Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

The Miser — The Shotgun Players take a big step away from the seriousness of many of their recent productions (Oedipus Rex and The Water Principle come to mind as two plays that nobody would identify as laugh riots) to present a bright, sexed-up version of Molière’s intelligent, witty comedy The Miser. A strong cast led by Clive Worsley as the vilest, most lascivious Harpagon imaginable cavort around a Winchester Mystery House-like set in candy-colored costumes. Harpagon is roundly hated by everyone (including his children) for his parsimoniousness. Both his son Cleante (a very funny Andy Alabran in one of his strongest turns yet) and daughter Elise (the moppet-like Emily Jordan) wish to marry; a dream Harpagon manages to stymie either by withholding the necessary funds or — in the case of his son — trying to marry the girl in question himself. Meanwhile there’s a strongbox of 10,000 gold crowns hidden in the garden, mistaken identity, and a great deal of pouting, stamping, scheming, and garment-tossing in the best tradition of French farce melded with Italian commedia dell’arte — after slyly lambasting the bourgeoisie, one of Molière’s great passions. Shotgun’s high-energy The Miser is unalloyed amusement, a saucy, rollicking ride that makes farce fun again. (Through May 2 at the Julia Morgan Center; 510-704-8210 or

Mooi Street Moves — TheatreFIRST’s funny-yet-painful production of this work by Johannesburg’s Paul Slabolepszy takes place at a Berkeley City Club unrecognizable beneath the flotsam and jetsam of Stix Letsebe’s high-rise apartment. Almost every surface has been covered with trash, giving the place the vibe of a post-apocalyptic dorm room. This is where self-described “middleman” Stix lives and plies his trade. From the moment the not-too-bright Henry Stone comes stumbling in looking for his older brother, the atmosphere of impending disaster is palpable. The play examines growing pains in post-apartheid South Africa at a time when redistribution of space and resources hadn’t been properly planned for, and state-sanctioned violence against blacks was still the rule. Township blacks took matters into their own hands in white and middle-class areas — “expropriating,” in director Clive Chafer’s words, the high-rises and shops. Stix’ place — where Henry’s mysteriously absent brother once lived — is in one of these high-rises, where rent is paid to a shadowy “Godfather” in the form of whatever goods tenants can scrape together. It’s a situation in which Stix, the sun-faced David Skillman, is perfectly comfortable plying his trade. When Henry Stone shows up looking too piteous for words, Stix takes pity on “this white idiot,” and takes Henry under his wing. Henry has a lot to adjust to, as we note when he rushes into the apartment after trying to leave. “They’re chopping up a sheep! On the stairs!” he exclaims, horrified. But things in the high-rise aren’t all informal butchery and lessons in selling stolen merchandise. The play takes a serious turn in the second act when Stix talks about his first attempts to rent an apartment, about how even neatly dressed and completely polite, he had door after door “goinked” shut in his face. This is a lot of play in a small space. It’s also useful for American audiences who might think racism isn’t an issue here. Think again, Slabolepszy tells us, when we watch Henry try to talk about the differences between the two men without coming out and mentioning the most obvious. (Through May 2 at the Berkeley City Club; 510-436-5085 or

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