Of course, all theater productions have a location, but in two current very different, area plays, audiences are especially drawn into the site, which plays a distinctive part. And in both, music weaves the storylines together.
● “The Happiest Song Plays Last” by Quiara Alegria Hudes, a Pulitzer Prize winner, at Curious Theatre in Denver through Feb. 18, is the third — and I think most engaging segment — of “The Elliot Plays.” Theatrical storytelling which started in the last season, follows a young returned Puerto Rican/American veteran, Elliot, portrayed by Thony Mena, who is seeking a way out of wartime nightmares. He’s a Philadelphia city boy, but influenced by familial folklore and music as he finds a path. Activism plays a part in this play, which opens with a traditional band and singers. Elliott is a movie star on location in Jordan. Throughout, he is in contact with his activist cousin Yaz (GerRee Hinshaw), whom we met in the last play, and her story evolves throughout as well. Both storylines are appropriate here and now.
The two-part set, designed by Markus Henry, features Yaz’s Philadelphia kitchen and home on one side and a movie set in Jordan on the other, while the musicians, especially luminous Satya Chavez, flow back and forth across the entire front part of the stage. Complex and multi-layered, it all flows well under Chip Walton’s careful direction.
● “Avenue Q,” playing through Feb. 4 at Town Hall Arts Center in Littleton, is a Triple Tony winner (Best Musical, Score, Book) and plays out in front of the apartment street front, cleverly designed by Michael Duran, with operant doors and windows. Its use of large hand puppets, and a few humans, is a unique presentation, requiring some extra skills from the actors/vocalists. Director Robert Wells called veteran choreographer/director Nick Sugar to help with complex moves. (At points, actors are singing and dancing in two voices, with a different puppet on each arm.)
Recent college graduate Princeton (Charlie Schmidt and puppet) enters looking for an apartment he can afford and soon meets young teacher Kate Monster (a terrific Carolyn Lohr) who longs to build a school for little monsters — “people of fur.” Other residents include Trekkie Monster, a porn fan (TJ Hogle); Christmas Eve, an Asian therapist (Arlene Rapal), whose wedding attire is noteworthy; her fiance Brian; tough-talking puppet Nicky (Mark Shonsey); and the Bad Idea Bears (Hogle and Leslie Randle, who also plays overbearing Mrs. Thistlethwaite, Kate’s boss.) Gary Coleman, the apartment manager, is played by Anna High, who has filled the role multiple times. This diverse crew of puppets and people lapse into profane language at times, not appropriate for little people, whom you might think are the audience for a show inhabited by puppets. Fast, funny and charming!
If you go
“The Happiest Song Plays Last” plays through Feb. 18 at Curious Theatre, 1080 Acoma St., Denver/Golden Triangle. Tickets: curioustheatre.org, 303-623-2349. “Avenue Q” plays through Feb. 4 at Town Hall Arts Center, 2450 W. Main St., Downtown Littleton. Tickets: townhallartscenter.org, 303-794-2787, ext. 5.