Capsule Reviews 

Our critics weigh in on local theater.

For a 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."

Art -- Everybody loves Art. Yasmina Reza's Tony award-winning comedy has charmed local audiences ever since the Broadway touring production starring Judd Hirsch hit San Francisco's Curran Theater in 1999. San Jose Rep put on a production in 2002, as did the Palo Alto Players, the Ross Valley Players, the Solano Collage Theatre, and lord knows who else. It's easy to see why smaller companies have taken to Art so readily: It's a very tidy play, with only three actors and minimal technical requirements. It's also a really smart script. It's not so much about art as about friendship, what its nature and basis is, and what is to be done if that basis seems to be called into question, or assumed but never truly agreed upon in the first place. The setup is simple: Marc is upset that his best friend Serge has spent 200,000 francs on a trendy artist's all-white abstract painting, a white background with diagonal white lines that you pretty much have to take his word for. He can't believe any friend of his could be so taken in by modern art hype as to spend a bundle on a plain white canvas. Serge in turn thinks that Marc is being insufferably condescending, and their entire friendship is called into question. Their infinitely agreeable friend Yvan is caught in the crossfire, trying to keep the peace by agreeing with both of them about the other. Playhouse West artistic director Lois Grandi gives Art as tidy a production as befits such a tidy play, keeping it down to ninety minutes with no intermission. The performances, too, are just as they ought to be. For all its tidiness and artfully arranged parts, Art is ultimately more than the sum of those parts. Its strength is in its subtlety, not in the point it's making, but in its tone. It's a serious comedy, in such a way that despite all the funny bits it's easy to forget it's a comedy at all. Just like Serge's painting -- or unlike it, if you like -- there's a hell of a lot more to the artful simplicity of Art than initially meets the eye. -- S.H. (Through December 4 at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts; DLRCA.org or 925-943-7469.)

Meanwhile, Back at the Super Lair -- Pity the Human Fly. His girlfriend, Leopard Woman, doesn't understand him, Paxil weight gain makes him look bad in his spandex, and the other members of the Super Tribe are upset because he didn't take responsibility for this week's chore wheel back at headquarters. Being a modern superhero ain't easy. Especially if you really don't have any superpowers, you're racked with existential angst, and the mayor is sending over an efficiency expert to see if your band of merry good-doers are a strain on city resources. It's enough to make a man wish there were some real supervillains around, something to give his life purpose. That's the basic premise of Greg Kalleres' Meanwhile, Back at the Super Lair, a goofy, risqué romp through the underside of superherohood. In Kalleres' distressingly crime-free Sate City, there isn't much for four costumed-yet-powerless do-gooders to do, besides hanging around playing cards and going to the shrink. At least until the mysterious Eidolon, a vicious criminal mastermind, arrives to stir things up. Playwright Kalleres makes fun of everything here, from D&D to whether men pee sitting down or standing up. Impact's hit-to-miss ratio has been improving steadily over the past few seasons, and Meanwhile is definitely in the first column. Even if it gets a little precious in places -- the extended monologues on the Meaning Of Life could be a little less, well, extended -- the concept is good, and the story is sure to amuse anyone familiar with the genre Kalleres is lampooning. -- L.D. (Through December 11 at LaVal's; ImpactTheatre.com or 510 464-4468.)

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