On Stage

Our critics weigh in on local theater.

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.”

Baby — It comes down to this: This 1984 multiple Tony nominee is a musical about the miracle of childbirth, and if that by itself sounds perfectly darling, you may enjoy it. Sybille Pearson’s book is a simple sketch about three couples’ giddy reactions to the Big News: remarkably clueless college students, thirtysomething gym teachers struggling with infertility, and astonished fortysomething empty-nesters. An amiable cast attacks the material with energy in Lois Grandi’s bare-bones Playhouse West production, but it’s wasted on the flimsy material and inane characters. — S.H. (Through June 25 at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts; DLRCA.org or 925-943-7469.)

Cherry Docs — Canadian playwright David Gow is well aware that skinhead violence is a sober and serious subject, and takes pains to address it in a fair and balanced way. In that sense, Cherry Docs is an important play about an important topic. But although Traveling Jewish Theatre gives it a smart staging for its West Coast premiere under the direction of TJT cofounder Naomi Newman, the play itself could stand to develop the medium for its message. A middle-aged liberal Jewish lawyer is appointed to represent a white-supremacist skinhead who kicked an Indian man so brutally that he died of the injuries sustained in the beating. It’s like a buddy flick except that they hate each other. The verbal sparring is where all the tension lies. — S.H. (Through June 19 at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts; ATJT.com or 415-285-8080.)

Honour — She’s young, sexy, and smart; he’s older, accomplished, and deeply rooted in a marriage of thirty-some years. Honour knows that it’s a cliché, from the familiar story of a man in midlife leaving his wife for a younger woman because the newcomer “makes him feel alive again” to its white, upper-middle-class milieu. Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith knew her plot was as old as infidelity itself, but decided that in Honour, she would address the cliché head-on by trying to present each character as sympathetically as possible. The Berkeley Rep production helmed by Tony Taccone is a mixed bag. — L.D. (Through July 3 at the Berkeley Rep; BerkeleyRep.org or 510-647-2949.)

Let’s Go to the Movies Redux — New Town Hall artistic director Kevin T. Morales’ makeshift musical about a guy who has to write a musical (and who in turn writes a musical about a guy who writes a musical) is a hilarious satire of community theater that builds beautifully on itself, the second act a marvelously over-the-top parody of the first. It was also originally written in just a few days to fill the theater’s need for a previously announced musical revue of movie songs last year, so this revival is an expanded version — a director’s cut, if you will — to explore what it might have been had Morales more time to develop it. Some confusing added plot twists make the first act overlong, but there are some great new numbers and running gags, and old and new cast members sell the songs and slapstick deftly. — S.H. (Through July 2 at Town Hall Theatre and August 4-14 at the Ashby Stage; THTC.org or 925-283-1557.)

Picasso at the Lapin Agile — Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso walk into a bar. That might sound like the setup to a long joke, but it’s natural enough because that’s also the premise for this play by comedian Steve Martin. He is playing with some heady stuff in this fictional encounter in 1904 Paris, 1904, just before Einstein published his Special Theory of Relativity and Picasso broke out of his Blue Period and started moving toward Cubism, each in his own way setting the tone for the 20th century. It isn’t exactly a play of ideas, but it plays with ideas beautifully. — S.H (Through June 18 at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts; DLRCA.org or 925-943-7469.)

Ruthless! The Musical — Nothing says summer more than camp, and camp is one thing this showbiz musical dishes out in spades. Fortunately, devilish wit and Broadway-pastiche showstoppers are also in plentiful supply. With the inevitable (but still funny) drag auntie and frequent nods to The Bad Seed and All About Eve, Joel Paley and Marvin Laird’s 1993 pastel-on-black comedy about a murderous moppet who will do anything to score the lead in the school play is given a delightfully lively staging by director Tammara Plankers in this Point Richmond community theater production. A few numbers and minor roles could stand to be tighter, but the show has more than its share of belly laughs and knockout performances by Shay Oglesby-Smith as the perfect suburban housewife and Hannah Rose Kornfeld as the even more perfect daughter everyone adores — or else. — S.H. (Through July 23 at Masquers Playhouse; Masquers.org or 510-232-3888)

The Taming of the Shrew — Let’s face it: Shakespeare’s subjugation-of-women storyline? Not funny. Rather than undermine it by suggesting shrewish Kate is just playing along, Tom Bentley’s Subterranean Shakespeare production uses a Promise Keepers setting to say that yes, her will is crushed, and no, that’s not funny. This reimagining doesn’t enrich the story so much as work against it, so it’s hard to get past the cynical deceit even in the young-lovers subplot. The performances are animated and articulate, but cold and creepy. — S.H. (Through June 24 at Berkeley Art Center; 510-276-3871.)

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