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Contrived Ending

Denver scribe Josh Hartwell delivers a slice-of-life tribute to film buffs, seen through the lens of four twentysomethings who work at an arthouse theater specializing in Hollywood classics.

With:
Nathan - Jeremy Make Jack - Matt Mueller Laurel - Jamie Ann Romero Shane - Steven J. Burge Wendy - Rhonda Lee Brown Mr. Vincent - Paul Page

Just in time for Oscar season, Denver scribe Josh Hartwell delivers a slice-of-life tribute to film buffs, seen through the lens of four twentysomethings who work at an arthouse theater specializing in Hollywood classics. The moviehouse, its proprietor and his theater-manager mistress are worn from the complexities and multiplexes of life. The kids who work there are itching to get out and see the world.

Looking back only a few years, young playwright Hartwell gets to the core of post-teen, pre-adult angst with honest dialogue that reveals distinctive, archetypal characters. Jack (Matt Mueller), a high school graduate and usher at the local bijou, gets his best buddy, film school dropout Nathan (Jeremy Make), a job at the refreshment counter.

In the lobby, offices and closets of the single-screen throwback theater, the two young men compete for the affections of cute ticket seller Laurel (Jamie Ann Romero), fend off advances from lascivious manager Wendy (Rhonda Lee Brown), malign nerdy ticket taker Shane (Steven J. Burge) and endure beaten-down owner Mr. Vincent (Paul Page).

As the characters sort out their lives, gutsy performances all around complement Hartwell’s gritty straight talk, helmer Jim Hunt’s fluid staging and Biz Schaugaard’s authentic set.

Mueller gives an aching perf as the live-wire, sexually conflicted Jack, just discovering the root of his attraction to Nathan, who, in Make’s well-focused portrait, never suspects his friend’s true feelings.

Romero shares Laurel’s big heart and delicate dreams, winning over the aud with her charm. Burge’s quirky Shane draws consistent laughs as a shameless and finally penitent clown. Brown’s no-nonsense nympho, Wendy, completely disarms. Page discovers all the wrinkles in foundering Mr. Vincent, looking for a lifeline in his flask and in Wendy’s arms.

The story has built-in bigscreen potential for the contempo brat-pack crowd and celluloid aficionados.

Contrived Ending

Buntport Theater, Denver; 77 seats; $18 top

Production: A Conundrum Prods. presentation of a play in two acts by Josh Hartwell. Directed by Jim Hunt.

Creative: Set, Biz Schaugaard; costumes, Alice Minaga; lighting, Nicholas Kargel; sound, Gov Landrum; production stage manager, Schaugaard. Opened, reviewed Feb. 15, 2008. Running time: 1 HOUR, 55 MIN.

Cast: Nathan - Jeremy Make Jack - Matt Mueller Laurel - Jamie Ann Romero Shane - Steven J. Burge Wendy - Rhonda Lee Brown Mr. Vincent - Paul Page

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