Beyond the Fourth Wall 

Our critics review local theater productions.

Bird in the Hand — Not only is Anne Galjour's play about birdwatching, a niche interest in itself, but the experience itself is a lot like birdwatching as well. Glimpses are offered of characters hopping around in their yards and eventually interacting with others of their own species, just to give them something to do. Galjour and Joel Mullennix are Ruth and Ralph, a prim birder searching for California quail and a scavenging hippie who keeps pigeons. They also play their next-door neighbors Charmaine and Roman, a meek New Orleans refugee and her dominating, fitness-obsessed boyfriend. Meanwhile, Jan Zvaifler's brusque and bitter Marian, abandoned by her birder husband, saves an injured sparrow with her officious next-door neighbor Frank (Terry Lamb). Each character is associated with a particular bird, and the script is packed with avian metaphors. But unlike in Galjour's acclaimed bayou monologues, here her multiple characters simply feel adrift in search of a plot to pursue. (Through July 29 at the Berkeley City Club; CentralWorks.org or 510-558-1381.)

Bosoms and Neglect — John Guare's stilted dialogue works beautifully as class commentary in 1990's Six Degrees of Separation, but 1979's Bosoms and Neglect is just overwritten. Mildly amusing stuff about analysis subjects' superiority to therapy patients is bogged down with expository dialogue as Scooper and Deirdre talk about their mutual shrink and reminisce about their meeting mere minutes ago. There's a grating plaintive lilt to Cassidy Brown's thick New York accent (reminiscent of cartoon cougar Snagglepuss) as hyperactive Scooper. Beth Wilmurt's deliberately casual air of assuredness as Deirdre gradually crumbles as her nervous fidgeting escalates. Joan Mankin is a breath of fresh air in the second act as Scooper's blind mother Henny, with her mile-a-minute chatter. Despite some fine performances and the valiant efforts of director Joy Carlin to keep things moving, neither can save a deeply troubled play that's ultimately beyond therapy. (Through July 22 at the Aurora Theatre; AuroraTheatre.org or 510-843-4822.)

Impact Briefs 8: Sinfully Delicious — Impact's annual assemblages of short plays tend to be basically an evening of sketch comedy. The five sin-themed briefs seem particularly skimpy this year, but they're fleshed out with four burlesque dance numbers, plus an opening bit with audience answers about the last sinful thing they did. It's pretty lightweight stuff but has its moments, particularly Lia Romeo's priceless Hot Line, in which a lovelorn cheerleader (a chirpy Elissa Dunn) is dicked around by a pathological liar working a suicide hotline, played with a winning smirk by Steve Budd. Meandering but with a nice payoff, Steve's Inferno by David Kongstvedt sees a young hipster (Jon Lutz) get off the subway at the wrong stop and have to tour a downsized Hell guided by Leon Goertzen as a very fey demon. Four burlesque dancers fill out the program enchantingly with sin-themed numbers, whether they're nuns doing chair dances or angels and devils facing off in lingerie. (Through July 21 at La Val's Subterranean; ImpactTheatre.com or 510-464-4468.)

Making a Killing — Michael Gene Sullivan's script has everything you want from an old-school San Francisco Mime Troupe show. There's a hero of the people aching to be unleashed in Corporal Emiliano Jones (Victor Toman), a muckraking journalist recalled to army service by the Iraq war and tamed into writing feel-good puff pieces. There's Kevin Rolston's spunky photographer Corporal Marcus Johnson as sidekick, conscience, and foil for Jones, as well as his romantic interest. There are great villains to boo and hiss in Ed Holmes' snarling Dick Cheney and Velina Brown's haughty Condoleezza Rice. Pat Moran's insidiously catchy songs keep things snappy. The nefarious plot has contractors tearing down an Iraqi clinic to build a grander PR-friendly clinic, then tearing that down to build an even bigger one, without actually treating the skyrocketing cancer rates caused by uranium-tipped US bombs. A courtroom framing sequence is pretty thin, as is the shock-and-aww ending, but it's a heck of a ride along the way. (Through September 3 in local parks; SFMT.org or 415-285-1717.)

Romeo and Juliet — The central Women's Will concept of all-female casting works pretty well in this free outdoor production, and director Erin Merritt strikingly condenses the chain of events that bring the young lovers together in a tomb into a slo-mo dumbshow. Jessica Kitchens is appropriately larger than life as boisterous Mercutio and Carolyn Power an amusingly garrulous Nurse, but a few actors come off as unassuming wallflowers, such as Karen Anne Light as the usually fiery Tybalt. Marilet Martinez' mechanical Romeo seems to be wooing Juliet simply because she's there, although Cassie Powell makes such a charmingly rash and gushy Juliet that it's easy to believe that she suddenly thinks she's in love. One wishes their parents would get over their feud not so young love can thrive but to bring their kids to their senses, and the moral becomes that kids do deeply stupid things sometimes. (Through August 12 in local parks; WomansWill.org or 510-420-0813.)

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