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A recent CU study shows that good gut bacteria can have a positive effect on the brain

Gut Check

By Emily O’Brien

Could your gut impact your brain health? A new study conducted by CU Boulder researchers recently found that beneficial bacteria in your gut, aka gut microbiome, when used as an immunization, can have long-lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, making it more resilient to the physical and mental effects of stress.

The study, which will be replicated in future clinical trials, could eventually lead to new probiotic-based immunizations that would protect against post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety. It could also be used as a new way to treat depression.

The study was a CU Boulder collaboration between distinguished professor Steven Maier, senior research associate Matt Frank in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and associate professor Christopher A. Lowry, and orchestrated in the Department of Integrative Physiology laboratory.

Probiotics may have the potential to ward off mood disorders.

 

In short, the findings show that mice inoculated with a particular strain of soil-derived microbe showed signs of reduced stress among other positive benefits. Lowry explained that numerous studies have suggested there is a connection between the gut microbiome and mental health. This could mean that your gut health can be tied to your mood. And eventually, probiotics may have the potential to ward off mood disorders.

“Although we are still trying to understand how the gut microbiome impacts mental health, one likely mechanism is through interactions between the gut microbiome and our immune system,” Lowry said.

Your gut health can have a positive or negative impact on your immune system, depending on what strains of bacteria are present. The negative effect can create exaggerated inflammation, which puts you at risk for developing stress-related psychiatric disorders like PTSD, anxiety disorders and depression.

This new work suggests that, this specific strain of bacteria, and probiotics with similar immune effects could be used to reduce the risk of developing these types of disorders. Although recent studies involved injecting the strain, trials are also on the horizon to see if swallowing them will have the same outcome.

This is also exciting because of the effects on the peripheral immune system. “For example, this strain can prevent allergic airway inflammation and control the balance between inflammatory and anti-inflammatory responses,” Lowry said.

There’s still work to do, but it’s possible that other strains of beneficial bacteria or probiotics may have similar effects on the brain. If true, then specific strains of probiotics could be used to help keep things in balance.

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Theater Review: Xanadu

by Beki Pineda
XANADU – Book by Douglas Carter Beane; Music and Lyrics by Jeff Lynn and John Farrar; Directed by Joel Ferrell. Produced by Denver Center for the Performing Arts Cabaret (presented at the Garner Galleria Theatre, 14th and Curtis, Denver) through April 28, 2019. Tickets available at 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.
Checking quickly through the dictionary for a definition of “cheesy,” I came across XANADU. Soooo silly – soooo cheesy – soooo cute, it’s like a Twinkie – so bad, it’s good. If you attend the Garner Galleria production, try to get the seats on Stage Right in front of the stage. Those six or eight seats are reserved for unpaid extras. This production has pared the normal cast of ten down to five by recruiting audience members for assistance in innocent and cute business.
And, yes, the rumors are true. They have created a miniature skating rink in the theatre involving ramps from both sides of the stage down to the house floor and adding a hardened surface to the space between the “orchestra” and the “mezzanine” sections of the theatre so that the actors can make a circle around the front half of the audience. When they warn in the preshow announcement to keep your arms and legs out of the aisle, they mean business.
The question remains – exactly WHY would anyone think there was a reason to resurrect this old script and update it to the 1980’s roller disco setting? This train started out as a play – HEAVEN CAN WAIT (with no roller skates) – which was adapted into a movie – HERE COMES MR. JORDAN – in 1941. This inspired another movie – DOWN TO EARTH – and another revival of HEAVEN CAN WAIT which led to the 1980 Olivia Newton-John/Gene Kelly musical movie, XANADU. Universal plot #28 rewritten five times.Like so many of those vehicles that turn into cult favorites, the musical version did not garner much critical acclaim, but became beloved in its later life for the music.
OMG – this was so much fun!! You just have to let go of any serious expectations and go with it . . . just as the talented cast is doing. They are having as much fun doing the show as you have watching it. Skating with abandon, singing sappy love songs, engaging the audience in the fun, snapping their fingers and using their best Broadway belt on the songs . . . who could ask for anything more??
You don’t need to know the story to enjoy it; it’s so lightweight as to be non-existent. Douglas Beane has written some important dramedy’s – but not this day. Jeff Lynn who wrote half the songs is a member of the Electric Light Orchestra while John Farrar wrote the other half of the songs and was Olivia Newton-John’s personal musician creating most of her number one songs for over a decade.
I was lucky enough to see the understudy for the lead role, Leiney Rigg, who was subbing for Lauren Shealy who had been ordered to take a voice rest for several days. It is hard to imagine that anyone could literally throw herself into a role with more gusto that Leiney displayed. What does Mel B say? She was “off the track.” But then everyone else was as well. Marco Robinson plays the chalk artist turned disco manager in shorts and basketball shirt. Sheryl McCallum (her “Evil Woman” will put you away), Sarah Rex, and Aaron Vega as muses and goddesses delight the world. You kind of expect maybe there will be a disco ball . . . . but EIGHT!!!
Bring the teenagers. They won’t believe what they are seeing but will get lost in the music and the silliness of it all. It’s something you can talk about with them at breakfast the next morning, sharing your own disco memories.
A WOW factor of 9!!

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Theater Review: Elf, The Musical

by Beki Pineda

ELF, THE MUSICAL – Book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin; Music by Matthew Sklar; Lyrics by Chad Beguelin; Directed by Gavin Mayer. Produced by the Arvada Center (6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada) through December 23. Tickets available at 720-898-7200 or arvadacenter.org.

Just a brief synopsis for the three people left on Earth who have not seen the original movie of ELF which came out in 2003 and featured Will Ferrell as an orphan who, as a baby, crawled into Santa’s big red sack (shameless plug!!) and was accidentally taken back to the North Pole and raised as an elf, despite his size. It soon became apparent because of his height and his inability to speed through toy production that he was different from the other elves. He learns that he is a human love child of a children’s book publisher in New York who doesn’t know he exists. Buddy goes to New York to find his birth father and discovers that his elf-like behavior and attitude are a little much for the hardened New Yorkers to handle. He experiences the expected rejections of some, the unexpected acceptance of others, and the changes of attitude that his unrelenting optimism and positivity inspires in others. A crisis develops which, of course, Buddy defuses and they all lived happily ever after. In a nutshell.

Several things made me happy with this production of ELF. The opening number with the ensemble dressed as elves and dancing on their knees to emphasize their smallness to Buddy’s tallness was cleverly choreographed by Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck, Arvada’s resident choreographer. Kitty’s clever moves, patterns and rhythms have graced the Arvada stage for – dare I say? – decades and have never disappointed. She makes each dancer look accomplished no matter their experience or skill. When the number calls for it, she comes up with entirely new steps and business, as she did for the elves in “Happy All the Time.”

I’m so glad to see that Mark Devine has decided to come back to the stage after a long hiatus during which he was teaching. He appeared in the last Arvada Center musical – MAMA MIA! – and continues his comeback playing Buddy’s surprised father. Another bright spot was the appearance of Leslie Hiatt playing a disgruntled-with-love sales person at Macy’s Department Store where Buddy gets a job while looking for Santa. Her reticence and pessimistic outlook on life and love were a refreshing break from the unrelenting jolly holiday atmosphere of the show It didn’t hurt that she looked very much like Zooey Deschanel who played the role in the movie.

There are three talented young men – Tyler Fruhwirth who was in NEWSIES at Candlelight in the summer of 2018, Austin Golinski, and Harrison Hauptman who was in NEWSIES at Rocky Mountain Rep in 2017 – who rotate through the three young boy parts each night. The night viewed Harrison took the role of Buddy’s half brother and sang his duets (“I Believe in You” and “There is a Santa Claus”) with his stage Mom (Maria Couch) with confidence and quiet professionalism.

Near the end of the evening, it is discovered that Santa’s sled has crashed in Central Park; it is kept afloat by Christmas Spirit and there just wasn’t enough in New York to keep it running. The cast initiated a Peter Pan-like call for belief by singing a Christmas carol and getting Santa off the ground again. Cute scene and, of course, the tech team at the Arvada Center could make it really fly.

There were also a few things that just kind of missed the mark in this production. I recently read an interview in which Lin-Manuel Miranda talked about building HAMILTON and what the production team went through when a scene “just didn’t land. It felt like ELF was having a tough time landing in some cases.

Josh Houghton was brought into town to take on the role of Buddy, the Tommy-Tune-tall singer/dancer Elfin.  For the most part, his energy and the way the role is written carried the day. But other times, it just seemed frenetic and overdone. At times, it seemed he and others in the cast were trying a little too hard to be funny and letting their timing slip, rather than just letting the comedy evolve out of the situation. Knowing that it’s easier to sit in the audience than it is to be up on stage doing your best, I applaud the valiant effort everyone made to bring the script to life.

It’s a kid-friendly show and the night I viewed, there was definitely a larger percentage than usual of young theatre-goers present.

A WOW factor of 8!!

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Theater Review: Under The Lintel

by Beki Pineda

UNDER THE LINTEL – Written by Glen Berger; Directed by Amy Kaplan. Produced by Treeline Theater (presented at the Dairy Center, 2590 Walnut) through December 9. Tickets available at 303-440-7826 or thedairy.org.

We enter a messy room, as unlike a neat and ordered library as is possible. Paper litters the floor; stacked on two tables are random papers, shoes, detritus of confusion. A man sweeps the floor giving himself room to stand, muttering to himself and the audience as he goes. He turns and begins his tale after warning those in the room that he does not want to be interrupted by things that ring and shine. He even waits patiently while one audience member gets help in turning off a phone. A Dutch librarian ( he is never given a name) who has been forced to “retire” sans pension and against his will, he begins the story of a book returned to his library through the slot 113 years overdue.

The well worn Baedeker’s Travel Guide provides one or two clues as to its personal travels. Determined to trace the book’s journey, he uses the few clues he has – that it was checked out by someone only identified as A. and a laundry ticket for a pair of trousers left to be cleaned in London – he begins his own journey of discovery. He ties the book holder’s path to the “myth” of the Wandering Jew. A Jewish shop keeper stood under the lintel of his doorway on the day Jesus was led through the streets toward his Crucifixion and, because of fear and self-interest (as thousands of people do every day), refused to give his fellow man comfort or assistance. Jesus warned that the man would be condemned to wander until He returned (the Second Coming). Since that hasn’t happened yet, presumably the fearful shop keeper is still wandering.

Following carefully documented “evidences” or clues that he pulls out of a beat up suitcase, the Librarian follows in the footsteps of the errant library patron around the world to London – China – New York – Australia – and finally back to Holland. By following the Wandering Jew, he becomes a Wandering Christian. His determination, once started, is inevitable. As we join him on his telling of the journey, our own questions begin. What happens next? What does this clue mean? Where will he take us in the next ten minutes? As in life, the end of the journey is incidental in importance to the taking of the journey in the first place.

The one man one act extended (70 minutes) show is a daunting task.  Steve Grad, an experienced actor and director, proved up to the task.  His fumbling bumbling style of delivery made the evening seem extempore as if it were a tale he had told a few times to old friends and was now telling us in the greatest confidence.  He picked up random factoids along the way and was only too happy to share them with this new group of old friends.

He illustrated the tale with slides depicting places he had been in his search.  However, there were objects on the floors, tables, and walls that were not used to explain any part of the story.  I can understand the symbolism of shoes and suitcases in the tale of a journey, but in a play of this nature, I rather expected everything on stage to be there for a purpose.  But a minor point compared to the monumental achievement of Mr. Grad keeping us engaged in his story for 70 minutes on his own.  Bravo!

Only one more weekend but worth a jaunt to the Dairy Center to see this one.

A WOW factor of 8!!

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Theater Review: A Christmas Carol

by Beki Pineda

A CHRISTMAS CAROL – Adapted by Josh Hartwell; Directed by Len Matheo. Produced by Miners Alley Playhouse (1224 Washington, Golden) through December 23. Tickets available at 303-934-3044 or minersalley.com.

Josh Hartwell, local playwright and actor, adapted this script from the classic last year for Miners Alley. It proved so successful that they brought it back for a second outing this holiday season. It’s easy to see why it was so successful. It is a gentle authentic telling of the familiar story. A group of theatre friends have gathered at a mountain cabin-like home of one of them (I truly hope one of them is lucky enough to have a home so warm and welcoming) for a traditional evening of reading Christmas tales. They have just finished with Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” and have decided to continue the evening with a rendition of the Dickens tale. As actors, they have all performed in various productions in various parts throughout the years; they also have in their midst the quintessential Scrooge in Jim Hunt.

So they start putting together costumes from various trunks, pulling props out of other rooms and arguing over who is going to play whom. And off we go. The remainder of the cast – Lisa DeCaro, Meredith Young, and Jason Maxwell as well as the playwright Josh and Scrooge himself, Jim Hunt – are joined by Ella Matheo, who just happens to be the director Len Matheo’s child with wife Lisa DeCaro. So, you see, this is a real family gathering. And what a career this young actress is going to have with the looks and talent in the genes she inherited. She’s a natural!

The play progresses with only occasional interruptions as a minor disagreement will break out about how something should be done in the old way or differently. Costumes and quick changes happen easily. The ghosts arrive to impart their lessons, Scrooge learns how he has erred in his life, Tiny Tim blesses us all and the Christmas goose is delivered. For the most part, it is a straight-forward telling of the tale. They do pull off little tricks of theatre magic in making the ghosts appear and move in mysterious ways with a coat rack adding to the fun. An all around sweet and unassuming production that has a perfect ending. It celebrates what you could do with your own Christmas Eve with a little imagination. If you want a breakaway CHRISTMAS CAROL that doesn’t stray too far from the norm by a cast that is familiar and loving, this is your cuppa tea.

A WOW factor of 8.5!!

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Theater Review: Twist Your Dickens

By Beki Pineda

TWIST YOUR DICKENS – Written by Peter Swinn and Bobby Mort; Directed by Matthew R. Wilson. Produced by The Aurora Fox Arts Center (9900 East Colfax, Aurora) through December 23. Tickets available at 303-739-1970 or aurorafoxartscenter.org.

If you are expecting the traditional Ye Olde Morality Play with a few jokes thrown in, you ain’t gonna get it here. This production – born in the minds of two Second City alumni and former Colbert Report writers – gives free rein to the creative minds of each new cast. While providing a framework of comedy sketches with some (however loose) connection to the classic Dickens, it also invites the lampooning of every other holiday tradition, both old and new. We get parodies of the Three Kings conversation as they journey toward the star; we get a song that celebrates orphans through the years up to and including Little Orphan Annie in her Broadway configuration; we get a slow motion version of Black Friday shoppers fighting over big screen TV’s – and that’s just the beginning.

What adds to the humor of the evening is its unexpected quality. We’ve all grown so complacent with the familiar script that to hear a scene start with the usual words and then explode into something entirely different is much more comedic. Jacob Marley, for instance, makes his dramatic entrance and starts his diatribe about living the good life. Then he calmly starts pulling his (paper) chain apart and reading off some of the audience remarks (written in the lobby as you arrive) about the naughtiest things they’ve done in their lives.  When they actually try to bring out the true Christmas Carol story, it is enhanced by a drunk woozy Ghost of Christmas Present. When the audience is invited to describe Belle’s new suitor after she breaks up with a young Scrooge, it is suggested that his hobby is underwater basket weaving. Which leads to the studly appearance of an actor clad in oversized flippers carrying a huge basket.

This talented cast of players (which includes Jessica Austgen, Sean Michael Cummings, Ilasiea Gray, Seth Palmer Harris, Sara Milbrath, and Charlie Schmidt) embrace the goofiness of the Second City script and bring some of their own into the proceedings. Eric Sandoval plays the principal character of Scrooge, to whom most of this is happening while the rest of the cast riffs on the skits. His bewilderment and surprise is crucial to the comedy. But he does get in his own kicks.  When asked by Bob Cratchit for the day off because of it being Christmas Day, he retorts, “I don’t care if it’s Jesus’ birthday!” Seth Palmer Harris starts as a disgruntled audience member who objects to all the anachronisms in the early part of the show, but quickly gets drawn into the madcap happenings on stage.

The second act lampoons everything from the “real” ending of “A Charley Brown Christmas” to “A Wonderful Life” to Rudolph. Putting aside the life lessons of Dickens’ tale in exchange for modern humor, this essentially G-rated comic version plays it for laughs and succeeds. As a break from the more traditional offerings of stage and church groups, take an evening for laughs at the Aurora Fox.

A WOW factor of 8.5!

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Theater Review: A Christmas Story

by Beki Pineda

A CHRISTMAS STORY – Book by Joseph Robinetti; Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul; Directed by Scott Beyette. Produced by BDT Stage (5501 Arapahoe) through January 5. Tickets available at 303-449-6000 or bdtstage.com.

Four stories (“A Duel in the Snow”, “The Counterfeit Secret Circle Member Gets the Message”, “My Old Man and the Lascivious Special Award That Heralded the Birth of Pop Art”, and “Grover Dill and the Tasmanian Devil) from his collection of radio scripts translated into a novel (“In God We Trust; All Others Pay Cash”) written by radio commentator Jean Shepard were turned into a stand alone novel in 1966. Shepard was the Garrison Keillor of his time, turning his childhood reminiscences into amusing nostalgic stories. The fictional town of Hohman, Indiana was Shepard’s Lake Wobegon. The novel prompted Shepard’s wife, Leigh Brown, and friend Bob Clark to collaborate on a screenplay which was released as A CHRISTMAS STORY in 1983. This in turn was turned into a musical premiering in 2009, retooled by Pasek and Paul (of DEAR EVAN HANSEN and GREATEST SHOWMAN fame), finally making it to Broadway in 2012. It has been a staple of the holiday genre of plays ever since. As a side note, Peter Billingsley who was the original Ralphie in the movie version was one of the producers of the Broadway version 29 years later.

Nothing significant has changed between the movie and the play except the addition of music that enhances the comedy and nostalgia of the show. Local favorite Wayne Kennedy plays Shepard himself who serves as the Narrator of the story looking back from the present at this significant Christmas. He and his younger self Ralphie (performed by Ned Swartz on the night reviewed) sing of his desire for the infamous Red Ryder Carbine Action 200 shot Range Model BB gun with a compass in the stock which would allow him to become a “hero” in case his younger brother got kidnapped or his teacher got assaulted by a tiger. Scott Beyette plays the harried Old Man of the family who tries hard to maintain control of his and his family’s life – not always with complete success. His passion for entering contests results in the winning of “A Major Award” which turns out to be the gaudy, slightly bawdy leg lamp of fame. Mother (Joannie Brosseau-Rubald) is much more understanding of Ralphie and his annoying little brother Randy. Even the infamous tongue on a flagpole scene is enacted. Alicia Meyers plays Mrs. Shields, the kid’s teacher who turns into a gun moll right in front of your eyes and warns, “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out.”

BDT has rounded up an amazing collection of talented Boulder area young actors for this show. Their gifts at choreography and song keep pace with the adult actors beside them. They come to life in “When You’re a Wimp” and “Up on Santa’s Lap.”

The show calls for a complicated set design that includes the Parker home, a car, the school room, Santa’s House at the department store with its iconic slide, and a Chinese restaurant. As always, Amy Campion is up to the task with a smoothly operating set that changes quickly before your eyes. The choreography by McKayla Marso is smart, inventive and allows the kids to look as polished and professional as the more experienced adult dancers. They looked good!

A family show that brings a holiday tradition to life on the stage. A great one to share with the kids – in spite of the Old Man’s (blanked out) curse words that are still hovering somewhere over Lake Michigan.

A WOW factor of 8.5!!

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Wynn Walent stands with Haiti’s residents of Petit Trou de Nippes

Making a Difference in Haiti

By Lisa Truesdale

As part of his mission with the Colorado Haiti Project (CHP), Lafayette resident Wynn Walent works with dozens of doctors, teachers and other volunteers who travel with him a few times a year to Haiti. In a pre-trip training session, he tells people what to expect—they’ll be in a very remote, rural place; the accommodations will be sparse; and mosquito nets will quickly become their most essential accessory.

He also shares what not to expect.

“We aren’t going there to ‘save’ Haiti,” Walent said. “We’re going there to learn, to listen and to have meaningful conversations. Yes, we’re going there to help how we can and share what we know, but it’s with a lot of humility and an eagerness to listen first. We support the local systems, the local vision and the local leaders.”

Wilda Alexandre, shown here in her garden with her two children, is a community health worker, farmer and longtime friend and partner of Colorado Haiti Project in Petit Trou. (photos courtesy Colorado Haiti Project)

For example, when medical professionals visit with him, the group doesn’t operate stand-alone clinics. Rather, they support and assist the existing local clinic and help fund and train community health workers that are part of that locally led system. Similarly, CHP’s agricultural program volunteers arrive with a desire to help, but they also learn about what works in Haiti and its unique challenges.

Walent’s own journey to Haiti happened in a somewhat unexpected way. In late 2009, he was finishing a stint at a boarding school in Peru where he was working in communications and teaching music classes with a different nonprofit organization. About to head back to the U.S. for graduate school, his plans were put on hold by the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010. Walent’s organization asked him to head to Haiti to help with relief efforts there, an assignment that was supposed to last about two months—he ended up staying there for two-and-a-half years.

When Walent left Haiti in 2012 and moved to Colorado to be closer to family, he brought with him a new purpose and a deep love of Haiti and its people.

“I was struck by the beauty of the landscape,” he said, “and I was blown away by the talent, courage and devotion of Haitian parents, and the Haitian people in general. It’s a place of need, yes, but the people are so gracious and welcoming, generous of spirit, creative and hardworking.”

Can’t Travel to Haiti? Here’s How to Help Right at Home

Haitian paintings and other works of art are often on display (and for sale) at a number of venues across Boulder County, including the Rayback Collective, 2775 Valmont Road.
Dec. 2: Rayback hosts “Haiti for the Holidays,” an open house and holiday artisan fair from 4:30-8 p.m.
Jan. 12: Walent, who is also an accomplished musician, presents “A Night of Songs and Stories for Haiti,” 8 p.m. at The Laughing Goat, 1709 Pearl St.
Late April, TBA: CHP presents its annual fundraiser, “Evening for Haiti.”

Check www.coloradohaitiproject.com for updates, which weren’t available at press time.

Walent joined CHP in early 2017 after earning his graduate degree. CHP is a Colorado-based nonprofit founded in 1989 by three Episcopal priests—two Coloradans and one Haitian—that operates a school in Petit Trou. The school currently serves 325 students pre-K to ninth grade with a focus on agriculture and programs in entrepreneurship and girls’ empowerment. The main school building suffered damage from the 2010 earthquake and subsequent storms, and CHP, with local leadership, is working to redesign the campus with long-term progress in mind.

Rica Joassaint, shown here with her daughter Djoumia, is a Petit Trou community leader specifically focused on entrepreneurship and artisan work in the community. (photos courtesy Colorado Haiti Project)

Walent makes six one- or two-week treks to Haiti each year to assist at the school (see “A Message from Wynn Walent” at right), and he says that new visitors are always welcome.
“People here can learn a lot from the people of Haiti,” he said. “There is such strength, such community. When people visit they also see how a relatively small investment can make a big difference when it reaches local hands.”

And, of course, he hopes people come back to Colorado eager to spread the word about what they saw and what they learned.


A Message from Wynn Walent,
Executive Director, Colorado Haiti Project

Wynn Walent (right) with Guilot and Genevieve, two local leaders that the Colorado Haiti Project supports. Guilot is the administrator on campus and Genevieve is a teacher. (photos courtesy Colorado Haiti Project)

“It’s rare to find a story about Haiti that doesn’t follow its official name with its unofficial moniker: ‘The Poorest Country in the Western Hemisphere.’ While it’s true there is enormous need in Haiti, a narrative focusing only on poverty, disaster or dysfunction does a great disservice to the people of Haiti and to anyone seeking to understand our hemisphere. Haiti is an extraordinary nation; birthplace of the first free black republic, a place with a singular and revolutionary history, which despite countless obstacles and seemingly insurmountable challenges, continues to offer witness to the greatest potential of the human spirit.

For the past 30 years, a group of Coloradans has been traveling to one small city in rural Haiti, Petit Trou de Nippes. Why rural Haiti? Across the planet there is a trend towards urbanization—people abandoning rural areas and deeply rooted agricultural traditions for overburdened cities, seeing factories and urban life as the only chance to earn an income. In Haiti, this has occurred with tragic results and dangerous overcrowding.

Petit Trou de Nippes, a five-hour drive from Port-au-Prince, is a small city of 30,000, roughly the size of Lafayette. After 30 years of work in Petit Trou, the Colorado Haiti Project has developed long-term relationships that allow for deep and direct impact. We invest in education, farming, girls’ empowerment, community health, jobs creation and more, all through local leadership. Our partners have shown that with support and investment, their small city can be an example of what’s possible in Haiti. Local leaders are striving to build a community with strong local food systems and community health programs, a place where there is schooling for children and job opportunities for parents.
We are privileged to know the people of Petit Trou, and we are honored to stand with them.”

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Rachel Cheetham connects space entrepreneurs with military stakeholders

Talking Space

By Amanda Miller

Poised on Flagstaff Mountain’s rock rim at Sunrise Amphitheater in Boulder—where she got engaged—Rachel Cheetham reflects on her 20s. She overlooks her alma mater below and the Louisville tech park beyond, where she launched her career.

As former chief of staff for Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) space industry operations in Louisville, a lot of her job amounted to talking to people—at events, in meetings—building confidence within the global space industry that the comparatively small company could carry off a big NASA contract.

Looking out across the plains and all along the Front Range, she thinks about how she’ll put those skills and that network to work in the interest of national security.

Now a regional director for the U.S. government’s new Department of Defense technology accelerator office—MD5—she’s uniting tech-strapped military units with problem solvers in the industry.

Dream Chaser Spacecraft (photo courtesy SNC)

Space Base

Her introduction to space came in an unlikely place, New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. As an intern with the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium, she organized VIP speakers for an annual symposium and knew she had landed in a good spot.
“Little did I know I was getting myself into the rest of my life,” Cheetham recalled.

The undergrad majoring in international business also interned for the International Astronautical Federation, but after college—without a technical degree—she wasn’t interested in continuing with the space industry and decided to take whatever job she could get.

Yet a connection in Colorado—a symposium VIP and then-head of SNC’s space division—came through with an offer: Start out as executive assistant and help spread the word about the Dream Chaser spacecraft, a successor to the space shuttle.

“I literally talked to anyone who would listen and many people who wouldn’t,” she said.

After a series of contract wins and defeats, the team brought home a historic deal—a six-mission deal to fly an autonomous Dream Chaser, carrying only cargo, to the International Space Station and back. The first is scheduled to launch atop a rocket in 2020.

New Trajectory

Cheetham’s parents were entrepreneurs who started a commercial bakery in Albuquerque, N.M. She married a Boulder space-industry entrepreneur. While she didn’t choose the entrepreneurial path, it seems as though it chose her.

For MD5, that means bringing together high-tech entrepreneurs in her region—Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas and Utah—with military stakeholders at events. Her first was a pitch competition, a packed room where uniformed troops, Department of Defense civilians, and members of the venture community squeezed in to hear pitches from startups with products or plans ranging from big-data analysis to nuclear-powered space tugs.

“We’re building everything from the ground up, pivoting, finding things that do work and trying to scale,” she said. Just like any good entrepreneur.

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Boulder Makerspaces: hotbeds for invention let locals crank out ideas for fun and profit

Making the Most of Makerspaces

By Kerry Parry

If your creative spirit is whispering in your ear to make something, whether it be from ceramics, textiles, wood, metal, glass or thin air, chances are there is a makerspace that can help you. Makerspaces (also called hackerspaces) are popping up all over Colorado. They are, by definition, a space available to the community where people can get together, learn, collaborate and make stuff.

TinkerMill has a woodshop complete with large-scale woodworking equipment. (photo by Leah Winkler)

These spaces not only provide an area to work but also tools, expertise and inspiration. Libraries are a valuable community resource embracing the makerspace trend. Boulder Public Library has an exceptional makerspace called BLDG 61—the name stands for Build. Learn. Design. Grow. It recently won an Infy Maker Award and garnered a grant from Infosys Foundation USA to expand underserved high school students through internship and scholarship programs.

Tools of the Trade

BLDG 61 is a vast area with workspace and access to power tools that may not be in everyone’s garage, such as a laser cutter, computer numeric control (CNC) machines, planers, sanders, saws and hand tools as well as a 3-D printer. If power tools aren’t what you need, there are heavy-duty sewing machines, sergers, looms, an embroidery machine, soldering iron, pottery wheel, airbrush and more.

Unless you are a regular maker and familiar with this wide variety of machines, the list can seem overwhelming. Luckily, there are regular classes designed not only to instruct, especially when it comes to power tools and their use, but also to inspire. Three creative technologists on staff are available to aid users. They also teach regular classes to certify people in equipment use and safety, as well as courses to provide step-by-step instructions for making a particular creation.

Aspen Walker, community engagement & enrichment manager for the City of Boulder Library and Arts, said, “We get a range of people who just want to dip their toe in with step-by-step instruction, as well as folks who can make full-scale furniture and art pieces. We’ve had at least 10 patents filed and over 70 businesses started out of the creations people make at BLDG 61.”

Making Around the County

Lafayette Library has a mini-makerspace, Studio 775. While it has limited hours and lacks the vast array of tools at the Boulder library, it’s a handy place to take advantage of access to devices like a Cricut electronic cutter, a CNC router, a 3-D printer and basic robotics tools.

A group of young girls building with laser-cut wood shapes at BLDG 61. (photo courtesy Boulder Public Library)

The Louisville library doesn’t have a unique name for its makerspace, but they have several items which can inspire creativity and aid in creations, including a 3-D printer and kid-friendly tools to learn basic programming and coding. They also have tools for crafting, like a Cricut and sewing machine, and camera equipment, too, some of which you can borrow, including GoPros.

“The library’s mission is to create community access to help people learn, create and connect with culture,” Louisville Technology Librarian Jenni Burke explained. “The makerspace is a perfect way to do that.”

The beauty of accessing the resources at the public library is it’s free. If you want to create something on your own time without the limitations of a library, there are several makerspaces in the area that can help you do just that.

The largest local makerspace, and one of the larger ones in the country, is TinkerMill in Longmont. It began out of a meetup group during the summer of 2013, when like-minded individuals pooled some money, rented space and started making stuff. It has grown to an area with more than 1,300 square feet and too many tools to list for arts and crafts, jewelry making, robotics, electronics, wood and metal working, computer programing, game development, and more. Basically, if you can dream it, chances are TinkerMill has the tools to help you make it.

Welding a work of art at TinkerMill. (photo by Chelsea Farmer Photography)

In addition to tool access, members say the greatest aspect of this makerspace is collaboration. The wide variety of projects from arts to business to technology aid in the collaborative effect. Ron Thomas, executive director and founding member of TinkerMill, reported they have 651 members and that more than 50 businesses have been launched by its users. It’s a nonprofit, 501(c)3, open to the community through a wide variety of classes, but those who want wider access beyond the classroom pay a monthly fee of $50. Other rates are available for organizations, families and students.

Smaller makerspaces are available throughout Boulder County that focus on specific creations. Maker General, for example, emphasizes work with textiles and fibers. They offer several classes monthly and sell handmade creations and supplies. Madelife is a makerspace focusing on education for music, audio production, video and photography.

They offer regular courses, which include access to a variety of electronic audio and video equipment. They also have a gallery displaying works from local artists. Solid State Depot of Boulder and Gizmo Dojo of Broomfield, both nonprofit member-based spaces, offer a variety of tools and friendly people for any beginner or experienced maker.

Regardless of your need or even if you don’t yet know your needs, a makerspace can help you create and expand your vision. Cities are embracing these makerspaces, as they offer value to residents and an increased potential for startup companies sprouting in areas with an active makerspace community.

Whether you want to build your own robot or weave a potholder, there is a place nearby that can help get you started.

TinkerMill

www.tinkermill.org
720-204-3090
1840 Delaware Place, Unit A, Longmont, Colo. 80501
Open house and tours Sundays from 2-4 p.m.


BLDG 61

www.bldg61.org
303-441-3100
Boulder Public Library
1001 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, Colo. 80302
See website for hours and information.

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Optometrist Dr. Richard Cross has a vision for Jamaica

High demand for care and a commitment to his maternal heritage drives this optometrist toward a lofty goal for the island country

By Amanda Miller

The first year optometrist Dr. Richard Cross and a team of three staffed a free eye clinic in Jamaica, they saw 100 patients a day, while 100 more had to go home without care. The volunteers went back later, meaning to treat only those they had turned away, but the same thing happened.

Dr. Richard Cross examines a patient at a free eye clinic in Jamaica. (photo courtesy Dr. Richard Cross)

That first trip was in 1996. Cross cofounded the nonprofit Eye Health Institute in 2000 to continue staffing eye clinics on the island, where, as a child, the Michigan native often spent summers with his grandparents. His mother’s family is from Jamaica.

Today Cross is president of the Boulder-based nonprofit that sends teams to the island a couple times a year—volunteers who pay for their own travel—to perform eye exams, glaucoma screenings, cataract surgeries and to provide medications and glasses at no cost.

A laminated map of the island is tacked up over Cross’ desk at Boulder Vision Associates. He traces the Eye Health Institute’s movements into progressively remote outposts over the years. The organization now coordinates with the country’s health ministry to operate in a mountainous area where the people have no other access to eye care.

The Eye Health Institute has expanded its reach more recently, partnering with optometry and ophthalmology schools to recruit interns and surgical residents from around the U.S. to volunteer. The students get what Cross describes as an intense clinical experience for the one week that they’re there.

He’d like to extend the clinical rotations to six or even 12 weeks. Meanwhile, the organization has also helped design a mobile eye clinic made from a shipping container, and its doctors performed the country’s first corneal transplant in the public health system.

But, as with most small nonprofits, the year-to-year task of funding is still tough. At the same time, a long-term goal isn’t getting much closer.

The Eye Health Institute’s mobile eye clinic was made from a shipping container. (photo courtesy Dr. Richard Cross)

Cross estimates that it would cost only $100,000—land and all—to build a permanent, concrete, climate-controlled clinic powered by solar panels to preserve the delicate medical equipment that’s either bought, donated or transported back and forth each visit.
“Throughout the entire Caribbean, the salt air just destroys the electronics,” Cross said. While the life expectancy of a piece of equipment might be 20 years at an office in the U.S., “down there you’re lucky if you can even get to five on something as simple as a chair that goes up and down.”

In the Eye Health Institute’s one room inside a primitive aid station, Cross says the equipment is on its last leg. Ideally, he would like to see a new six-room building and eventually a local person to come in when volunteers aren’t present to perform periodic tests. He would also like to start using telemedicine to check on distant patients.
“There’s no shortage of patients, and the demand is great,” he said. “The hope is these communities we serve will continue to have optometry and ophthalmology care in the decades to come.”

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Fiddler Bridget Law, formerly with Elephant Revival, is playing a new tune

Beyond Bluegrass

By Kerry Parry

Fans of Bridget Law, a founding member of Elephant Revival, were bummed to see her departure from the band last year. That doesn’t mean they won’t play together, as evidenced by her recent Colorado performance with group members in October.

Law plans to join them, as well as other bands locally, but says she had to bow out of touring after 11 years in order to plant sturdier roots here. When asked how an artist could step off what seemed to be a pretty promising path, Law made it clear she has no intention of stepping away from music—she’s simply evolving.

The evolution of Law’s magical music and movement talent began as early as third grade during her education at The Denver Waldorf School. Teacher Chris Daring took her under her wing and into her family band where she honed skills as a violinist and fiddler, a difference Law explained as merely the style of music and how the instrument is set up.
“I’m a fiddler, really,” Law said. “I grew up as a fiddler, but I was never a virtuosic talent.”

Virtuosic or not, her performances are inspired. She dances with her fiddle, calling it a whole-body connection with her soul. While Elephant Revival could be categorized as bluegrass music, Law is currently performing with her husband’s band, Tierro, which leans more toward rock, and she says she doesn’t focus on just one genre.

In addition to her onstage work, fiddler Bridget Law supports women in art through a variety of means. (photo by Seth Shimkonis)

“I emulate different sounds all the time,” she explained, adding that she and her husband plan to stick close to Colorado to focus on expanding their family.

In addition to her onstage work, Law feeds her creative spirit playing a supporting role in many different artistic endeavors. She headed last year’s production of Sister Winds, an annual festival celebrating women in music, and has also been involved with Arise Music Festival, WinterWonderGrass Festival and Campout for the Cause.

Though she has chosen to leave Sister Winds, Law notes she plans to continue supporting women in art in some capacity.

“I just don’t know how yet,” she said. “Ten years from now I see more and more women playing. Music is a fairly progressive business and receptive to feminine energy.”

As for Law’s own future, besides having a baby and playing with Tierro, she’d like to create an even richer artistic community all around her, through both performance and supporting roles in the arts. Perhaps this means reviving Elephant Revival for five to 10 shows a year, while teaching strings at Waldorf and supporting the circus community of Boulder.

Yes, there is a circus community in Boulder.

After 15 years of ballet, Law had been involved with aerial dance, but had to back off because of injury risk. She still supports the community, including aerial dance group Frequent Flyers and circus performance troop Fractal Tribe. Law’s attraction to this art form likely echoes the sentiment audiences take away from seeing her live performances.
“I just love it when humans do badass stuff with their bodies,” she said.

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Empowered young fashion designers make rubbish ravishing

Trashy to Trendy

By Sara Bruskin | photos by Dylan Crossley Photo

Have you ever dug through your garbage can for something to wear? Probably not, but that is the challenge for participants in Common Threads’ Trash the Runway workshop, in which 32 middle and high school students design and create haute couture from found items that are difficult or impossible to recycle—in other words, trash. The workshop, formerly known as Recycled Runway, culminates in a huge runway show with designers wearing their creations for a packed theater, and a panel of judges selects winners.

Presley Church made this award-winning outfit out of plastic shipping bags, Ziplocs and bubble wrap.

Libby Alexander, founder and owner of Common Threads boutique consignment shops, has been hosting these workshops in her Boulder store for the past nine years. As a business owner, she says there is a limited connection with the community, and this program helps build a stronger bond than just selling things.

“It’s been fun to see it grow,” said Alexander. “We work with such amazing people to bring this together.”

Tanja Leonard and Rachel Lubanowski mentor the participants during eight weekly workshop sessions in preparation for the show, helping them source their materials and advising them on garment construction. Leonard said the program began with a focus on recycled or recyclable materials, such as paper and newspaper, but has moved away from those in favor of hard-to-recycle items—like CDs and bike tire tubes—to keep them out of landfills.

Sydney Canova, middle school runner-up in 2017, made her outfit from used dryer sheets colored red with leftover paint from Boulder’s Household Hazardous Waste Center. Three-time participant Olivia Beresford scored the 2018 runner-up prize in the high school division with a garment made from Boulder Chip bags, Chocolove gold foil wrappers and shredded paper from The Bar Method.

“I wanted to use these materials as a kind of ode to Boulder and the unique products that are locally made,” she said.

Local Collaboration

The community program has amassed an eclectic list of volunteers, including Boulder restaurateur Danette Stuckey. A former model, she coaches participants on their stage presence, how to walk a runway, pose and show off their individual garments with confidence. Event coordinator Ricki Booker donates her services, while Rosalind Wiseman—local author of “Queen Bees & Wannabes,” the book on which Tina Fey’s movie “Mean Girls” was based—emcees the annual runway event.

Olivia Beresford wears a top and shorts made out of Chocolove gold foil wrappers and a jacket of Boulder Chip bags and shredded paper.

Stylists from Twig Salon ready the contestants’ hair for the runway, local artists judge the competition and many winners’ prizes are donated by area businesses. Students from a technology class at Lafayette’s Peak to Peak Charter School even designed the audience voting software spectators use to select their favorite outfits.

Presley Church, grand prize winner in the 2018 high school category with an ensemble made from hard-to-recycle plastics like Ziploc bags and bubble wrap, appreciates that this program brings the community together to support teen artists.

“I’m blown away every year!” she said.

Her sister Margo Church won the high school design category and audience choice award with a bold black gown.

“I used a trampoline mat because it seemed like a fun challenge,” she said. “I wanted to make my dress as big and cool as I could, and the trampoline mat is really stiff.”

Skills and Sass

While some participants dream of a future in design, most aren’t striving to become the next Vera Wang. Leonard says the program is less about setting students up for a design career and more about expressing themselves in an outlet other than traditional sports and academics.

Margo Church in her trampoline gown and a necklace she fashioned from a sink faucet hose.

“They learn about themselves and develop problem-solving skills and grit,” she added.
For most, strutting down a runway in front of hundreds of people is a new experience, and Alexander says most are nervous at first but have sass and style when they hit the stage.

“The large crowd is definitely intimidating,” confirmed Beresford. “But once you’re out on the runway, the roar of the crowd always seems to empower me.”

The upcoming runway show in March 2019 will mark the 10-year anniversary, and, as usual, all proceeds will be donated to a local charity.

“Every year I think they’ll never be able to top last year’s garments, but they always do,” said Alexander. “These kids are amazing.”

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Longmont Mayor Brian Bagley builds relationships with Arapaho tribe

Extending a Hand of Friendship

When gold and coal miners began moving into Boulder County in the mid-1800s, the area’s original residents moved out—but not by choice. The 12,000-strong Arapaho tribe was eventually forced from their ancestral lands and ended up splitting in two, now living on reservations in Wyoming (Northern Arapaho) and Oklahoma (Southern Arapaho).

After watching a documentary about the struggles the Northern Arapaho are currently facing, such as alcoholism, drug addiction and high suicide and mortality rates, attorney and City of Longmont Mayor Brian Bagley decided he wanted to help. He was aware of similar outreach efforts already taking place throughout Boulder County—like Right Relationship Boulder, a group working to promote and practice right relationships with Native peoples—but he wanted to know specifically what he could do, both as a private citizen and as an official Longmont representative. So, in early 2018, he reached out to tribal leadership.

“I extended a hand of friendship to Steve Fast Horse [a tribal councilman],” Bagley said, adding that Fast Horse was just as excited to open a dialogue as Bagley was.

The wonderful people I’ve gotten to know have truly become my brothers and sisters.
We’ve developed more than just relationships—we’ve made real friendships.

–Brian Bagley
Attorney and City of Longmont mayor

By October, Bagley had visited the Wind River Reservation near Riverton, Wyo., three times. Northern Arapaho elders and tribal representatives, including Fast Horse, had visited Longmont at least a dozen times. On Sept. 21, Crawford White Eagle, one of the tribe’s ceremonial leaders, gave the opening blessing at Longmont’s annual Inclusive Communities Celebration.

Bagley and several Longmont city officials visited Wind River in August to discuss the possibility of establishing a sister-city program between the Northern Arapaho and Longmont. If such a program is formalized, it would allow young people from both places to participate in yearly exchange programs.

Bagley, however, stresses that the rest of his visits and their associated expenses have been as a private-citizen and not all of the talks have centered around the sister-city idea. For example, he is using his legal expertise to help tribal leaders negotiate the purchase of some land on the eastern edge of Longmont.

“They miss their homeland, and they might eventually want to build some sort of living cultural center or museum where they can showcase their history and preserve important artifacts,” Bagley explained. “For now, I think they’d just be happy to have a piece of ‘home’ again. One tribal elder said, ‘I just want to sit and watch the grass grow.’”

Bagley cautions that ambitious plans take time and an ongoing commitment, more than could be accomplished in just a yearly meeting. He says there are many steps to take, and if some of the plans don’t work out because of funding or other hurdles, some good will still come out of it.

“The wonderful people I’ve gotten to know have truly become my brothers and sisters,” he said. “We’ve developed more than just relationships—we’ve made real friendships.”

—Lisa Truesdale

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Local runner Kara Goucher reveals mental training secrets in new book

Get Strong

book jacket courtesy Blue Star Press, 2018

Local running star Kara Goucher didn’t become a two-time Olympian through physical training and discipline alone. The mother and champion reveals her mental training secrets in her new book “Strong.”

Part inspiring storytelling and part technique teaching, “Strong” is based on Goucher’s own personal “confidence journal,” in which she recorded one positive aspect of her daily workouts. The book offers expert advice on confidence building from sports psychologists and other female athletes, including fellow CU Buff alumna and two-time Olympian Emma Coburn.

photo courtesy Kara Goucher

Goucher prompts readers to help explore their own sense of confidence and encourages readers to ask the right questions of themselves to develop stronger confidence. Whether you’re a self-doubting runner or seeking a confidence boost in other areas of your life, “Strong” may be your new mantra. Get it at Boulder Book Store.

—Amanda McCracken

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CU physicists invent first transparent, heat-resistant aerogel that is earth-friendly

We’ll Drink to That

If you invented something that could morph into fireproof clothing, extraordinary insulation or a potential habitat for Mars colonies, wouldn’t you expect it to win
an award?

CU physicists who invented transparent aerogel and nabbed the top honor in NASA’s 2018 iTech competition: front row, left to right: Qingkun Liu, Andrew Hess, Ivan Smalyukh, Joshua De La Cruz and Varun Chandrasekar. Back row, left to right: Andrew Funk, Vladyslav Cherpak, Eldho Abraham, Blaise Fleury and Bohdan Senyuk. (photo by Qingkun Liu)

A group of talented CU physicists invented the first transparent, heat-resistant aerogel that is also earth-friendly. Professor Ivan Smalyukh and his researchers used beer wort—a brewery waste liquid—to invent the thin, flexible aerogel film with myriad applications, including spacesuits, vessels and potentially to retrofit glass windows in homes and skyscrapers with aerosol sheets to reduce heat loss. “It’s not often new technologies…are both cheap and environmentally friendly, so this is really exciting,” said technical team leader Blaise Fleury.

The aerogel’s intricate nanoparticle composition results in a substance 100 times lighter than glass that is nearly impervious to heat and has a uniform lattice pattern that light easily penetrates. You could literally coat your hand with aerogel and light a fire in your palm without feeling a thing.

For their breakthrough invention, Smalyukh’s team won NASA’s 2018 iTech competition, a prestigious national contest that recognizes technical feasibility, the impact on future space exploration, humanitarian benefits and commercialization potential.

“Window inefficiency is a challenging problem, with the global area of windows comparable to the size of Portugal,” Smalyukh said, “but our team…is working hard to solve it by developing approaches for scalable production of transparent aerogels.”

—Carol Brock 

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New options in end-of-life care ensure you go out on your terms

Start With the End in Mind

You’ve heard of having a doula, a person trained to give nonmedical assistance for giving birth—maybe you even used one yourself. Today, you can have a doula to support you and your family before, during and shortly after death. Yes, a death doula.

Boulder-based Conscious Dying Institute is training doulas across the country in support of the organization’s mission of “restoring death to its sacred place in the beauty, mystery and celebration of life.” Some are in the health-care field, others are hospice volunteers, massage therapists, yoga instructors, spiritual healers—the list goes on.

“Doulas who go through my training are taught to do this beautiful inquiry process,” said Tarron Estes, founder of the Conscious Dying Institute. “They ask questions: How can I support you to live fully in your remaining time? What do you want to happen before you die? What regrets do you have spiritually, and how can I support you in working through that?”

“I want people to understand they have more choices.”
—Tarron Estes, found of the Conscious Dying Institute

They create a rite of passage according to the dying person’s wishes.

“This is the last time in life the person has an opportunity to say ‘this is what I want,’” Estes said. “These are the people I want here, these are the prayers I want, this is the music I want.”

The doula uses those directives to create an atmosphere that allows the dying person—in the final days, hours and moments—the freedom to peacefully move back and forth between an awake state and inward focus as they move closer to death.

“I want people to understand they have more choices,” Estes said. “Medical care and treatment helps them live. When that time is over, we focus on supporting them in dying.”

To learn more about being an end-of-life doula or to find a doula for yourself or a family member, visit www.consciousdyinginstitute.com.

—Heather Shoning

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A Compelling Read on the Legal Scene

Former Boulder criminal defense lawyer pens fast-paced legal who-un-dunit

Almost everyone loves a good whodunit story, and Boulder author Jeanne Winer delivers with her newest novel, “Her Kind of Case.” Set in Boulder, the book follows lawyer Lee Isaacs as she unravels the threads threatening to send her unlikable client—a 16-year-old skinhead—to jail for a murderous hate crime to which he confessed.

But Winer’s fast-paced plot—peopled with believable characters and peppered with local scenes (the mall, Mustard’s Last Stand) and cultural nuances (mountain climbers, Buddhists)—is more of a who-un-dunit. Her sullen, uncooperative client doesn’t want her help, yet Isaacs becomes increasingly convinced he wasn’t involved in the murder as her investigation unfolds.

Winer’s second novel rides the coattails of her first, “The Furthest City Light.” Also set in Boulder with a savvy female public defender as the protagonist, that book won the Golden Crown Literary Award for Debut Author in 2013. “Her Kind of Case” has garnered starred reviews from Kirkus, Library Journal and Booklist.

Winer was a Boulder criminal defense lawyer for 35 years, and her newest novel examines the good, bad and ugly of criminal defense, and truthfully portrays the stamina, intelligence and emotional compassion required to make it your life’s work. Luckily for readers, she brings that same grit to her writing.

“When the writing gods are looking favorably upon me, I write five days a week for about five or six hours,” Winer said. “It’s a long, tedious process, but I’m unwilling to consider a different way.”

—Carol Brock

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Pint-sized Warriors

Young Athletes are Triathletes and Ninja Warriors

2018 was a big year for little athletes in Boulder County. Eight-year-old Leyton Hill of Longmont became the youngest person ever to complete the sprint distance in the Boulder Sunset Triathlon on Aug. 25. He swam, biked and ran the course with his dad, Tanner Hill, in three hours and 25 minutes and had a distinct disadvantage in the cycling leg of the event.

“I did twelve miles on a one-speed little, tiny mountain bike,” he said.

“Everyone else in this triathlon had super-intense $10,000 road bikes, and here he was on this Walmart bike,” his mother, Sarah Hill, added.

Another local celebrity on the athletics scene is Caleb Tucker, a 10-year-old from Boulder who recently competed in the first season of “American Ninja Warrior Junior.” Mother Susan Tucker says he has been watching “American Ninja Warrior” since he was 3 and counting down the years until he could apply. Still 10 years too young for the adult version, when the junior race was announced he applied immediately.

Caleb remembers the other contestants standing around with determined scowls before the competition, but says he handled his nerves differently.

“I was dancing all over the place,” he said. You can spot Caleb in his donut socks on “American Ninja Warrior Junior,” and look out for Leyton Hill at next year’s Boulder Sunset Triathlon.

—Sara Bruskin

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Theater Review: A Christmas Carol

by Beki Pineda

A CHRISTMAS CAROL, THE MUSICAL – Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens; Book by Mike Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens; Directed by Robert Wells.  Produced by Town Hall Arts Center (2450 West Main Street, Littleton) through December 23.  Tickets available at 303-794-2787 or townhallartscenter.org.

The holiday season is upon us.  I have scheduled multiple viewings of variations of A CHRISTMAS CAROL and other holiday offerings in the next three weeks.  If they are all as touching as this musical version at Town Hall, I’m going to have a Dickens of a time getting through the season.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the place as the cast gathered on stage after Scrooge’s redemption to sing “God Bless Us, Everyone” together.

If the music has a decidedly Disney feel to it, no surprise.  Alan Menken is an official Disney legend, having written the scores for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, POCOHANTAS, LITTLE MERMAID, ALADDIN, and dozens more films and theatrical productions.  While much of the music has a jaunty swing to it, such as “Fezziwig’s Annual Christmas Ball” and the tap number in “Abundance and Charity,” there are also beautiful solos that reflect Scrooge’s early feelings (Christmas has “Nothing to do With Me”) and the lessons he learned in his ghostly journey (“Yesterday, Tomorrow and Today”).  Everyone knows the story so no need to retell it.  Suffice it to say that this is a beautiful production well sung and danced.

The scenic design dreamed up by Michael Duran and executed by Mike Haas and his crew has absolutely gorgeous detail and yet moves quickly in and out of place to keep the pace of the evening at full tilt.  The small touches – beautiful faux food and holiday décor – provided by Rob Costigan and Bob Bauer added to the fun.  The lighting design created by Emily Maddox creates the sinister darkness of the scenes with Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Future while bringing joyful illumination to the Christmas Ball and street scenes.  Ghostly projections moved us quickly into the other-worldliness of Scrooge’s magical night.  Susan Rahmsdorff-Terry’s Victorian costumes brought authenticity to the proceedings.  All in all, a most beautiful production.

Stephen Turner inhabited the role of Scrooge, making his face so Grinchy in the beginning as to be unrecognizable to one who has seen him in at least a dozen shows.  It wasn’t until later in the story when he started to smile a little that he converted back to the familiar face.  His timing was spot on, winning him laughs throughout the evening.  Combined with his awkward attempts at dancing and his joy at finding it was still Christmas, he won the audience over easily and completely.

The ensemble of players supported the story with enthusiasm and skill.  The singer Rajdulari made a purposeful Ghost of Christmas Past that started Scrooge on his journey.  Dancer John Mackey became a jolly Christmas Present introducing him to the Cratchits at home and his nephew Fred’s holiday gathering.  Is there anything Caitlin Conklin can’t do??  She contributed a beautiful ballet-like solo as the Ghost of Christmas Future.  The most frightening of all was Rich Caldwallader as Jacob Marley whose warning to Scrooge was genuinely frightening when he was joined by a chorus of zombie-like rabble.

Town Hall found an amazing group of children to add to the ensemble in important roles: The Cratchit children, the younger versions of Ebenezer (Jaren Frederick) and his sister Fan (Sophia Dotson), and, most assuredly, 3rd grader Kyriana Kratter who sang Tiny Tim’s part with grace and confidence.  She stole everyone’s heart with her calm measured assurance on stage and her clear bell-like voice.  What a career she has in front of her!!

This is a wonderful way of starting your holidays.  Town Hall has set the bar high for the holiday shows to follow.

A WOW factor of 9!!

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Theater Review: Come From Away

COME FROM AWAY – Book, Lyrics and Music by Irene Sankoff and David Hein; Directed by Christopher Ashley. Presented by Denver Center for the Performing Arts Broadway (Buell Theatre, 14th and Curtis, Denver) through November 25. Tickets available at 303/893-4100 or denvercenter.org.
     This show starts off with a bang with “Welcome to the Rock” (meaning Newfoundland) and never slows down for the ninety or so minutes it takes to tell their story. The opening number introduces us to the inhabitants of the Rock and deftly displays their down home character. The cast is made up of ordinary looking (but vastly talented) people of all ages, reminding the audience that they are playing real people reacting in  the way real people actually behave.
     The “incident” that forced 38 planes to unexpectedly divert to Gander Airport is referenced only obliquely. We know the people on the ground would have cared for the passengers no matter what the reason. But suddenly these ordinary people are drawn into Operation Yellow Ribbon and tasked with caring for 7000 stranded passengers – nearly as many as the entire population of the island. Food was provided along with diapers, clothes, beds, showers, TV’s to follow the happenings in the States, companionship and whisky . . . lots of whisky. The passengers were warned that there was something in the water, so they should just drink the beer.
     For five days the passengers were in limbo; for five days the Newfoundlanders remained unflaggingly welcoming. Friendships were forged; romance blossomed; news leaked back to them slowly from New York, causing new fears. In the end, it is a story of kindness and humanity told with humor and grace.
     This is a tight ensemble with the small cast alternating between inhabitants and passengers with a change of a hat, scarf or jacket. This was done with such clarity that there is no confusion. Subtle differences in accent, language, posture and facial expression keep the story straight. There are no star turns among the cast; each player has two or three strong characters to bring to life. “Well oiled machine” is the phrase that comes to mind, but there is nothing mechanical about this cast that performs with humanity and heart. They are having a good time telling this story and it shows.
     There is a strong Irish influence to the music and mentality. Newfoundland, as the easternmost point of North America, was the landing spot for thousands of Irish immigrants who either stayed to work the fisheries or delayed on a journey to the mainland. The composers incorporated small accordions, Irish flutes and pipes, and Bodhran drums into the arrangements.
     The set consisted mostly of a series of mismatched chairs which when lined up, became the seats in the airplane cabin. When separated, became the donut shop, the bar, and every other locale needed for the story telling. A backdrop changed with the lighting to become the sky, the sea and the side of the airplane.
     Because of the simple staging and joyful message, two or three years from now, every regional theatre in the country will be lining up to perform this show. But you don’t have to wait; you can see the first Broadway tour of this satisfying musical right here in Denver through November 25th. This is a definite “Run – Don’t Walk” to get your ticket.
     A WOW factor of 10!

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Theater Review: Love Alone

by Beki Pineda
LOVE ALONE – Written by Deborah Salem Smith; Directed by Andrew Uhlenhopp. Produced by Firehouse Theater Company (presented at the John Hand Theater, 7653 East 1st Place, Denver) through November 10. Tickets available at 303-519-6140 or firehousetheatercompany.com.
    As you enter the theatre, your first impression is of a cleverly designed set which provides six acting areas – a modern living room, a smoking area outside a hospital, a small waiting room, a kitchen table, a lawyer’s office and a stage at a concert hall. How to squeeze all these playing areas onto the stage at the small John Hand Theater seems to be a collaboration between Director Andrew Uhlenhopp and Builder Jeff Jesmer. The design works admirably to keep the audience engaged and secure in where they and the actors are in the story. They are ably assisted by Steve Tangedal’s lighting design which gently leads our eyes to the appropriate acting area while also providing mood lighting for people on stage but not in the scene.
    In the first scene, Helen (Jacqueline Garcia in a touching performance), after being told that her life partner’s operation had gone well, is now told that she passed away in recovery. The shock is palpable and the ramifications of their same sex relationship soon become apparent. The couple have a daughter (a young Lindsay Lohan look-alike Hannah Ford) who pursues the need to find out what happened to her mother and why. The new doctor (only on the job three weeks) is weighed down by guilt that she missed something and could have somehow prevented the outcome. It becomes an investigation into this one tragic case that reflects the problems same sex partners face every day in being accepted as family.
    It is a story told with equality, showing the anguish on both sides, the family and the hospital staff. It even begins to effect Dr. Neal’s relationship. Both the victim’s daughter and her partner express their grief in individual and authentic ways. Jacqueline Garcia’s Helen exudes loneliness and regret while daughter Hannah Ford fuels her grief with anger and a determination to find reasons. Eric Carlson plays the understanding partner of the doctor with compassion while Miranda Byers as the doctor torments herself with “coulda/shoulda” scenerios. Verl Hite is Mr. Rush, an attorney hired by the daughter in her lawsuit against the hospital. LaDios Muhammad plays a nurse who provides an important insight into what may have caused the operation to go so wrong. A tight cast that illuminate an important story. Only one more weekend to catch this exciting production.
A WOW factor of 8.5!!

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Theater Review: The Wolves

by Beki Pineda
THE WOLVES – Written by Sarah DeLappe; Directed by Rebecca Remaly. Produced by Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (Presented at the Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut) through November 18. Tickets available at 303-444-7328, or betc.org/event/wolves.
    We start out with a field of freshly cut grass and a bag of soccer balls. The nine members of a high school soccer club take to the field and begin to warm up . . . and talk. As the practice continues, the individual personalities of the girls begin to emerge. Some are classmates at a public school; some go to private schools and one is home-schooled. There are varying degrees of intelligence, self awareness, and compassion among the group. They welcome a new girl; they bully and tease each other; their conversations leap from topic to topic randomly. All the while they are doing warm up exercises and passing practices.
    The favor and level of acceptance seems to be passed between the girls as quickly and fleetingly as the soccer balls they are kicking. The MTV short attention span and the over confident personal assurance of all of these young women is authentic and contemporary. I work in a high school and hear similar conversations outside my door every lunch hour. One moment bullying each other; the next moment working on the lyrics to a rap song together. Who is going to what party this weekend and which teacher is hot!
    The common goal within this group is to consolidate a team, to win games, and to impress the scouts that are looking for potential college players which could lead to a professional career. For many, this is their only hope of a college education and a sports career. This creates rivalry between teams in their division and between team members who must all compete for the same pool of money and the spotlight of recognition. The newest girl who plays very well – #46 – claims that she’s never played with a team before. But  when pressed by  her teammates, she confesses that she has actually played in pick up games all over the world while traveling with her mother. She started out as low man on the totem pole and now, because of her skill and exotic lifestyle (she lives in a yert!), has suddenly become appealing. Secrets are revealed and concealed. Gossip is spread and ultimately they face a crisis that brings them all closer together.
    As a cast, this team works together with precision. The script is written to accommodate simultaneous conversations in different parts of the field. To have developed the ear for this different kind of rhythmic dialogue, for splicing the different conversations into a tightly coiled braid, and to keep the individual voices and the thread of the story all running together so that they come out together at just the right moment . . . an amazing undertaking done right. It somehow seems appropriate that this same group of  young ladies recently performed a series of scenes from David Mamet’s fast-talking GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS at a fundraiser. Director Remely has steered this competent cast as surely as the coach of a Olympic winning team.
    You may think – “Why would I be interested in a girls soccer team’s thoughts?” At least that’s what I thought driving to the theatre. But you will be interested . . . intrigued . . . engaged . . . touched . . . and ultimately won over and cheering by evening’s end.
A WOW factor of 9!

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Theater Review: Love Never Dies

by Beki Pineda

LOVE NEVER DIES – Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; Lyrics by Glenn Slater; Directed by Simon Phillips. Presented by Denver Center for the Performing Arts Broadway (Buell Theatre, 14th and Curtis, Denver) through October 28. Tickets available at 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org

For all those who wanted to know where the Phantom of the Opera went after freeing Christine, here is the answer: to Coney Island where he created his own house of music to cater to the tourists who frequent the boardwalk. Instead of opera, his singer/dancers perform to show tunes like “Only For You” and “Bathing Beauty.” But secretly he still writes music for Christine and promises that he will wait “Til I Hear You Sing” again. After ten years of isolation, using the promise of a Broadway concert, he lures the now-married Christine, her husband Raoul and their son Gustave to America – then kidnaps them all to his Coney Island hideaway. The pull of passion and music is still strong between the two but Christine also loves Raoul who has grown surly with jealousy. She is put into a precarious position of either possibly losing her child or her husband and must choose.

The familiar characters of Madame Giry and her daughter Meg – all grown up – continue to work for and support the Phantom in this new setting. Meg is at first delighted to see her old friend Christine, but soon becomes jealous when she loses the attention of the Phantom. They are joined on stage by a menagerie of carnival characters led by three called Gangle, Squelch and Fleck who serve as a Greek chorus and to push the story forward. They lead the company in a Monster’s Ball called “The Coney Island Waltz,” a number reminiscent of “Masquerade” in the first PHANTOM. There are many musical motifs throughout the evening that instantly recall the original production. The “Angel of Music” is used throughout; there was even a little of the “Sunset Boulevard” melodies floating through. But the original music written for this show soars. “Til I Hear You Sing,” “Look With Your Heart,” Under a Moonless Sky,” and the title song delivered by Meghan Picerno as Christine are all beautiful songs that could stand alone.

There are some lovely performances in this production. One of the best was delivered by the  young man playing Christine’s son Gustav on opening night, Christian Harmston. His big voice and range coming out of his boy’s body was surprising. Sean Thompson was a brilliantly belligerent Raoul whose vocal and physical fight scene with the Phantom won a round of applause. At last, some real acting! A New York actor, he has nevertheless garnered a Henry award nomination for his work in GUYS AND DOLLS at Creede and performed in THE LAST ROMANCE at the Arvada Center. Mary Michael Patterson, also familiar to local audiences for her work at the Denver Center, displayed both sides of a complicated Meg Giry. She worked so hard to make the Phantom notice her only to see him go blind to her when Christine arrived. Her mother Madame Giry was given a heartfelt performance by Broadway veteran Karen Mason whose Act I closer, “Ten Long Years,” tells the story of what has happened to all of them in the interim.

So why is this new musical sadly unsatisfying? For one thing, it almost seemed too big for the Buell stage (which is enormous). It seemed as if it needed four or five feet more on either side of the stage to contain all of the scenery and things coming in and going out. During the Monster’s Ball scene, there didn’t seem to be enough room for all the actors to make their dramatic entrances through the circus tent. A scene set on the Phantasm stage involving revolving glass cases containing the “freak” show characters seemed precariously tight. So many moments that should have been dramatic – like the Phantom’s first song and his later first entrance into Christine’s room – seemed only big and overplayed. The songs created for the show, while enjoyable being sung on stage, were more enjoyable hearing them repeated quietly in the overtures to both acts. Technically, it seemed that both Christine and the Phantom were over mic’d and loud. In the pursuit of volume, they seemed to lose emotion. I’m getting way too picky now – but all these little things subconsciously impacted the overall impression.

There were, however, beautiful moments in this show that are worth sharing. When Christine stands alone on the stage in a dress made of peacock feathers that continues up into the drop behind her and sings “Love Never Dies,” it’s a seminal moment. The Phantom in the wings on one side willing her to sing and Raoul on the other praying she doesn’t – high drama indeed! The costumes of the carnival characters were nonstop and gorgeous; there was a lot in this show for the eye to enjoy.

If  you are a PHANTOM freak as the people around me on opening night were, you will really enjoy this continuation of the story. There is even the possibility that “it ain’t over yet.”

A WOW factor of 7.5!!

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Theater Review: Low Down Dirty Blues

by Beki Pineda

LOW DOWN DIRTY BLUES – Written by Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman; Directed by Randal Myler. Produced by Lone Tree Arts Center (10075 Commons Street, Lone Tree) through October 27. Tickets available at 720-509-1000 or lonetreeartscenter.org.

If you have been going to theatre in the Denver area very long, you will have heard the name Randal Myler. Randy was a long time director and casting agent for the Denver Center many years before he started writing musicals based on the works of deceased icons (Hank Williams, Janis Joplin, John Denver, Nat King Cole, and others). Many Tony nominations and Broadway runs ago, he started putting together the same sort of a musical homage to a genre instead of a person. He has achieved success with musicals such as IT AIN’T NOTHIN’ BUT THE BLUES, FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN (the folk music of the Appalachian coal mining era), and  MUSCLE SHOALS; I’LL TAKE YOU THERE (celebrating the famous music studio from that area). Now he brings the sultry side of the blues to the forefront by getting low down and dirty.

Five musicians have hung around after the crowd left in a Chicago blues bar to reminisce and sing their songs – rather than what the tourists call the blues. They revel in the suggestive lyrics and raunchy rhythms of songs like “Rough and Ready Man,” “My Stove’s in Good Condition,” and “Don’t Jump My Pony” if you don’t know how to ride!! Felicia P. Fields, the Big Mama after whom the bar is named, makes the smallest move of her voluptuous body and you suddenly understand what sexy is. In “If I Can’t Sell It” she tells the story about a man wanting to buy a chair in a furniture store. But she makes herself very clear when she declares, “If I can’t sell it, I’m gonna sit down on it.  I ain’t gonna give it away.”

Chic Street Man sings about a “Crawlin’ King Snake” and invites you to “Come On In My Kitchen” and the women in the audience start leaning in toward the stage. His easy physical style and matter of fact delivery shows that he knows what he’s doing, on stage and off. They are joined in the vocal fun by Shake Anderson whose big voice rocks out on “I Got My Mojo Workin’” and breaks your heart when he sings of a lost love in “Death Letter.” Both men praise the beauty of a “Big Leg Woman” whose booty is so big, her jeans have to have four pockets across the back. They are accompanied and joined on stage by musicians Calvin Jones on bass and Jameal Williams on keyboard.

The first half of the program explores the flirtatious side of the blues full of double entendre and innuendo. Big Mama even went off the stage and got some of the men in the audience to help her get her mojo working. The second half continues but also gets into the more serious sad side with a heartfelt rendition of Billy Holliday’s “Good Morning Heartache” and Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind.” The ever present gospel quality of the music came to the front with Sam Cooke’s “Change is Gonna Come” and Inez Andrews’ “Lord I Tried.”

The bar setting designed by Christopher Waller is so authentic, you can’t help but think you’ve been to that basement bar. Complete with beer signs and the ever present Christmas lights, it’s a place you would be comfortable stopping by for a drink and a listen to the music.

If you have the blues, if you like the blues, if you want to learn about the blues . . . . this is the show for you.

A WOW factor of 8!

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Theater Review: Paper Cut

by Beki Pineda

PAPER CUT – Written by Andrew Rosendorf; Directed by Pesha Rudnick. Produced by Local Theater Company (Presented at the Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut) through November 11. Tickets available at 303-444-7328 or thedairy.org.

First off, I’d like to congratulate Scenic Designer Susan Crabtree, Lighting Designer Jacob Welch, and Sound Designer Jason Ducat for the environment they created for the actors in this searing drama. Crabtree’s design flowed smoothly from the battlefield to urban settings and back again. The dusty brown paint treatment fit the grim Middle East locale as well as the depressing life awaiting these soldiers at home. Welch’s lighting illuminated a PTSD episode brought on by fireworks, added an icy element to the cold desert night, and created the mood for introspection and the mental confusion brought on by a soldier’s experiences. The battle scenes and return to the shore were enhanced by Ducat’s realistic soundtrack. Add the projections designed by Gregory Towle for a final touch, giving these actors the support they needed to tell this compelling story.

Rosendorf’s script follows Kyle, a soldier who served in the Middle East, from the battlefield to rehab. His return to civilian life is complicated by his battle injuries and his memories, both good and bad, of military life. We are allowed to watch the sweet and funny wartime romance develop from a flirtation to a deep and committed relationship between Kyle and Chuck, a fellow soldier. They are separated by Kyle’s injuries which send him home to undergo surgery, rehab and finally re-introduction into civilian life. Ready or not, here he comes.

Kyle has been estranged from his brother Jack for years because of the way their brutal father pitted them against each other. Now they have a second chance to support each other. A third character enters Kyle’s life through social media. Harry, a totally clueless former classmate of Kyle’s, tracks him down on line and tries to instigate a romance. His guileless come-on and innocent (but almost stupid) lack of knowledge about what Kyle has been through unfortunately seems to represent the general public in dealing with returning wounded warriors. There is no way to gauge the depth of experience they have had and how they have had to change in order to survive. We only make fools of ourselves in trying. When Chuck re-enters Kyle’s life, hard decisions must be made.

This quartet of actors tells a somewhat complicated story with clarity. New York actors Sommer Carbuccia and Eddie Sanchez came to Boulder to portray the brothers Kyle and Jack. What a miracle for Local to have found an actor whose every physical aspect fits the needs of Kyle’s character, especially an actor as talented as Carbuccia. The range of emotions required for this role is astounding and he rises to the occasion on every front, bringing us the tired and scared soldier to the tender lover. He endures pain, bares his soul, stands up for himself and displays his vulnerability, all within the course of about ninety minutes. Sanchez also gives an earnest performance as a confused but caring brother who has to forget what has gone under the bridge in order to support the returning soldier.

They are ably supported by local actors Zachary Andrews as Chuck and John Hauser as Harry. Chuck is a cocky, funny comrade in arms whose love for Kyle grows slowly in this military setting.  He proves to be a true friend unable to complete a wartime pact made between the two. John’s Harry is almost comic relief for the story of this returning soldier. He is goofy, clueless but bold in his pursuit of a new and different relationship. But you know what they say about when the going gets tough . . . .

Realizing that this description of the script is somewhat sketchy, please also realize that’s because this is such an interesting story told in such a meaningful, compelling way, that I don’t want to reveal all the hidden nuggets that are slowly revealed in the telling. You deserve to see the story through your own eyes for the first time without having a synopsis to guide you through this battlefield of emotion. Rosendorf’s script is tough, realistic, and authentic. He makes brilliant use of silence between his characters, allowing the dialogue to build in their eyes and the back of their throats before being spoken. You quickly grow to care for what happens to Kyle and to understand that his “recovery” may get more complete but that it will never be over. Director Pesha Rudnick took this script and these actors and brought it all to life. It is a play that will resonate in your memory for months to come.

A WOW factor of 9!!

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Theater Review: Harvey

by Beki Pineda

HARVEY – Written by Mary Chase.  Produced by Phamaly Theatre Company (presented at the Olin Hotel Apartments, 1420 Logan Street, Denver) through November 11.  Tickets available at  phamaly.org.

An American theatre classic written by Denverite Mary Chase, HARVEY has been done at one time or another by nearly every theatre company ever formed.  It is a favorite because of its gentle humor, delightful characters, and underlying message of acceptance and inclusion.  Phamaly brings this timeless story to life as only they can.  They have joined with Senior Housing Options to use the beautiful parlors at one of their facilities, the Olin Hotel in downtown Denver, to tell the story once again.  A gathering space on the first floor has become the Dowd/Simmons entry hall for the play while a second floor lounge has been converted into the main office of the Chumley’s Rest Home.  The audience moves between the two spaces as the play progresses.  An easy move for all as there is a small elevator for those who are not comfortable climbing a short flight of stairs.

A quick reminder of the plot which most of  you will remember from previous productions.  Elwood P. Dowd, a gentle soul, has a sister and a niece living with him who have high hopes for breaking into society in order to get an appropriate (read rich) husband for Myrtle Mae, the niece.  Elwood also has living with him his best friend, a Pooka (a six foot invisible rabbit as from Irish folklore) named Harvey.  Elwood’s true belief and accommodations for Harvey drive his sister Veta Louise up the wall.  Veta tries to get Elwood committed to a “rest home” or sanatorium where he will be out of her hair and she can get on with her ambitious plans for Myrtle Mae.  There’s a mix up and things don’t go as Veta planned.  But along the way, we are treated to the music and dance of Miss Johnson and Miss Tewksbury; meet the handsome but confused Dr. Sanderson and the spunky Nurse Kelly;  watch the overbearing Dr. Chumley get drunk and disorderly; and take the advice of a wise taxi cab driver.  A happy ending is easily predicted.

As usual with a Phamaly production, three minutes into the show and any disabilities dissolve in the light of the enthusiastic acting.  This cast of players brings their ‘A’ game to the show.  Toby Yount as the gentle obliging Elwood allows us to believe as he does that Harvey is sitting in the chair next to him as he leans over to speak quietly to him or offers him a drink.  He has an accommodating sense of humor and is more interested in going somewhere for a drink with friends than in causing anyone any trouble.  The role of Veta Louise is a dream role for most actresses and Joy Carletti makes the most of it.  Her disintegration is a joy to behold and her “come to Jesus” moment at the end of the play when she has to make a real decision about what to do about her brother is entirely believable.  Mark Dissette is always a treat to watch on stage, whether he is doing Tevye or dancing in the ensemble.  As the excitable Dr. Chumley who comes under Harvey’s spell, Mark delights.  In small but important roles, Bobby Carey played Judge Gaffney; Elizabeth Bouchard gave a short but meaningful performance as Dr. Chumley’s forgetful wife; and Jacob Elledge does a good job as the taxi cab driver who knows the true story about what goes on behind the closed doors of Chumley’s Rest.  Marcus Cannello was a suave and handsome Dr. Sanderson with Alie Holden as the nurse with the crush.

Site Specific Theatre is described as doing theatre in the place where it is set.  While the Olin Hotel looks to be a comfortable place to live (a lot nicer than Chumley’s Rest), it is also a delightful place to view a show.  And, as always, Phamaly is up to any challenge thrown their way

A WOW factor of 8!!

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Theater Review: Van Helsing’s Daughter

by Beki Pineda

VAN HELSING’S DAUGHTERS – Written and Directed Ren Manley. Produced by Audacious Theatre at the Lumber Baron Inn (2555 West 37th Avenue, Denver) through October 31. Tickets available at 720-445-5242 or audacioustheatre.com.

Denver has its own version of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” We now know where to find them. The Lumber Baron Inn is a beautiful old mansion in North Denver that has been converted into a B&B that occasionally rents out the third floor ballroom for theatrical events. Audacious Theatre has taken possession of this reported haunted house (two young women were killed on the second floor and are said to come back for occasional visits) for the Halloween season to regale you with stories of supernatural creatures. The amount of research conducted by producer Ren Manley to create this inventive evening is phenomenal.

Three natural and one adopted daughter of famed vampire hunter, Abraham Van Helsing (from Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,”) have honored his work and legacy by creating the Van Helsing Society whose mission is to seek out, capture, study, and preserve examples of the supposed mythical creatures famous from folk lore. Creatures such as leprechauns, chupacabras, and mer-creatures from under the sea. Each sister takes a turn explaining the history and habitat of their particular pet. While many of the creatures on display were familiar through books and movies, many less familiar were also introduced to the audience. We heard the cry of the Irish banshee, for instance, and learned of Jennie Greenteeth who drags unsuspecting children into the bog. We heard the story of the deadly head of Medusa, looked into the eyes of a basilisk at our own risk, smelled a sasquatch, petted a pooka and witnessed the mating dance of a succubus, among others.

The method of presentation of the beasties is inventive and utilized the creative skills of creature creators Kristin Dallaske, Ryan Wolkes, and Katy Williams. The beautiful Gothic costumes were created by Isis Usborne (who also performed as a Siren luring men into the sea) and Bethany Richardson who appeared as Aradia, one of the sisters. Liz Porter as the oldest sister Maricela served as the Mistress of Ceremonies with her delicately pointed vampire teeth  She was also called upon to arbitrate arguments between her sisters and the Society’s financial benefactor Gordon Cornell (Mike Holzer) who wanted to use the creatures for display or as a unique culinary experience.

I’m impressed with the creative minds that put this unique evening together. The pacing on opening night was not consistent but I’m sure through the performance experience, it will all tighten up and get more cohesive, less improv. There is also a meal option with the evening, should you choose. All in all, an informative and unusual Halloween adventure in a beautiful location.

A WOW factor of 8!!

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Theater Review: Cannibal

By Beki Pineda
CANNIBAL the Musical – Written by Trey Parker; Directed by Deb Flomberg-Rollins. Produced by the Bug Theatre (3654 Navajo, Denver) through October 27. Tickets available at 303-477-5977 or bugtheatre.org.
Back in the mid-90’s when serving as the company Manager for the Colorado Shakes, I heard about a movie that had been done by a couple of students that was being given a free screening on campus. A group of people from the company took our one night off and sent to see the fun. We laughed – we gasped – we guffawed – and laughed again at the cheeky clever theatricality of the movie ALFERD PACKER The Musical – which later became CANNIBAL (the producer who bought the movie rights didn’t think anyone outside of Colorado would know who Alferd Packer was). It was inevitable that it would be converted to an on-stage production because the crazy boys who wrote it were theatre kids from the beginning. They did, after all, finally learn how to do it right when they wrote THE BOOK OF MORMON.
The movie was unabashedly hokey – no intention to be anything else. But the carefree abandonment of the movie has never quite been captured in any stage production I’ve seen of this script. It’s probably because the movie was filmed in the Flat Irons above the campus in the actual snow for “Let’s Build a Snowman” and Liane was an actual horse in the movie. Hard to duplicate that on stage. Plus it didn’t seem like Parker and company ever thought anything would come from this adventure and they were just having silly fun. I’ve also heard that considerable drugs were consumed during the filming.
But this hardy band of players at the Bug does the best they can with the script they have. It appears that Hokey (with a capital H) was what they were going for. And that they achieved. The short film that starts the show gets everything off to a bloody start as Parker (Mike Moran) chases his comrade mountain men across the landscape to dismember and chew on their bones when caught. if you can get through that laughing, the rest of the show is a piece of cake.
The show starts with Packer’s trial for murder and goes into flashback to tell the “true” story of the six miners who started out that fateful winter. He recounts the tale to Polly Pry (Anna Sturtz with a truly beautiful voice), a Denver Post journalist who traveled to Saguache to cover the trial. What unfolds is quite different from the version given the jury but is it too late to save Alferd? In the telling, there is much frolicking in the snow, fighting with the hunters, and maligning of Packer’s horse Liane (Larissa Flemming). There’s also much overacting, comical lyrics to simple melodies, and anticipation for when dinner starts.
Rather than infusing a slick professionalism into the production (not the Bug’s modus operandi) they continue the spirit of play into the set with pieces that march on and off and turn around to become mountains, Indian encampments, the tavern and various other locations. The beards and wigs are just silly including one miner with orange hair – a refugee from a Bronco game. The huge crowd on opening night seemed to enter into the spirit of the frivolity, cementing once again that the Bug has found its niche audience.
A WOW factor of 8!!

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Theater Review: Boston Marriage

by Beki Pineda
BOSTON MARRIAGE – Written by David Mamet; Directed by Lorraine Scott. Produced by Vintage Theatre (1468 Dayton, Aurora) through November 11. Tickets available at 303-856-7830 or vintagetheatre.com.
Historically, a Boston marriage indicated the co-habitation of two women — whether for romantic or financial reasons — independent of the support of men or conventional marriage. Henry James popularized the term in his book “The Bostonians.” David Mamet took the idea and ran with it. Words, words, and more words. The two women — Anna (Michelle Moore) and Claire (Kelly Uhlenhopp) — never stop talking unless one takes a pregnant pause to contemplate what the other has said. The words tumble out of their mouths in a charming patois of emotion and excitement.
Anna, in Claire’s absence, has taken a married man as her lover and he has gifted her with furnishings, clothing and jewelry. She can’t help but gloat a bit about their improved financial position and how she redecorated the drawing room in chintz because that’s what she thought Claire liked. Claire — not to be outdone — is all abuzz because of a new relationship with a nubile young lady and is hoping that she can borrow Anna’s house for an afternoon assignation. Pretty cheeky!! She wants her old partner to be her beard so she can spend unchaperoned time with her new flirtation.
Mamet proclaims in his on-line course about playwriting that in a play, you get involved with something that is unbalanced. “If nothing’s unbalanced, there’s no reason to have a play . . .  but if something’s unbalanced, it must be returned to order.” Because of the unexpected actions of both partners, there arises an unbalance resulting in hurt feelings, revengeful actions, introspection, and finally, the return of a balance to both their lives. Charming observations and delightful expressions sweep fill the room in the meantime.  Because the pace is fast and the dialogue pointed, the audience leaned into their world, not to miss a word.
Michelle Moore as Anna was a perfect life-weary woman of the world, willing to go against her natural proclivities in the pursuit of comfort and privilege. Once reconciled to her paramour’s new interest, she enters into the new arrangement with gusto and uses the situation to indulge in sexual blackmail. She has an affectation and posture that, while languid and natural, is also studied and reflects the manners of the time. She makes not a false move. Ably matched in style and enthusiasm is Kelly Uhlenhopp as the other half of this domestic relationship. She is all a-twitter at the thought of continuing the “conversation” with her new friend. While she knows she is jeopardizing the current relationship, she is in thrall of something new and exciting . . . and young. Her smile breaks her face wide open and her eyes sparkle with anticipation.
Throw into this mix an inept cheeky Irish maid in the person of Jean Schuman who is both subservient and disrespectful. She accepts her mistresses for what they are and regales them with tales of her boyfriend. One funny bit has her trying to wipe the tears from her eyes with an apron that is too short to reach her cheeks. Anna can’t remember her name and calls her every Irish name she can think of. Between the three of them, the imbalance reaches a crescendo and then sweeps into a resolution both satisfying and surprising. Mamet also confesses that his greatest fear is that the audience will beat him to the punchline. Not so in this case. Right up to the ending, you are thinking, “Where are they going with this?” Then an “of course” smile crosses your face.
Julie Lemieux’s charming Victorian drawing room replete with damask curtains, a beautiful chaise lounge, and hand drawn flowers on the wainscoting was a room we could all live in. Susan Rahmsdorff-Terry created some beautifully authentic dressing gowns and traveling suits for the ladies.
A WOW factor of 8.5!!

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