Horse Play 

What's under that big tent?

8/5-8/15

When I was a kid, my best friend was my horse. And while Sunny and I shared many special moments, we never formed a lasting bond, which might explain why he abandoned me for a chestnut mare named Honey just after my ninth birthday. If only Sunny and I had been able to spend real quality time together, as the performers and horses do in Cavalia, we might've had a real shot at happiness. Cavalia, a massive spectacle of horseplay, acrobatics, and music, gallops into the East Bay on Thursday. Featuring more than sixty performers and 36 horses, it's the kind of visual spectacle you might see at a Cirque du Soleil show. No coincidence, since Cavalia creator Normand Latourelle was a cofounder of Cirque. Latou-relle, who was opposed to the idea of using animals in a performance, changed his mind when he met Frédéric Pignon and his wife Magali Delgado -- both trainers and performers in the show. "Other people took horses to a ring and used a whip," he says. "Frédéric took three white stallions into a field and ran and played with them without bridles or halters, just running along with them."

Audience members can expect to see similar unfettered frivolity when they come to one of the thirteen performances held under the big top set up next to Golden Gate Fields in Albany. Inside the giant tent that stretches more than a hundred feet into the air, the 160-foot stage allows enough room for the horses to reach a full gallop. A constantly changing background projected on a two-hundred-foot screen backdrops the acrobats, aerialists, riders, and horses, while live musicians take their cues from their four-hoofed maestros. As Latourelle sums it up, "The horses come on stage and play." Who wouldn't want to watch -- and dream of playing with them?

Cavalia runs from August 5 through 15, with Saturday matinees and evening performances Tuesdays through Fridays. Tickets can be purchased online at Cavalia.net or at 866-999-8111. --Elka Karl

8/7-8/8

So Show Me

Sack o' Tunes

For the historically challenged, Sacagawea was the legendary Shoshone woman who helped point out the route to the Pacific Ocean for Euro-American pioneers Lewis and Clark, circa 1805. Her name was learned, then promptly forgotten, by generations of American schoolkids -- but all that is about to change, at least in Martinez. Mary Bracken Phillips (book and lyrics) and Craig Bohmler (composer), the team who wrote John Muir's Mountain Days, have penned a new musical about the Native American maiden, Sacagawea, scheduled to open at the John Muir Amphitheatre in 2005. But first, two special benefit staged readings of the play are happening Saturday and Sunday at a pair of venues in Martinez. Tix are $75-$125. Info: MuirFest.org or WillowsTheatre.org -- Kelly Vance

8/6-8/14

Recoupled

To create The Odd Couple, Female Version , Neil Simon flipped the script on his own play, to portray the plight of slovenly, primetime news show producer Olive Madison, who takes in suddenly-single stay-at-home mom Florence Unger. This weekend and next, Pleasanton Playhouse's Summer Teen Theatre program will trot out those clashing comedic heroines, as well as their gaggle of Trivial Pursuit buddies (guess chicks didn't play poker in the Reagan era) and, instead of the Pigeon Sisters upstairs, the dapper Castilian Costazuela brothers. The show (right) plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. at the Pleasanton Playhouse Studio Theatre, 1048 Serpentine Lane. $10 suggested donation, 925-606-4845. -- Stefanie Kalem

8/5-8/7

We've Got a Little List

There are people who don't love Gilbert & Sullivan. Feel sorry for them. They go through life with thoughts uncluttered by the refrains of "Behold the Lord High Executioner" or "His uncles and his cousins and his aunts." They've never heard of Nanki-Poo or Ruddigore. They stick close to their desks and never go to sea. But you and I know better. We'll be at Dean Lesher Center in Walnut Creek this week (August 5 through 7, four shows only) for The Mikado , in a new production directed by Ellen Brooks for the Lamplighters -- SF's truly world-famous Gilbert and Sullivan performing company. Tickets: 925-943-7469. -- Kelly Vance

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