Beyond the Fourth Wall

Our critics review local theater productions.

Anna Bella Eema — Perched on three chairs and making animal sounds and noises with various objects, Julie Kurtz, Danielle Levin, and Cassie Beck are spellbinding. Irene (Beck), who never leaves her mobile home, tells about the day her daughter Anna Bella (Levin) made a girl named Anna Bella Eema (Kurtz) out of mud. The performances are spellbinding and inextricably interlaced, the others singing or growling along as one narrates. Lisa D’Amour’s language is exquisite — poetic and funny, mythic and down-to-earth at the same time. As drenched as the play is in fairy-tale tropes, its abandoned trailer-park setting makes the flights of fancy seem necessary and completely real. This West Coast premiere is also a fitting farewell to Crowded Fire founder Rebecca Novick, who in ten years as artistic director has been committed to presenting challenging new work. Her staging of Anna Bella Eema demonstrates how rewarding those challenges can be. (July 5-15 at the Ashby Stage; or 415-439-2456.)

Bosoms and Neglect — John Guare’s stilted dialogue works beautifully as class commentary in 1990’s Six Degrees of Separation, but 1979’s Bosoms and Neglect is just overwritten. Mildly amusing stuff about analysis subjects’ superiority to therapy patients is bogged down with expository dialogue as Scooper and Deirdre talk about their mutual shrink and reminisce about their meeting mere minutes ago. There’s a grating plaintive lilt to Cassidy Brown’s thick New York accent (reminiscent of cartoon cougar Snagglepuss) as hyperactive Scooper. Beth Wilmurt’s deliberately casual air of assuredness as Deirdre gradually crumbles as her nervous fidgeting escalates. Joan Mankin is a breath of fresh air in the second act as Scooper’s blind mother Henny, with her mile-a-minute chatter and glee about her son’s soap opera life. Despite some fine performances and the valiant efforts of director Joy Carlin to keep things moving, neither can save a deeply troubled play that’s ultimately beyond therapy. (Through July 22 at the Aurora Theatre; or 510-843-4822.)

The Death of Ayn Rand and A Bed of My Own — Alameda’s Virago Theatre Company presents two world-premiere shorts by two local actor-playwrights, staged by Robert and Laura Lundy-Paine respectively. Any fear that John Byrd’s The Death of Ayn Rand will be some mawkish tribute to the objectivist philosopher’s last days is dissipated when a nurse in go-go boots (Michaela Greeley) and two clowns (Angela Dant and Jeremy Vik) invade to sing, juggle, brawl, and shatter the fourth wall with unabashed, if sometimes bittersweet, wackiness. At first Robert Hamm’s A Bed of My Own seems similarly quirky, as a stammering milquetoast (Stephen Pawley) is greeted by his scowling ex (Greeley) slamming down a dinner plate dominated by an overflowing ashtray, while her current bullying beau (Paul Santiago) seems mysteriously incapable of leaving the bed. A promising enough setup for farce, but it soon becomes overboiled noir packed with hackneyed Spillane dialogue and plenty of screaming, baby talk, and carrying on. (Through July 7 at Rhythmix Cultural Works; or 510-865-6237.)

Impact Briefs 8: Sinfully Delicious — Impact’s annual assemblages of short plays tend to be basically an evening of sketch comedy. The five sin-themed briefs seem particularly skimpy this year, but they’re fleshed out with four burlesque dance numbers, plus an opening bit with audience answers about the last sinful thing they did. It’s pretty lightweight stuff but has its moments, particularly Lia Romeo’s priceless Hot Line, in which a lovelorn cheerleader (a chirpy Elissa Dunn) is dicked around by a pathological liar working a suicide hotline, played with a winning smirk by Steve Budd. Meandering but with a nice payoff, Steve’s Inferno by David Kongstvedt sees a young hipster (Jon Lutz) get off the subway at the wrong stop and have to tour a downsized Hell guided by Leon Goertzen as a very fey demon. Four burlesque dancers fill out the program enchantingly with sin-themed numbers, whether they’re nuns doing chair dances or angels and devils facing off in lingerie. (Through July 21 at La Val’s Subterranean; or 510-464-4468.)

Support the East Bay Express, local news, donate

Newsletter sign-up

eLert sign-up

overcast clouds
48.4 ° F
51 °
46 °
90 %
100 %
61 °
65 °
64 °
62 °
61 °