Capsule Reviews 

Our critics weigh in on local theater

Cowgirls -- So these three gals walk into a bar, right? Only these gals are some kinda chamber music group called the Coghill Trio, and they've been booked for this honky-tonk's grand reopening because of a wacky misunderstanding that they're a country band called the Cowgirl Trio. So these uptight New England ladies have to learn to be country real quick-like in order to save the bar from being taken over by the bank, because they're apparently the only musicians currently anywhere near Kansas. Maybe it's because the ol' country-singing bar owner sees something deep inside each and every one of those gals just dying to get out. Something like ... a cowgirl. If you think this premise sounds like pure musical-comedy gold, you're not half wrong. You're much more wrong than that. Cowgirls is plagued by the kind of jokes and mugging you'd find in an average sitcom, only broader, with lots of flailing arms and homespun wisdom. The flimsy script is just there to set up the musical numbers, which would be all right if the songs were any good. The best of the country tunes are just okay, and the sentimental numbers make you want to hang some chicken wire in front of the stage, just to be on the safe side. (Through June 12 at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, 925-943-7469 or DLRCA.org).

Hamlet -- Everybody loves Hamlet, but few more so than Stanley Spenger, who is currently staging his fourth production of the old standby with his New Shakespeare Company, which has changed its name from Subterranean Shakespeare and emerged from its fifteen years in the basement of La Val's pizza parlor. It is of course a great play, but one that is done far more often than it's done well, and though it's tackled here with an obvious love for the material and a surfeit of energy, it's just tackled in an ill-conceived way. Although Hamlet uncut would last even longer than this three-hour, 45-minute epic, when you're watching Claudius and Laertes sitting around reminiscing about some Norman guy they met once, it's hard to believe that anything was cut at all. Given the indulgent length of this production, many of the line readings seem to have been rushed to keep its overall length down. We gather that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, but it's hard to make out what that something is. This is a contemporary-dress Hamlet, and Miranda Calderon is thoroughly modern as the friskiest Ophelia ever, blowing kisses and making goo-goo eyes in her pigtails and Catholic-schoolgirl outfit. There's a lot of running across the room too, most of it done by the melancholy Dane himself. The fight choreography is very good indeed, and the acting is decent throughout -- though the portrayals of madness are pretty over-the-top. (Through June 5 at the Berkeley Art Center, 510-234-6046).

Money & Run -- Conventional wisdom has it that the young folks who constitute Impact Theatre's demographic would rather watch TV than go see live theater. With Money & Run, they no longer have to choose. A pitch-perfect parody of schlocky TV action shows complete with opening credits and a "previously on Money & Run" montage, this serial wraps up Impact's season with a bang, pow, biff, and zowie. Episode one plays on Thursdays, part two on Fridays, and the party of the third part on Saturdays. The episodes can be watched in any order, but if the second installment is any indication, any one of them will richly reward an evening's absence from your mom's couch. Episode one introduces Robby Jean "Money" Marshall and Jimmy Jake "Run" McAllister (to us and to each other), two young lovers on the lam who meet when they decide to knock over the same liquor store. Alexandra Creighton and Casey Jackson offer hilariously overwrought meta-performances portraying rebels from the wrong side of the tracks as played by dumb-bunny models, striking deliciously campy poses and dripping in bathos as they share the anguish of their tangled pasts. In chapter two, "Of Nuns and Ninjas," Money and Run have to save an orphanage so that Big Momma Bob can erect Liquor World, "the nation's first and only alcohol-themed family fun park." "Oh no," some might say, as they nibble their brie and sip their chardonnay. "Not another campy TV spoof!" Ayup, I reckon it is, but one that can be enjoyed wholeheartedly as well as ironically. (Through June 5 at La Val's Subterranean; 510-464-4468 or ImpactTheatre.com)

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