Capsule Reviews 

Our critics weigh in on local theater

As You Like It -- Women playing traditionally male Shakespearean roles is what the Woman's Will theater company is all about. So a gender-bending comedy such as As You Like It, with the favorite Shakespearean device of a woman dressing up as a man, would appear to be right up the company's alley. It's a shame, then, that the most convincing performances happen to be those of women playing women: especially artistic director Erin Merritt as the lovesick maiden Rosalind. Many of the female actors play men with overly husky voices and burly swagger -- that is to say, exactly as Rosalind's idea of manly behavior is often played. Here, though, her pretending to be a man is treated as though it were the most natural thing in the world. -- S.H. (Through August 15 in Bay Area parks; 510-420-0813 or WomansWill.org)

Gypsy -- Young Louise, hidden in the shadow of more talented sister June, is forced to dress like the boys with whom she shares the chorus in a vaudeville act. Even after June decamps and Louise is pressed into the leading role, she's dressed in traditionally male garb. Mary Bracken Phillips sums up everything Gypsy Rose Lee had to say about the whirlwind Mama Rose: an ambitious, seductive, and wily dreamer who sacrificed everything to make her children the stars she herself wanted to be. The Willows turns out a bright, lively Gypsy. -- L.D. (Through August 1 at the Willows; 925-798-1300 or WillowsTheatre.org)

Henry IV -- Dakin Matthews' condensation of the two parts of Henry IV into a single play is fairly comprehensible and engaging, although the whos and whys of the historical conflict are sometimes confusing. James Carpenter, who played Prince Hal back in 1987, here brings a smoldering, kingly fire of hard lessons learned to the elder, titular Henry, who's never been the real focus of the plays that bear his name. When all's said and done, this is a story about how young Prince Harry the wastrel grows into his responsibilities as the man who would be King Henry V. But it's hard to imagine this particular production segueing into the next play because of Sean Dugan's performance as the young Prince Henry. Dugan is far too convincing as a debauched and callow whelp. -- S.H. (Through August 1; 510-548-9666 or CalShakes.org)

My Fair Lady -- Lerner and Loewe's musical adaptation of Pygmalion is a problematic classic, gleefully misogynist in a way Shaw's original never was. But the tale of linguistic taskmaster Henry Higgins molding a "proper woman" out of cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle is still too insidiously charming to resist, and this spirited staging helmed by Michael Manley ensures that you don't resist long. Deborah Banks is a strong Eliza with a good voice, Tom Flynn radiates impish charm as drunkard father Alfred Doolittle, and the performances are generally solid throughout and nicely versatile in the musical numbers, despite some trouble balancing volume levels with the odd instrumentation. Matt Flynn's sets and Jan Koprowski's costumes are top-notch and remarkably evocative. -- S.H. (Through August 14 at Contra Costa Civic Theater; 510-524-6654 or CCCT.org)

Showdown at Crawford Gulch -- Probably the most charming of the four San Francisco Mime Troupe productions dedicated to George W. Bush. The Mime Troupe is once again examining the role of the media in furthering a war agenda, but this time it's a little more evenhanded. The working-class residents of Crawford Gulch have peacefully coexisted for many years until two newcomers arrive, one of whom wastes no time fanning the flames of paranoia until neighbors see imaginary threats in every tree. Although the satire is still pointed, this year the preaching is subtler and funnier than in years past. -- L.D. (Through Sept. 26 at area parks; 415-285-1717 or SFMT.org)

21 Dog Years -- Mike Daisey worked at Amazon.com and lived to tell the tale. Once his nondisclosure contract finally ran out, he ran wild with the story of his employment there. Brilliantly funny in large patches, contrived and a little awkward in others, Daisey's one-man show 21 Dog Years is a parting shot from a disgruntled ex-employee. -- L.D. (Through August 1 at the Berkeley Rep; 510-647-2949 or BerkeleyRep.org)

Where Are We Goin' in the World? -- This sketchy new musical by the new company Heretic Theatre is seemingly strung together with rubber bands and spunk, but it's often very funny, though completely bizarre. The cartoonish residents of candy-colored Cozy Corners include a mayor obsessed with salad (Scott Luckey), an officious sheriff (writer, composer, and director Clay Rosenthal) who sings that "Someone's Always Breakin' the Law," and a horny pirate named Uncle Stew (Jason Lucas). There's no greater sense of where they're goin' with this after two hours, but getting there turns out to be all the fun. -- S.H. (Through July 31 at Del Valle Theatre; 925-943-7469 or DLRCA.org)

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