Beyond the Fourth Wall 

Our critics review local theater productions.

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 Typographer's Dream — One of the great pleasures of interviewing people who love their work is watching how talking about what they care about transforms them. This is sort of what Adam Bock's one-act play is about, but then it turns out to be about a lot of other things too, such as friendship and honesty. Encore Theatre Company ran Dream at San Francisco's Thick House last year, where the Chronicle named it one of 2005's "Top Ten Theater Events in the Bay Area." And no wonder: It's smart, offbeat, and hilarious, charming without being schmaltzy. Happily, Encore decided to bring it home to the Shotgun Players. Even more happily, Encore brought over the original director and all the original actors too. Aimée Guillot, Jamie Jones, and Michael Shipley play three people — a typographer, a geographer, and a stenographer — who love their work, if not necessarily their jobs. Ranged along a long table facing the audience, they might be giving a Career Day presentation, but their careful patter rapidly breaks down as their relationships come to the fore. Faintly reminiscent of Errol Morris' 1997 documentary Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, where four men who love their quirky work try to explain why, The Typographer's Dream at the Ashby Stage is a sheer delight of pauses, twitches, and surprising insights. — L.D. (Through September 3 at the Ashby Stage; or 510-841-6500).


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