freshly illustrate and elucidate many of the same shared stories that persist around the world.

And while the talented and clever multi-cultural cast create a host of memorable moments, Fables lacks any cohesive sense, other than magic, of the unifying themes in world literature and myth. As with all their collaborative efforts over the past few years, including Stories, Star Fever, and Beethoven and Pierrot, Dubruvsky and Sorenson have created imaginative and beautiful scenes. Kathleen Brady as the Monster that emerges from the on-stage Pond is uproariously ridiculous; another beautiful interlude included a seductive modern dancer who all the while plays a soulful saxophone; and what midway would be complete without a Vaudevillian with endless one-liners?

And that's the problem with Fables—it's really a series of fables, rather than a cohesive representation of human storytelling. Perhaps this is the playwrights' point—that mirth and skill are enough. Perhaps, but that would make a circus of the theatre.

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Native American Rights

From The Rez Sisters

Theatre, like cinema and much of the rest of our culture, generally suffers from a lack of leading roles for women, so Her Acting Group has spent much time and effort searching out plays that are the exception. The Rez Sisters, now running at the Ralph Waldo Emerson Center, not only provides seven such roles, but in addition is written specifically for Native American women.

Surrounded by poverty, alcoholism, boredom and infidelity, each of these seven sisters from the Wasaychigan Hill Indian Reservation has dreams of an escape from these depressing circumstances, and though each of their visions is different, they all depend upon winning The World's Biggest Bingo Game that will soon be played down the turnpike. United in their excitement over the possibility of solving all their problems in one lucky evening, the women utilize every possible avenue to raise the money for their trip until they finally have enough to go.

The Rez Sisters deals honestly and directly with a number of issues that cut across the entire contemporary experience of surviving Native American tribes, and includes some excellent performances. What little hope survives on the Reservation is grounded in the relationships that develop between the inhabitants. The Rez Sisters, if nothing else, provides a basis for building from these simple truths.

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New Testament

From My Magdalene

A week ago, Good Friday, seemed like an appropriate time to take in the current production, My Magdalene, at the Nomad Theatre up in Boulder. As the title suggested, the play is a personal interpretation of the life and spiritual legacy of Mary Magdalene.

Jane, a young married woman adrift in the late '60's and early '70's, has a near death experience, as a result of an accident which opens up access to the spiritual plane upon which Mary Magdalene dwells. Through this portal, Jane not only redeems this saint who has been so long disparaged by the church, but learns healing and meditative techniques from her.

Although the research upon which this story is based is not accepted or understood by mainstream Christians, it is, nonetheless backed up by more evidence than the stories that got edited by the Romans and placed in The New Testament. In 600 AD, Pope Gregory pinned the label of penitent prostitute on Magdalene, though there are no references anywhere that confirm this. This position was reversed by the Catholic Church 1400 years later, in 1969.

But The New Testament and The Essene Gospels, which have survived largely unedited, do tell us that it was Mary Magdalene that anointed Jesus. This would make her the high priestess from an esoteric tradition dating back from before The Flood. According to all four books of The New Testament, she was also the first to experience the risen Jesus and, according to the Essene text, written in the original Aramaic, she was not only first among the Apostles, but the beloved and partner of Jesus. These relationships are substantiated by the early Church texts of the Gnostics which were later abandoned by the patriarchal elements that won control of the Church.

Be that as it may, the play itself stumbles in a number of areas while attempting to convey the significance of these historical events. First, the autobiographical basis of the story is never elevated to art, instead dwelling in the humdrum of the lives of the confused contemporary characters. Second, we can hardly believe that Jane's husband, Paul, would, as the son of a preacher and supporter of the Vietnam War, have been wearing long hair at this time. Third, the language of Mary, Jesus, and other ancient spiritualists is so stilted as to sap the interpersonal loving life out of them. Are we supposed to believe that these people spoke in the everyday tongue of Aramaic as if they were in the Court of King James? Fourth, there is entirely too much telling and not enough showing in the story line. And finally, the depiction of Jesus (whom they call Yeshua, which is close, but still not the proper Hebrew pronunciation of the man from Nazareth's name) comes off as the Anglo wonder bread version of the wide-eyed Semitic ascetic who revolutionized the foundation of Western religious tradition.

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Nihilism and Theatre of the Absurd

From Endgame

Following the fire-bombings, mass exterminations, and other depravities of World War II in Europe, the continent was fertile ground for a variety of philosophies born of despair and nihilism. The Theatre of the Absurd was certainly of this lineage, though perhaps it's unfair to say that it represents complete hopelessness. Certainly, Ionesco and Beckett discovered humor in the human condition, even if they found little meaning in it all.

From The Collection

In the aftermath of World War II, an utterly decimated and spiritually bereft Europe searched for meaning, and into this void arose nihilism, existentialism, and theatre of the absurd. This is the context for much of the work of Becket, Ionesco, Sartre, Camus, and Pinter…

While Pinter is a master of understatement in revealing the underpinnings of relationships, his cynicism and lack of hope is evident and that, ultimately, wears against the thoughtful direction, precise acting, and what incidental comedy he uncovers. Despondency over the everyday violence and general crassness so evident in our world is understandable, but these are conditions that we created. If we abandon hope, we are then deserting that part of ourselves which alone is capable of redeeming that which we have spoiled. The choice is ours.

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Orthodoxy and Blasphemy

From Racing Demon

A recurring theme in Western arts and criticism revolves around the failure of a God made in our own image from preventing bad things from happening to us. In the past couple of seasons, Marisol, Angels in America, and Don Juan in Hell, are just a few examples of this motif.

Along these lines, the Denver Center Theatre Company's regional premiere of David Hare's Racing Demon covers the difficulties of individuals trying to find their unique paths within the ecclesiastical boundaries of the Anglican Church. During the past couple of generations, the Church of England, as it's known there, has broadened it's acceptance of differences among its clergy. In Racing Demon, the church fathers, in an act of revenge against what they consider revisionism, have decided to make an example of a vicar who has exhausted their patience through his crisis of faith. If this sounds more like the maneuverings of a political party rather than a religious institution that claims to market spiritual truth, that's because it is…

Racing Demon, like the frantic shuffle of the card game after which it was named, is about what happens to friends when an organization based on dogma comes between them. Directed by Anthony Powell, the stellar cast delivers a thoughtful and soul searching story.

From Daughters of Lot

According to Old Testament lore, the daughters of Lot, having lost their mother to God's wrath for looking back at Sodom, were eventually alone in the mountains with their father, away from that which their God scorned, and believed it their spiritual duty to procreate to continue the seed of the righteous, even if it be with their father.

The Lida Project's production of Daughters of Lot is set in a time of moral crises of equal proportions, in a city run by warlords and rape gangs. Is this post-apocalyptic or now?

A man is a prisoner of three women, accused of horrendous crimes against his sister, to which he seems to admit...but in the second act, we might question whether his actions are not in the same sacred vein as Lot's daughters, given the alternatives.

The spiritual judgment of others is difficult, and often confusing, with those claiming to be the most righteous sometimes quite the opposite, and those seemingly the antithesis of apparent religious standards performing the most blessed acts.

From Misalliance

Below the surface, Shaw's inspired honesty concerning the family and the raising of children is anything but dull. Freedom to learn and develop according to one's own soul may be the basis for his point of view, but his illustration of this point is a wild tale of people raised in anything but such an atmosphere. As Shaw said, "All great truths begin with blasphemies," and I'd have to agree with him. For example, what gets passed off on a day-to-day basis as normal, say, having to do with church and state, in general have very little to do with spirituality and democracy.

From The Man of LaMancha

In English, the word "quixotic" is often used to refer to an impractical idealist, or one who is hopelessly romantic or chivalrous, but in Miguel De Cervantes' Don Quixote de la Mancha one is unmistakably left with the impression that there is no lofty goal that cannot be realized, and therefore to be quixotic is perhaps to be saintly.

This delightful and humorous story has, of course, been immortalized as part of American musical theatre as The Man of La Mancha.

The story is a play within a play, and begins when Cervantes is thrown in jail by the Inquisition for heretical writings. There he is in danger of being ravaged by the incorrigible inmates. Instead, he convinces them to perform a theatre piece he has written, which staves off their onslaught of him until he is called before the pseudo-moralistic tribunal that represented itself as Christian morality in medieval Spain.

From Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

With so many biblical stories being taken literally these days, despite the historical evidence of the censorship and editing that has gone on, it's refreshing to see a piece of theatre that manages to have light-hearted fun with an old tale and still manage to honor the moral at the heart of it. Such is the tenor of the Arvada Center's annual production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

From The Crucible

At the height of the McCarthy hearings in the '50's Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible, a play about the Salem witch trials. The story's parallels to the inquisitions perpetrated by the House Un-American Activities Committee are patently clear—in both cases the groups in power use mass hysteria to skewer innocent people who refuse to bend to their totalitarian ideology.

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Personality and Magnetism

From Present Laughter

Wouldn't you say that there are certain people that just come off as larger than life? It's not just their celebrity or talent that gives this impression, but perhaps those qualities in combination with their personality, their joie de vivre, their savoir faire, that sets them apart?

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Personal Responsibility

From An Inspector Calls

Did you ever see the play or movie Six Degrees of Separation? The premise is that any of us is only six people away from connecting with any other person on earth. The obvious example of this is the idea of networking in business, where you research business referrals from friends until you get a connection to the person whom you're trying to reach.

Well, if this idea is valid, what implications does this have for how we treat each other and the responsibility we have for what happens to others—that is, at what point are we our brother's keeper? For example, growing number of so-called religious people have become politically active, and yet the conservative representatives that they elect are distinctly uninterested in supporting social programs. Isn't there supposed to be a connection between our moral and spiritual precepts and the way we act?

The noted English man of letters, J.B. Priestly explores the idea of taking personal responsibility for the manner in which our actions affect others' lives in An Inspector Calls, now running at Boulder's Nomad Theatre. The play premiered in London in 1946 and, like many of Priestly's work, explores parallel stories evolving from the same event and subtle wrinkles in the fabric of space-time…

When someone dies in our world, whether it's a child starving in Africa, or from bombs in the Balkans, Belfast, or Baghdad, what responsibility to do we bear? If we can make a business connection to anyone in the world in a matter of hours, how do our choices of what we buy or what we say or do to each other effect people around the world?

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Phantasmagoria

From O

For those of you that have never seen a Cirque du Soleil show, it's more of an experience than a story. The images are like nothing you've ever seen, much like one would expect upon entering the dream worlds of Fellini or Dali. The chief clown in O resembles Quasimodo. In one scene he drifts across the water in a giant upside down umbrella. Disembodied figures emerge from clouds, a carousel of gigantic horses with riders circle the air; sixteen synchronized swimmers resembling Cindy Lauper mermaids surface from the bottom of the pool feet first; red scarfs shoot across the stage like skyrockets; an iceberg on which two clowns are roasting a snowman on a spit drifts in from the mist; an African oasis appears as the hydraulic pool floor rises and creates a shallow pond; a piano rises out of the sea; over 1800 lighting instruments and 10 live musicians change the mood instantaneously; acrobats dive from as high as 60 feet above the stage, while others are catapulted from both sides with precise timing to avoid flying into each other; a sailing ship with its crew swinging from its rigging floats in across the sky; and on and on…

From The Phantom of the Opera

The lushness of the costumes is another aspect that puts The Phantom of the Opera in an unparalleled class by itself. Four regally costumed scenes from the operas Hannibal, Don Juan Triumphant, and Il Muto contribute immeasurably to the grand lavishness of the production. Add to this the masquerade that takes place on the steps of the Paris Opera House, the gondola coursing through the magical underground lake to the Phantom's candelabrum laden lair, the rich velvet curtains and gold braids that appear in scene after scene, the gigantic falling chandelier and the gilded proscenium and you've got a prescription for an unforgettable evening of high drama coupled with Andrew Lloyd Weber's most memorable score.

From Dralion

Having seen four different Cirque du Soleil productions—two permanent shows in Las Vegas, and two road shows in Denver—I can only say that prose is inadequate to describe the feats, lighting, costuming, music, dance, singing, and pageantry that make up this experience...so here goes my impressionistic observations of their current production, Dralion:

Space traveler with magic hour glass
Cerulean trapeze princesses and emerald temple dancers
Ruby masqued pashas
A wall of Harlequin spiders
Gilded Chinese dragons and lions
Copper chromed gymnastic saucer
Green rooted plant acrobats vaulting onto stilted human pyramids
A one-handed balancing act on a rotating pod
Flame drenched tumblers and color guard
Spear jugglers
Megaphone, drum, and bass clown musical combo
Steam-powered crustaceans birthing an orange body electric juggling the pearls of wisdom given to him by a blind djin as he gyrates and contorts to the live electric orchestrated beat
Psychedelic Cossacks boosting blue aerial flipping trapeze dancers shot from streamers
Paradisiacal silhouettes inside a stage-enveloping azure plasma cylinder
Dralions guarding four light bulb walking acrobats encased in golden stamens
Ball walking tumblers
Heavenly taffeta air waltzers
Satin bondage cyclonal arabesques serenaded by a rosé crystalline fairy godmother
Pre-Columbian totem spirited disc divers
A rake headed gargling clown in plastic tiered gown and candy-striped tights
A satirical play-within-a-play performed by misshapen clown klutzes swept off the stage by a dwarf tinsel power ranger
Crimson futuristic Iroquois sky divers driven by a kettle drum band with leaping wall lizards

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Physical Appearance

From Violet

Beauty's only skin deep it's said, but how many of us look past the surfaces we've been conditioned to find attractive or repulsive in others to see what lies underneath? You've heard that question before. Now turn it around. How many of us hold ourselves back because of some flaw we perceive about our own appearance or personality that makes us feel ugly or imperfect?

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Physically Challenged

From Side Show

In the course of our everyday lives, all of us have faced minor inconveniences and illnesses that temporarily make our lives more difficult, but very few of us have to face our entire lives with a major disability. To do so requires great heart and strength of character. These are qualities that you'll find in abundance in the local acting troupe know as Phamaly, an acronym which stands for the Physically Handicapped Amateur Musical Actors League…

The opening number of the show, "Come Look At The Freaks," sets the stage for a remarkable evening of art imitating life, with the physically challenged characters in the play being confronted with many of the same obstacles and prejudices that the cast encounters on a daily basis.

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Prejudice

From The Last Night of Ballyhoo

Alfred Uhry is best known for his play Driving Miss Daisy, the adaptation of which was such a success as a film. He is the only playwright to have won an Oscar, a Tony, and a Pulitzer Prize. Last year's Broadway sensation, The Last Night of Ballyhoo, which has just opened at the Denver Center, again explores his roots growing up Jewish in pre-World War II Atlanta.

The play, which was commissioned for the 1996 Olympic Games, is astutely set in 1939, while Hitler is marching across Poland. This is juxtaposed against the goings-on within a well-to-do Jewish family. Like many German Jewish families that have been in America for generations, the Freitag's have worked assiduously at assimilation. They decorate a Christmas tree for the holidays, send their kids to Ivy League schools, attend cotillions and belong to country clubs. And like their Christian neighbors, they discriminate against Jews, at least Jews that they consider "the other kind"—a more Semitic, darker, ethnic variety.

This may seem outrageous at first, but it you stop to think about it, every ethnic group has its own caste system, as well as being part of a larger pecking order. And that is part of Uhry's point—in dealing with prejudice, first start with your own. That's not to say the characters in this family are unsympathetic. On the contrary, Uhry paints a warm and often comedic portrait of the loves, disappointments and foibles of his characters.

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Psychology

From Defending the Caveman

Did you ever wonder if there's a rational explanation why women are comfortable asking for directions and man generally aren't, or why the male areas of a house end up being in the basement, the attic or the garage, or why women use an average of 7,000 words a day and men 2,000?

One topic of conversation that's never seems to lose it's relevance is "The Differences Between Men And Women".

Rob Becker's one man show, Defending the Caveman, is one of the funniest and most insightful theatre pieces I've seen dedicated to this topic. Other's apparently have enjoyed it as well. In March of 1995, it surpassed Lily Tomlin's Searching for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe as the longest running single person play in Broadway history.

Becker's goofy, deadpan, casual delivery, and his well researched suppositions about the basic differences between masculine and feminine cultures provide for a fun evening, and lots of food for thought.

Becker bases his understanding of the differences between the way men and women communicate on the survival instincts of hunters versus gathers, and how ultimately, these two ways of being compliment and protect each other.

Whether or not you believe that men are men and women are women and never the twain shall meet, or in a less rigid vision that encapsules a spectrum of sexuality (that is, elements of both sexes existing within each of us), Becker's insights are bound to bring you laughs.

From Carnal Knowledge

Ever since the famous cartoonist Jules Feiffer wrote Carnal Knowledge first as a play and then later as a film starring Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel, it has most often been interpreted as a comment on the predatory sexual behavior of men. It's easy to draw this picture from Carnal Knowledge because its main characters, Jonathan, an unrepentant skirt chaser, and his best buddy, Sandy, a walking mid-life crisis, are motivated from places other than the heart.

But it's always a misnomer to believe that just because one's oppressor has power that they too are not victims—they are, at least spiritually and emotionally. Some may call this a Karmic Law, but it goes further than that, it is the Unity of Opposites.

In Industrial Arts Theatre's production of Carnal Knowledge, both sexes are trapped by the expectations that have accompanied their lives and by their own willingness to accept these expectations. Rather than considering the merits of each and every action, long buried attitudes and abused instincts lead to the unhappiness of relationships.

From The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron

It used to be said that the only things that were certain in this universe were life, death, and taxes. But from even the most cursory observation it would appear that we could add "the battle of the sexes" and not get much objection.

During the past twenty years or so in industrialized nations, the psychological dynamics of male-female relationships has become the stuff of pop culture, with every publishing house competing for the next hot title such as "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus", or "Women who love…", substitute the phrase of your choice, such as "too much", or "Men who don't", et cetera. Or reverse this and you have a whole new set of real books starting with "Men who love…" ad infinitum and ad nauseum.

This has become a major topic among stand-up comedians, of course, and there have been some very funny routines built around this. The best that I've seen, though, and one of the best one person shows I've ever come across as well, is Robert Dubac's The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron, now revisiting Denver for a limited engagement that ends this Sunday.

Dubac, who wrote the piece and stars in it along with his five alter egos, cleverly counterbalances male and female attitudes by dividing the stage into the right and left hemispheres of the brain, which any Jungian can tell you represent the the artistic, receptive and feminine on the right, and the scientific, proactive and masculine on the left.

From One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

In the Morrision Theatre Company's current production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, El Armstrong, as McMurphy, sustains the necessary bravado to create his own believable take on a role made famous by Jack Nicholson. His irrepressible glee, mischievous instincts, and twinkling eyes naturally empower the rest of the ward to temporarily regain their sense of selves in between the electro-shock therapy and frontal lobotomies administered willy-nilly by the nurse and her cohorts to punish the patients.

Annie Gavin, as Ratched, finds that chilling and hateful place which allows the nurse to continually crush any sign of healing in this wretchedly woesome group of lost souls. Christian Mast's portrayal of Billy Bibbit, the stutter who lives in constant fear of his mother, is a phenomenal representation of this pathology. Director Rick Bernstein also elicits excellent performances from the rest of the ensemble in an insightful take on the abuses of psychology versus the human spirit.

From Art

Interestingly, this play about the emotional stakes men invest in their belief systems rather than in their hearts, was written by a woman. And Reza pushes this game of testosterone poker close to the breaking point, at least for many of the women in the audience, some of whom walked out. Yet most of the audience reacts to Reza's serious points with laughter that surprises and infuriates the playwright. While this chuckling may come more from a feeling of discomfort than mirth, I question whether the dramatic forces of Art have the wherewithal to bring the needed changes in consciousness to her audience.

From Three Men in Search of a Pair of Shoes

In his notes in the playbill, Lawrence describes his play as "a response to the Self-Mocking plays about men. Plays that express only the very surface of the human condition—and although they are very funny and entertaining, they ultimately leave me feeling ashamed at being so easily characterized." I presume that the playwright is referring to such works as Defending the Cave Man and The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron.

While Lawrence's play avoids overemphasis on beer, flatulence, and sports, and even waxes philosophical at times, he ends up falling into some of the same traps as the plays which he finds embarrassing, that is, he emphasizes the differences between men and women rather than attempting to discover their similarities. While the grizzled and unshaven may shriek in horror, there is ample evidence to document that both sexes contain physical, emotional, and spiritual elements common to the other. In fact, all of Jungian psychology is based on the perspective that the marriage of these two elements is the key to human integration. Of course, this is not the linear, non-paradoxical answer that most seek.

Most heterosexual men, in particular, and all fundamentalists, in general, are uneasy with this perspective. In Lawrence's play as well, he lets his characters off the hook when the subject of gays comes up and therein loses the opportunity to really dig into the root of the problem: sexual insecurities revolving around the male self-concept. Instead, his men undergo a lukewarm softening and return to their mates, without really convincing us, after so much yelling, that these discoveries will carry them very far.

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Racism

From Musical Comedy Murders of 1940

It is surprising, today, to be presented with war-time comedies that seem bent on dredging up old enemies and caricaturizing them. Perhaps this is a matter of generational taste, but I can't imagine watching Vietnamese or Koreans lampooned on the stage, so why am I supposed to laugh at Germans and Japanese treated like political cartoon characters designed to make me want to bayonet the nearest Axis sympathizer.

It's not that I'm ungrateful for having a relatively greater amount of political freedom than most people on the planet, but isn't it time to put these old hatreds to rest and try to get along? Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, now in production at the Town Hall Arts Center, is a victim of the times when it was created.

It's billing as "Agatha Christie gone berserk" is an attempt to associate the piece with a playwright that actually knew something about mystery and motive, but Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 is really about the propaganda of fear, unintelligible familial resentments, and psychotic behavior.

From Crossing Delancy— Despite its battles with discrimination and bigotry, America has always prided itself on being a melting pot—a place where ethnicities mingle and cross-pollinate; a place where we share ravioli, egg rolls, humus, gyros, bagels, bouillabaisse, and burritos. As represented in the theatre, sometimes these experiments end in violence, as in West Side Story, sometimes they're eye-opening, as in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and sometimes they're downright endearing, as in Crossing Delancy.

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Realism

From The Master Builder

Henrik Ibsen, who wrote such masterpieces as A Doll's House, An Enemy of the People, and Hedda Gobbler is enjoying a revival of sorts in Denver this month. Last week Germinal Stage Denver opened one of Ibsen's later works, The Master Builder, which, like Hedda Gobler of the same period, is a deeply personal work about an aging artist in the sway of a possessed young woman.

Ibsen, who along with Chekov, revolutionized theatre in the late 19th century with an infusion of realism and critical social commentary, is noted for a style that combines precise dialogue, spare action, and forceful thought. In the hands of director Stephen Kramer, Ibsen's economy of style is laid bare before us, revealing his own deteriorating psychological and artistic state in the guise of The Master Builder, Halvard Solness, an architect of some renown where the story takes place. Solness envisions his own demise at the hands of youth. Much like Ibsen's later years, Solness is bounced around by young women as he desperately tries to hang on to his vitality. Jennefer Morris, as the oddly twisted Hilda Wangel, wrestles Solness' power away from him, opening room for the lives of the next generation. Carol Elliot, as Aline Solness, gives her best performance to date. The able cast is rounded out by excellent character work from James Mills, Jenny MacDonald, John Seifert and James Miller.

These are not sympathetic characters. They are duty-bound Norwegians living out their days marked by a cataclysmic fire that destroyed their family. That is, until Hilda arrives.

From Ghosts

The combined effect of these focused performances, mixed with the well-designed technical package and costumes, provide another example, on the heals of Germinal Stage Denver's production of the The Master Builder, of Ibsen's timeless genius. His scathing examination of the church, coming as it did in the 1860's is frighteningly brave and ambitious.

From Give 'Em a Bit of Mystery: Shakespeare and the Old Tradition— One of my favorite elucidations was a live simulation of the effect of dim, flickering footlights on the exaggerated style of acting so prevalent at that time. It should come as no surprise then, that when electrical lighting instruments came into use in the late 19th Century, natural acting styles quickly came into vogue. Many more such insights into theatre history are offered.

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Sexual Abuse

From How I Learned to Drive

How I Learned to Drive is a powerful, at times funny, yet ultimately devastating tale of the coming of age of a young woman who is taught the rules of the road and life by her uncle, a sexual predator. The molestation and incest of children by adults in a position of trust is still not a subject that has truly come to light, but the incidence of such abuse is epidemic in this country and elsewhere, and the long-term psychological, emotional and spiritual repercussions are staggering.

Under the direction of Chip Walton, the full force and implications of How I Learned to Drive are realized in a stunning, highly detailed, and incredibly performed production.

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Shakespeare

From Macbeth

The most famous superstition in all of theatre involves a certain Scottish play written by one William Shakespeare. So many mishaps have dogged productions of this dark tale that, through the centuries, rituals were developed to protect the casts and crews from its strange legacy. Ad Hoc Theatre's current production of Macbeth clearly reveals from whence this something wicked comes.

When the wierd sisters gather in defiance of their sorceress-mistress Hecate and tempt the successful and well-liked nobleman Macbeth with his fate, all Hades breaks loose. The insidious, foreboding music, telltale heartbeats and incantations drag us through blood red imperious sets towards a climax that, though predicted from the onset, still leaves us in horror.

We may see power as the prize that Macbeth could not resist, but when Hecate enters to chide the witches for the crude manner in which they have executed her magic's subtle mysteries and tricked Macbeth, she explains: "...Security is Mortals' chiefest enemy." No matter how many witnesses to his actions Macbeth may eliminate, each paranoid explosion redoubles his enemy.

From Macbeth

With the Unabomber's pre-trial jockeying just beginning, the Freemen holed up in Montana plotting to overthrow the government, and the Oklahoma City bombing trial dominating Denver's daily news, with tempers flaring again in the Middle East, anarchy in Liberia, and the Chinese flexing their imperialist intentions, it's not surprising that Macbeth, the bloodiest of princes, makes his third appearance in Denver this season.

From the powerful and stunning opening to the equally provoking conclusion, Compass Theatre's production of Shakespeare's deepest foray into the dark side never compromises with the depravity of a noble prince gone bad. Judiciously trimmed and impressively interpreted and staged by director Lee Massaro, Macbeth stands forever as a warning to those whose ambitions for power and wealth exceed what fate is willing to provide.

From Macbeth

For actors, there's no other play quite like it. It has such a regular history of generating bizarre occurrences that before and during rehearsals it's never referred to by name. We're speaking of "The Scottish Play". You know, the one that blew in with that quick-hitting violent storm a week ago..."Something wicked this way comes…" I'm speaking, of course, of Macbeth, perhaps Shakespeare's darkest tragedy, at least in the sense of the energy that it conjures, because it is, after all, a play about murder. "Macbeth murders night," they cry.

Macbeth's ambitions get the best of him, especially brought out by his mate. After this, he becomes lucid in his calculations for how "best were it done quickly."

Beginning from their treachery and lies concerning the King's death, other murders quickly follow until the Macbeths' souls are literally covered with blood. No stronger statement against killing has ever been done in the theatre.

From The Tempest

On the heels of the multiple Oscars garnered by "Shakespeare in Love", it's awe-inspiring to me to think about the talent of a playwright and poet whose words continue to inspire and thrill 400 years after he wrote them.

It's my hope that the film kindles interest in the greatest writer in the history of the English language where there perhaps was none…

Given that this was perhaps the last play that the Bard penned, it's no surprise that his most mature thoughts fill the speeches of Prospero, and Tony Church brings all of his theatrical experience and Elizabethan passion to this glorious crowning masterpiece of the canon. When Prospero finally forgoes his plan, we are all exalted by his choice of virtue over vengeance.

From The Merchant of Auschwitz

Let it be said that adapting from Shakespeare is no mean feat because, in most cases, the dramatic structure and cohesiveness of the language is rock solid, and the settings have many specific features that are integral to the story. In my experience only 10 to 20 per cent of the productions that have moved Shakespeare's work to a new time and place actually work.

To his credit, Brian Freeland gets this part of his adaptation right. Freeland calls this piece The Merchant of Auschwitz, and sets it in the Nazi concentration camp of that name. This is a particularly telling choice for this play because the original version (that is, The Merchant of Venice) has been the subject of intense debate over whether it is anti-Semitic in character. There were, in fact, very few Jews in England during Shakespeare's time because they had been ordered out.

One of the aspects of Shakespeare's genius, as with most playwrights who have died of natural causes, is that he was able to write very pointed social criticism and yet mask it in a way that allowed for interpretations other than what was intended. In the case of The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare is clearly critical of the so-called Christian majority that would, in the name of someone who preached Love above all, slander those who hold other beliefs. This does not mean that Shakespeare condones the conduct of the Shylock, the Jew, who refuses to grant mercy to those who have debased him, only that he places such conduct in the context of a so-called Christian society that taught him such conduct.

By setting his play The Merchant of Auschwitz in that infamous camp, playwright Freeland clarifies this very point in a most emphatic way. And that insight alone makes this adaptation an invaluable statement. If you happen to think this is an obscure historical point, I might draw attention to local criticism by blacks and Jews in the last couple days over the exclusionary nature of some of the services held for the victims of the Columbine tragedy.

From Henry IV, Part II

Unlike the possibilities presented by his comedies and tragedies, the main plots for Shakespeare's histories are dictated by actual events. Nowhere are these restrictions more evident that in Henry IV, Part II, now playing in repertory at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.

Having dealt with the issues of conspiracy and rebellion in Henry IV, Part I, Shakespeare was faced with the disadvantage of having to make a plot from the same kind of material in Part II. This, more than any other reason, may account for the amount of space the Bard gives to comedic relief…

Far removed from the lack of time pressures under which this play was originally performed, there is the temptation to wonder when Shakespeare will get back to his story and forswear Falstaff's shenanigans that so appealed to the groundlings that crowded his stage, but the Bard delivers with great power at the end, swiftly rebuking Falstaff's falseness and depravity.

From The Winter's Tale

The work of our greatest dramatist, the man who penned under the name of Shake-speare, exhibited some sublime variations toward the end of life as evidenced in The Winter's Tale, now being given a lavish production by the Denver Center Theatre Company. Performed on a strikingly stark set of metallic trees and barren grounds reminiscent of the Russian steppes, populated with medieval lanterns, mammoth bears and costumes generous in brocades and velvets, director Laird Williamson plays to the strength of the multitalented ensemble to deliver the magic woven into this most mystical and spiritual of all the Bard's plays.

The question of authorship of the plays written by the man we refer to as Shakespeare has been an issue for many centuries. Thinkers such as Mark Twain, Henry James, Sigmund Freud, and Orson Welles are included amongst those who believe that the Stratfordian, William Shakspere, a man who couldn't sign his name the same way twice, owned no books, and raised illiterate children, is not the author. Revisiting a theme that appears continually in Shakespeare's work, and is one of the clues, according to Oxfordians, that indicates the plays were actually written by Edward de Vere, The Winter's Tale centers around the jealousy of Leontes, king of Sicilia and his suspicions that there is more to his queen's friendliness toward Polixenes, king of Bohemia, than meets the eye. Despite his entire court's pleadings on the queen's behalf for reason, Leontes darkest aspersions prevail and tragedy ensues…

Finally, the playwright saves one of the most surprising and soul-searching moments of his career for the climax of the play when Hermione, Leonte's queen (a dignified performance by BW Gonzalez) is resurrected to forgive the fallen king and reunite with her daughter after sixteen years. In the twilight of his life, the playwright, again whom we assume is de Vere, not only forgives himself for the torment he had inflicted upon his real life wife, but delivers this redemption in the form of a woman, whose power to heal rests upon the faith of those who love her. A broadminded take on The New Testament is there ever was one, and powerful medicine indeed, served up by the master!

From The African Company Presents Richard III

The works collected under the name of Shakespeare are celebrated by cultures around the globe as evidenced by the multi-cultural throngs that make their way to London to celebrate his birthday every year and by the different communities that perform his works. Two weeks ago, we reviewed the gay interpretation of Romeo and Juliet now running at the Theatre on Broadway. Last Friday, the Shadow Theatre Company, Denver's premier African-American theatre company, opened it's production of The African Company Presents Richard III in honor of Black History Month.

From A Midsummer-Night's Dream

About 70 years before Molière wrote The Miser, another famous court playwright on the other side of the English Channel composed an original tale of faeries and Kings in honor of the marriage of the Duke of Derby to Elizabeth Vere, the daughter of the leading candidate for authorship of the Shakespearean canon. We are speaking of A Midsummer-Night's Dream, a play that singularly altered the course of popular fantasy, exhibited remarkable development of the author as a dramatist, and gave us an eternally memorable character in Bottom…

A Midsummer-Night's Dream has a history of adaptation, beginning with the playwright himself, who wrote a least four alternative endings for it. Steve Wilson's direction, from the unique opening scene and pointed emphasis on the dream-like quality of the story to the final play-within-a-play is well-conceived and illuminating. Aside from a couple of exceptions where the players, in their excitement, lose the scansion of the verse, the language remains accessible.

From Much Ado About Nothing

As we've noted before, one of the recurring themes in Shakespearean drama concerns the mistrust of a husband toward his wife, as evidenced by Othello, The Winter's Tale, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. To Oxfordians, that is those who believe that the author of these plays is Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, this makes perfect sense, since de Vere was ever repentant over similar aspersions he cast toward his own wife.

To the list of plays that wrestle with this angst we should add Much Ado About Nothing, though the situation is between a young soldier, Claudio, and his betrothed, Hero. Despite this serious theme, Much Ado About Nothing is decidedly a comedy, as much mirth is generated by the repartee between Benedict and Beatrice, two quick-witted, anti-matrimonial types whose sharp tongues for each other belie an intense attraction.

From Julius Caesar

Unencumbered by the rigor of events as in his histories, the playwright makes his greatest political and rhetorical statements about democracy and mobs, and honor and ambition in Julius Caesar.

From The Tempest

As the man whom we call Shakespeare neared death, he was in the midst of his final work, The Tempest—a play which, in many ways, sets aright on stage what the playwright was not able to have in his life: recognition for his own stories and a fond farewell to his public. All this comes to the magician, Prospero, who orchestrates a storm in order to bring his enemies to justice…

In part, the most supernatural of all the Bard's plays was written to combat the growing tide of Puritanism and Calvinism that threatened the health of public theatre in Britain. When the dust finally settles, though, the magician is triumphant before he releases his powers to the winds.

Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have's mine own,
Which is most faint…
. . . .
…release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be reliev'd by prayer,
Which pierces to that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon'd be.
Let your indulgence set me free.
          The Tempest, Epilogue, 1-3, 9-20

From Henry V

If ever there was an English hero for the ages, such was Henry V. Not only does his life story provide a rollicking princely counterpoint to the comedic antics of Falstaff in Henry IV, Parts I and II, but in his own history, Henry V, Hal gives his country the most inspirational military event in its glorious history, as well as the unification, however brief, of England and France. Such a combination of story and the genius of the great bard who wrote the play has produced a monumental work that represents the crowning achievement in the Shakespearean histories.

In addition to the unprecedented scenes in which Henry mixes with common soldiers, the play begins with the most comprehensive argument of the theatrical question ever written:

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash'd in like hounds, should famine, sword, and fire
Crouch for employment. But parden gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that hath dar'd
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object. Can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? Or my we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! Since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confin'd two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder;
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide one man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i' th' receiving earth.
For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there, jumping o'er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who, prologue-like, your humble patience pray
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.
          Henry V, Prologue, 1-34

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Shakespeare/de Vere

From Hamlet

Is Polonius sufficiently full of himself? Yes. As any Oxfordian will tell you, Polonius is none other than William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth's right hand man. Burghley was the playwright Edward de Vere's guardian after his parents died. Burghley steered de Vere into a difficult marriage with his daughter, Anne Cecil (Ophelia). All of Polonius' aphorisms ("Neither a borrower nor a lender be." "To thine own self be true." et al.) are lifted nearly verbatim from Burghley's own code. Originally, in the first quarto, the character of Polonius was called Corambus ("two-hearted" in Latin) a play on Burghley's motto, "One heart ..." Dennis R. Elkin's Polonius is pompous enough to underscore his self conceit, yet possessed of the opportunism required of someone in his office. De Vere would have so enjoyed slipping this Polonius the knife.

From The Merchant of Venice

Antonio, the merchant of the play's title, has agreed to secure a bond for his friend Bassanio, to help him invest in a mercantile venture. Together, they seek their 3,000 ducats from Shylock, a Jew and moneylender.

Shylock, for his part, is resentful toward Antonio and his friends who regularly harangue him with racist epithets and spit upon him in the street, yet he plays into their bigotry. He is consumed by his wealth, and gives no slack in his interest rates. Each side makes their contempt clear, and when the dust settles after negotiations, Shylock agrees to loan the money without interest, on the condition that forfeiture of the bond grants him the right to exact a pound of flesh from Antonio's heart.

Such lending practices, minus the dramatic hyperbole of "a pound of flesh," were common in Venice at the time: Pre-Reformation Christianity had not yet fully reconciled usury (and its attendant anti-Christian tenets of self-interest and the profit motive) into its cosmology, and the Jews -- legal aliens in Christian Venice, consigned to a ghetto, and prohibited from owning property -- took up this occupation as a means of security and survival. Indeed, the presumed playwright himself, Edward de Vere, during his sojourn to Venice, had borrowed £3,000 against the return of his ships from a Michael Lok, and passages from his correspondence concerning this woeful transaction are mirrored in the play's correspondence.

From Love's Labor's Lost

In the Denver Center's current playbill, critic Dan Sullivan attempts to provide context for the theatre company's production of William Shakespeare's Love's Labor's Lost. Sullivan begins by superciliously attempting to dismiss the notion that the Shakespearean canon was written by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. In ignoring what few facts we know about the glove maker's son, William Shakspere (sic), such as that he could barely sign his name and that his children were illiterate, Sullivan's arguments become so piteous that even Stratfordians would find them embarrassing. Worse yet, by ignoring compelling contemporary scholarship (and supporting a poor shill for no other reason than a cottage industry and academic careers depend upon it), Sullivan obfuscates the themes in this lesser known, yet thoughtful, comedy, rather than illuminating them.

Seen in the larger context of de Vere's life, Love's Labor's Lost was written during his first infatuation with Anne Vavasor, the dark lady of the sonnets. This timing also lines up well with the parody that de Vere performs on Euphuism, a particular style of writing popular in the 1570's and '80's. It is important to note that this satirical tack would have been passé if it were conformed with the Stratfordian time line, which usually dates this play at least ten years later.

Thus director Anthony Powell's choice of casting the principals in this production as twenty-somethings fits perfectly with de Vere's age at the time he wrote the play. In Love's Labor's Lost, Anne is represented by Rosaline and de Vere by Berowne, much as the couple is later represented by Beatrice and Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing (once called Love's Labor's Won). In fact, among the lead characters—the King of Navarre and his lords, and the Princess of France and her ladies—the best lines and most believable romance are given to Rosaline and Berowne. Here, Morgan Hallett and John Sloan shine, making the most of their opportunities amidst the general superficiality of the word games and pretensions of their cohorts.

Indeed, it is this frivolity that gives the play its less than stellar reputation relative to the rest of the canon. Yet, while it must be admitted that this is an early work, such excess is exactly what the playwright intended, in order to satirize the foppish style of Euphuism. This said, despite gallant performances by Aaron Serotsky, as the King, Kate Gleason, as the Princess, and Laura Heisler, January Murelli, Jason Henning, and Steven Cole Hughes as their retinue, the staging of their group scenes yields mixed results (with the interactions of the men and women generally showing little chemistry, while the Russian masquerade, Michael Santo's dry-witted Boyet, the men's forswearing of their oaths, and the Princess' final speech being the highlights).

... Written shortly before Romeo and Juliet (remember Romeo forswears Rosaline after he meets Juliet?), Love's Labor's Lost gives the first hint of the themes de Vere will later develop concerning romantic love.

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Social Change

From The Good Woman of Setzuan

The Weimar Republic (1919-33), immediately preceeding Hitler's reign of terror and depravity, was a fertile time in German intellectual history. This was a period that included The Bauhaus, Albert Einstein, and in the theatre, Bertolt Brecht.

Above all, playwright Brecht was interested in social change, but he was no utopian. He squarely puts the burden upon his audience, exhorting them at the end of the play to write their own happy ending, for which he emphatically states "...there's got to be way."

From Loot

Orton spares very little with his ascerbic pen, yet thirty years later (much like Albee's contemporaneous Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) his outrage now appears as cooly delineated social criticism. The craziness of everyday life has caught up to even the most cynical visions of a generation ago. Let's hope this doesn't make it any easier for us to accept the status quo.

From The Dead

Just as Chekov and Ibsen are credited with bringing naturalism to the theatre, so has James Joyce been honored with the techniques that have created the modern novel. In fact, a recent panel of leading academics and authors commissioned to come up with the 100 best novels of the 20th century voted Joyce's Ulysses #1 and his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as #3. This was not only due to Joyce's frankness and honesty (remember Ulysses was banned in the United States until nineteen years after it was first published [1914-1933]), but his exploration of what we now call "stream of consciousness." It was Joyce who said that "Artists are the antenna of the race," and truly, James Joyce belongs with Picasso and Einstein as the harbingers of a free and open modality in thinking.

From Ragtime

While folks may quibble over the artistic coherence of E.L. Docterow's epic American novel Ragtime, or its translation to the silver screen, the Broadway musical based on the ever-talented Terrance McNally's adaptation lives up to its advanced billing.

Trying to represent the complexity of forces that faced America at the beginning of the Twentieth Century is no mean feat, yet through the intertwined stories of three families and the telling appearances of selected celebrities of the time, Ragtime successfully conveys this elusive zeitgeist. On the verge of a new century and millennium ourselves, this is a story in which we should find significant meaning.

As the production opens with the sublime title cut, we see the white linen dresses and straw skimmer hats of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant America as it saw itself during the close of the last century. Reconstruction had reversed any significant racial gains that followed the Civil War, the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny were alive and well, and Christianity and economic progress seemed synonymous. Suddenly other groups of dancers—migrations of blacks from the South and European immigrants of all religions and political persuasions—join the WASPs on stage, representing the forces of deep social change that percolated throughout the country.

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Theatre & Criticism

From The Critic

I couldn't think of a better way to begin my career as a theatre reviewer than to comment on a piece called The Critic, City Stage Ensemble's current production now running at the Theatre at Jack's on Platte near 15th.

The Critic is Richard Brinsley Sheridan's commentary on all the shallow tricks that playwrights, critics and publicists use to stake claim to their piece of the theatre.

To avoid the obvious trap of becoming a caricature from the play itself, I hereby shamelessly admit to you that I have assumed this position of theatre reviewer because my appetite for theatre exceeds my financial means for acquiring tickets. And if this admission weren't evidence enough for you to warily sift through my pontifications, let me further raise your cynicism detectors by unequivocally stating that my reviews not only serve as a means to publicize local artists, but also provide a platform for my own peculiar tastes and eccentric opinions.

From a prologue to a review—

The Denver theatre scene must really be growing up. Twice in the same week, major articles appeared in local papers on aspects of local theatre, not regional theatre (as in the Denver Center Theatre Company), not national theatre (as in New York), but local Denver theatres. In Westword, Jim Lillie's explored the problem of employing equity and other journeyman actors in smaller theatres that can only afford honorariums, not salaries. In the Denver Rocky Mountain News, Lisa Bornstein's featured five local very talented teenage actors and their experiences auditioning for Hollywood films as well as local theatre productions. Next thing you know, the Post and the News will begin treating theatre with the same respect they show for live classical music, ballet, and opera, and stop confusing it with the commercially-challenged pop culture of television, film, and videos.

From The Playboy of the Western World-

One of the wonderful things about a healthy theatre community is the variety of work available to enjoy. For those interested, there's a black theatre company, a Chicano theatre company, a couple of women's troupes and a women's playwright festival, readings and performances of new work, a couple of Shakespeare festivals, numerous children's and community theatre groups, et cetera. For the past few years, we've also enjoyed Tir Ná nÓg, an Irish Theatre company.

From Woyzeck

In the early nineteenth century, while most of his contemporaries were still absorbed in melodrama, Georg Büchner, a radical young German dramatist, medical doctor, and scientific theorist, wrote what stands as one of the most remarkably inventive plays in the history of western theatre.

Now in production by the University of Colorado at Boulder's School of Theatre and Dance, Woyzeck anticipates the realistic modernism of Checkov and Ibsen by fifty years. While the play is decidedly dark, reflecting a Europe still under the control of monarchies, it's attack on social, political and religious convention is unprecedented for its time.

From La Bête

Occasionally a modern playwright comes along that is able to emulate one of the "classical masters". Following World War II, Christopher Fry came closer than any modern I've experienced at conjuring Shakespeare, and now we have David Hirson who does a remarkable job imitating Moliére, rhymed couplets and all, in the Aurora Fox's current production of La Bête.

"The Beast" in this instance is an egomaniacal street performer who is brought in by the patron of an acting troupe to "liven up" the performances of his beneficiaries. In a move somewhat reminiscent of the Archduke in Amadeus telling Mozart that his work contains "too many notes", Prince Conti tells Elomire, the leader of the troupe, that despite the thoughtful and artful nature of his plays, they need a new spark, and he has just the ticket.

Donald P. Ryan as Valere, the beast, is masterful as the pedantic, self-possessed dandy, with affected mannerisms and a mouth that will just not stop. Especially incredible was his literally half-hour soliloquy in the first act describing his own genius. Aside from exhausting our patience, this boorish fool thoroughly tries the good manners of Elomire and his cohort Bejart who disagree over whether Valere is worthy of their interest.

Scott Bellot, as the idealistic artist Elomire, gives a studied performance in earnestness and righteousness indignation over the pedestrian worldview of the theatre put forth by his patron Prince Conti, by the poser Valere, and by Bejart, his second in command. William Berry as the Prince is an interesting balance of augustness and practicality, as his character struggles with his fondness for Elomire yet ultimately has a shallow view of the purpose of theatre.

From Tantalus

Why did playwright John Barton choose the name of Tantalus to describe his reinterpretation of the Greek myths? According to the legend, Tantalus was one of very few mortals who hobnobbed with the Gods on Mount Olympus. In a fit of greed, he stole some of the nectar that bestows immortality, and attempted to share it with his mortal friends. For this he was condemned to a region below Hades, where he stands in a pool of water bound to a tree filled with luscious fruit. Whenever he is thirsty he bends to scoop up water, but it recedes from him. Whenever he is hungry, he reaches for a piece of fruit, but a breeze lifts the tantalizing delights away from him. Above his head, a huge rock is poised to fall at any moment. Clearly, Tantalus' fate is representative of the human condition—caught between our animal and spiritual natures, we await catastrophe.

Heralded as an "Epic for the New Millennium," Tantalus is more likely a summation of the myths of the old millennium, for unless humankind is able to tame its instincts and ego with its own divinity, our home will become an unredeemable wasteland.

While it may be easy for many to dismiss the subject matter of this play as myth, such hubris misses the point—our own present day concept of what we do and why we do it is as much myth as these Greek tales. What is myth anyway? Yesterday's history passed down from storyteller to storyteller, until the details have been morphed to explain the existential questions of the time.

From Aunt Edith's Wake

In the past few years, interactive theatre has been making a comeback after an absence of many years following the "in your face" psychodramas of the late '60's and early '70's. This renewed popularity was stimulated, at first, by murder mystery pieces, some of which are performed as part of a dinner party, and has evolved into surrogate family events, like Tony and Tina's Wedding, which had quite a successful run locally.

From The Merchant of Auschwitz

When a new piece is presented in the theatre it is, almost always, still a work-in-progress. This is why so many Broadway shows used to open in New Haven, or Philadelphia, or where have you. The reason behind this is provide space to work out the kinks, get a reaction in front of a live audience, then do some re-writes. In that spirit, theatre criticism of new work should be aimed at the possibilities of the work and be, in the truest sense of the term, constructive criticism.

From Real Women Have Curves

Like all the arts, theatre has the power to transform as well as to entertain. That's why, no matter what level a theatrical production is performed at—in the schools, for a specific community, or at a professional level—it's ultimate value is in its effect on its audience.

El Centro Su Teatro's current production of Real Women Have Curves is the story of five Chicanas that work together in LA's garment district. Their everyday struggles hit home because their story is shared by so many others that have come north across the border in search of work and, presumably, "a better life."

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The Thirties—On the Brink of the Empire

From Life With Father

When it opened on Broadway in 1939, the attraction in Life with Father, a comedy about a late nineteenth century American family was clearly evident. The escape that this well-scrubbed, well-intentioned, but highly insulated and parochial family represented was just the ticket for a nation still struggling with a depressed economy and facing the ominous omnipresent signs of World War II. Life with Father ran for seven and a half years (3,213 performances) and became the longest-running non-musical in Broadway history.

But what are its lessons for today? The notion that late nineteenth and early twentieth century America was a kinder, gentler time does not necessarily hold water. After spending a good portion of the nineteenth century securing half of North America in the name of Manifest Destiny, America was just beginning to assert it's imperialistic muscle overseas in the Philippines, the Caribbean, and elsewhere. In addition, the chauvinistic and elitist views that supported such activity are blatantly present in the show's main character, Mr. Day.

But that is exactly the point. Not only does Life with Father poke fun at this puffed up blowhard, it makes us laugh at the outrageousness of such attitudes. Considering that (despite it's unmatched opportunity for freedom inherent in the Bill of Rights), America continues to harbor many of the same prejudices it always has, Life with Father is an hilarious means of making us laugh at the things about ourselves that we least enjoy admitting.

From One Foot on the Floor

We all know a farce when we see one, but describing the essential ingredients are another matter. The French seem to be particularly adept at this art form, and to a lesser degree, the English. Occassionally, even American playwrights are successful at it. For my own part, the recipe seems to take shape starting from some very simple little white lies, and through the compounding coincidences of time and place, creating some very compromising, embarassing, and down right hilarious situations. We laugh not just because it's funny, but because it's often at the expense of some less than sympathetic character.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's current adaptation of Georges Feydeau's Le Dindon, One Foot on the Floor, is an attempt by playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, to have fun at the expense of Hollywood in 1939. The play gets its name from one of the stipulations in the moral code imposed by the Hays office on film productions at that time—namely that when a man and woman embrace on camera, they each must have one foot on the floor.

While a number of funny moments are provided by a talented cast found in all sorts of discomforting situations, the writing fails to maintain the intensity and hyperbolic edge that successful farce demands. Perhaps this is partly due to the confusion resulting from having contemporary actors trying to imitate so many movie stars from that era, confusing these stars' real life issues with their stage motivations. Somewhere, Le Dindon gets lost in translation, and One Foot on the Floor never gets off the ground.

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Tibet

No references at this time.

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Totalitarianism

From Kafka's Dick

Who's the most famous father in all of modern European literature? Certainly an unassailable answer would be Hermann Kafka. If you're unfamiliar with such classic novels as The Metamorphosis or The Trial by Franz Kafka, suffice it to say that his father Hermann did everything in his power, save murder, from attempting to prevent his precocious and sensitive son from becoming a writer. Failing at this, Hermann succeeded at cultivating Franz' legendary low self esteem. Despite this handicap though, Franz Kafka became one of the lights of Twentieth Century fiction, foreseeing, years before the Nazis, the Stalinists, and the corporate state, the diminution of the individual.

From Aunt Dan and Lemon

Set in England, against a backdrop of the Vietnam War, Wallace Shawn finds the perfect voices to draw attention to the very thin line between the use of force in defense of liberty and the use of force to subjugate in the name of liberty.

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Tragedy

From Death of A Salesman

Death of a Salesman also focuses on the demands of the muscular economic machine that enabled America to survive the adventurism of the Axis Powers. Now that the war was settled, competition took a new form, and the personal connections and hometown flavor of doing business in the past has now given way to a culture with different values.

Willy Loman, a salesman without position or power, is nevertheless a tragic figure, for Willy is a composite of all the little people who get lost in the shuffle under the tyranny of the bottom line. He's a fellow who travels from town to town, his hopes resting on a handshake and a smile, whose friends and dreams passed on before he did.

Hal Holbrook, of Mark Twain Tonight! fame, has an affinity for road weary Willy that goes beyond his age and imagination, for Holbrook spent some tough times performing on the road out of the back of a station wagon before being discovered by Ed Sullivan. His performance is the best I've seen since Lee J. Cobb defined the role for me in the late '50's. Elizabeth Franz, as Willy's long-suffering wife Linda, raises the role to saintly heights, and the rest of the cast are all admirable.

From A View from the Bridge

One of the hallmarks of Miller's work is his ability to craft a classical tragedy from the life of a modern Everyman. In the case of A View from the Bridge, Eddie Carbone, an Italian longshoreman from Brooklyn, is such a figure. Carbone has worked hard his entire life to support his young niece, whom he has raised since she was a baby. An admirable feat for anyone, but for Eddie it isn't enough, and that turns out to be his tragic flaw.

Eddie may be a common man, but he is no less complex and blind than a king, and in representing so many people like himself, he attains the stature necessary to a precipitate a true tragedy. Donald Ryan turns in a marvelously layered performance as Eddie, drawing our sympathy with his desperate pleadings to his daughter concerning her future. Ryan is equally adept at summoning Eddie's controlling and fatalistic nature, his obsession with his daughter, and the obliviousness required to ignore all the warning signs of his demise.

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Truth

From It's the Truth (if you think it is)

What is the conflict that fills the world but the result of differing versions of the truth? Most of us it seems, have very strong convictions about the veracity of our own opinions, and are even willing to die for them. Yet, the 20th Century represented nothing if not the ascendancy of relativity. In naming Albert Einstein the Man of the Century, did not Time Magazine confirm this?

Awash as we are in the pontifications of political campaigns and religious crusades, Pirandello's It's the Truth (if you think it is) strikes a refreshing and light-hearted blow for healthy skepticism.

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The Twenties—The Illusion of Materialism and Fame

From Anything Goes

In an escape from the gloom of the Great Depression, Cole Porter and friends de-livered the de-lightful, de-lirious, de-cadent and de-lovely, Anything Goes, now being given a de-licious rendition at the Arvada Center. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times, and celebrity was king. Mobsters competed with royalty, movie stars, and athletes for the hearts and minds of a public eager for distractions. In Anything Goes, they all rub elbows on the decks of the luxury liners, crusing the high seas between London and New York.

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Vietnam War

From Fifth of July

An entire generation was scarred by the Vietnam War: Those who served did not return as heroes; Those who opposed it lost faith in their country and the ideals it purported to uphold. To paraphrase Alan Ginsberg, "I saw the best minds of my generation go mad…" In an attempt to explain Vietnam, and the economic and pseudo-moral imperatives that generated it, Lanford Wilson wrote Fifth of July.

Produced by The National Theatre Conservatory, The Denver Center's graduate program in theatre, Fifth of July showcases this year's graduating class attempting to exorcise the demons of it's parents' generation, while finding universal truths that, in essence, are capable of liberating anyone.

How does a generation recover from such trauma? Think back on those who survived the Great Depression, World War Two and the Korean War. They're not without scars from the carnage. But the hope that playwright Wilson gives us is that his characters, survivors all, regain a sense of purpose, and even flourish if they're willing to stop looking for their answers outside of themselves.

From Nixon's Nixon

In the Lincoln Room of The White House, under the portrait of the man who saved the Union, Richard Nixon pours a brandy and enthusiastically listens to his favorite music as he awaits a visit from Henry Kissinger. It's the night before Nixon will become the only person ever to resign the office of President of the United States.

His crimes? The Watergate break-in and cover-up. Certainly, these were the least of his offenses. He presided over 60% of the American deaths in the Vietnam War, and counting the North and South Vietnamese soldiers, and the civilians of Vietnam and Cambodia (the secret war he tried to hide) the figures run up to about 800,000 dead.

And then there's the career built on framing innocent people and fanning the flames of anti-communism for his own self-aggrandizement. This hardly makes Nixon the biggest crook to inhabit the oval office, but it does make him one of the most reviled.

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Williams, Tennessee

From Sweet Bird of Youth

Like classical music, theatre that represents cultures gone by often creates a sense of time much different than our own hectic commercial pace. In recapturing the languid, humid ambiance of the post-World War II South, Tennessee Williams brings us a world where delusions and illusions flow freely into each other, where honey coated tongues belie poisoned hearts, and hard, cold facts intrude on everyone's dreams.

Directed by Derrick Munson, The Aurora Fox Theatre's current production of Williams' masterpiece Sweet Bird of Youth captures the macabre, insidious rot of the playwright's array of characters.

From The Eccentricities of the Nightingale

One of the most satisfying and yet deceptive qualities of Tennessee Williams' work is his lyricism and poetry. Satisfying because when properly voiced the words go down so easy, just like the whiskey that fueled the playwright; deceptive because behind the musicality of the language rages a tempest of troubled forces.

From The Glass Mendacity

In 1945, Tennessee William's hit The Glass Menagerie launched his career, one that is matched only by Eugene O'Neill among American playwrights. Despite the reservations that he had to maintain because of the era in which he wrote, Williams was able to achieve a new level of frankness in dealing with sexuality. On top of this, Williams' lyricism is often astonishing.

Much of what Tennessee Williams wrote about was based on his own troubled family life, and his works repeatedly return to the same neurotic themes. While his delineation of these struggles provides us with some of the most powerful theatre ever created, the repetition of the dysfunction can, at times, get wearing.

In a wonderful satirical response to this pattern, playwrights Maureen Morely and Tom Willmorth have written The Glass Mendacity, in which many of Williams' most famous characters from a variety of plays come together in one fell swoop, or, maybe one foul soup would be better put…

With characters that borrow on many of the same personality disorders, it's easy to see how the playwrights, Morely and Willmorth, are able to weave what seems to be a perfectly plausible Williams tale out of what were originally three very distinct tales. At the same time, the comedy exposes the recurring nightmare that eventually overwhelmed Williams. To a certain degree, The Glass Mendacity is an inside joke to which only those familiar with Williams may be privy, with some allusions to the original scripts creating genuinely funny juxtapositions, while other references simply fall flat.

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Women's Rights

From La Traviata

While many consider the opera a paradigm of class and privilege due to its patronage, in truth the repertoire is filled with socially progressive and free thinking commentary. For example, take Guiseppe Verdi's La Traviata, the story of a courtesan who finds true love and makes the ultimate sacrifice for it, while those of position take crude, prejudiced actions.

In Central City Opera's current production, Jane Jennings' stunning soprano and impassioned portrayal of Violetta Valery leave no doubt who is the exalted angel here...

From Fidelio

Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio, now in production by Opera Colorado, is no less a masterpiece than his other works. From the opening strains of the orchestra, with its telltale dynamics of periodic emotional eruptions mixed with romantic interludes and builds, the signature on Fidelio is unmistakable.

Beethoven was above all a lover of freedom, creativity, and spiritual transcendence, and Fidelio had some trouble getting accepted at first for political and artistic reasons. Four separate overtures were written for it, including the two performed by Opera Colorado, arias have been dropped and added, and the overall length cut. Despite this unsettled dramatic arc, interrupted by a symphonic visitation and some odd staging choices, Beethoven's Fidelio stands out for its incredible melodies, harmonies, and revolutionary artistic vision of a better world.

From Carmen

Carmen is, of course, the story of Don José, a corporal of the Spanish dragoons, who becomes hopelessly obsessed with the attractive gypsy dancer Carmen, and gives up his military career, his family, and his betrothed, to follow her. Carmen, for her part, is a free woman at a time when such a lifestyle was frowned upon. She refuses to be possessed or confined by the series of monogamous relationships that are sprinkled through her no-holds-barred, exuberant existence.

From Paul's Place

It's no secret that waitresses in particular are treated like so much meat, caught between the sexual harassment of male barflies and male dominated bar management. In fact, that's how wyckoff martin begins the drama of Paul's Place, with the odious bartender Rick being appointed general manager instead of the veteran waitress Mickey, who's been there much longer.

From From Ocra to Greens

In a world mostly dominated by men who are white, growing up female and black involves a different set of values that struggle to find expression in a culture that renders them nearly invisible.

In the Shadow Theatre Company's latest production, From Ocra to Greens, A Different Kinda Love Story, African-American poetess Ntozake Shange, finds a unique way to communicate outside of the linear, rational, everyday boundaries generally defined by that other world from which she is generally excluded…

It should not be surprising that a modern urban mythology with African roots would so closely resemble the tribal spirit rituals from which modern theatre evolved. Mixing musicality, sexual politics, beat poetry, and modern dance, Sayles and his crew bring alive this search for meaning by contemporary minority women.

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Youth Violence

From subUrbia

Don't let the title of Theatre on Broadway's current regional premiere of Eric Bogosian's subUrbia fool you, this is no post-modern diatribe about the American wasteland. What we've got here is an up close and personal look at the youth culture, what should be our most important product, and yet is somehow found floundering somewhere between housing developments, convenience stores, military recruitment, and "sex, drugs and rock and roll". In this way subUrbia resembles the nihilistic theatre that followed World War Two and its solace of "wine, women and song"—remember Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?, or the theatre of the absurd's response to the Cold War, say Ionesco's Waiting For Godot or Sartre's No Exit. Today's subUrbia is just as terrifying.

In subUrbia we are sitting across the back alley from the local 7-Eleven, next to the dumpster, in a graffitti filled corridor where the local teenagers hang out to contemplate their rites of passage from high school to the world, listen to tunes, imbibe, embark, dream and loose their lunch. Directors Nicholas Sugar and Steven Tangedal have put together a terrific young cast to explore another lost generation's quest for place and meaning. The experience may sting, but Generation X is no less a product of their time than their predecessors. All that stands between us and understanding our children is honesty over our own past.

From Praying for Rain

When playwright Robert Lewis Vaughn sent his script, Praying for Rain, to Chip Walton, Artistic Director of the Curious Theatre Company, he had no idea that the conditions which he was sensing among the nation's youth were about to explode full force. His script arrived on Walton's desk the day of the tragic shootings at Columbine High School.

It's been almost a year since that fateful day. During this time, incidents at other schools across the nation have echoed America's youth growing response to a culture more concerned with material accumulation than the nurturing of future generations. Certainly the Congress and state legislatures, owned as they are by gun lobbyists and other corporate interests that finance their campaigns, have no interest in producing any meaningful legislation to address the problem. In fact, they benefit fiscally by letting the problem persist.

No, the impetus to change society's propensity to violence and rapture over the almighty dollar will come from individuals concerned with the future of life on this planet. This, more than anything else, is the message derived from the world premiere of Vaughn's Praying for Rain, which opened this past Saturday night. It's notable that the party which preceded the performance was a benefit for SAFE, Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic.

One of the sources of tension at Columbine, we learned, was the near caste system that existed between athletes and others. In Praying for Rain, Marc McGettrick is an ex-athlete whose injuries completely change his life. No longer able to define his purpose in the absence of sports, McGettrick begins hanging out with a cynical crowd that gradually drifts toward violence. Gene Gillette, as McGettrick, is an astonishing portrait of teenage angst, struggling to communicate, in need of friendship and guidance, vacillating between nihilism and compassion.

Coming to McGettrick's aid is Miss K, a high school teacher. Kathryn Gray gives a compassionate performance, concerned enough to care and wise enough to know that caring doesn't always prevent tragedy. Miss K is not one to concern herself so much with where kids are getting guns as much as why these kids feel so alienated from their parents, peers, and society. Through Miss K, the playwright makes it clear that honest concern for our youth, not political and religious posturing, is how we will begin to heal these wounds.

While Vaughn's play has a few uneven moments, in particular the lack context for the initial premonitions between McGettrick and a victim, it is overall a thoughtful examination of the pressures of adolescent life in a confusing and self-absorbed world.

From Alone, Together

In the midst of a beautifully designed split-level home in suburban Southern California, the Butlers are unceremoniously forced to admit that they have raised three uniquely different irresponsible children. But rather than looking at any behavior by which they might have encouraged such obliviousness, we are offered the demoralizing vision that we are forever doomed to pass along our faults to our children, and that hopefully we shall do this in such a manner as to avoid being reminded of our responsibility for doing so.

From The Elevation of Thieves

Hardly a month after the tragedy at Columbine High School, many of the lessons seemed to be already lost. Discussion has quickly focused on greater security for schools and the shrinking possibility of some form of gun control. Gone from these discussions are any attempt to deal with the daily antagonism that fueled the killers. In such a vacuum it's heartening that the Denver Center Theatre Company would, coincidentally, produce the world premiere of Nagel Jackson's The Elevation of Thieves

While society writ large may want to forget why a tragedy the proportion of Columbine happens, writer/director Jackson refuses to let us forget that it is the way we treat each other that ultimately fosters the contributing conditions.

From Grease

Grease, though, has an edge. Unnecessary ethnic bashing remains in the scrip, and ultimately, what was once a satire about adolescent excesses now cuts very close to home as we now see the results of unchecked high school caste systems which lead to psychological battering and violence. Like many American musicals, Grease is in need of a re-write if it's going to mine the humor in its subject matter and present a less mean-spirited view of growing up.

From Fame—The Musical

In the past half-year we've seen a variety of musicals dealing with the lifestyles and challenges of youth, including Rent, Bye, Bye Birdie, Footloose, The Fantastiks, and Grease. This week, Fame—The Musical hits the Buell Theatre for eight shows only, ending this Sunday.

Fame—The Musical is based on the highly successful film of the same name that received four Oscar nominations in 1980 and on the television show, which received numerous Emmy awards.

What sets Fame apart from these other musicals that have attempted to capture some truth of the youth culture is that this story manages to be both realistic and optimistic. Set in the New York High School of the Performing Arts, Fame follows a high school class from their acceptance into this special school to their graduation…

It's no wonder that Fame has served as an inspiration for other cities in the United States and Europe to create their own high schools dedicated to the performing arts. Each of these initiatives has served as a vital counterpoint to the long-term trend of cutting arts funding in the schools before anything else. We would all do well to consider the notion that history judges civilizations and societies not by their material wealth, technological achievement, or religious blathering, but by the art, culture and beauty that it created. Fame provides a variety of shining examples of the creative fulfillment that can be attained by our youth with support from their communities.

Bob Bows

 

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