What’s Happening in East Bay Theater

Our critics weigh in on local theater.

Brundibar and Comedy on the Bridge — Hard to believe that the men behind Where the Wild Things Are and Angels in America have anything in common. But children’s-book author Maurice Sendak and playwright Tony Kushner are so tight that Kushner wrote the text for the weighty The Art of Maurice Sendak: 1980 to Present, a massive tome covering Sendak’s recent work, including explorations into theatrical design. The most recent collaboration between the two men is the micro-opera Brundibar, now running at the Berkeley Rep in a whiz-bang production. First they did it as a book, and now it’s a gorgeous little chunk of live music, stunning sets, and masses of singing children. It’s been paired with another Czech import, Vàclav Kliment Klicpera and Bohuslav Martinu’s Comedy on the Bridge, for two different perspectives on the perils of fascism. — L.D. (Through December 28 at The Berkeley Rep; BerkeleyRep.org or 510-647-2949.)

Cabaret — Ah, the holidays. Time for familiar music, wholesome cheer, nudity, politics, simulated sex, and dripping blood. At least at the Ashby Playhouse, where the Shotgun Players once again resist the Dickensian compulsion by staging Masteroff, Kander, and Ebb’s debauched Cabaret through the end of the year. Clifford Bradshaw has come to Weimar Berlin to write his great novel, a task at which he fails miserably once the boisterous, demanding Sally Bowles trips into his life and blithely turns everything upside down. — L.D. (Through January 8 at the Ashby Stage; ShotgunPlayers.org or 510-841-6500.)

Christmas Revels — Perfectly situated in the grand main auditorium of the Oakland Scottish Rite Center, the twentieth annual Christmas Revels rings in the Winter Solstice the same way it did at Mills College in 1986 — Medieval and Renaissance English style, with some marvelous caroling from the adult and young ensembles, ladies in period gowns and gents in tunics and hose gamboling merrily, jingle-bell-laden Morris dancers, some obligatory foolery, lovely period music from Ensemble Alcatraz and the Bakewell Brass, a full-audience dance around the lobby to “Lord of the Dance,” and costumed pageantry involving dragons, witch’s curses, and old John Barleycorn. It’s all so jubilant, melodious, and participatory that if it doesn’t keep the season bright, I dunno what will. — S.H. (Through December 18 at the Oakland Scottish Rite Center; CalRevels.org or 415-773-1181.)

Dear World — Absolutely nothing happens in this pleasing but insubstantial 1969 Jerry Herman musical based on Jean Giraudoux’ The Madwoman of Chaillot (despite a promising setup about blowing up a Parisian cafe to get at crude oil underneath), but there are enough hilariously dotty old ladies, cloying saintly mutes, gleefully fiendish entrepreneurs, and stirring songs drenched in sentimental antimodernity to keep you entertained. — S.H. (Through December 17 at Masquers Playhouse; Masquers.org or 510-232-4031.)

The Dick ‘N Dubya Show — The idea of Bush and Cheney setting foot in Berkeley is pretty funny to begin with, but this “Republican outreach cabaret” takes that idea to the bank for a round of tax breaks. Directed by Duck’s Breath Mystery Theater vet Bill Allard, who doubles as a silent Secret Service vassal, the work-in-progress features a little song and dance, a mess of malapropisms, and even some executive throat singing, but the best stuff comes out in the relatively unscripted Q&A portion that takes up much of the scarcely hour-long show. — S.H. (Through December 18 at the Marsh Berkeley; TheMarsh.org or 415-826-5750.)

I Hate Hamlet — Paul Rudnick’s 1991 showbiz comedy is packed with breezy wit and over-the-top personalities (actors, you know), although a few plot threads hang loose and the gags about the gulf between TV and legit theater earn chuckles despite being older than television itself, and here it’s given a solid, well-paced community theater staging by director Mike Reynolds. Kalon Thibodeaux is appropriately callow and petulant as Andrew Rally, a soap-opera actor reluctantly cast as the moody Dane who finds himself tutored by the ghost of John Barrymore, portrayed with flamboyant theatricality by Robert Hamm. — S.H. (Through December 18 at California Conservatory Theatre; CCT-SL.org or 510-632-8850)

Marius Marius is the story of two people in love who must decide what they can stand to lose. Eventually one of them will have to sacrifice something important, but up until the very last minute we don’t know which of them it will be. As the characters pile up promises, lies, misunderstandings, and well-intentioned schemes, the suspense builds. Whom will Fanny marry? Will Marius succumb to the wanderlust that makes him run to the door of his father’s cafe every time he hears a ship’s horn? And what is the nature of true love: jealousy or sacrifice, or some of both? — L.D. (Through December 18 at the Aurora; AuroraTheatre.org or 510-843-4822.)

Oliver! — Folks who love the earnest enthusiasm of community theater will find plenty to relish in the Willows Theatre’s new production. The Concord company pulls out all the stops, using revolving sets and complicated choreography to tell the classic tale of Oliver Twist, the orphan waif adrift in the mean streets of London. However, those who fault this musical for its mundane dialogue and sentimental, cliché-ridden songs will not find it improved in this interpretation by the sons of suburbia. — E.S. (Through December 31 at the Willows; WillowsTheatre.org or 925-798-1300.)

Peter & Wendy — This loose but loving adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan conceived and directed by artistic director Kevin T. Morales injects new life into the classic by bringing it back to its roots in the imagination. There’s no wirework here: flying is done on tippytoes, Tinker Bell is a golden glove on a sassy Janette Wallen’s hand, and actors move Klyph Stanford’s minimal set around as Mrs. Darling (Carolyn Power) tells the tale with gushing enthusiasm. And it’s delightful. — S.H. (Through December 24 at Town Hall Theatre; THTC.org or 925-283-1557.)


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