Given JonBenét Ramsey, Columbine and various other mass shootings and disasters, Colorado has become a symbol of modern American ... something. And whatever that is has been screwed to the wall in 12 Peers Theater's production of Colorado, directed by company artistic director Vince Ventura on a shoestring budget.
Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's vicious 2004 black comedy focuses on a family so dysfunctional it gives biological relationships a bad name. Colorado borrows heavily from the Ramsey tale, but the "beauty queen" kid is not so shockingly young, and she's from a much lower-budget home. (Only one bathroom? Really? The housing stock in metro Denver is actually quite young.) Oh, and she's meaner than any trio of Heathers.
Producing artistic director Sara Fisher does good mean as the late but less-lamented Tracey, who "disappears" between winning her state's pageant title and entering the national competition. Wonderful "acceptance" speech, though the Valley accent doesn't fit. Enjoying Tracey's success vicariously is about all that gives meaning to the lives of her parents. Bill Holman and Valentina Benrexi fall apart entertainingly as Ron and Grace, who gave up their respective if unlikely dreams when a surprise pregnancy beckoned.
Matt Henderson largely steals the show as the pinnacle (or nadir) of schlemieldom: the most unloved, unlovable little brother in all of history, human and otherwise. Perpetually persecuted, Travis responds with some of the most repulsive behaviors the playwright could conjure. And this is Nachtrieb's most sympathetic character. Henderson makes it all real — both the grossness and unfairness of Travis' life — yet still hilarious, especially the Maury Povich bit. (Yes, the TV Maury Povich.)
Director Ventura (also set- and sound-designer) has a good sense of timing and for filling the small space with the small cast. Alas, those budgetary shoestrings nearly strangle the show's production values. Why am I not surprised to see that nobody gets credit (and thus responsibility) for costumes? I don't doubt that Coloradoans dress tackily, but even they have limits.
Colorado picks at the scabs of life in Colorado and in 21st-century America. I wouldn't claim to understand either, but it's entertaining.