Beyond the Fourth Wall 

Our critics review local theater productions.

Andromache — Think you've got it tough romantically? Consider young Orestes. He's in love with Ermione, who is pledged to Pyrrhus, who is in love with the enslaved Andromache. She, however, still loves Hector, which is problematic because he is dead, having been killed by Pyrrhus' pop Achilles. And Andromache is having a problem getting over the part where Achilles dragged her dead husband around Troy by the heels after besting him in combat. In CentralWorks' adaptation of Racine's Andromache, the title character will find a way to protect her young son, even if it means marrying a man she doesn't want so her son has a new dad, and then killing herself. CentralWorks has modernized the language and taken some liberties with the plot in this revival of its 1994 work. — L.D. (Through November 19 at the Berkeley City Club; or 510-558-1381.)

Company — There's no wife-swapping in Company, but Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's "concept musical" about what marriage means in the crazy mixed-up modern world is firmly rooted in 1970 — that is to say, seriously dated. It doesn't bother with a plot so much as cruise dysfunctional couples through their one swinging single friend (charmingly smarmy Kyle Johnson), and even Sondheim's music gets bogged down in schmaltzy Love Boat brass. Some of the singing is a little flat in Masquers' production, but Leah Tandberg-Warren slays with one of the few decent songs, "Getting Married Today." The community cast gets into the spirit of the thing gamely with appropriately tacky '70s leisure suits, décor, and combovers. — S.H. (Through December 16 at Masquers Playhouse; or 510-232-4031.)

Criminal Genius — Tough, dyspeptic Shirley has hired the wrong pair of guys to do a job for her, and now things are going magnificently off the rails. Arson, kidnapping, murder, and the wanton destruction of innocent timepieces: Canadian playwright George Walker's Criminal Genius is funny and horrible, full of moments where you ask yourself, should I really be laughing because someone just got shot? Criminal Genius is also a subtle meditation on class war, and a not-so-subtle explosion of the victim mentality. — L.D. (Through November 19 at TheatreFIRST; or 510-436-5085.)

Passing Strange — How far do you have to go to find yourself? That's the central question in the musician Stew's first full-length musical, Passing Strange, an often-brilliant, sometimes labored coming-of-age tale that extols the virtues of love, political theory, and a righteous bass line. Anchored by four musicians set around the stage in separate pits and Stew's own brimming goodwill, six actors tell the story of Youth, a kid from Los Angeles who goes in search of "the real" in churches, hash bars, and European squats. — L.D. (Through December 3 at the Berkeley Rep; or 510-647-2949.)


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