1:22PM

Denver: Looking Back

 

A few thoughts about the Denver conference, all of them surprises. First, this Floridian found the weather was not half as harsh as I was expecting, although I hear that’s a spin of the roulette wheel. Second, this was as well-run and smooth an event of its kind as I’ve experienced lately. Everyone we met was friendly, collegial and welcoming. The panel discussion on critics and new plays was attended by, who  knows, 200 people or more, mostly civilians. The Chrises (Rawson, Dolen, Jones) and Jeffrey Jenkins did the profession proud, explaining what we do in such insightful terms that it helped clarify in my mind what we’re all about.

Third, burying the lead, five of the six shows were  well-worth the trip. One of the full productions, “When Tang Met Laika,” was  intriguing but it would have fared better focusing on the human themes by eliminating a couple of burlesque characters meant to satirize the geo-political  ramifications of U.S.–Soviet cooperation in space. 

The second production, “Eventide,” was a moving epic about the  character of the people, their connection to the land and the sense of community in Colorado’s ranch land during the 1980s. Told with multiple narrators ala  “Nicholas Nickleby,” it seems at first to be a very parochial play that would  not transfer until you realize that the themes of community and human resilience are not just universal, but that their universality is what would make the show resonate for audiences in SoHo and SoBe. 

One of the plays in the readings was an incoherent, self-indulgent, amorphous, unfocused  mess but we won’t identify it since we’re not supposed to review them. If you were there, you know. But the  other three were promising enough that I asked the artistic director of the DCPA  if he had first dibs on them because I kept thinking, “Okay, this one would be  terrific for this company in my region, and this one would be a good fit for.…” 

A side note: Most of the cast members for the weekend were part of the Denver Center’s stock company, augmented by other local actors and some journeyman ringers from out of state. Point is, this was yet another reminder that the acting bench in regional theater is so much wider and deeper and far more skilled than the folks in NY, Chicago and LA like to acknowledge. There were several stunning  performances, a great deal of unassailably competent work and not a single “why  did they hire that guy” performance. 

Kudos to Rick Pender, Chris Rawson and the staff at the  Denver Center, especially Chris Wiger, for a terrific week. Denver itself was gorgeous, with other theaters worth seeing, art museums and tourist attractions. We were here in 1998, but we might want to think about this for a summer  conference spot after the O’Neill and (tentatively) Ashland.

Bill Hirschman, critic for the South Florida Sun Sentinel and Aisle Say (wrpbitv.com)