What’s Happening in East Bay Theater

Our critics weigh in on local productions.

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.”

La Belle et La Bête — It was interesting enough when Philip Glass composed a new soundtrack for the Jean Cocteau film, because it may be a quiet film but it’s not a silent one, but it’s certainly no less ambitious for Oakland Opera Theater to bring Glass’ piece to life as a fully staged opera, without the film. Considering the funkiness of some of the props and whatnot, the experiment is remarkably successful, aided by circus performers contorting during scene changes and a sumptuous set by director Tom Dean, though it drags in some wordless stretches when Glass was composing to something primarily visual in the film, and some of the “meanwhile back at the tavern” scenes are relatively lackluster. Marguerite Krull brings emotional depth as well as a lovely soprano to the role of Belle, and the small orchestra conducted by musical director Deirdre McClure conveys the moody resonance nestled among Glass’ repeating doodly-doodly-doodlies. — S.H. (Through October 2 at Oakland Metro; OaklandOpera.org or 510-763-1146.)

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 2 in area parks; SFMT.org)

Miss Saigon — The Diablo Light Opera Company knocks out a take-no-prisoners version of the infamously tech-heavy musical (and yes, there is a helicopter), an update of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, set in a South Vietnamese bar and brothel circa 1975. This tale of a heroine who sacrifices herself to save her child resonates with writers looking for a tear-jerker. It also looked, to Frenchmen Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil (the team that brought us Les Misérables), like a chance to slam the United States for the war in Vietnam. That’s ironic, considering that France was part of Vietnam’s problem to begin with. As much as it is the story of a doomed love between the orphaned Kim and her GI Chris, Miss Saigon also is a scathing indictment of the war. The DLOC production is a mixed bag. The orchestra plays the haunting score beautifully under the direction of Cheryl Yee Glass, but that score often drowns out the singing, especially in the ensemble numbers, making it very difficult to understand what’s going on. — L.D. (Through October 1 at the Dean Lesher Center; DLOC.org or 925-943-SHOW.)

Nicky Goes Goth — There’s almost nothing quiet about Nicky Goes Goth, Impact’s crisp premiere of Elizabeth Meriwether’s skewering of celebrity culture. For anyone who gloated when real-life hackers broke into Paris Hilton’s personal organizer and obtained the phone numbers of friends such as the actor Vin Diesel, the story of younger Hilton heiress Nicky getting all existential is a riot. For anyone else, it’s a strange love between a moody socialite, a suburban punk, and their assorted dendrites. Or the strange love between a bitchy princess and her gay makeup designer. Although the real love story turns out to be elsewhere, in a cute twist. Meriwether’s script is brilliant in places, overlong in others. And it’s a shame it’s so very topical, because it’s funny and acid-etched, yet in a few years nobody will know who the sisters Hilton are. L.D. (Through October 1 at LaVal’s; ImpactTheatre.com or 510 464-4468)

Our Town — At first glance, Thornton Wilder’s legendary play might seem to fall into the nostalgia trap, with its soda fountain and unlocked doors. But Our Town, which netted Berkeley High graduate Wilder the first of three Pulitzers, is much more interesting than its reputation suggests, especially in a version that manages to be meditative and not maudlin, gentle and profound. This is a quintessentially American town, yes, and things may be simpler, but people’s problems, their sadness and loss and occasional despair, affect them just as deeply. In this Berkeley Rep production directed by Jonathan Moscone, these individual lives juxtaposed against the larger cycles of community and nature take on a certain dignity and loveliness. — L.D. (At the Berkeley Rep’s Roda Stage through October 23; 510-647-2949 or BerkeleyRep.org)

Owners — Maybe you really can’t take it with you when you go, but Marion Clegg (Trish Mulholland) has bigger things to worry about — such as her complete and utter domination of everyone around her, from her swinish husband and her suicidal assistant to a couple of old friends she jettisoned on her rise to power as a real-estate tycoon. And money is useful for that, along with sex and the flinty heart playwright Caryl Churchill placed at the core of her first professionally staged play, 1972’s acidly funny Owners. The characters spend most of the play trying to figure out what it will cost to get what they want, and the story hinges on how ineffectual they largely all are, except for monstrous, attractive Marion, who doesn’t blink at bribery, arson, or murder. Unapologetically political, deeply informed by her political and feminist convictions, and foreshadowing Churchill’s lifelong experimentation with theatrical form, Owners is a fascinating if sprawling look into the playwright’s process. — L.D. (Through October 9 at the Ashby Stage; ShotgunPlayers.org or 510-841-6500.)

The Price — On the surface, it looks completely ordinary, even mundane. Two brothers are struggling over how to dispose of their dead father’s things while a wife and an innocent bystander watch. But in The Price, one of Arthur Miller’s most intimate plays, there’s a lot going on, about secrets, responsibility, the pressure of history, the choices we make and their repercussions. Because the brothers — one a cop about to retire, the other a surgeon — haven’t spoken in sixteen years, and bad blood is thicker than water. All of the nuances of which come across beautifully in the Joy Carlin-led effort at the Aurora, a precise and heartfelt effort anchored by four excellent actors. — L.D. (Through October 9 at the Aurora; AuroraTheatre.org or 510-843-4822.)

Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me — The scenery is stark: In three spotlights, three men in grungy white T-shirts and boxer shorts sit, chained to the walls. In this production from Wilde Irish, the external details don’t change at all, but the three characters go through fascinating transformations. Based on the true story of an Irishman, an Englishman, and an American held hostage together in Lebanon, the play tracks the men’s struggles with boredom and encroaching insanity. But the show won’t leave you depressed. The men beat back despair with humor, and the audience spends most of the show shaking with laughter. The rest of the time spectators are transfixed, as in the concluding moments of this moving and ultimately uplifting play. — E.S. (Through October 2 at the Berkeley City Club; WildeIrish.org or 510-644-9940.)

You Can’t Take It with You — Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s 1936 comedic classic holds up surprisingly well today with all its jokes about Russian nobles brought low by the revolution and that newfangled income tax, which is a good thing because the play is performed so often. Yet it relies on timing that could be snappier in Kate Culbertson’s community theater production, which earns more pleasant smiles than actual laughs, and the dotty household at its center comes off as quietly quirky at best. But it’s hard not be charmed by Ralph Miller’s gently unflappable paterfamilias or Stacey Matthews’ glowing belle of the bedlam, and Matt Flynn’s exquisitely cluttered set earns applause in itself. S.H. (Through October 22 at Contra Costa Civic Theatre; CCCT.org or 510-524-6654.)


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