Capsule Reviews 

Our critics weigh in on local theater.

Children of Eden -- Many of the Bible's big dudes are getting plenty of exposure this Easter season; at least at the Willows, it's with a story that doesn't threaten to make you lose your lunch. In an incredibly warm and fuzzy production that recasts the Bible as the story of a family with some boundary issues, the new musical Children of Eden fills the stage with singing, dancing, and a great many children dressed as lovable animals. Very loosely based on the first nine and a half chapters of Genesis, Children of Eden presents Adam and Eve as equal siblings waking up to each other's attractiveness after a big day of animal-naming, Cain killing Abel by accident, and the story of Noah spiced up with a little "pox upon your two houses" action when Noah's son falls for a girl from the wrong side of the tracks. But sticklers for accuracy should remember that Genesis was written by at least four different people over a period of 550-odd years; you expect some inconsistency. The Willows does a great job realizing the musical. The beautifully multicultural cast sing and move well, the costumes are great, and the sets are simple and effective. The design of the snake (a very large puppet manipulated by half a dozen people) is especially nice. Some of the musical numbers (like the calypso-flavored one that covers the begats) are both funny and catchy, and the cast seems to be having a great time performing them. All told, if you're into Bible stories, this is much more fun than the Gibson flick currently bleeding its way around the country. If you're not, it might be a little long at three hours. -- L.D. (Through April 18, Willows; 925-798-1300 or WillowsTheatre.org)

Ghosts -- The things that made Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts shocking in 1881 are barely noteworthy now. Prostitution? Incest? Mistaken paternity? Cohabiting couples? STDs? Nothing modern audiences haven't seen before, and certainly nothing to take to the streets over. But that's exactly what happened when what scholar Ross Shideler calls the most "Ibsenian" of Ibsen's plays first opened. Ghosts includes themes familiar to anyone who has seen or read Ibsen's work, including his inherent feminism, a disdain for religion, and an interest in Darwinism. Guest director Jonathan Moscone is the artistic director over at Cal Shakes, and it shows in his staging of what might be a tiny story in someone else's hands. Besides a few little pieces of furniture, the music, sound effects, and set pieces are all oversized. The monolithic scale of the walls, doors, and windows, combined with the dramatic shadows cast by Scott Zielinski's lighting, dwarfs the actors to powerful effect and reinforces the notion that every family is plagued by ghosts. -- L.D. (Through April 11, Berkeley Rep; 510-647-2949 or BerkeleyRep.org)

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