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Two plays deliver with substance on stage

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By Sara Miller

In today’s media, we are constantly bombarded with red-carpet shots of celebrities arriving for world premieres. Oftentimes, the pomp and circumstance are greater than the quality of the show contained within.

In the case of the Denver Center Theater Company, the reverse is true. January is New Play Month at the Denver Center, and two new works for the stage, “Inana” and “Dusty and Big Bad World,” have premiered in recent weeks. What they lack in spectacle outside the theater, they more than make up for in substance on stage.

“Inana,” written by award-winning playwright Michelle Lowe, takes the audience on a journey of discovery set in Iraq six weeks before the U.S. invasion. The lead characters are a museum curator from Mosul (Darius, played by Piter Marek) and his new bride (Shali, played by Mahira Kakkar).

The couple, married for just a few hours, have fled Iraq to a stuffy hotel room in London with little more than the clothes on their backs and two mysterious suitcases. Although the bulk of the action takes place in the hotel room, a series of flashbacks gives viewers a peek into the oppression of Hussein-dominated Iraq as well as the fierce national and historic pride that many citizens cling to.

At the heart of the play is a love story. Virtual strangers thrown together by a peculiar arranged marriage, Darius and Shali must wade through the tragedies of their pasts to determine that their love is as much worth fighting for as the culture of an entire nation.

While “Inana” deals with the clash of cultures abroad, “Dusty and the Big Bad World,” transports the audience to the heart of culture wars at home. The play is about a controversial episode of a television show. The writers of “Dusty,” a publicly funded children’s show, have gotten into trouble with the government. After an episode airs in which Dusty visits a family with two fathers, the future of the show is in peril.

The play begins with a cadre of stereotypical characters. The highly religious, right-wing head of the Department of Education, the overly neurotic twenty-something secretary, the soapbox-spouting left-wing liberal producer, and the hardened female executive who has pushed aside her own emotions to survive in the cutthroat world of administrators.

While one might think that this collection of crazy characters could end up like a cartoon telling the story of a cartoon, “Dusty” doesn’t pan out that way. Playwright Cusi Cram starts with a box full of stereotypes and ends up with a stage full of honest and heartfelt characters.

Regardless of your political views — and there are plenty from both sides tossed around in “Dusty” — the play will make you think. Cram uses humor to simultaneously soften the edges of this hot-button topic and sharpen the theatrical sword that drives home the point.

What is the point, you ask? At the end of day, good, bad or indifferent, we are all just people — people with hidden demons and secret fears, who are simply trying to accomplish what we believe to be our proverbial best.

“Inana” and “Dusty and the Big Bad World” run through Feb. 28 at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

“Inana”

Runs through Feb. 28 in the Ricketson Theatre at the Denver Performing Arts Complex.

Tickets start at $25. Shows are Monday through Thursday at 6:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and a Saturday matinee at 1:30 p.m.

“Dusty and the Big Bad World”

Runs through Feb. 28 in The Space Theatre at the Denver Performing Arts Complex.

Tickets start at $25. Shows are Monday through Thursday at 6:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and a Saturday matinee at 1:30 p.m.

Call 303-893-4100 or visit www.denvercenter.org for tickets or more information.