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Two shows with great staging charm audiences

Visual element enhances stories presented at area theaters

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We enjoyed two productions with great staging last week. Stories are truly enhanced by this visual element.

“The Drowning Girls,” showing on select days through May 21 at the Arvada Center, opens with a pool of water on stage, holding three old-fashioned footed bathtubs. Above them hang three somewhat bedraggled wedding gowns. Soon after lights go up, one hears splashing and arms and legs appear, then three women in modest vintage undergarments. “Water is really a fourth character in this show,” said actor Kates Gleason in a talk-back afterwards. (It starts out at 120 degrees, as do the showers suspended over each tub, per technician Paul.)

The trio dons wedding dresses and continues to splash as they spin a story told by the unfortunate brides of English psychopath George Joseph Smith — who had seven wives and killed these three: Margaret, Bessie and Alice. (He was eventually hanged.)

He would meet lonely women (marriage was really the only way to a future for a turn-of-the-century woman) and find out about their financial status, taking out life insurance policies and bleeding their savings accounts. He would also have them consult a doctor. (Hysteria was a common explanation for many ailments, and could explain a bathtub drowning.) “I want to be in love …” Alice says. One met him on a park bench, another in church … each was “swept off her feet.”

It’s hard to imagine that a healthy woman would really drown in these small tubs, but in a trial scene, a demonstration shows how it happened.

The intriguing play was written by three Canadians who attended drama school together: Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson and Daniela Vlaskalic

Skilled actors Kate Gleason (Margaret), Jessica Roblee (Bessie) and Emily Van Fleet (Alice) play the three wives as well as a number of other parts as this tale proceeds. “It was wonderfully collaborative,” Gleason said as she began a talk-back conversation. “There were no stage directions — we (actors plus director Lynne Collins) all came up with moves and dialect. All three women were from the same part of England, but with different socioeconomic levels … It’s an exciting challenge — when a performance works best … great storytelling.”

“Stage Kiss” by Pulitzer Prize-winning Sarah Ruhl, involves two plays-within-a-play, in a production director Deb Flomberg calls “a meta love song to the entire acting community.”

Lights go up as a director (Joey Wishnia) waits to begin a rehearsal of a dated melodrama. His 40-something actors, called He (Kenneth Stellingworth) and She (Kristine Blackport), who have been “an item” in the past, rediscover a passion for each other as they kiss onstage. The dialogue is clever throughout and Kevin (Matthew Bausone), a gay understudy for He, wants to kiss with his mouth open, grossing out She — a funny touch, though perhaps overdone.

Life intervenes via She’s really patient husband (Marq Del Monte) and flighty daughter (Emily Ebertz) and girlfriend for He (Anneliese Farmer), then tucks into a second play about an Irish tough guy and a Brooklyn prostitute with bad eyesight.

This somewhat complex production would benefit from more precise delivery to avoid occasional confusion about what’s going on here, because Ruhl’s dialog is indeed wickedly clever. Watch for another chance to see it.

If you go

“Drowning Girls,” part of the new Black Box Repertory Season, plays on specific dates through May 21 at the Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Blvd., Arvada. Arvadacenter.org, 720-898-7200.

“Stage Kiss” played through April 15 at the Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo St., Denver. Watch for a repeat.

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