In the Galleries 

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."

A Murder Is Announced -- The town of Chipping Cleghorn has been thrown into a tizzy by the announcement in the newspaper of a murder to be committed at 6:30 that evening at the home of two elderly ladies. The Actors Ensemble of Berkeley owes the modest success of its latest play, A Murder Is Announced, to this striking premise, adapted from an Agatha Christie novel. The capable Miss Marple (Beverly Elkan) does her best to hold the play together as she unravels a tale of false identities and lucrative inheritances in the violet-scented drawing room. However, the other actors chew the scenery so thoroughly that the audience is hard pressed to care about the outcome. -- E.S. (Through August 13 at the Live Oak Theatre; or 510-649-5999.)

Anything Goes -- If your only exposure to the Cole Porter musical Anything Goes has been Kate Capshaw's opening dance number in the unfortunate Indiana Jones movie with the kid and the eating-the-brain-of-a-live-monkey scene, you could do worse than heading to Contra Costa Civic Theatre's colorful production. There's a plot, just barely, but really, this one is about song and dance numbers. -- L.D. (Through August 13 at the Contra Costa Civic Theatre; or 510-524-9132)

As You Like It -- "I am falser than vows made in wine," a character sighs in Shakespeare's As You Like It. As the cabernets and chardonnays flow freely at the play's performance at the Retzlaff vineyards, a reviewer's declarations of the production's stirring success may be considered suspect by some. But verily, gentle reader, what could be more pleasant than imbibing the poetry of one of Shakespeare's goofiest romantic comedies while seated outside with a glass of wine as the sun fades gracefully on the golden hills and butterflies skip over the rows of grapes? Director Lisa Tromovitch is to be commended both for the staging, which is sprightly and energetic, and for the apt choice of play for the Valley Shakespeare Festival's third annual production. -- E.S. (Through August 13 at Retzlaff Estate Winery; or 925-556-9624.)

Doing Good -- With this story of two young idealists who get sucked into the globalization machine, the San Francisco Mime Troupe has lost heart. Admirably, the troupe hopes to get us to question the global relationships between governments, corporations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. But this show fails to strike the troupe's usual balance between whimsy and world-changing. It's just not fun. -- L.D. (Through October in area parks; check for schedule.)

Let's Go to the Movies Redux -- New Town Hall artistic director Kevin T. Morales' makeshift musical about a guy who has to write a musical (and who in turn writes a musical about a guy who writes a musical) is a hilarious satire of community theater that builds beautifully on itself, the second act a marvelously over-the-top parody of the first. -- S.H. (Through August 14 at the Ashby Stage; or 925-283-1557.)

Much Ado About Nothing -- This summer's Free Shakespeare in the Park offering from the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival is an exceedingly light comedy with a great cruelty at the center, too-passionate Claudio's (Michael Navarra) shaming of radiant Hero (Sofia Ahmad) at the altar. Kenneth Kelleher's frolicsome production gives both the comedy and the pathos their due while no more dwelling on the disconnect than on the odd directorial decision to have our heroes seemingly be soldiers of Fascist Spain. The lively sparring of acid-tongued Beatrice (Julia Brothers) and Benedick (Stephen Klum) is marred only by a vulnerability too thinly veiled (in his case almost desperately). -- S.H. (Through September 24 in area parks; or 415-558-0888.)

Nicholas Nickleby Part One -- Forget that Potter book. Area libraries and booksellers should brace themselves for an onslaught of theatergoers jonesing for a different pure-hearted British lad struggling against adversity, Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby, because the stage version of the novel currently playing at CalShakes is quite simply phenomenal. British playwright David Edgar originally created this adaptation for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1980, but this is the first time the stage version has been professionally produced on the West Coast. Dickens' "bustle" is so gleefully embraced by codirectors Jonathan Moscone and Sean Daniels and their massive (and massively talented) cast that the time zips by in a perfectly delicious production that revels in both Dickens' wordplay and his compassion in this story of a family set adrift on the tide of the Industrial Revolution. -- L.D. (Through September 18 at the Bruns Amphitheater; or 510-548-9666.)

Pericles -- if you like your Shakespeare full of pimps and pirates, incest and miraculous resurrections, Pericles is the play for you, and you could do a lot worse than San Leandro Players' madcap production on a tiny stage in that burg's Chabot Park. Most of the performances are lively and perfectly comprehensible (by no means a given with Shakespeare), and Eddie Kurtz' staging is so playful and often downright silly that the rough patches are soon forgotten. With an amiable dude as the serially unfortunate hero (Evan Lubeck), a sermonizing virgin in jogging shorts (Amrita Gandhi), and a dizzying onslaught of cowboy narrators, Hefneresque kings, leather witches, covetous queens, pool boys, water-balloon fights, beer-commercial tableaux, and perilous sea voyages set to "Magical Mystery Tour," this is a good show to spring on any teenager who insists Shakespeare is boring. -- S.H. (Through August 21 at Chabot Park; or 510-895-2573)

The Ugly American -- Mike Daisey spins a hell of a yarn, as you may have gathered if you saw his monologue 21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ at Berkeley Rep last year. The Ugly American retells his time abroad in London at nineteen to try to absorb the grand British theatrical tradition, and the shady fringe theater and even shadier love affair he fell into while he was there. An insightful and marvelously funny raconteur, Daisey has a marvelous sense of timing, driving punchlines straight to your gut and building dramatic tension to the point where you hardly breathe till he lets you. Working with an outline instead of a script, Daisey hones the narrative from night to night along with his director wife, Jean-Michele Gregory, so it's a tale constantly enriched in the telling. At the end of the run, Daisey will workshop an entirely different monologue, Monopoly!, for one night on August 14. -- S.H. (Through August 13 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre; 510-647-2949 or


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