Capsule Reviews 

Our critics weigh in on local theater.

For complete, up-to-date East Bay theater listings, look under "Billboard" on the home page for the "Select Category" pulldown, then select "Theater & Performing Arts."

The Importance of Being Earnest -- From the moment Andy Murray emerges from the bath as Algernon Moncrieff in the current CalShakes production of The Importance of Being Earnest, gleeful in his near-nudity and a puff of steam, it's clear that this is going to be one of the livelier stabs at Wilde's most famous play. Loopy, physically adroit, and perfect in their timing, neither Murray nor the rest of the cast disappoints in the much-produced comedy. While some comedies are funny by virtue of dialogue or situation alone, Earnest is really a carefully crafted piece, and it's beautifully executed here. Wilde also was intent on creating physical patterns that would increase the hilarity, a tendency director Jonathan Moscone indulges to fine effect. The actors look like they're having a good time with their roles. Murray gets to loosen up and be silly, Cecily is rarely played as the robust young woman Susannah Schulmann presents here, and Julie Eccles is a charmingly carnal Gwendolen to Anthony Fusco's prissy, proper Ernest. Wilde called Earnest "a trivial comedy for serious people," perhaps not realizing that he was writing one of the English language's most perfect comedies. Earnest has everything -- misdirection, assumed identity, amusing physical bits and stage business, and wit to burn -- and the current CalShakes production shows it all off with style. -- L.D. (Through September 5 at Bruns Amphitheater; 510-548-9666 or CalShakes.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. Although the satire is still pointed, the preaching is subtler and funnier than in years past. -- L.D. (Through Sept. 26 at area parks; 415-285-1717 or SFMT.org)

A Thurber Carnival -- The live music that accompanies this Douglas Morrison Theatre production is delightful. It's fortunate that the music is so good, because it eases the excessively long transitions between sketches, and smooths the jagged edges of an amateur cast doing its best with material that is often too subtle for its skills. James Thurber may be one of this country's great humorists, but his martini-dry wit comes through unevenly in this two-hour "revue for people who can't sing." It should have been a slam dunk for director SRCarnefix and his cast. The show's bits don't require much in the way of character development, Shakespearean memory tricks, or complex blocking. But after a few charming ultra-short modern fables involving wolves and unicorns, the show doesn't jell, and there are long stretches made longer by being painfully unfunny. It's a good introduction to Thurber's work, but the impatient might find a trip to the library for his nontheatrical work more productive. -- L.D. (Through September 5 at the Douglas Morrison Theatre in Hayward; 510-881-6777).

Twelfth Night -- The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival's production is a beauty, visually speaking. It's an intriguing, energetic staging. It's being performed for free in local parks on weekend evenings all summer. In short, it's everything a summer Shakespeare comedy should be, except actually funny. Stephen Klum strikes a slightly sinister presence as Feste, veteran Shakespearean Julian López-Morillas plays disheveled Sir Toby with a devilish savvy, Alex Moggridge is appropriately foppish and clueless as his stooge Sir Andrew, and Jack Powell is the very model of an immovable manservant as Malvolio. It's puzzling, then, that so many punchlines are given a spin that sends them spiraling flat on their faces. The actors do fine work individually, but the whole is less than the sum of its parts. -- S.H. (Through September 26; 415-422-2222 or SFShakes.org)

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