Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater.

Reviews by Lisa Drostova and Sam Hurwitt

For complete, up-to-date East Bay Theater listings, look under Billboard on the home page for the “Select Category” pulldown, then select “Theater & Performing Arts.”

Fronteras Americanas — Argentine-Canadian writer Guillermo Verdecchia is a rambling man, and he does more than his share of rambling in this one-man play given its US premiere by TheatreFIRST under the direction of Mime Troupe vet Wilma Bonet. There are some valuable and often hilarious explorations of identity politics, Latino stereotypes, and the cultural confusion of a “hyphenated person” throughout, but they get jumbled up in a confusing travelogue about going home to Argentina and overlong asides about Antonio Banderas. The stage of the Lisser Hall Theatre is transformed into an intimate nightclub better suited for the piece’s standup style. Actor Ben Ortega shifts nicely between the befuddled, poetic voice of the author and the more comical pachuco Wideload, who observes aptly that he’s “no more an estereotype than that other person in the show, the neurotic Argentinean.” Indeed, after a while Verdecchia’s overwrought angst starts to ring hollow next to Wideload’s confrontational indictments. — S.H. (Through February 13 at Mills College; 510-436-5085 or

The Mousetrap — If you know anything about Agatha Christie, you probably know everything you need to know about this droll little whodunit. There are all the usual turnabouts, red herrings, and outright cheats, and the usual suspects are as broad and shifty as possible, so that any of them could be the murderer and it wouldn’t be at all out of character. It’s all good fun, and nothing too terrible happens — except murder, which is a nasty business but handled discreetly enough. If the most credible characters are the nice couple running the guesthouse (Kendra Lee Oberhauser and Mark Manske), believability isn’t an issue when the guests are merely types: the unpleasant old lady, the mysterious foreigner with an especially mysterious accent, a possibly loony young man who comes off as a class cutup. If you start worrying too much about motivation and consistency, the whole tangled web is likely to unravel, so it’s best to take it at farce value. — S.H. (Through February 19 at Contra Costa Civic Theater; 510-524-9132 or

Our Town — In a way, Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer-winning classic is as insular as its title suggests: Either you’re the sort of person who is touched by this idyll of small-town life in New Hampshire circa 1901, or it’s way too precious for you. Directors Kate Christ and Mary Galde do a fine job wrangling the necessary pantomime and mixed bag of performances into amiable life, though at best any punchlines elicit a gentle smile. The folksiness is somewhat undermined by having the Stage Manager who walks us through his beloved town be a stuffy British guy in a three-piece suit, placidly played by Troy Johnson, who also assembled the famously skeletal set. Martha Luehrman and Pat Cross carry a quiet dignity as austere housewives, David Ammon is a nicely avuncular Doc Gibbs, and Jack Starr and Casi Maggio are the very picture of foot-shuffling bashfulness as the young lovers. — S.H. (Through February 12 at Broadway West; 510-683-9218 or

Seduced — For anyone who thinks The Aviator doesn’t dwell enough on Howard Hughes’ later, crazier years, Seduced will help you get over that. In this 1979 indulgence from Sam Shepard, the scarcely fictionalized Hughes stand-in is Henry Hackamore, played by Duane Schirmer in this Actors Ensemble production with the fitful delivery usually heard when an actor plays a dog. As the two women the reclusive Hackamore has invited to prance around in lingerie, Suraya Keating plays the cheap chippie to the hilarious hilt, and Wendy Welch looks the part but wobbles a bit as the sophisticated urbanite. David Fenerty is nicely low-key as the bodyguard-cum-caretaker, if less convincing in the obligatory twist ending. If David Stein’s staging feels a little stagy, the trouble is in the script. It’s all very dreamlike, just like someone telling you all about that weird dream he had. — S.H. (Through February 19 at Live Oak Theatre; or 510-649-5999)

Shirley Valentine — Sue Trigg has been making the rounds of local community theaters with this one-woman show for a couple years now. So she knows her way around Willy Russell’s sentimental 1986 midlife-crisis comedy about a working-class British housewife and mother of two grown kids in a dead-end marriage who sits around in her kitchen talking to the wall and dreaming of days gone by — her coolest years when she was Shirley Valentine. Trigg convincingly inhabits Mrs. Joe Bradshaw’s “little life,” and what that life lacks in surprises it makes up in charm: Shirley’s witty asides are as endearing as they ought to be, and you certainly root for her to take that life-changing trip to Greece, just as you know she inevitably will. — S.H. (Through February 12 at the Village Theatre; 925-314-3463)

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