A modern take on classic theater | VailDaily.com

A modern take on classic theater

Eric Nettles
Special to the DailyJames Knight and Stephanie Cozart share a moment in the Denver Theatre Company production of The Ladies of the Camellias by Lillian Groag. The theatrical comedy runs through April 22.

DENVER – Years of tradition tell us that the best Theatre asks questions rather than answers them. Including the Denver Center Theatre Company’s production of “Ladies of the Camellias” in that category may require bending the rules a bit, but it is worth the departure.Absolutely satisfying in every aspect as a riotous comedy, “Ladies,” in an almost Shakespearean fashion (perhaps even further, considering we’re watching the play within the play – within the play) layers humor for every audience throughout the evening. While the theater seems filled with constant laughter, the play slips in some very important questions and even takes the great risk of offering a few answers as mysterious as they may be. Set in Paris in 1897, we witness a battle royal between the era’s greatest acting divas, Sarah Bernhardt (played by Beverly Leach) and Eleonora Duse (Monique Fowler). The leading ladies’ performances are exceptional demonstrations of how funny modern realism can actually be. The supporting cast, calling on the best traditions of classical European theater, includes a flowering yet rough and tumble ingénue, a lover and leading man for each leading lady, a playwright, a stage manager, and a woefully ill-equipped Russian anarchist who tries to interrupt the titanic battle of egos armed only with pistol and bomb.

While modern in philosophy, “Ladies of the Camellias” is built squarely upon the shoulders of theatrical tradition. The play calls boldly and lovingly upon the masters. Quotes from Shakespeare and Dumas import the weight of long-lived cultures to the relatively new questions in the play. An astonishingly complete lesson in theater history – from antiquity right up to Paris 1897 and hidden neatly and nearly invisibly in act one – reminds us that while the structure may have come from Italian Renaissance Commedia, we’re watching the work of a 21st-century playwright. Amid the classical questions of art, politics and life, we find a modern and apropos discussion in the vein of Bentley and Ionesco, “What is Theatre?” “Is it still important?” and “Why do we do it?” With such rich tradition behind and within, “Ladies of the Camellias” may finally offer a few answers.

Written by Lillian Groag and directed by Casey Stangl, Ladies of the Camellias is staged in the round (with seats surrounding the entire stage). The play is one of four in the Denver Center’s Women’s Voices series and runs through April 22.If you go

“Ladies of the Camellias” by Lillian Groag at the Denver Center’s Space Theatre, 14th & Curtis, DenverNow through April 22Tickets: $40-$45

Info and ticket sales: 800-641-1222 or online at denvercenter.orgVail, Colorado

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