Even if you're not the very model of a modern major-general -- or, for that matter, if you're not ever so glad to be British -- it's hard not to be amused and charmed by the work of Gilbert & Sullivan. And it's hard not to be charmed by San Francisco's Lamplighters, who have been doing G&S beautifully for 25 years. This weekend they bring the short and sweet HMS Pinafore to the Dean Lesher Center in Walnut Creek. It took a few years of prodding by mutual acquaintances before Gilbert & Sullivan finally agreed to work together. And while theirs would prove to be a brilliant creative pairing, it wasn't necessarily a happy one, as we see in Mike Leigh's wonderful film, Topsy-Turvy, about the creation of The Mikado. Their fourth collaboration, HMS Pinafore, was Gilbert & Sullivan's major success, running for more than seven hundred performances when it premiered. Of course, there was some controversy over those performances because of a snag in how royalties and ownership would be handled. The problem was so serious that Gilbert hired men to stand outside one theater wearing sandwich boards indicating that this was the "official" production, and there was a near-riot during the second act of a performance when a lawyer and a "belligerent gang" showed up at the stage door to repossess props and costumes that were currently in use onstage.
Certainly the Lamplighters' five shows this weekend will be quieter than that, but no less entertaining. HMS Pinafore is the story of Josephine, the captain's daughter pressured to marry the pompous Sir Joseph, and the verbose sailor Ralph Rackstraw ("I am but a living ganglion of irreconcilable antagonisms," he tells his lady fair), whom she really loves but feels she can't have because of the class difference between them. Throw in the saucy Little Buttercup and the reviled Dick Deadeye, some of G&S' best-loved tunes, an inexplicable shipboard dungeon, and all of Sir Joseph's "sisters, cousins, and aunts," and you've got yourself a madcap, articulate, and very silly evening as the lovers -- all three pairs -- try to prove that "love levels all."
The Lamplighters present Gilbert & Sullivan's HMS Pinafore at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, Thursday through Sunday. Tickets: Lamplighters.org or 925-943-7469. -- Lisa Drostova
Salty murder in Pleasanton
What could be more entertaining than a murder mystery aboard a cruise ship? An outbreak of hepatitis? A terrorist takeover? A touch of mal de mer? Relax, folks, it's only the Gibson House Mystery Performers and their Interactive Mystery Dinner Theatre presentation, Murder on the High Seas, this Friday and next at the Pleasanton Hotel. Sup on a gourmet meal ($48 per sleuth), watch the play ("a deadly voyage aboard the SS Sieve"), solve the mystery, win a prize. Seating at 7:15 p.m. Reservations: 925-846-8106. 855 Main St., Pleasanton. -- Kelly Vance
If ever you needed an argument for dictatorship, Alan Ayckbourn's Ten Times Table could be it -- in comedic form, of course. A small-town committee meets intermittently in a run-down ballroom in an attempt to organize a pageant commemorating "The Massacre of the Pendon Twelve," a vaguely recorded event from the 17th century. Political factions are formed, and the meetings degenerate into chaotic battlefields -- and that's just the first act. Check out the whimsical conclusion when Angela Mason directs Ten Times Table for Masquers (105 Park Pl., Pt. Richmond) starting this Friday at 8 p.m., and running through Feb. 28. Tickets: $13 from 510-232-4031. -- Stefanie Kalem
Gardening Made Easy
Don't yell "Theater!" in a Crowded Fire. Instead, take a trip Friday and Saturday to LaVal's Subterranean (1834 Euclid Ave., Berkeley), as the Crowded Fire Theater Company concludes its workshop run of Peggy Powell's The Garden of Jezebel . The play, developed by the SF company's Matchbox Workshop Productions, puts a new and sexy twist on the Adam and Eve creation myth, with musical accompaniment. It's directed by Alice Shikina. Tickets are $10 at 415-675-5995 or CrowdedFire.org -- Kelly Vance
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