Beyond the Fourth Wall

Our critics review local theater productions.

all wear bowlers — Geoff Sobelle and Trey Lyford are interested in Laurel and Hardy. Lyford got so fixated that he failed the first year of his MFA program because he was always in the library researching the duo, looking for clues about their relationship. When Lyford and Sobelle met, they fell naturally into developing all wear bowlers, a fabulously comic romp that merges the Absurdist theater of the ’50s and ’60s with the silent films of the ’20s and ’30s. This is clowning, but of an elegant and subversive sort, full of impeccably rendered ventriloquism and sleight of hand, pratfalls, and funny voices. Oh, and a gleeful disregard for the fourth wall, with the two performers interacting extensively with the audience, the lighting, and the mechanics of the stage. The smoothness of the delivery speaks of the years the two have spent honing this show, which has been all over the world. All wear bowlers is a dizzying, perfect collision of Absurdism, vaudeville, and partner routines — or, if you prefer, Beckett for people who don’t like Beckett. — L.D. (Through December 23 at the Berkeley Rep; or 510-647-2949.)

Bermuda Avenue Triangle — This 1996 comedy by Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna never gets beyond sitcom punch lines, despite some long soliloquies that play for poignancy. It’s also pretty clear early on where it’s going: Packed away to a gaudy Vegas retirement community by their put-upon daughters, two sour old biddies get a new lease on life through a deep dicking from a crafty old scoundrel. Still, it’s fun to see Anne Buelteman and Marilyn Kamelgarn’s whirlwind enlivening from their initial unlikability, and David Godfrey has some broad roguish charm as con man Johnny in this community production staged by CCT managing artistic director Michael Ryken. — S.H. (Through December 17 at California Conservatory Theatre; or 510-632-8850.)

Carol of the Bells — Town Hall Theatre Company of Lafayette’s brand-new, original holiday show by artistic director Kevin T. Morales is a ramshackle affair that may be best thought of as a musical revue somewhat encumbered by plot. Three sugar-plum fairies roll into a typical suburb, tasked with bringing Christmas cheer like the North Pole version of AmeriCorps, which seems mostly to consist of doping people’s coffee and cocoa. The trouble is, the fairies have their own problems, and come off as cheerless and commonplace as everybody else, despite a wisecracking talking cat who’s also kind of grim. The script gets bogged down in exposition about fairy bylaws, but the musical selections are fun, ranging from well-known Christmas chestnuts to pop songs borrowed from KT Tunstall, the White Stripes, Brian Setzer, Cole Porter, Three Dog Night, Mulan, and even Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper. — S.H. (Through December 24 at Town Hall Theatre; or 925-283-1557.)

The Christmas Revels—California Revels’ annual winter solstice celebration takes 19th-century Quebec as its theme this year (its 21st), which means some particularly lovely Francophone carols and folk songs, with enough English lyrics mixed in for everyone to get the gist. It also occasions some lively fiddling and jiglike step dancing, a slight framing story about a drunken beaver hunter’s deal with the devil, and some silly mummery involving everyone’s favorite symbol of Christmas, the werewolf. Certain not-so-Canadian elements continue from years past, including an intricate sword dance and a ritual horn dance, sing-along carols, the hearty dance-along finale of the first act, a cast of dozens in period costumes, and more family-friendly merriment than you can shake a Yule log at.—S.H. (Through December 17 at the Scottish Rite Theater; or 510-452-3800.)
Company — There’s no wife-swapping in Company, but Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s “concept musical” about what marriage means in the crazy mixed-up modern world is firmly rooted in 1970 — that is to say, seriously dated. It doesn’t bother with a plot so much as cruise dysfunctional couples through their one swinging single friend (charmingly smarmy Kyle Johnson), and even Sondheim’s music gets bogged down in schmaltzy Love Boat brass. Some of the singing is a little flat in Masquers’ production, but Leah Tandberg-Warren slays with one of the few decent songs, “Getting Married Today.” The community cast gamely gets into the spirit of the thing with appropriately tacky ’70s leisure suits, decor, and comb-overs. — S.H. (Through December 16 at Masquers Playhouse; or 510-232-4031.)

Jukebox Stories — Welcome to Jukebox Stories at Impact, two guys sitting around in their living room sharing stories and tunes with titles like “Don’t Do Drugs (on a School Night),” “Fat and Strange,” and “What My Sister’s Breast Implants Have to Do with Golf.” Terrifyingly prolific playwright Prince Gomolvilas’ storytelling is paired with the quirkily smart songs of soft-voiced Brandon Patton and a life-and-limb-threatening set strewn with clothes, half-full liquor bottles, mismatched couches, and an overturned chair. Both men used to live here, and both eventually took off — the diminutive Gomolvilas to Los Angeles, the floppy-haired Patton to Brooklyn. When they visit each other, they have other people over and sit in their respective living rooms singing and telling stories. Now they’re trying to capture that vibe onstage, and for once the basement of LaVal’s Subterranean actually enhances and supports the theatrical experience instead of hindering it. Although there is a core of pieces the duo will perform each night, every show will be different because they’re adding others, randomized by an extremely high-tech computing machine running algorithms invented by underpaid grad students. Or, if you prefer, two boxes filled with the names of the pieces written on paper crumpled up into balls. The selections may be random, but there is still an organic cohesion, a satisfying blend of humor and poignancy. The pieces are political, personal, funny, biting, sad, raunchy, and above all honest. And because each night’s selection will be different, it’s an experience that invites repetition. — L.D. (Through December 13 at LaVal’s Subterranean; or 510-464-4468.)

Rude Boy — When hip-hop spoken-word artist Azeem breaks into rhyme in this solo show, it’s usually the feverish stream-of-consciousness of a Jamaican-American mental-ward inmate haunted by voices, hardship, and guilt. His rants about the San Francisco chapter of the Rodney King riots, allegorical battles between rage and reason, and the “alphabet police” watching you through your TV are frenetic and totally compelling, interrupted only by a few blackout-separated vignettes late in the show that would be better incorporated into the monologue. The ending’s a bit abrupt and where we are in the present isn’t clear, but Azeem’s wordplay and intensity make it well worth staying there for an hour or so. — S.H. (Through December 14 at the Marsh Berkeley; or 800-838-3006.)


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