Beyond The Fourth Wall 

Our critics review local theater productions.

Beyond Therapy -- Across town at the Dean Lesher, director Timothy Beagley and Act Now! Are staging a hilarious send-up of '80s and therapy culture with Beyond Therapy. The work is dated, but if you take it as a document of a time when we had terrible haircuts and were still trying to sort out the Sexual Revolution, it's hilarious in its familiarity. Bruce cries in front of Prudence on their first meeting, something she hates in men, but it doesn't exactly go downhill from there -- it just gets weirder. During the exchange of compliments, she replies, "I like your necklace. It goes with your chest hair." So hark back to the heady days of the early '80s, where we were encouraged to let it all hang out, chest hair and all, and do our processing as publicly as possible. Beyond Therapy is most assuredly not a family show, but it's a stitch. -- L.D. (Through March 18 at the Dean Lesher Center; or 925-943-7469.)

Hamlet -- Points to Impact for attempting one of Shakespeare's longest and most challenging works in a compact and contemporary form. Artistic director Melissa Hillman has got it down to two and a half hours (alas, poor Yorick), and it still makes sense. But Hamlet is a butt-killer under the best of circumstances, and the basement of LaVal's hardly qualifies as the best of circumstances. And the Impact formula that's emerging -- lots of rushing about, angry music at every turn, an explanatory montage before the first line of text is spoken -- doesn't serve the melancholy Dane as well as it did the other shows. The unevenness of the casting also works against the show. -- L.D. (Through March 18 at LaVal's; or 510-464-4468.)

My Fair Lady -- Diablo Light Opera Company celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the classic Lerner and Loewe adaptation of Shaw's Pygmalion with a handsome production helmed by Dianna Shuster. All the favorites are exceedingly well sung, the sets and costumes are terrific, and there are some fine dance numbers. Not as much attention is given to the humor and heart of the play, so the viewer winds up paying as little mind to the plight of poor Eliza Doolittle (Angelique Lucia), bullied into ladylike poise and diction, as does her imperious tutor Henry Higgins (John Hetzler). -- S.H. (Through March 18 at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts; or 925-943-7469.)

(The 99-Cent) Miss Saigon -- If you've ever wondered how this melodramatic spectacle of a musical about GIs and bar girls in Vietnam would hold up without the huge production and the helicopter taking off, the answer is really, really well. This totally stripped-down, no-budget staging of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg's musical by director Maya Gurantz is delightful throughout, and the music actually sounds better at times without the swelling orchestra, just a piano and an acoustic guitar with some violin and clarinet here and there. The workaround depictions of explosions, the baby, and the helicopter are pretty funny, but this isn't just some campy romp and it's heartrending when it needs to be. -- S.H. (Through March 25 at the Willard Middle School Metalshop Theater; or 510-547-8932.)

Shadow Crossing -- Central Works' new play Shadow Crossing probes at the question of legal and illegal immigration like a tongue worrying California's loose tooth. Written by Brian Thorstenson in collaboration with the ensemble, it tells the story of a gay photographer planning to move to Canada to escape US homophobia, his Minuteman-leaning schoolteacher friend, and a young Mexican looking for work who collide in a messy and vital tangle of needs, history, and ideologies. The relationships are played truthfully, the tension is high, and like so many Central Works shows, the ending is satisfyingly ambiguous. But while provocative, it sometimes stumbles. -- L.D. (Through March 26 at the Berkeley City Club; or 510-558-1381.)

She Loves Me -- Two people work in the same field and hate each other. Little do they know that they've been conducting a passionate affair via the post. Sound familiar? Parfumerie was written by the Hungarian Miklós Làszló, and then milked for all it was worth for years after. You've Got Mail is the latest version of the play, which was made into two other films in the '40s. But the most enduring version is She Loves Me, a Broadway musical that debuted in 1963 and is now playing at Crossroads. Here we have two people working -- and competing -- in Maraczek's Parfumerie, creating tensions that ripple through the other employees. It's totally frothy, but every now and again there's a sharp little twist to take off the sugary edge. Overall the show is like the perfumes in Maraczek's shop: sweet, charming, and light, evaporating quickly. -- L.D. (Though March 25 at Crossroads Theatre, or 925-944-0597.)


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