• It's Mother's Day! Here are 10 of the worst in theatre history

    by John Moore | May 12, 2018
    August Osage County Annie Butler Creede Repertory Theatre Photo by John Gary Brown.Annie Butler as Violet Weston in Creede Repertory Theatre's 2015 production of 'August: Osage County.' Photo by John Gary Brown.

    If you had, have or are a good mother, this list of 10 terrible moms ought to make you feel good about yourself today

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Who are your choices for bad theatre moms? Add them as a comment at the bottom of this story. And Happy Mother's Day!  

    NUMBER 1August Osage County OpenStage. Denise Freestone and Sydney Smith. Photo by Joe Hovorka.Violet Weston from August: Osage County. At the center of Tracy Letts’ modern Dust Bowl is this poisonous, pill-popping matriarch. Her worst sin? Perhaps it was allowing her husband to commit suicide when she could have done something to prevent it. Perhaps. (It’s a long list.) Violet has cancer of the mouth — medically and metaphorically. She has no switch to stop her from blurting the most vicious things that come to mind. She pops out furious epithets — most aimed at her own adult daughters — as quickly as she pops in pills. Her spawn all bear varying degrees of inherited burns they surely will pass on to their own children. How evil is Violet? Why, she even blasts Colorado. "It's not hard to do!" she says in the play. Sorry, Vi, but that makes you The Worst. (Pictured: Denise Freestone and Sydney Smith in OpenStage Theatre's 2017 production of 'August: Osage County' in Fort Collins. Photo by Joe Hovorka.)

    NUMBER 2Robert Michael Sanders and Megan Van de Hey in Gypsy for Town Hall Arts Center 2009Mamma Rose Hovick from Gypsy. A rose is a rose is not always a rose. Take thorny Mamma Rose, whose name has become synonymous with “bad show-biz mom.” Rose (a real person) is a domineering mother with an insatiable drive to make stars out of her two daughters, whether in vaudeville, burlesque or strip-tease. (Hey there’s nothing humiliating about stripping as long as you are the star, she comes to believe.) Broadway fans have seen some of the great actors of our time take up the maniacal mantle, from Ethel Merman to Angela Lansbury to Patti Lupone to Tyne Daly to Bernadette Peters. Gypsy drives one daughter away and debases the other until in the end, even she admits: “I did it for me!” Frank Rich called Gypsy “nothing if not Broadway's own brassy, unlikely answer to King Lear.” (Pictured: Robert Michael Sanders and Megan Van de Hey in Town Hall Arts Center's 2009 production of 'Gypsy.')

    NUMBER 3Emily Paton Davies as Maureen, Emma Messenger as Mag Photo 3_ Emma Messenger as Mag, Emily Paton Davies as Maureen Photo credit_ Rachel D GrahamMag from The Beauty Queen of Leenane. The New York Times’ Ben Brantley called Martin McDonagh’s satantically funny Irish mother-daughter tandem of Mag and Maureen Folan “one of the nastiest family units ever to grace (or disgrace) a stage.” Housebound (or is she?) Mag is “a maddening model of passive aggression” who destroys any chance her spinster daughter has for happiness out of her own selfish desire not to die alone. Any trace of love has long ago giving way to spite, resentment, hatred and casual violence. Ah, the Irish. (Pictured: Emma Messenger as Mag and Emily Paton Davies as Maureen in The Edge Theatre's 2014 production of 'The Beauty Queen of Leenane.' Photo by Rachel D. Graham.)

    NUMBER 4piper-laurie-carrieMargaret White from Carrie the Musical. Carrie's overprotective and abusive mother is a religious zealot. Although she loves Carrie and wants to protect her from the world, her fanaticism often drives her to, well, torture her daughter. After Carrie develops telekinesis and goes to the prom against her mom's wishes, Margaret comes to believe that killing Carrie is the only way to save her from damnation. Like you moms do. But Carrie uses her powers to stop her mother's heart after being stabbed by her. All’s well that ends well. (Pictured: Piper Laurie in the original 'Carrie' film.)

    NUMBER 5 Jan Giese as Mae Peterson; Stacie Jackson as Rosie Alvarez and  Jim Miller as Albert Peterson for Town Hall Arts Center's 'Bye Bye Birdie' in 2006. Mae Peterson from Bye, Bye Birdie. The original 1958 script describes Albert's mother as “the quintessential mamma,” to which I say, “No.” But, it’s a just a harmless musical comedy, you say. To which I say, “No.” But she loves her Sonnyboy. “No.” Mae Peterson is a controlling, selfish mother who not only is constantly interfering in Albert’s budding relationship with his secretary, she has emasculated Albert, leaving him neurotic, weak, easily manipulated and incapable of a grown-up relationship (even though Albert is in his 30s and should have been freed from his mother’s emotional clutches years ago.) Worst: She’s an unabashed racist, constantly denigrating Albert’s long-suffering significant other for no apparent reason other than she’s not white. Psst, Albert: Throw Mamma from the train! (Pictured: Jim Miller as Albert, Jan Giese as Mae and Stacie Jackson as Rosie in Town Hall Arts Center's 2006 staging of 'Bye Bye Birdie'.)

    NUMBER 6Erica Sarzin-Borrillo. Germinal Stage-Denver. Long Day's Journey Into Night. 2013Mary Tyrone from Long Day’s Journey into Night. The subtitle of Eugene O’Neill’s dysfunctional family classic could be: “Mary’s Magical Mystery Morphine Tour!” One of the many slowly unfolding mysteries of the play is what first set delusional Mary down the self-destructive path of her addiction, and it doesn’t speak well of her parenting skills that the answer seems to lie with son Edmund for the unforgivable crime of having been born. Mary believes Edmund’s birth was God’s punishment for first son Eugene’s death from measles. It’s all a big, tangled emotional web. And there’s nothing better for breaking down your tangled emotional webs like steady stream of legally prescribed morphine. (Wait, that’s not addictive, is it?) Ah, the Irish. (Pictured: Erica Sarzin-Borrillo in Germinal Stage-Denver's 2013 staging of 'Long Day's Journey Into Night.')

    NUMBER 7Mrs Wormwood. Cassie SilvaMrs. Wormwood from Matilda The Musical. On the badness scale, Matilda's mother pales in comparison to hers father and the evil Mrs. Trunchbull — but she’s awful nonrtheless. In the book, she plays Bingo five times a week. (In the musical, she’s obsessed with ballroom dancing.) Worst, Mrs. Wormwood doesn't give two hoots about her own daughter. She mocks Matilda's intellect and interest in books, telling her that looks are more important than getting an education. As a mom, she gets an F. (Pictured: Cassie Silva in the national touring production of Matlida The Musical.) 

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    NUMBER 8Marge Lamb. Next to NormalDiana Goodman from Next to Normal. To be absolutely clear, she’s not bad. Just a bad mom. One of the worst, due mostly to her worsening struggles with bipolar disorder over 16 years. During the course of this wrenching, groundbreaking story, Diana visualizes her dead son alive and grown; she completely ignores her daughter who is very much alive; she slashes her wrists; she undergoes electroshock therapy; and ultimately, for her beleaguered husband’s own good (she says) she walks out on her family. And in a nice little closing twist, she somehow bequeaths her bipolar disease onto her husband, who soon starts to see their dead son, too. Couples should share everything. Just not visions of resurrected sons. And really ... so many sandwiches. (Pictured: Margie Lamb in 'Next to Normal' at the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins.)

    NUMBER 9Amnelia Pedlow nd Kathleen McCall. The Glass Menagerie in 2016. Photo by Adams Viscom Amanda Wingfield from The Glass Menagerie. So much to cover in such a short paragraph. Amanda is a delusional, nagging, controlling, egomaniac who lives in the past. That she loves her children is almost incidental to the crushing, suffocating damage she has imposed upon them since birth. Most debilitating: The constant reinforcement to daughter Laura that she is damaged goods, when the script gives every indication that whatever mobility issues the wounded bird had back in high school, they went mostly unnoticed by everyone but Amanda. (She's certainly well enough to walk the streets all day lying to her mother.) Now Laura is too messed up to hold down a job, much less a relationship. To be sure, Amanda is the result and personification of her gender-stilted times, but her legacy is two damaged children. The missing mystery character in this play is Amanda’s AWOL husband. But every time I see this play, I leave thinking he was lucky to get out alive. (Pictured: Amelia Pedlow and Kathleen McCall in the DCPA Theatre Company's 'The Glass Menagerie' in 2016. Photo by Adams Viscom.)

    NUMBER 10into-the-woodsThe Bad Mums from Into the Woods. Take your pick: Cinderella’s stepmother spawned two vulture daughters who find joy in abusing their stepsister; and now treats her dead husband's daughter like an abused servant. It’s been argued that the cursed Witch of this story is more misunderstood than evil, but, you know … she DID steal her neighbor’s newborn daughter and cursed the family to an infertile life. So at the very least needs to work on her conflict-resolution skills. Then there is Jack’s poor single mom, who means well but raises a clueless son whose best friend is an imaginary cow. She’s not a bad person, but she hasn’t exactly prepared her son to function well in the outside world. (Pictured: Beth Beyer as The Witch in 'Into the Woods' for Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in 2016.)

    Now who are your choices for theatre's worst moms? Add them as a comment at the bottom of this list. And have a Happy Mother's Day!

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • 2018-19 DCPA Theatre Company season: In with the old ... and the new

    by John Moore | Apr 01, 2018
    Chris Coleman offers a play-by-play look at the 2018-19 DCPA Theatre Company season, his first as the company's new Artistic Director. Video by David Lenk and John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Coleman's 40th anniversary season includes two world premieres, Tolstoy and an African-American Oklahoma!

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Incoming DCPA Theatre Company Artistic Director Chris Coleman has announced a 40th anniversary season he believes both honors the company’s past and boldly steps into the future — and in some intriguing examples, at the same time.

    Coleman will return to the company’s roots by presenting its third Rodgers and Hammerstein musical following previous stagings of Carousel and South Pacific. But Coleman is promising a fresh new look at Oklahoma! by telling the beloved story of a spirited rivalry between local farmers and cowboys from a mostly African-American perspective. Similarly, Coleman will offer adaptations of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and W. Somerset Maugham’s The Constant Wife, stories of women overcoming great societal barriers that may strike audiences as remarkably contemporary.

    A Last Night 800 1“It’s incredibly exciting to imagine what you want your first season at an organization to be,” said Coleman, who assumes his full-time Denver duties in May. "This company has long been known as a place where you can do really big, interesting, meaty, dramatic literature. One of the things that's exciting to me is to do something really traditional and then follow that with something that is brand new and edgy. That collision of styles and voices is really juicy to me.”

    Pictured above: Valerie Curtis-Newton, left, will return to again direct 2017 Colorado New Play Summit offering 'Last Night and the Night Before' on the mainstage season. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    Coleman covers the traditional-to-edgy gamut with the announcement of both an eight-play Theatre Company season that includes three classics and two world premieres, as well as an innovative five-play slate from the company's adventurous Off-Center wing.  

    nataki-garrettWhen Coleman was named Artistic Director in November, he promised programming that will further the DCPA’s efforts to diversify its audiences, champion local storytelling and give voice to underserved communities. All five of the other mainstage directors he named today are women — and three of the playwrights are women or persons of color. Four if you count Off-Center's commission of a planned immersive hip-hop piece from This is Modern Art co-writer Idris Goodwin.

    The mainstage season includes two world-premiere plays: Donnetta Lavinia GraysLast Night and the Night Before, which was featured at the company’s 2017 Colorado New Play Summit, and Itamar MosesThe Whistleblower. With the exception of A Christmas Carol, which returns for a 26th year, every playwright and source writer (even Tolstoy) will be new to Theatre Company audiences except Nottage, whose Ruined was one of the most celebrated productions in company history In 2011.

    The Off-Center offerings, said Curator Charlie Miller, will complement the Theatre Company season and tell exciting stories in unconventional ways. “From original micro plays to new theatrical experiments to a large-scale immersive hip-hop show, Off-Center will take audiences into unexpected Denver spaces and showcase local artists, stories, and communities,” he said.

    Take a deeper dive into each play on the 2018-19 season

    The Theatre Company debuted on New Year’s Eve 1979 with The Caucasian Chalk Circle, starring Tyne Daly. Coleman says there is special significance to this being the 40th anniversary season because the company is old enough to have built an significant canon but also young enough to still have staff, artists and audience members who have been here all along — a lot of them.

    "As we step into the next chapter of the Theatre Company’s history, it's inspiring and energizing to look back on the extraordinary body of work that this company has brought to the region over the last 40 seasons," Coleman said. "What's really vivid to me is how many people have been around from Day 1. There are so many people who are really invested in the history and the future of this organization. So, to me, that's worth celebrating. And I view that as a launching pad for me.

    These playwrights and directors are the cream of the crop, and I look forward to the conversations these works will open up with the Denver community."

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

    Meet new Theatre Company Artistc Director Chris Coleman

    Chris Coleman 2018-19 season announcement

    2018-19 DCPA Theatre Company season at a glance:

    • Aug. 24-Sept. 30: Vietgone (Ricketson Theatre) DEEPER DIVE
    • Sept. 7-Oct. 14: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! (Stage Theatre) DEEPER DIVE
    • Sept. 21-Oct. 21: The Constant Wife (Space Theatre) DEEPER DIVE
    • Nov. 21-Dec. 24: A Christmas Carol (Stage Theatre) DEEPER DIVE
    • Jan. 18-Feb. 24, 2019: Last Night and the Night Before (Ricketson Theatre) DEEPER DIVE
    • Jan. 25-Feb. 24, 2019: Anna Karenina (Stage Theatre) DEEPER DIVE
    • Feb. 8-March 10, 2019: The Whistleblower (Space Theatre) DEEPER DIVE
    • April 26-May 26, 2019: Sweat (Space Theatre) DEEPER DIVE

    DCPA Theatre Company tickets and subscriptions: New and renewing subscribers have the first opportunity to reserve tickets. Subscription packages are now available online at denvercenter.org or by calling 303-893-4100. Subscribers enjoy 30 percent off savings, free ticket exchanges, payment plans, priority offers to added attractions, discounted extra tickets, a dedicated VIP hotline, free events including talkbacks and receptions, and the best seats at the best prices, guaranteed. Single ticket on-sale date will be announced at a later time. BUY ONLINE

    2018-19 Off-Center season at a glance:

    • July 11-Aug. 22: Mixed Taste: Tag team lectures on unrelated topics (Wednesdays only, with MCA Denver, Seawell Ballroom)
    • Oct. 23-Nov. 18: Bite-Size: An evening of micro theatre (at BookBar)
    • Nov. 23-Dec. 24: The SantaLand Diaries (with Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company at The Jones)
    • March 2019: Powered by Off-Center (The Jones)
    • Dates TBA: Untitled Immersive Hip-Hop Show

    Off-Center ticket information: The single ticket on-sale date for all Off-Center productions will be announced at a later time. Subscriptions are not available for Off-Center shows.

    2018-19 THEATRE COMPANY SEASON: Title by title

    (Descriptions provided by DCPA Theatre Company)


    • Oregon Shakespeare Festival 2016 VietgoneBy Qui Nguyen
    • Original music by Shane Rettig
    • Directed by Seema Sueko
    • Aug. 24-Sept. 30, 2018 (Opens Aug. 31)
    • Ricketson Theatre
    • Glance: This rap-spitting, pop culture-crusted dramedy is an ode to the real-life courtship of Playwright Qui Nguyen’s parents. Forced to leave their country during the height of the Vietnam War, two refugees find themselves at the same relocation camp in Arkansas – the land of Harleys, hot dogs and “howdy!” Before they find their way into each other’s arms, they’ll have to blaze a trail in their weird new world and leave behind the baggage they didn’t pack. Jump on this emotional ride for an adventure that hums with excitement as it hops across time and around the globe through the highs and lows of love.
    • Fun fact: Qui Nguyen is the self-described geeky playwright behind She Kills Monsters, which addressed stereotypes and social issues through the game “Dungeons and Dragons.”
    • Take a deeper dive into Vietgone

    (Pictured: Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 2016 production of 'Vietgone,' courtesy Oregon Shakespeare Festival.)

    Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!

    • Oklahoma!Music by Richard Rodgers; book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
    • Based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs
    • Original Dances by Agnes de Mille
    • Directed by Chris Coleman
    • Sept. 7-Oct. 14, 2018 (Opens Sept. 14)
    • Stage Theatre
    • Glance: With a spring in their step and a song in their hearts, cowboys, farmers and travelling salesmen alike have chased their destinies to a land that promises everything they could hope for: love, opportunity and a brighter future. The first collaboration by the legendary team of Rodgers and Hammerstein became a landmark musical for its rollicking music and stunning dance numbers, and this joyful presentation will solidify why it has stood the test of time. New DCPA Theatre Company Artistic Director Chris Coleman makes his DCPA directorial debut with this production, and he will set the story in one of the 50 all-African-American towns in the early days of the Oklahoma Territory. Discover an overlooked piece of American history as one small community stakes its claim on a place full of hope. The choreographer will be Dominique Kelley, a dancer in the film La La Land and the musical Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk.
    • Fun fact: Oklahoma! opened on Broadway at the St. James Theatre 75 years ago Saturday, and the cast of the Denver-born Frozen marked the anniversary with a curtain-call singalong that you can watch at this YouTube link.
    • Take a deeper dive into Oklahoma!

    The Constant Wife

    • The Constant WifeBy W. Somerset Maugham
    • Directed by Shelley Butler
    • Sept. 21-Oct. 21, 2018 (Opens Sept. 28)
    • Space Theatre
    • Glance: As the intelligent, charming housewife of a successful doctor, Constance Middleton cheerfully plays her traditional role. But she knows far more than she’s willing to let on. This cheeky satire pokes holes in the expectations of relationships, fidelity and social roles that were just as relevant in the 1920s as they are today. Featuring an infectiously plucky heroine at the helm, The Constant Wife takes joy in the imperfections of life and applauds those who elude the strict confines of society to discover true happiness. DCPA alum Shelley Butler (Human Error, The Most Deserving) returns to direct this contagious comedy.Fun fact: Variety calls Maugham’s protagonist “a perverse protofeminist — and an antecedent to the women of “Desperate Housewives” and “Sex and the City.”
    • Take a deeper dive into The Constant Wife

    A Christmas Carol

    • Sam Gregory A Christmas Carol. By Charles Dickens
    • Adapted by Richard Hellesen
    • Music by David de Berry
    • Directed by Melissa Rain Anderson
    • Nov. 21-Dec. 24, 2018 (Opens Nov. 29)
    • Stage Theatre
    • Glance: Based on Charles Dickens’ classic novel, the Theatre Company’s joyous and opulent seasonal offering now in its 26th year traces money-hoarding skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge’s triumphant overnight journey to redemption. A Christmas Carol illuminates the meaning of the holiday season in a way that has resonated for generations. Note: This is an added attraction, not part of the Theatre Company subscription season.
    • Fun fact: Denver favorite Sam Gregory is scheduled to return for a third time as Scrooge.
    • Take a deeper dive into A Christmas Carol

    Last Night and the Night Before (world premiere)

    • Summit. Last Night. Donnetta By Donnetta Lavinia Grays
    • Directed by Valerie Curtis-Newton
    • Jan. 18-Feb. 24, 2019 (Opens January 25)
    • Ricketson Theatre
    • Glance: When Monique and her 10-year-old daughter Samantha show up unexpectedly on her sister’s Brooklyn doorstep, it shakes up Rachel and her partner Nadima’s orderly New York lifestyle. Monique is on the run from deep trouble and brings their family’s Southern roots with her, grabbing hold of Rachel’s life more ferociously than she could have ever imagined. Poetic, powerful and remarkably funny, Last Night and the Night Before play explores the struggle between the responsibilities that are expected of us and the choices we actually end up making.
    • Fun fact: This play was featured in the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit. Its original title was simply, Sam. The new title references a line from the children’s game "Last night and the night before, I met my baby at the candy store."
    • Take a deeper dive into Last Night and the Night Before

    Anna Karenina

    • TC-web-Season-Ann-400x3003By Kevin McKeon, adapted from the novel by Leo Tolstoy
    • Directed by Artistic Director Chris Coleman
    • Jan. 25-Feb. 24, 2019 (Opens Feb. 1)
    • Stage Theatre
    • Glance: Love holds the power to bind us together or tear us apart, and no one knows better than Countess Anna Karenina. As a noblewoman and socialite, her glamorous lifestyle shrouds her unhappy marriage. But everything changes when she meets the dashing army officer Count Vronsky. She risks her social status, marriage, friends and family for the thrill of forbidden love. Anna Karenina uses the romantic backdrop of Tsarist Russia to tell a turbulent tale of passion and betrayal, dreams chased and lost, and the consequences of getting swept off your feet. Helmed by Artistic Director Chris Coleman, this lush, modern adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece brings the opulent setting and heart-wrenching story to life.
    • Fun fact: The play was made into a 2012 movie adapted by Tom Stoppard and featuring Keira Knightley and Jude Law.
    • Take a deeper dive into Anna Karenina

    The Whistleblower (world premiere)

    • itamarmoses whistleblowerBy Itamar Moses (pictured right)
    • Directed by TBA
    • Feb. 8-March 10, 2019 (Opens Feb. 15)
    • Space Theatre
    • Glance: For screenwriter Eli, an offer to finally create his own TV show should be the ultimate culmination of his goals, but instead shocks him into wondering why he had those dreams in the first place. Armed with a new sense of spiritual clarity, he sets out on a quest to serve up some hard truths to his coworkers, family, exes and friends. What could possibly go wrong? A lively world premiere about the lies we tell to protect ourselves  and how the tiniest gestures can have deep impact on those around us. Written by Itamar Moses, the award-winning author of the musical The Band’s Visit, currently on Broadway.
    • Fun facts: The Whistleblower was first introduced as a staged reading at South Coast Repertory’s 2015 Pacific Playwrights Festival in Costa Mesa, Calif. — alongside Vietgone. Also, Moses was an Executive Story Editor for HBO's "Boardwalk Empire."
    • Take a deeper dive into The Whistleblower


    • TC-web-Season-Ann-400x3004By Lynn Nottage
    • Directed by Nataki Garrett
    • April 26-May 26, 2019 (Opens May 3)
    • Space Theatre
    • Glance: For the people of poverty-stricken Reading, Pa., work is so much more than a paycheck – it’s the glue that holds the town together. The floor of their central factory is where lifelong friendships are made, where love blossoms and where family members work side-by-side. But as layoffs become the new norm and a cheaper workforce threatens the viability of the local union, the threads that once kept the community together begin to fray. Sweat is an “extraordinarily moving drama,” said The New York Times, that powerfully contrasts life’s happiest highs with the heart-wrenching struggles of survival. Using warm humor and deep empathy, this 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner from Lynn Nottage (Ruined) paints a moving portrait of today’s working-class America in decline.
    • Fun fact: Nottage developed her play through interviews with actual former steelworkers in Reading.
    • Take a deeper dive into Sweat

    2018-19 OFF-CENTER SEASON: Title by title

    Mixed Taste: Tag team lectures on unrelated topics

    • Mixed Taste Aug 9Co-presentation with MCA Denver
    • July 11-Aug. 22, 2018 (Wednesdays only)
    • Seawell Ballroom
    • Glance: Returning for a second summer series, even mismatched subjects find common ground in this fun lecture forum that can go pretty much anywhere. Two speakers get 20 minutes each to enlighten you on unrelated topics, but can’t make any connections to each other. Ideas start to blend afterward, when audience members ask questions to both speakers and anything goes.
    • Fun fact: One clever example from last year’s series: “Wild West mail delivery and post-conceptual art.” Last year’s series emcee Suzi Q. Smith wrote a poem during each performance and read them at the end of every evening.

    Bite-Size: An evening of micro theatre

    • 2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS Gary Grundie Meridith C. GrundeiCreated and directed by Meridith Crosley Grundei
    • Oct. 23-Nov. 18, 2018
    • At BookBar, 4280 Tennyson St.
    • Glance:
    • Bite-Size brings you five short plays with bookish twists performed in and around BookBar, an independent bookstore and wine bar in the Tennyson Street Arts District. Grab tapas and drinks between the short performances of original works by Colorado-based artists. There is no better way to see a variety of local playwrights and performers in one place. Whether you’re a theatre geek, a bookworm or on the hunt for an off-beat night out, this evening will leave you eager to crack into a fresh hard-cover and dream up some tales of your own.
    • Fun fact: Director Meridith Grundei, a 2017 True West Award winner, packed up a used R.V. and hit the road with her husband and daughter in 2017 to travel the United States and Mexico for a year.

    The SantaLand Diaries

    • A Santaland Diaries Michael BouchardCo-presentation with Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company
    • By David Sedaris, adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello
    • Directed by Stephen Weitz
    • Nov. 23-Dec. 24, 2018 (Opens Nov. 25)
    • The Jones Theatre
    • Glance: This acclaimed one-man show is based on David Sedaris’ best-selling memoir about his curmudgeonly experience working as a Macy’s SantaLand elf, once again featuring Michael Bouchard and Luke Sorge as David, and his devilish Macy’s persona, Crumpet the Elf. Think holiday shopping is brutal? Try being on the receiving end of Macy’s SantaLand madness in a pair of pointy shoes. This twisted tale is the cure for the common Christmas show and the perfect excuse to take a break from it all.
    • Fun fact: 2018-19 will mark the 10th anniversary of BETC’s annual holiday staging, the last seven in partnership with Off-Center. That will equal The Bug Theatre’s run of 10 seasonal The SantaLand Diaries starring Gary Culig.

    Powered by Off-Center

    • March 2019
    • The Jones Theatre
    • Glance: Discover your next favorite Colorado performer as they debut new work at the Denver Center. Off-Center is offering the spotlight to local creators of all kinds as they get their projects off the ground with the support of our team. We’re giving our local artistic community a new place to play and a platform to experiment, engage and excite us all. Performance dates and participating artists to be announced.

    Untitled Immersive Hip-Hop Show

    • Idris Goodwin 160Written by Idris Goodwin
    • Directed by Jenny Koons
    • Glance: Following the hit experiential shows Sweet & Lucky and The Wild Party, Off-Center is cooking up its next large-scale immersive adventure. Off-Center has commissioned playwright Idris Goodwin and New York-based director Jenny Koons (Burn All Night at American Repertory Theatre) to create a one-of-a-kind new hip-hop-inspired event. Title, location, dates, and details to be announced.
    • Fun fact: Goodwin is the director and co-writer of This is Modern Art, currently playing through April 15 in The Jones Theatre.

    Note: Due to the nature of live performance, all productions, prices and dates are subject to change.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • Chris Coleman promises a DCPA Theatre Company that's robust and resonant

    by John Moore | Nov 14, 2017
    Chris Coleman named A.D.
    Photos from today's announcement of Chris Coleman as just the fourth Artistic Director in the nearly 40-year history of the DCPA Theatre Company. To see more, click on the image above to be taken to our full Flickr gallery. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    The longtime Portland leader champions a range of voices from George Bernard Shaw to Lauren Gunderson, who says: 'Denver is so lucky to get him.'

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Chris ColemanWhen the Managing Director at Portland Center Stage learned that longtime Artistic Director Chris Coleman was being hired away by the DCPA Theatre Company, she shook her head and said, “Denver, I hope you know you just won the lottery.”

    “Chris Coleman is not only a gifted theater artist, he's one of the best community connectors I've ever worked with,” a resigned Cynthia Fuhrman added from Portland. “That is a rare combination.”

    Coleman was introduced this morning as only the fourth Artistic Director in the nearly 40-year history of the DCPA Theatre Company. For the past 17 years, the Atlanta native has led a company with many of the same sensibilities as his new one. Portland Center Stage offers up to 12 offerings each season ranging from classics to contemporary works to homegrown musicals on two stages while also hosting an annual new-play festival, education programs and an array of community events. All of which sounds a lot like the mission of the DCPA Theatre Company. With one big difference: Twice as many performance spaces, and more financial resources. 

    “There is not another theatre in the country with the same administrative and physical infrastructure inside one organization,” said Coleman, who also will oversee the company’s burgeoning line of Off-Center programming — the kind that takes place in non-traditional performance spaces ranging fro the Stanley Marketplace to the streets of Denver.

    Asked to name one dream offering that might help elucidate his artistic sensibilities, Coleman mulled the possibilities before offering this tantalizing prospect: “One of my fantasies would be to go back to the beginnings of the company and remount The Caucasian Chalk Circle and engage DeVotchKa to write a score for it,” he said. “I just think that would be so cool.”

    Coleman clearly has studied up on his Denver Center history. The Theatre Company launched on New Year’s Eve 1979 with Bertolt Brecht’s modernist masterpiece, starring Tyne Daly. And just last year, Colorado’s own Grammy-nominated gypsy-punk band DeVotchKa not only experimented with Stephen Sondheim’s beloved Sweeney Todd score, but the band members got their necks at every performance.

    Shawn King Devotchke Sweeney Todd. Photo by John MooreColeman lists Brecht as among his favorite playwrights — and it is a wildly eclectic list that includes William Shakespeare, Luis Alfaro, Lynn Nottage, Paula Vogel and the playwright Coleman has directed more than any other: George Bernard Shaw. Under Coleman, 52 of the new plays Center Stage helped in their gestation have been performed at 115 theatres around the country. One he is most proud of is Dan O’Brien’s Body of an American, about how a photograph of an American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu haunted the photographer who took it. (It is currently being presented by Denver’s Curious Theatre).

    Among the many rising playwrights Coleman has nurtured along their paths are Matthew Lopez and Lauren Yee, whose latest plays Zoey’s Perfect Wedding and The Great Leap, respectively, are coming up soon on the Theatre Company’s current season.

    (Pictured above and right: Shawn King of DeVotchka in 'Sweeney Todd' in 2016. Photo by John Moore.)

    In announcing the appointment, DCPA President and CEO Janice Sinden cited Coleman’s “commitment to artistic excellence, community engagement, new-play development, crowd-pleasing musicals and discovery of new voices” — all of which she said will resonate throughout the region, and will further the DCPA’s efforts to diversify its audience. Coleman said his priorities also include local storytelling, giving voice to underserved communities and building a robust collaboration with the DCPA’s Education division.

    Chris Coleman and husband Rodney Hicks. Photo by John Moore.  “I am super-interested in figuring out how we put the most resonant work on stage we can,” Coleman said. “And by that I don’t necessarily think every play has to be topical to be resonant. I mean work that really lands emotionally for people. So much so that audiences feel compelled to reach out and let us know that we affected them, and that the work has stayed with them.”

    (Pictured at right: New Theatre Company Artistic Director Chris Coleman with his husband, Rodney Hicks, at today's announcement. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    Coleman says he is not only a fan of the Theatre Company's annual Colorado New Play Summit, one of the signature programs launched by his predecessor, Kent Thompson, he sees it as the company’s greatest drawing card, along with the $1.4 million Women’s Voices Fund, which supports plays written and directed by women. “I am eager to connect great artists with the larger conversation Denver is having about its future right now,” he said. “I am interested in telling big stories — both from cultures that haven’t found their way onto our stages yet, and those that are waiting to burst out of the mind of the young playwright down the street.

    “I don't think there is any reason we shouldn't be one of the top institutions for producing new work in the country.”

    ‘He sure can pick em’

    At Portland Center Stage’s 2002 equivalent of the Colorado New Play Summit, Coleman had a hunch about a submission from a budding 18-year-old playwright. So he took the extraordinary step of giving the young woman a featured slot in the festival alongside, among others, a comparatively grizzled 25-year-old named Itamar Moses. His latest play, The Band’s Visit, opened on Broadway just this past Thursday.

    Chris Coleman quote 8 LAUREN GUNDERSONThe teenager’s play was called Parts They Call Deep, about three Southern women in a Winnebago. Now for the kicker: The playwright was Lauren Gunderson, who, fast-forward 14 years, wrote the Denver Center’s red-hot world-premiere The Book of Will and is now the most-produced playwright in America for the second year running. “It has been amazing to watch her rise,” Coleman said. 

    “Yeah, he sure can pick ’em,” Gunderson said with a laugh.

    Gunderson calls Coleman a mentor who helped her to visualize a possible life in the theatre for herself – when she was 12. Her hometown is also Atlanta, where in 1988 Coleman founded Actor’s Express, dubbed Atlanta's "gutsiest and most vital theatre."

    In those tender years, Gunderson fancied herself an actor, and she was cast as the kid in two mainstage productions there — The Philadelphia Story and Approaching Zanzibar — and she absorbed everything. “That’s the first time I realized that people actually sit down and write plays,” Gunderson said. “By just watching Chris, I started to see all of these other avenues for a life in the theatre for me.”

    Coleman, whose family's Atlanta roots go back to 1804 ("But we were poor dirt farmers," he says), was a bit of a star of the stage himself in those days. How big of a fan was Gunderson of his work? “My 14th birthday party was taking my girlfriends to see Chris Coleman play Hamlet,” she said. “I loved it, and I will never forget it.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    While at Portland, Coleman also produced or directed plays by Sophocles, Molière, Anton Chekhov, Edward Albee, August Wilson, Tennessee Williams, Ntozake Shange, Dael Orlandersmith, David Henry Hwang, John Patrick Shanley, Naomi Wallace, Sam Shepard, Douglas Carter Beane, Martin McDonaugh and Amy Freed — among others.

    “He just has such a knack for championing a remarkably wide variety of voices in the new-play world,” Gunderson said. “I think that’s because he has such a variety of experiences himself as a director, playwright, actor and artistic leader. What makes him a genius is that he knows every aspect of the creation of art first-hand. He has nonstop incredible ideas.” 

    Chris Coleman Introduction PhotoColeman is something of a renaissance man. Before he leaves Portland, he will direct a two-part epic he adapted himself called Astoria, featuring a cast of 16. Based on the best-selling book by Peter Stark, it tells of the harrowing but little-known journeys west undertaken by President Thomas Jefferson and millionaire John Jacob Astor that served as turning points in the conquest of the North American continent. It’s a story Coleman imagines might be of interest to Denver Center audiences because it taps directly into the spirit of the west.

    (Pictured at above and right: Chris Coleman with husband Rodney Hickst o his right and, to his left: DCPA President and CEO Janice Sinden, and Chairman Martin Semple. Photo by Brittany Gutierrez for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    But his acting days are likely behind him, he says. These days, he is far more interested in ballot measures and fundraising and other administrative duties (he swears). He led the design and construction of Portland Center Stage’s new home in the 122-year-old Historic Portland Armory. That experience will be critical as the DCPA prepares to renovate both its Stage and Ricketson theatres within the next four years.

    Under Coleman, who earned his BFA from Baylor University and his MFA from Carnegie Mellon University, annual attendance at Portland Center Stage increased from 77,000 to 139,000. The average age of the audience dropped from 64 to 48. The company brings in about 7,600 students a year to see its plays.

    Coleman will direct his two-part adaptation of Astoria, followed by Major Barbara at Portland Center Stage before moving to Denver with his husband, Rodney Hicks, in May. In the meantime, he will work with DCPA Managing Director Charles Varin and Associate Artistic Directors Nataki Garrett and Charlie Miller to finalize the 2018-19 season selection.

    “I just think he is a great voice for the American theatre as a whole, and I can’t wait to see what he does to continue Kent’s legacy," Gunderson, said. “Oh my God, Denver is so lucky to get him.”  

    Video above: A 2015 interview with Portland Center Stage Artistic Director Chris Coleman.


    NUMBER 1Rodney Hicks King Lear Terry ShapiroHey, we already know your husband here in Denver: Rodney Hicks played bad-boy Edmund here in Kent Thompson’s 2007 production of King Lear. He was in the original Broadway cast of Rent and Come from Away. Is it safe to say he will be an active member of our acting community? It is not safe to say that. Rodney is totally excited about coming to Denver, and he wants to figure out what engaging with the artistic community here might look like for him. But his focus right now is primarily on film and television and his budding writing career. Rodney had a big career before we met, and there’s every reason to believe he will have a big career for the rest of his life. So while I think you will see him around Denver a lot, I am not sure you are ever going to see him onstage at the Denver Center.

    Pictured above right: Rodney Hicks as Edmund and Markus Potter as Edgar in the DCPA Theatre Company's 2007 production of 'King Lear.' Photo by Terry Shapiro.)

    NUMBER 2What was your introduction to theatre as a kid? It was my mom, who was trained as an actor. She started a drama ministry at our Southern Baptist church in the 1970s. So literally from the time I can remember, I was dragging angel wings around or operating a dimmer board or giving the actors their lines. So it's always been a part of my life. During my senior year in high school, it became clear that's what I wanted to pursue. And when I got to Baylor University I very quickly realized, 'This is what I want to do. This is the room I want to be in. This is my tribe of people.' 

    NUMBER 3How do you plan to move the dial when it comes to the national problem of equity, diversity and inclusion in the American theatre? As a gay man, I am on the bandwagon. I absolutely agree with the movement, and I believe it is high time for there to be opportunities for lots of different kinds of people in leadership roles. And I think there is a lot that any artistic leader can do to make positive changes, no matter that leader's gender and skin color. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who is more passionate and committed to move us forward on that front. That certainly was the case in Portland, and I expect that only to increase in Denver.

    NUMBER 4You may have heard that Denver Center audiences are passionate about their Shakespeare. Will there be a continuing commitment to Shakespeare? And if so — what kind of Shakespeare? There absolutely will be a continuing commitment to Shakespeare. Now, over the years, I have done every kind of radical Shakespeare reinvention you can possibly imagine. But then about four years ago, I thought: 'You know what would be really radical? To do a Shakespeare play in the period when it was actually written. That would be radical.’ I expect that I am probably more of a centrist when it comes to Shakespeare at this point in my life. What I value most is truthfulness, authenticity and the ability for an audience to engage emotionally. I just want audiences to take the whole ride and not sit back.

    NUMBER 5Should the DCPA Theatre Company be actively responding to the political polarization of the country right now? I think if you are doing interesting new plays, then that happens, whether you want it to or not. Politics tends to show up whenever you are talking about the things that are happening in our world. For example, when we programmed a new play we are staging right now called Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles, we already knew of course that immigration is a big issue in this country. But we had no idea how searingly hot it was going to be by the time we opened the play. It is delightful that Luis Alfaro’s play engages with the issues of the current moment, but that’s not why we did it. We did it because we liked the play. But the issue allowed us to build community partnerships around the play that are absolutely conscious of engaging with the conversation of the moment. For example, we have two symposiums in partnership with Catholic Charities that will include our attorney general, a leading immigration attorney, the deputy director of I.C.E. and two Dreamers. That kind of thing is totally in our zone. It’s not just pushing one point of view. It’s bringing together many sides and deepening the conversation you just experienced on the stage.

    NUMBER 6george-bernard-shaw-9480925-1-402So what’s with your love for George Bernard Shaw? I will tell you: The play we are doing this season that most directly engages the executive leadership of this country is Major Barbara — which of course never refers to America or our current president because it was written in 1907. But the themes are uncannily resonant.

    NUMBER 7Is there a place for current DCPA Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett on your team? I have actually known Nataki Garrett for 20 years because she stage-managed a show I acted in back in Atlanta. I have enormous respect and fondness for her, and I was delighted when she was hired to be the Associate Artistic Director here. I anticipate that she will continue in that role until she decides she doesn’t want it anymore. I also know there are a lot of people around the country who have noted Nataki's leadership capabilities, so I suspect there are people knocking at her door.

    NUMBER 8DCPA Education just launched its Theatre for Young Audiences program with a production of The Snowy Day that is directed at pre-kindergarten through third graders, and it was made in full collaboration with the Theatre Company's design staff. How important is it for the Theatre Company to have a strong relationship with the Education division? It's critical to me. One, because we have to prepare future audiences. It is so easy today to walk through life without any real cultural participation of some kind. So I think it's critical that we create, invent and provide as many on-ramps as we can. So education, outreach, and using every opportunity we can to build community relationships with people is just huge.

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

  • 2016 True West Award: donnie l. betts

    by John Moore | Dec 07, 2016

    True West Awards donnie l betts

    30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS

    Day 7:
    donnie l. betts

    Radio, film and theatre practitioner donnie l. betts is a black man who has been making a personal statement about the marginalization of black Americans for decades with the intentional lower-casing of his name. But in 2016, as protests over ongoing racial inequities in America spilled into stadiums, streets and reservations across the country, the lower-cased betts was having a decidedly upper-case artistic year.

    As America's simmering racial divide was being  ripped open from the Dakotas to Dallas, betts was directing two culturally significant and achingly relevant productions for the Aurora Fox: The first local production of the seminal Native American tragedy Black Elk Speaks since it was premiered by the DCPA Theatre Company in 1994; and the first staging of the classic opera Porgy and Bess by any local theatre company in at least 20 years - and certainly the first since it was reimagined as a more accessible Broadway musical by Diane Paulus and Suzan-Lori Parks in 2012.

    True West Awards donnie l betts Black Elk Speaks Black Elk Speaks recounts with wrenching rawness the systematic genocide that wiped out an estimated 80 percent of the Native American population over a century. The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess tells the story of a reckless, drug-sniffing woman who turns to a disabled street-beggar for rescue from the clutches a violent and possessive lover in the oppressively racist slums of Charleston, S.C.

    No one but betts gets either of those productions to a Denver stage. No one but betts gets the level of cultural authenticity he achieved in Black Elk Speaks with a cast made up largely of indigenous actors. And no one but betts collects the deep cross-section of talent he has on display at the Aurora Fox in The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess through Jan. 1.

    Our report from the set of the Aurora Fox's Black Elk Speaks

    We're talking well-known local veterans like Leonard Barrett Jr. as the cripple Porgy, Dwayne Carrington as Crab Man and Michael Peters as the odious Crown, alongside the sensational second generation of Anna Maria High, Faith Goins-Simmons and Tyrell Rae, who all three continue to be lightning on any stage. All of this matters not without a Bess who can off the equal challenges of properly singing - and playing the wounded Bess. Enter the heart-breaking and ear-seducing Tracy Camp from the San Francisco Opera.

    Porgy and Bess, newly opened in these final breaths of 2016, will certainly go down as one of the most significant achievements of the Colorado  theatre season. This production has it all - a rollicking onstage band led by Jodel Charles; an evocative and fluid slum set from Jen Orf; masterful (as always) work from designers Linda Morken (costumes), Shannon McKinney (lighting), and El Armstrong (sound). And perhaps most seductively: It has living, pulsating, innovative choreography from Laurence Curry. It's a dream team.

    Betts Quote "This is a production that must be seen — for the sheer scope of its ambition, among other things," wrote Westword's Juliet Wittman. "Consider what it took for director donnie l. betts to assemble his terrific small orchestra along with a large cast of tuneful and talented African-American actors, and to meld voices that range from operatic to musical theater into a harmonious, soul-swelling whole."

    No one but betts, whose roots in the Denver theatre community go back to the very beginnings of the Denver Center. When the DCPA Theatre Company was created in 1979, betts was the first local actor hired, working  alongside the likes of Tyne Daly, Delroy Lindo and Tandy Cronyn. That ensemble would later be joined by Mercedes Ruehl, Annette Bening and many other future stars.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Betts was a DCPA regular for nine intermittent seasons. But of all the shows he performed in, it perhaps was one he did not appear in - Black Elk Speaks - that would most impact his future life. Betts was performing in another play on a nearby Denver Center stage nearby, but he would watch Black Elk Speaks from the wings every chance he got. Twenty-two years later, he brought it back to life at the Aurora Fox.

    It's been a long road for betts preserving the culture and voice of the disenfranchised, underrepresented and underserved. But as the protagonist of Black Elk Speaks says: "The longest journey is to the heart."

    donnie l. betts/At a glance

    • Born in Dekalb, Texas, the 12th child of 12
    • Attended Angelo State in San Angelo, Texas, on a football scholarship and later Metropolitan State College in Denver and the Yale School of Drama
    • Founding member of the DCPA Theatre Company, City State Ensemble and the Denver Black Arts Company
    • Performed on Broadway in The Gospel at Colonus, 1988
    • Founded No Credits Production, Inc., a film and video production company that launched his monthly Destination Freedom radio series for KGNU in May 1998
    • Occasionally appeared in the Perry Mason movies that were filmed in Denver in the mid-1990s
    • Directed more than 30 theatrical productions in the Denver area

    The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
    Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
    Day 3: After Orlando
    Day 4: Michael Morgan
    Day 5: Beth Beyer
    Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
    Day 7: donnie l. betts
    Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
    Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
    Day 10: Jason Sherwood
    Day 11: Leslie O'Carroll and Steve Wilson
    Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
    Day 13: Jake Mendes
    Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
    Day 15: Patty Yaconis
    Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
    Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
    Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
    Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
    Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
    Day 21: Jeff Neuman
    Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
    Day 23: Matthew Campbell
    Day 24: Sharon Kay White
    Day 25: John Hauser
    Day 26: Lon Winston
    Day 27: Jason Ducat
    Day 28: Sam Gregory
    Day 29: Warren Sherrill
    Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
    Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride

    True West Awards donnie l betts Porgy And Bess Photos: Top of page, Leonard Barrett and Tracy Camp in 'Porgy and Bess.' Inset right: Doug Good Feather in 'Black Elk Speaks.' Above: A scene from 'Porgy and Bess.' Photos by Christine Fisk for the Aurora Fox.
  • For two inaugural DCPA actors, you can come home again

    by John Moore | Feb 08, 2015

    Denver native and original DCPA Theatre Company member James Newcomb found out you can go home again. He just didn’t expect home to be a T.S. Eliot poem:

    “We shall not cease from exploration.
    And the end of all our exploring

    Will be to arrive where we started

    And know the place for the first time.”

     “I have been in sort of a ‘fugue’ state the whole time I have been back in Denver,” said Newcomb, invoking a term psychiatrists often use to describe the loss of identity one can feel when hurled into an unfamiliar environment. “I walk around downtown, and I don’t recognize my city. And it’s not just the new things. I am seeing things that never even registered with me when I was young.”

    James Newcomb and Darrie LawrenceFor Lawrence, coming back to work at the DCPA after 30 years “is like coming home,” she said. “Inside the theatre, it’s like Brigadoon coming back to life. But outside, it’s like Rip Van Winkle. It’s an entirely different city now.”

    Newcomb, who plays hardware store worker Rudy in Benediction, is the son of the legendary Bev Newcomb-Madden, who has directed more theatre productions than any woman in Colorado theatre history. He was a resident company member when the DCPA launched on New Year’s Eve 1979. He was a mainstay for many of the next eight seasons, but he hasn’t been back since 1987.

    Incredibly, Newcomb is not the only inaugural company member currently performing for the DCPA Theatre Company after three decades away. Darrie Lawrence, who is starring as Helen in the world premiere of Appoggiatura, was a company member for four of the first five seasons -- and immediately regretted her decision to leave.

    “I didn’t appreciate how good I had it here,” said Lawrence. By 1986, then-Artistic Director Donovan Marley was maintaining a resident company of about 24 actors, each of whom were signed to six-month contracts. That was fairly common practice at regional theatres around the country at the time, but it was ultimately economically unsustainable. Marley asked Lawrence to come back for the 1986-87 season, “and stupidly, I said no,” she said. “I thought, ‘Well, I have been in Denver for four years, so I ought to go out and see what I can do in New York.

    A QUOTE 2“Well, it never got this good again,” she added with a laugh. “But what did I know? I was 32. I was naïve and not that experienced. I didn't appreciate what I had.”

    Newcomb – Jamie to his longtime friends – started his high-school years at George Washington, but transferred to Denver East when riots broke out over forced bussing. He later attended Colorado Women’s College and graduated into perhaps the friendliest economic era for artists in American history.

    The regional theatre movement that was born in cities like Houston, San Francisco and Washington D.C. in the late 1940s and ’50s was finally coming to Denver. In the ’70s, Denver Post publisher Donald Seawell almost singlehandedly willed a true performing arts center into existence for the city. Even if it would be located in what was then considered perhaps the sketchiest part of downtown. Seawell built the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex, which at the time included a 260-seat cinema, and modeled his vision after Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theatre. He hired as his first Artistic Director Sir Tyrone Guthrie, who died during construction.

    President Carter had just passed CETA – the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act - which Lawrence said “was the first time in American history the federal government was literally underwriting the arts. That saved a lot of people’s butts. It was like a WPA (Works Progress Administration) for the arts.”

    Newcomb was helping a friend named Mark Cuddy, now longtime artistic director of the Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, N.Y, to establish a children’s theatre program in Massachusetts through a CETA grant. The two then headed west “like the Clampetts of The Beverly Hillbillies,” he said. Their destination was Reno, Nev., to join Lon Winston, who now runs the Thunder River Theatre Company in Carbondale. Winston had secured a $35,000 state grant to create theatre in rural Nevada. 

    “We stopped in Denver and heard that the Denver Center was auditioning, so we both did it,” Newcomb said. “Mark got called to be one of the assistant directors, and they asked me to be in the company.”

    James Newcomb and Darrie Lawrence. Photo by John Moore.
    James Newcomb, left ('Benediction'), and Darrie Lawrence ('Appoggiatura'), are reunited at the DCPA for the first time in 30 years. Photo by John Moore.

    Lawrence, who hails from North Carolina, was slowly building an impressive off-Broadway resume in New York when DCPA Artistic Director Ed Call came out to audition there. “I will never forget that day,” she said. “I walked out of the Times Square subway station right into a policeman with his gun drawn at someone he was arresting. I was just loopy when I arrived, but luckily Ed Call was notorious for taking more time than he should have, and I had to wait for two hours before he was ready to see me. I probably did a better audition than if he had been on time with the schedule.”

    Lawrence had no trepidation moving across the country that first year to work for a nonexistent company. “Hell no,” she said. “It was a six-month job!”  

    The DCPA “had juice,” Newcomb added. “And it got even juicier to me after I got here,” Lawrence added. “I didn’t know anything about Denver or Ed Call or Don Seawell or Helen Bonfils. But now I tell everyone about them. Now I call myself ‘the ambassador from the past.’

    When the acting company gathered for the very first time in 1979, they sat on concrete risers, because The Stage Theatre was still under construction with what was then a celebrated construct: The seats would be built atop a hydraulic system that would allow the seating configuration to change to accommodate any staging conceit, varying from 675 to 900 seats. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, the hydraulic system, which remains intact to this day, has never actually been put to use.

    By the time the DCPA celebrated its grand opening on Dec. 31, 1979, Denver was buzzing. “There was a frisson,” Lawrence said. A shiver of expectation and excitement. Lucille Ball, Henry Fonda, Lynn Fontanne and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. were among the luminaries who came out for a three-day extravaganza that was to be the start of no less than “The Denver Decade in the American Theatre.” That was the expectation - and there were signs all over the complex trumpeting it.

    Newcomb and Lawrence were starstruck. On Jan. 2, the grand-opening weekend culminated with Ball presenting Fonda the American National Theatre and Academy’s prestigious National Artists’ Award. It was the first time the honor ever had been presented outside of New York or Los Angeles.

    Tyne Daly in 'Caucasian Chalk Circle' at the DCPA in 1980. Newcomb was standing in one of The Stage Theatre’s lower hallways used by actors for their entrances and exits. But he couldn’t see the award presentation because, unconscionably, a member of the public – a very large member – had moved into the actors’ sacred space and was in the way.  “So I said to him, ‘Excuse me, can you step aside?’ And he looked at me like I am a peon,” Newcomb said.

    He had no idea the rather rotund man was Denver oil baron Marvin Davis, who inspired the character of Blake Carrington on the TV soap Dynasty - and was also a prominent DCPA donor. “There is a row in the Stage Theatre that has fewer seats than the others,” Newcomb said. “They are all slightly larger than the others seats. It’s because Marvin Davis wanted a seat that fit him, so they made him one that did. They still call it the Marvin Davis Row.”

    But did he move?

    “Yes, he did.”

    Newcomb and Lawrence were among a whopping 40 inaugural company actors who christened the DCPA’s new stages with performances of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Learned Ladies and Moby Dick Rehearsed. The company included a mix of soon-to-be Hollywood royalty such as Tyne Daly, Delroy Lindo and Tandy Cronyn, along with accomplished locals including the now all-lower-cased donnie l. betts and Jerry Webb. In the coming seasons, they would be joined by Mercedes Ruehl, Annette Bening and many more future stars.

    It was a true repertory company back then, meaning all of the actors appeared in The Caucasian Chalk Circle, and then they were then divided up for Learned Ladies and Moby Dick Rehearsed. Daly was on her way to becoming a star – in fact, she left the run of The Caucasian Chalk Circle early to film a TV movie called The Women's Room.

    By the second season, Lawrence was cast to play the lead in Arthur Kopit’s Wings, a searing story that takes the audience inside the mind of a stroke victim who has lost her ability to speak. Lawrence was not yet 35, playing a woman of 75. She still considers it a pinnacle of her career. That same year, Newcomb was cast to play the pinchable J. Pierrepont Finch in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Together they then appeared in Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, among others. Newcomb rejoined the company in 1987 for a seminal production of Orphans opposite Jamie Horton and James Lawless – “the three Jimmys,” Newcomb said.

    In those early years, Newcomb immersed himself in all things DCPA. He directed three productions for the newly opened National Theatre Conservatory masters program, where Larry Hecht was Head of Acting and Leslie O’Carroll was a student taking Newcomb’s class in stage combat. Both are now his castmates in Benediction. “Isn’t that insane?” he said.

    In the early days, Lawrence and the other guest actors were housed at the Camellia House Apartments at 1235 Grant St. Now they stay at Brooks Towers, where the DCPA owns three floors of rooms.

    “It was a very sketchy area, both downtown and Capital Hill, and it was a pretty healthy walk to the theatre each day,” Lawrence said. “But we were driven home at night.”

    The two have stories from those days that would take days to tell: The frightening night a distressed castmate went missing after news of John Lennon’s killing. The long-delayed discovery that nighttime passersby could actually look through the tinted dressing-room windows and clearly see the actors dressing and undressing. (The solution was to cover them with newspapers.) The free Christmas Day preview performance of Caucasian Chalk Circle – a four-plus hour play, by the way. “The only people who were left by the end were smatterings of homeless people who came in to get warm,” Newcomb said with a laugh. “But what a stunning show,” Lawrence said. “I had never been in a show of that scale before.”

    Newcomb was unnerved the day Learned Ladies director Gene Lesser walked into the first technical rehearsal wearing black jeans, boots that came up to his knees, a black turtleneck, and a coat. 

    “He got up and started to say, ‘Now, I don’t want anybody to feel tense when it comes to tech. We are just going to be working through the show and adding lights and sound, and I just want everybody to take it easy,’ ” Newcomb said.

    “And then he took his coat off … and he’s wearing a swastika.”

    He meant it as a joke. “But it was like, wow!” Newcomb said.

    “And he’s Jewish!” Lawrence added.

    By their own assessment, the quality of productions at the DCPA began at world-class from Day 1. “Absolutely,” Lawrence said. Critics from Newsweek, Time Magazine, the Wall Street Journal and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune all came to Denver and reviewed that first season of shows – favorably.

    Eventually, Lawrence and Newcomb went down their own nomadic paths, as artists do. They are enjoying being back in Denver performing in different world premieres, but for different reasons.

    Darrie Lawrence and  Lenne Klingaman in 'Appoggoatura.' Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen“I would be excited to come back to Denver and the DCPA to do anything,” Lawrence said. “But I am especially excited to be doing a beautiful, exciting new play like Appoggiatura.” The play is about three people sharing grief in Venice. Lawrence plays an ex-wife who has had to share her husband’s love.

    ”I mean, ask me how many times I have done Driving Miss Daisy, Steel Magnolias and On Golden Pond,” she said. I’m not senile, crippled or mean yet, so I am having a great time doing this play.”

    Newcomb spent 14 acclaimed years as a company member with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland and now lives in San Diego. He was elated to be invited back to appear in Benediction, but he admits, his primary interest in saying yes was more personal that professional.

    “I want to be here to be with my family now,” said Newcomb, whose mother and father are both in their late 80s.

    Bev Newcomb-Madden remains very much active in the local theatre community - at age 87, she will be directing The Spitfire Grill for Vintage Theatre Productions opening June 26. 

    James Newcomb in 'Benediction.' Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen. Jamie Newcomb and his sisters, Glenna and Claudia – a longtime DCPA employee herself – grew up in theatre. Bev Newcomb-Madden got her start producing theatre for a church group called Saints & Sinners, and then was brought in by Henry Lowenstein to direct (mostly) children’s shows at the former Bonfils Theatre on East Colfax. “She taught theatre to kids in our basement after school,” Jamie said, “and so everybody in the family was involved in it.”

    But immersing himself into the world of Benediction has been surprising to Newcomb. In the final chapter of Kent Haruf’s remarkable Plainsong trilogy, Newcomb plays one of the men who will be entrusted to run the small-town hardware story after the impending death of the man who started it. He can’t help but think of his own father.

    Benediction Quote“When I came in, I was quite emotionally taken with the subject matter of the play, and about my connection to Colorado,” said Newcomb. “In an odd way, by working on Benediction, I am getting in touch with where I am from for the first time. I have never thought of myself as a plainsman, because I was an inner-city kid. But I was an inner city kid in the plains. That's all I knew, so Denver was urban to me.

    “But I am becoming acutely aware of this ‘great plains light’ more than I ever have been previously. When you look at that the big Colorado sky, all of this underneath is pretty small. 

    “There is just something about this play, and Kent Haruf's writing, that I find tremendously moving. And the creative process has been incredibly kind and generous. Like the T.S. Eliot quote … I am experiencing it for the first time.”

    The first DCPA Theatre Company season: 1979-80

    The Caucasian Chalk Circle
    by Bertolt Brecht
    Directed by Edward Payson Call

    Moby Dick – Rehearsed
    Adapted by Orson Welles
    From the novel by Herman Melville
    Directed by William Woodman

    The Learned Ladies
    by Jean Babtiste Molière
    Directed by Gene Lesser

    Passing Game*
    by Steve Tesich
    Directed by Edward Payson Call

    A Midsummer Night's Dream
    by William Shakespeare
    Directed by Gene Lesser

    Note: Join us for Page to Stage, a free noontime conversation with Benediction cast members on Tuesday, Feb. 10 at the Colfax Tattered Cover, 2526 E. Colfax Ave.

    Benediction: Ticket information
    Performances run Jan. 30 through March 1
    Space Theatre
    Performances daily except Mondays
    Call 303-893-4100, or go to the Denver Center’s web site at www.DenverCenter.Org

    Our previous coverage of Benediction:

    Kent Haruf: The complete final interview
    'Benediction' opens as a celebration of ‘The Precious Ordinary’
    Video: Your first look at Benediction
    Doris Duke Foundation awards $125,000 for Benediction
    DCPA to celebrate Kent Haruf on Feb. 7
    Bittersweet opening for 'Benediction' rehearsals
    Kent Haruf, author of 'Plainsong' Trilogy, dies at age 71
    Kent Thompson on the 2014-15 season, play by play
    2014 Colorado New Play Summit will complete 'Plainsong' trilogy
    Video: 'Benediction' reading at the 2014 Colorado New Play Summit

     Appoggiatura: Ticket information
    Performances run through Feb. 22
    Ricketson Theatre
    Performances daily except Mondays
    Call 303-893-4100, or go to the Denver Center’s web site at www.DenverCenter.Org

    Our previous coverage of Appoggiatura:
    Video: 'Page to Stage' highlights with Appoggiatura cast
    Opening night photo coverage
    The mystery of Appoggiatura unfolds with tonight's opening
    Video: Our Appoggiatura montage of scenes
    Interview: Playwright James Still is running to catch up to himself  

    Video: Talking Appoggiatura with James Still and Risa Brainin
    Photos: Our Appoggiatura photos so far
    Appoggiatura Director Risa Brainin named head of National Theatre Conference
    Appoggiatura named to new DCPA Theatre Company season
    Kent Thompson handicaps the season, play by play
    Summit Soliloquy: James Still introduces Appoggiatura
    Appoggiatura: So what's in a name?

    Our Appoggiatura "Meet the cast" video series (to date):
    Meet Darrie Lawrence
    Meet Lenne Klingaman
    Meet Rob Nagle
    Meet Nick Mills

    James Newcomb and Jamie Horton in 'Orphans.' James Newcomb and Jamie Horton in 'Orphans' in 1987.

    Video: Meet Darrie Lawrence
  • Meet the cast video series: Darrie Lawrence

    by John Moore | Jan 20, 2015

    In this ongoing series, we briefly introduce you to the actors performing in our plays in a fun way. Episode 79: Meet Darrie Lawrence, a member of the inaugural DCPA Theatre Company in 1979 who is back in Denver for the first time since 1984 to star as Helen in the world premiere staging of Appoggiatura. Lawrence talks about the early days playing opposite Tyne Daly, Delroy Lindo and others. How did she get into all of this in the first place? "I love being the center of attention!" she says with a laugh. Appoggiatura plays through Feb. 22 in the Ricketson Theatre. Call 303-893-4100, or go to www.denvercenter.org. Video by John Moore. Run time: 2 minutes, 15 seconds.

    Also in our Appoggiatura "Meet the cast" video series (to date):
    Meet Nick Mills

    : Ticket information
    Performances run through Feb. 22
    Ricketson Theatre
    Performances daily except Mondays
    Call 303-893-4100, or go to the Denver Center’s web site at www.DenverCenter.Org

    Our previous coverage of this year's Appoggiatura:
    Interview: Playwright James Still is running to catch up to himself  
    Video: Talking Appoggiatura with James Still and Risa Brainin
    Photos: Our Appoggiatura photos so far
    Appoggiatura Director Risa Brainin named head of National Theatre Conference
    Appoggiatura named to new DCPA Theatre Company season
    Kent Thompson handicaps the season, play by play
    Summit Soliloquy: James Still introduces Appoggiatura
    Appoggiatura: So what's in a name?

    Previous 2014-15 "Meet the Cast" episodes:

    Leslie Alexander, A Christmas Carol
    Allen Dorsey, A Christmas Carol
    Charlie Franklin, Lord of the Flies

    Patty Goble,The Unsinkable Molly Brown
    Sam Gregory, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
    Matthew Gumley, Lord of the Flies
    Paolo Montalban, The Unsinkable Molly Brown
    Linda Mugleston, The Unsinkable Molly Brown
    Donna English, The Unsinkable Molly Brown
    Eddie Lopez, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
    Burke Moses, The Unsinkable Molly Brown
    Beth Malone, The Unsinkable Molly Brown
    Leslie O'Carroll,A Christmas Carol
    Ben and Noah Radcliffe, Lord of the Flies
    James Michael Reilly, A Christmas Carol
    Socorro Santiago, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
    Lesley Shires, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
    Gregory Isaac Stone, Lord of the Flies

      Darrie Lawrence in 'Appoggiatura'Darrie Lawrence, right, in the DCPA's staging of "Appoggiatura." Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen. 
    John Moore
    John Moore
    Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

    DCPA is the nation’s largest not-for-profit theatre organization dedicated to creating unforgettable shared experiences through beloved Broadway musicals, world-class plays, educational programs and inspired events. We think of theatre as a spark of life — a special occasion that’s exciting, powerful and fun. Join us today and we promise an experience you won't soon forget.