What’s Happening in East Bay Theater

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.”

The Arab-Israeli Cookbook — The first thing you need to know about this TheatreFIRST production is that if you don’t eat before the show, you’ll be miserable. In the first act alone, there’s lavish discussion of fattoush, hummus, stuffed zucchini, stuffed vine leaves, marinated chicken, Greek salad, falafel, mushroom quiche, beetroot salad, apples and honey, and Thai noodles with veal. This show illuminates the Arab-Israeli conflict by introducing characters who go beyond the Arab/Jew dichotomy: Greek Orthodox, urbanites, villagers, gay couples, etc. And the characters mostly talk about food — which is a clever way to get past abstraction and chest-beating. Much about the concept works, but it starts to feel limited by the end of the first act. Robin Soans clearly fell so IN love with the people he talked to that he wasn’t as merciless in his editing as the piece needs. While it’s sweet and unexpectedly tasty, The Arab-Israeli Cookbook also could stand to be less filling. — L.D. (December 1-4 at the Traveling Jewish Theatre in San Francisco; TheatreFIRST.com or 510-436-5085.)

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. Ann Homrighausen is a hoot as the irrepressible Countess Aurelia, despite a mite too much madwoman makeup. Some of the timing could stand to be tightened at the beginning of each act in director Pat Nelson’s staging (and the ingenue’s big love song sounds as if it might be heartrending were it sung on key), but by and large it’s a lively community theater production with solid musical direction by Pat King, fine lacy gowns by Jo Lusk, and nicely detailed sets by John Hull. — S.H. (Through December 17 at Masquers Playhouse; Masquers.org or 510-232-4031.)

Here on the Flight Path — The premise of Here on the Flight Path reads like a sitcom pitch meeting. So there’s this guy, see, and he’s newly divorced, and over a few years the apartment next to his boasts a series of single women. They’re all wildly different — there’s a hooker, a straitlaced wanna-be singer, and a woman who left her husband because she had a problem with his handkerchief. Laughs abound as he clumsily tries to get close to each woman, and finds instead that he has to learn how to be friends with them. And — cue moving music — learns something about taking love, women, and relationships seriously. Marriage takes a beating. With the rhythms and depth of a sitcom, the sweet and good-natured Path is funny in a predictable here-comes-the-punchline sort of way. — L.D. (Through December 3 at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts; PlayhouseWest.org or 925-943-SHOW.)

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, whose pink cheeks are smudged with fake coal dust. For better or for worse, this show trades emotional depth for animated song and dance numbers. — E.S. (Through December 31 at the Willows; WillowsTheatre.org or 925-798-1300.)

I Hate Hamlet — Paul Rudnick’s 1991 show-biz 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. The performances are delightful throughout, from Sofia Ahmad as the blithely romantic virgin girlfriend to Amanda Mitchell’s Fran Drescher-esque real-estate broker. Diane Dahms’ glitzy costumes add color to the already colorful performances, and Ric Koller’s set nicely embodies the musty theatrical affectations of Barrymore’s old apartment. — S.H. (Through December 18 at California Conservatory Theatre; CCT-SL.org or 510-632-8850)

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