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Free Radicals
Original work by UCCS pays tribute to German artistic movement

Primary colors. Geometric lines and shapes. Abstract compositions. Bold typeface. Marriage of man and machine. What do they all have in common? They're all defining characteristics of the Bauhaus. Anything we call "modern" may somehow trace its roots back to this German school of art and design from the 1920s.

Like a forest regenerating after a brush fire, post-WWI Germany fostered fresh beginnings for new radical movements. The Bauhaus was opening the minds of its students to new ways of thinking, new ways of creating, new ways of seeing. But at the same time, other radical groups were taking hold, one of which was the Nazi Party.

They say some of the best works of art are those in which form marries content. Imagine a completely original play attempting to resurrect the artistic spirit of the Bauhaus, where students from a variety of disciplines come together to produce something totally fresh. That's exactly what the students from the visual and performing arts departments at UCCS have done to create The Bauhaus Follies.

The play is a very brave and ambitious attempt to do what Artistic Director Murray Ross thought at first was an impossible project. Imagine the difficulty of creating a play about such a fervent and revolutionary artistic movement that produced no theater or plays of its own. It must have been a very intimidating task.

"At least 80 percent of it is based on archival material," says Ross, who poured over photographs, letters, diaries, transcripts and memoirs left behind by the Bauhaus artists and students to create the text. The play is less a story and more a "kaleidoscope" of the Bauhaus art world. It's a series of small vignettes of the Bauhaus students revealing their scholastic and personal experiences, interlaced with bizarre, abstract performance art pieces. Slowly, first through parody, the sobering reality of the Nazi takeover is represented as well.

One of the most interesting skits is when the students are gossiping about their famous professors: Johannes Itten, Wassily Kandinsky and Walter Gropius (just to name a few) and what these eccentric and revolutionary masters of art and form force them to question through their art lessons. Some of these lessons may seem like kindergarten or superficial play, but maybe the master wanted his students to "become whole like children, so that they could open up a new channel for civilization."

These skits are punctuated by short, nonsensical performance art pieces. Three figures representing the three primary colors walk in tandem to staccato beats. A ballerina clad in black with a spiraled wire tutu dances below a black light. One of the most engaging scenes is a man performing "The Pole Dance," which seemed like an eerie dance interpretation of Kandinsky's famous "Nude Descending the Staircase" painting.

Underneath this lighthearted play lies a very strong, serious vein that is represented to us most potently through the character Schultze-Naumburg, director of the Weimar State College, played by Tom Paradise. Paradise's accent, volume and strong, stocky frame all add up to provide a very intimidating Nazi-German incarnation. At first he is like a jokester who mocks the students, but soon he like a fist extending from the Nazi strong-arm tries to strangle the Bauhaus' liberal school spirit.

Although The Bauhaus Follies is impressive in its originality and the creative ingenuity and hard work of the students is evident, there is still room for this production to grow and evolve. The 75-minute production could be reworked into something longer, perhaps so that the Form Masters could be introduced as characters rather than people who are just talked to. It will be exciting to see the future evolution of this original local play, but don't miss your chance to say you saw it first.


Dare to Go Bare
The Woodland Players revive an American comedy classic

Six flights of stairs. A hole in the roof. No bathtub, and a bedroom barely big enough for a bed. Not to mention the neighbors, who are all crazy. But maybe none is as crazy as the seemingly picture-perfect newlyweds who have just moved into their first apartment on East 48th Street in New York City.

There are several reasons to go to the Woodland Players production of Neil Simon's comedy classic Barefoot in the Park: to take in the beautiful drive, to support local theater or to see some unexpected dramatic chemistry among a tightly knit cast.

Corey Bratter is the first one to enter their new apartment. With trash and papers strewn about, she walks into the empty room beaming in anticipation, eager to settle in and make the place her own. The young wife puts flowers into a pitcher to brighten up the space. Everyone else who enters after her is gasping from the climb, unimpressed and maybe even a little disappointed. But Corey's energy abounds, her naivete purrs like a kitten, and when her young lawyer husband arrives, she is smitten.

Enter Paul Bratter, who collapses into the room, briefcases and all, so consumed by the ghastly climb he fails to share in his wife's excitement. He needs to work. She wants to play. Not even a glance at prancing about in her black negligee is enough to tear his gaze from the inner maze of his briefcase paperwork.

Soon Corey's mother comes for a visit. It is then we are introduced to the eccentric and adventurous Casanova, Victor Velasco, who lives in the attic upstairs. What ensues is a hare-brained fiasco to hook up the stiff-backed, somewhat "uninteresting" mother hen with the "Count of Monte Cristo" Velasco.

The energy of the young, new actress, Natalie Palan, boiled over throughout the play. It's not easy to play an absent-minded, spunky and twitter-pated newlywed wife, and to do so with such theatrical intelligence and bravado. But Palan pulls it off and gives co-star Mark Hennessy a run for his money.

At first, watching their perfect love affair, sappy kisses and sweet teases is enough to make one blush (if not hurl). But when Act II comes around and the lovers find themselves in the midst of a no-holds-barred catfight, sparks really begin to fly. The two lead actors really begin to shine, glow, even radiate with passion, at the hint of a good fight. Ah, watching as those daggers fly. She claims he's a watcher and she's a doer. Oh, yeah? Well, maybe she has the maturity of a pre-schooler. Oh, yeah? Well maybe he's nothing more than a stuffed shirt. Oh, yeah? Well maybe they don't even have anything in common! She erupts into fits of hysterics, which are, in and of themselves, hilarious to watch. He gets more serious, and the result is nothing less than some really great comedic chemistry.

Hennessy is impressive in his physical prowess. Wow, when he whips out that briefcase with a flick of his wrist, lets it drop in freefall, then deftly catches it before it slaps to his knees even I was scared. For Act III he develops a miraculously believable stuffy nose, and even yells with it. He plays the role with perfect calm, and enjoyable, sarcastic wit.

Director Kay Atwood has done a fine job of helping the actors take full advantage of the script. The supporting roles by acting veterans Sol Chavez and Mimi McGlashan as Victor Velasco and Corey's mother, respectively, were strong.

Enjoy the drive, help support the building fund for The Dickson Performing Arts Center in Woodland Park and laugh at the fireworks.

  • Reviews of The Bauhaus Follies at UCCS and The Woodland Players Barefoot in the Park

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