Beyond The Fourth Wall 

Our critics review local theater productions.

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress— You hole up five bridesmaids in a Knoxville bedroom during a wedding reception, and what do you get? In this 1993 comedy you get two hours of catty "girl talk" as imagined by American Beauty screenwriter and Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball. The small cast and director Daren A.C. Carollo keep things moving pleasingly, even if they're not moving anywhere in particular. Kelly Tighe's twee country-manor bedroom set and Melissa Paterson's garishly rosy bridesmaid dresses capture just the right level of kitsch without taking it over the top. If the characters are a bit more two-dimensional (the wide-eyed Christian, the casual-sex poster girl, the brassy lesbian), the lively performers aren't to blame, though it's disorienting to have characters talking about how much older or younger they are when they all look pretty much the same age. — S.H. (Through June 10 at Town Hall Theatre; THTC.org or 925-283-1557.)

The Glass Menagerie — Tennessee Williams probably didn't intend for his Glass Menagerie to be taken as a gauzy, nostalgic look at a family lost in time. His journals and letters reveal discontent and struggle that wind through all of his characters and scenarios. Written while Williams was at MGM working on a Lana Turner vehicle, The Glass Menagerie follows the implosion of the Wingfield clan. Tom dreams out his days working in a shoe warehouse. Meanwhile his chatty mother hustles magazine subscriptions, trying to make enough money to get her reclusive daughter Laura trained in some lucrative skill. It's easy to play these characters in soft focus, but in the robust and troubling Berkeley Rep production, director Les Waters and his actors don't fall prey. Emily Donahoe's Laura is fine as long as she can stay within the cushioned world she has created for herself and interact only with her family. Rita Moreno's Amanda likewise is tough and clear-headed, the silliness of her thirty-year-old party dress aside. As Tom, Erik Lochtefeld is twitchy, slumped, shabby, and ultimately poetic. — L.D. (Through July 2 at the Berkeley Rep; BerkeleyRep.org or 510-647-2949.)

Island of Animals— More family entertainment should strike the balance between keeping it lively for the kids and engaging for the adults as does this fable from the Rasa'il by the Ikhwan al-Safa of 10th-century Iraq, adapted and directed by Hafiz Karmali for Golden Thread and Ballet Afsaneh. There are a few anachronistic jokes thrown in, but mostly it's the way the actors and dancers embody animals and spirits through movement that keeps entertaining a conceptually dense parable about all the animals assembling a defense team to appear before the King of the Jinn to establish whether humans or animals are superior. The tone is light, the arguments thought-provoking, and the production design striking. — S.H. (May 26-28 at Park Cinema, Fremont; GoldenThread.org or 415-401-8081.)

King Lear — Pity Cordelia; she caught the "radical honesty" bug a few centuries too early. When her father King Lear turns to her, expecting that she will lavish him with the same kind of overblown hooey that her mendacious older sisters Goneril and Regan have been dishing out, she demurs. But Lear is not interested in plain, practical love; he needs his kingly ego stroked. In a rage he disowns Cordelia, divides his kingdom between Goneril and Regan, and then plans to spend his dotage alternating months between the two. This does not please the two schemers, and for their own separate reasons they set out to destroy him. Everything pretty much goes downhill from there: The heavens respond with bad weather, Lear's retainers end up banished or blinded, the king himself ends up naked and raving in the middle of a big storm, and the bodies pile up. All of this is much more riveting in the hands of the Shotgunners than you might think. Codirectors Patrick Dooley and Joanie McBrien have a punchy script and a fairly strong cast studded with heavy hitters. While some of the motivations are murky, the themes are sharply drawn. Loyalty is especially important in Lear, and clearly played by the Shotgun cast. Swift and gleefully nasty, this Lear is three hours of deception, madness, and extremely poor intrafamily communication. — L.D. (Through June 11 at the Ashby Stage; ShotgunPlayers.org or 510-841-6500.

Money and Run, Episode 4: Go Straight, No Chaser — Jimmy Jake (Run) and Robbie Jean (Money) are the most charismatic liquor-store robbers in all of Cudrup County, so beloved that they can barely get away after the register is emptied because they're so busy signing autographs and kissing babies. No, it doesn't make any sense. Let go of that expectation, or indeed any desire for serious theatah, and just let the Bon Jovi wash over you as Rawley's homage to every incomprehensible '80s action television show trots out the sexy antihero couple, a scowling cop, a bitch-queen DA in perfectly square shoulder pads, and a game (if completely superfluous) narrator. — L.D. (Through May 27 at LaVal's; ImpactTheatre.com or 510-464-4468.)

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