On Stage 

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."

Damn Yankees -- Here's something for anyone who has ever shouted at the television screen, threatening to rip the baseball bat from the hands of a clumsy slugger and do the job themselves. For its last show of the season, the Alameda Civic Light Opera has revived this 1950s musical, in which a passionate baseball fan sells his soul to the Devil to give his bumbling team a chance to beat the damn Yankees and win the pennant. The ensemble cast gets credit for their enthusiasm: Every dance sequence and big choral number is played to the hilt. But their campy overacting gets tiresome by intermission. Bruce Steele, who plays the Devil in a bright-red suit, is the brightest spot in a lackluster production. -- E.S. (Through September 18 at the Kofman Auditorium; ACLO.com or 510-864-2256.)

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 2 in area parks; check SFMT.org for schedule.)

I Do! I Do! -- The Chanticleers production of I Do! I Do! is a strong sales pitch for "I Don't!" A Quaker schoolboy summed it up neatly when he misspelled Dutch-born playwright Jan de Hartog's name in an essay titled "The Long Works of Yawn de Hartog." The error fits the musical version of de Hartog's play The Four-Poster beautifully. It's supposed to be heartwarming, but it's just dated. Because the story is weak and predictable, it is hard to imagine a script or characters more devoid of charm or surprise. -- L.D. (Through September 10 at Chanticleers Community Theatre; Chanticleers.org or 510-733-5483.)

Love Lafayette -- Kevin T. Morales kicks off his first season as Town Hall's artistic director with an original comedy he wrote especially about and for the theater's hometown, directed by Berkeley Rep artistic assistant Eddie Kurtz. The premise is simple enough: A conservative couple invites a liberal couple over to discuss the budding romance between their teenage kids. Janette Wallen and Will Long manage to keep extended instant-message conversations entertaining as the teens, and the parents make the uncomfortable interactions mostly ring true. The pace flags in some long expository conversations, but the dialogue is clever throughout, and in a sense the untidy, open-ended quality that makes it seem unfinished also makes it feel a little more like life. -- S.H. (Through September 24 at Town Hall Theatre; THTC.org or 925-283-1557.)

Miss Saigon -- The Diablo Light Opera Company knocks out a take-no-prisoners version of the infamously tech-heavy musical (and yes, there is a helicopter), an update of Puccini's Madame Butterfly, set in a South Vietnamese bar and brothel circa 1975. This tale of a heroine who sacrifices herself to save her child resonates with writers looking for a tear-jerker. It also looked, to Frenchmen Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil (the team that brought us Les Misérables), like a chance to slam the United States for the war in Vietnam. That's ironic, considering that France was part of Vietnam's problem to begin with. As much as it is the story of a doomed love between the orphaned Kim and her GI Chris, Miss Saigon also is a scathing indictment of the war. The DLOC production is a mixed bag. The orchestra plays the haunting score beautifully under the direction of Cheryl Yee Glass, but that score often drowns out the singing, especially in the ensemble numbers, making it very difficult to understand what's going on. It's an embarrassment to stage a big extravaganza yet squander the impact because the audience has to rely on the actors' facial expressions to get the gist. Under the American-flag bikinis and heavy artillery, Butterfly's story is one that people love to tell, and the quieter moments of the DLOC production tell us why. -- L.D. (At the Dean Lesher Center through October 1; DLOC.org or 925-943-SHOW.)

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; SFShakes.org 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 this stage version of the novel 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 gleefully embraced by codirectors Jonathan Moscone and Sean Daniels and their massive (and massively talented) cast. -- L.D. (Through September 18 at the Bruns Amphitheater; CalShakes.org or 510-548-9666.)

Nicky Goes Goth -- There's almost nothing quiet about Nicky Goes Goth, Impact's crisp premiere of Elizabeth Meriwether's skewering of celebrity culture. For anyone who gloated when real-life hackers broke into Paris Hilton's personal organizer and obtained the phone numbers of friends such as the actor Vin Diesel, the story of younger Hilton heiress Nicky getting all existential is a riot. For anyone else, it's a strange love between a moody socialite, a suburban punk, and their assorted dendrites. Or the strange love between a bitchy princess and her gay makeup designer. Although the real love story turns out to be elsewhere, in a cute twist. Meriwether's script is brilliant in places, overlong in others. And it's a shame it's so very topical, because it's funny and acid-etched, yet in a few years nobody will know who the sisters Hilton are. -- L.D. (At LaVal's through October 1; ImpactTheatre.com or 510 464-4468)

Private Lives -- When a honeymooning couple talks of nothing except one partner's disastrous first marriage, it's a good bet that the despised ex is nearby, about to complicate matters. There's little to this 1930 Noél Coward favorite aside from the flippant drolleries of people too sophisticated for anyone's good and the convenient coincidences that have become staples of TV sitcoms. Though sometimes dated, Coward's witty banter still goes a long way, and is carried along capably in Lois Grandi's elegant Playhouse West production. -- S.H. (Through September 24 at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts; DLRCA.org or 925-943-7469.)

When God Winked -- The Marsh's new Berkeley branch opens with Ron Jones' one-man show about his thirty years working at SF's Recreation Center for the Handicapped, now the Janet Pomeroy Center. Beatific one moment, giggly and near-hysterical the next, his delivery captures the hectic pace of coaching a basketball team for the mentally and physically disabled, but can be so rushed that it's hard to get a handle on what's going on. Between his lively storytelling and videos of his clients in action, Jones really lets us get to know the unforgettable personalities involved and keenly feel the sense of loss and outrage when cutbacks leave them in the lurch. -- S.H. (Through September 16 at the Marsh Berkeley; TheMarsh.org or 415-826-5750.)


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