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.”

Cyrano — The real Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac was by all accounts a pretty good man, but the fictional one created by the poet Edmond Rostand was great. We get to see why in the extremely-pared-down Shotgun Players show directed by Joanie McBrien. Poetic swordsman Cyrano loves Roxane, but believes she can’t love him because his nose “precedes [him] into the room by a quarter of an hour.” When he learns that the handsome yet inarticulate Baron Christian de Neuvillette has drawn Roxane’s eye, Cyrano decides that the two men together can form “one romantic hero,” with Cyrano the brains and Christian the brawn. Cyrano’s words from Christian’s mouth win the girl, and Roxane and Christian are married. But eventually Roxane will learn that she has been tricked. Clive Worsley as Cyrano carries off his over-the-top role with panache. Some of the other actors hesitate, or have the bluster without the belief, but then the rigors of outdoor performance bring out inconsistencies in skill and energy levels like nothing else. Still, the inconsistencies are hard to focus on with Dave Maier’s gorgeous swordfights filling in the blanks. Beyond the lacy handkerchiefs and dropped gloves, the story has much to recommend it to modern audiences, and the Shotgunners bring all that true love and sacrifice forward. — L.D. (Through September 11 at John Hinkel Park; ShotgunPlayers.org or 510-841-6500.)

Doing Good — With this story of two young idealists who get sucked into the globalization machine, the San Francisco Mime Troupe has lost heart. Admirably, the troupe hopes to get us to question the global relationships between governments, corporations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. But this show fails to strike the troupe’s usual balance between whimsy and world-changing. It’s just not fun. — L.D. (Through October in area parks; check SFMT.org for schedule.)

I Do! I Do! — The Chanticleers production of I Do! I Do! is a strong sales pitch for “I Don’t!” A Quaker schoolboy summed it up neatly when he misspelled Dutch-born playwright Jan de Hartog’s name in an essay titled “The Long Works of Yawn de Hartog.” The error fits the musical version of de Hartog’s play The Four-Poster beautifully. It’s supposed to be heartwarming, but it’s just dated. In 1966, the original 1952 play about a couple who hang together through everything was converted into a musical for Mary Martin and Robert Preston. While apparently the Martin/Preston combo was delightful, that probably has everything to do with them being strong performers, and a small, unflashy Broadway musical being a novelty. Because the story is weak and predictable. It is hard to imagine a script or characters more devoid of charm or surprise. — L.D. (Through September 10 at Chanticleers Community Theatre; Chanticleers.org or 510-733-5483.)

Much Ado About Nothing — This summer’s Free Shakespeare in the Park offering from the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival is an exceedingly light comedy with a great cruelty at the center, too-passionate Claudio’s (Michael Navarra) shaming of radiant Hero (Sofia Ahmad) at the altar. Kenneth Kelleher’s frolicsome production gives both the comedy and the pathos their due while no more dwelling on the disconnect than on the odd directorial decision to have our heroes seemingly be soldiers of Fascist Spain. The lively sparring of acid-tongued Beatrice (Julia Brothers) and Benedick (Stephen Klum) is marred only by a vulnerability too thinly veiled (in his case almost desperately). — S.H. (Through September 24 in area parks; SFShakes.org or 415-558-0888.)

Nicholas Nickleby Part One — Forget that Potter book. Area libraries and booksellers should brace themselves for an onslaught of theatergoers jonesing for a different pure-hearted British lad struggling against adversity, Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby, because the stage version of the novel currently playing at CalShakes is quite simply phenomenal. British playwright David Edgar originally created this adaptation for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1980, but this is the first time the stage version has been professionally produced on the West Coast. Dickens’ “bustle” is so gleefully embraced by codirectors Jonathan Moscone and Sean Daniels and their massive (and massively talented) cast that the time zips by in a perfectly delicious production that revels in both Dickens’ wordplay and his compassion in this story of a family set adrift on the tide of the Industrial Revolution. — L.D. (Through September 18 at the Bruns Amphitheater; CalShakes.org or 510-548-9666.)

When God Winked — The Marsh’s new Berkeley branch at the Gaia Building opens with Ron Jones’ one-man show about his thirty years working at San Francisco’s Recreation Center for the Handicapped, now the Janet Pomeroy Center. Beatific one moment, giggly and near-hysterical the next, his delivery captures the hectic pace of coaching a basketball team for the mentally and physically disabled, but can be so rushed that it’s hard to get a handle on what’s going on. There’s a lot of ground to cover (too much ground, once it starts getting into an elaborate philosophical epilogue), and between his lively storytelling and videos of his clients in action, Jones really lets us get to know the unforgettable personalities involved and keenly feel the sense of loss and outrage when cutbacks leave them in the lurch. — S.H. (Through September 16 at the Marsh Berkeley; TheMarsh.org or 415-826-5750.)

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