Beyond the Fourth Wall 

Our critics review local theater productions.

Footloose — Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie's stage adaptation of Pitchford's 1984 screenplay relies heavily on familiarity with the Kevin Bacon flick, and incorporates almost the entire movie soundtrack plus new Broadway-style book numbers. But Contra Costa Civic Theatre does it proud with a multilevel set that whets the appetite for the iconic dance moment that never arrives. For a musical about dancing, director Amy Nielson's minimal choreography reminds us that it's about people who haven't danced for a long time. — S.H. (Through August 5 at Contra Costa Civic Theatre; or 510-524-6654.)

Godfellas — Brothers and sisters, I am here to tell you that after a couple of disappointing summers, the San Francisco Mime Troupe is on its best form in years. With Godfellas, a side-splitting look at the narrowing separation between church and state, the troupe returns to all the things it does best — singing, clowning, and raising hell — as it lambastes demagogues who claim to know the will of heaven. This year Ed Holmes took a break from playing Dick Cheney to wrangle the show, and between his direction and a script helmed by Michael Gene Sullivan, Godfellas rocks like the tent revival that opens the story. To the world, Reverend C.B. DeLove (an angelic Sullivan) is out to "reclaim California for God and honor 9/11," but secretly he's in cahoots with an "ecumenical syndicate," and their goals are not nearly so lofty. Standing against them are civics teacher and Thomas Paine fangirl Angela (Velina Brown, deliciously nerdy) and her friends. But are they really her friends, or will they betray her? — L.D. (Through September 1 in East Bay parks;

Night of the Iguana — One of Tennessee Williams' more tender dramas, this 1961 play nonetheless deals with madness, alcoholism, and transgressive sexuality. Wisecracking, disgraced Episcopalian minister T.L. Shannon has left his church to seek evidence of God on "five of the six continents," a search subsidized by leading tour groups. He'd be more successful at the work if he could keep his hands off the young girls on the bus, but as the play opens he's down to the shabbiest employer and his last nerve. Seeking shelter at his friend Fred's hotel outside Acapulco, he finds instead Fred's lusty widow Maxine, her much-younger Mexican employee and lover, Nazi Germans boisterously celebrating the firebombing of London, and Hannah, a mysterious woman traveling with her dying grandfather. Meanwhile, a group of Baptist lady teachers agitate for Shannon's immediate firing, arrest, and/or crucifixion because he's both seduced their charge and taken them to questionable restaurants. In the well-paced Actors Ensemble production now running at the Live Oak Theatre, Jeff Bell's Shannon is a mixed bag. Sometimes he is easy to believe as a tortured man riding a fine line. Other times he jumps his colleagues' lines. Williams was prone to excesses it takes discipline to resist. At the risk of sounding like a heretic, director Eddie Kurtz should have massaged the text better. — L.D. (Through August 12 at the Live Oak Theatre; or 510-649-5999.)

The Tempest — Julián López-Morillas makes an eloquently melancholy Prospero, exiled duke turned sorcerer, in the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival's free summer production of the bard's swan song. But despite a faceless, omnipresent Blue Man Group of spirits that blends into the walls of Richard Ortenblad's striking text-covered set, this is an oddly static Tempest, the castaways either milling around or running randomly willy-nilly to indicate comedy. Though the decision to have Prospero onstage for the whole play aptly indicates his omniscience, it also accentuates the impression of having nothing better to do. Director Kenneth Kelleher has the cast doing double duty to sometimes confusing and troubling effect, as when Prospero soothes Miranda (a high-strung Julia Motyka) to sleep and turns her into his fairy servant Ariel. — S.H. (Through September 24 in area parks; or 415-558-0888.)

The Witch's Curse — Lamplighters Music Theatre starts its 54th season with Gilbert & Sullivan's Ruddygore, presented here under its lesser-known alternate title. This isn't one of their better-known efforts to begin with, but that doesn't make it any less hilarious, with an unusually spooky story about nobles cursed to commit a crime a day or die. The singing is sprightly and spot-on throughout, and Charles Martin's cloak-whirling "bad baronet" is a delight of compassionate villainy, as is F. Lawrence Ewing's bashful secret heir to the same cursed title. Some of the humor of sailor Dick Dauntless following a heart that always leads him astray is lost in John Brown's earnest and landlubberly portrayal, and Kathleen Moss' Mad Margaret is merely quirky in the first act, though she livens up later. Peter Crompton's postcard seaside and gloomy castle sets earn applause in themselves. — S.H. (Through August 5 at the Dean Lesher Center; or 925-943-7469.)


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