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; or 510-558-1381.)

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; or 415-285-1717.)

Man and Superman -- Satirizing the sanctimonious morality of polite society, George Bernard Shaw's play might be regarded as a romantic comedy that strains against its nature at every turn, and spends much more time on philosophical debate than on the plot. Trimmed to a manageable three hours or so, the dialogue sparkles in Jonathan Moscone's inventive staging, and the cast is superb. Susannah Livingston leaves little doubt that she's entirely in control as the seemingly innocent and ladylike Ann, and Delia MacDougall's fiscally savvy, self-assured Violet has the men around her eating out of her hand. Elijah Alexander brings cockiness and conviction to self-styled anarchist Jack Tanner, and L. Peter Callender is a delight as stodgy, sputtering Ramsden. The philosophical dialogue Don Juan in Hell drags on a bit, but sharp performances and clever anachronisms (not to mention Shaw's rapier wit) keep it lively. (Through July 29 at Bruns Memorial Amphitheater; or 510-548-9666.)

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; or 510-420-0813.)


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