Last night I had dinner with friends at the new Limelight Supper Club. I had salmon; the meal was good and the service almost too enthusiastic – no doubt a reaction to a recent newspaper column slamming the Kevin Taylor restaurants, including the Limelight, for shoddy service.
The Limelight’s just opened in a space formerly occupied by a lackluster restaurant, and we hope the new operation keeps up to its current standards. It’s right there in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, steps away from the DCPA, the Ellie, the Buell Theatre, and Boettcher.
After dinner, we saw Our House, one of three new plays now showing at the Denver Center. “New” means just that: world premiere. The Denver Center commissioned all three plays.
I’ve had DCPA season tickets for years now, and this is so far the most powerful, memorable season-kickoff lineup they’ve had. All three plays are winners, and I’m hoping the rest of the season can keep up this pace.
Our House – reviewed here - is playwright Theresa Rebeck’s brutal, dark, hilarious satire of reality TV and its effects on the people who watch it. As the Denver Post reviewer says:
What distinguishes “Our House” from lesser pop-culture satires is the writer’s sharp, unapologetic anger. One can imagine Rebeck writing this pointed diatribe in an inspired fury, skewering random targets like reality TV, media mergers, gun control and more. “Our House” is an absurd play, but it’s not a farce. It’s too close to real for that. Instead it’s a mind-bending activity that will send departing theatergoers off with synapses firing like so many sniper’s bullets.
That’s not to say “Our House,” now in its world premiere staging by the Denver Center Theatre Company, is fully satisfying just yet. It’s ferociously performed and ideologically compelling from start to lickety-split finish. But it’s also at times contradictory and always intentionally messy. . . .
But Rebeck doesn’t want you to love her play. She wants you to listen to what it has to say — if you can tear yourself away from “Celebrity Apprentice” long enough to hear it.
Rebeck’s unabashed triumph is her creation of two utterly original and somehow alluring lowlifes. There’s Merv, a St. Louis grad student and TV-obsessed narcissist who has reclined his way into $4,000 of debt, creating a powder keg of antagonism with a roommate who calls a house meeting to vote on his eviction (a brilliant machination that harkens “Big Brother”).
And there’s Wes (Danny Mastrogiorgio), the network boss obsessed with Jennifer (Molly Ward), an ambitious anchor beauty who pronounces “Shiite” as “shyte.” Wes plucks her from his news division to host a reality show because, sadly, it’ll give her greater exposure (they’re mercilessly patterned after real-life married CBS power couple Les Moonves and news anchor/”Big Brother” host Julie Chen).
Presented in a single 90-minute act, Our House was a little messy, a little shocking, horrendously funny in spots, and utterly fascinating. Although I’ve never watched any of the broadcast networks’ “reality” shows and barely recognized Julie Chen’s name, I surely thought twice about grabbing the remote to turn on the tube when I got home last night.
I liked Plainsong the best of the three new contenders. The Denver Post’s theater critic also liked it, four stars worth. As an earlier Post story notes, it’s:
[T]he Denver Center Theatre Company’s massive world-premiere stage adaptation [by Eric Schmiedl] of [Kent] Haruf’s best-selling novel, a sweeping panorama about an unremarkable, fictional cattle-ranching town on the plains east of Denver.
. . . While “Plainsong” is an ultimately uplifting story about family, Haruf writes unflinchingly about harsher realities of small-town life, such as drunkenness, sexual abuse, adultery, violence and depression.
News of the novel didn’t reach me under whatever rock I was living beneath, back when it was a bestseller, so I haven’t yet read it. A friend said that’s probably best, because my experience of the play wasn’t colored by my memory of the novel. Thank goodness, I also missed the soppy Hallmark TV adaption of the novel, which Haruf said embodied every single thing he told the producers to avoid. Yeesh.
I liked the play so much I wouldn’t mind seeing it again. And if you don’t know how easily I get restless sitting in a theatre, you have no idea what a tribute that is.
The third new play is Lydia, which will probably be the most controversial play in this trio. By turns lyrical and brutal, realistic and mystical, it may have been the most thought-provoking for me. It had the most hard-to-watch moments. The play built skillfully to the climax but then, I thought, the playwright (Octavio Solis) failed to bring it as adeptly to a close.
Finally, on the book front, Patti Thorn at the Rocky published a thoughtful analysis of Our Mayor’s “One Book, One Denver” program which got off to a so-so start four years ago and has lost ground since then. Thorn writes:
Maybe you remember my recent column, headlined “One Book final event one snoozer.”
In it, I recapped what has to rank as one of the more dreadful evenings of recent memory: Sitting in a dark, cold high school auditorium, listening to author Nick Arvin read from his World War II novel to the unfortunate accompaniment of an electric guitar approximating the sound of bombs going off.
It was part of Denver’s 2007 community reading program, One Book, One Denver. And I have to admit, I was embarrassed for the city. The event was ill-conceived, poorly executed and uninspiring.
Far worse was the underlying sense, amid the discordant guitar riffs and drowned-out prose, that One Book, One Denver itself was bombing. Only 100 others joined me that night, a paltry showing if you consider the main author event has attracted as many as 800 in past years.
Indeed, the community reading series designed to encourage all Denverites to read and discuss the same book hit a participation low in 2007. Record-keeping has been irregular at best, but city staffers estimate that book sales and library circulation totalled around 16,000 in the program’s first year in 2004. This time, they plummeted to less than 5,000.
Any further drop and One Book, One Denver is in danger of earning the label one local writer gave it in jest: One Book, One Reader.
She interviewed the manager of the program in Seattle, which started the first citywide reading program, and compares key aspects of the two programs. Bottom line: Denver’s program is committee-driven, inconsistent, a victim of political correctness and fatally flawed by trying to be all things to all readers of all ages.
OK, enough of this writing about culture. The Super Bowl’s about to start. Not that I really care which team wins. And I may wait to change channels until this BBC America documentary that I have on, “My Big Breasts and Me,” is over.
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