Beyond the Fourth Wall 

Our critics review local theater productions.

Bermuda Avenue Triangle — This 1996 comedy by Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna never gets beyond sitcom punch lines, despite some long soliloquies that play for poignancy. It's also pretty clear early on where it's going: Packed away to a gaudy Vegas retirement community by their put-upon daughters, two sour old biddies get a new lease on life through a deep dicking from a crafty old scoundrel. Still, it's fun to see Anne Buelteman and Marilyn Kamelgarn's whirlwind enlivening from their initial unlikability, and David Godfrey has some broad roguish charm as con man Johnny in this community production staged by CCT managing artistic director Michael Ryken. — S.H. (Through December 17 at California Conservatory Theatre; www.cct-sl.org or 510-632-8850.)

Company — There's no wife-swapping in Company, but Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's "concept musical" about what marriage means in the crazy mixed-up modern world is firmly rooted in 1970 — that is to say, seriously dated. It doesn't bother with a plot so much as cruise dysfunctional couples through their one swinging single friend (charmingly smarmy Kyle Johnson), and even Sondheim's music gets bogged down in schmaltzy Love Boat brass. Some of the singing is a little flat in Masquers' production, but Leah Tandberg-Warren slays with one of the few decent songs, "Getting Married Today." The community cast gets into the spirit of the thing gamely with appropriately tacky '70s leisure suits, decor, and comb-overs. — S.H. (Through December 16 at Masquers Playhouse; Masquers.org or 510-232-4031.)

Ice Glen — Mr. Bainbridge collected eccentrics, but with his death, things have gotten quiet around his family house in the Berkshires. But the household still has its idiosyncrasies, which it takes an outsider to notice. The outsider in Joan Ackermann's Ice Glen is a fancy Boston editor hell-bent on publishing a resident's poetry. The resident is equally hell-bent on keeping her work to herself. As a result, four other people find their world changing unexpectedly in this bright, snug historical comedy about how clueless people can be about one another's motivations. While the obvious conflict here is between nature and civilization, what's also interesting in Ice Glen is that women are the engines of the story. It's not a battle of the sexes per se, but it is the fears and desires of the women that get examined, negotiated, and addressed. This makes for complex (and doubtless fun to play) female characters. The men also are well drawn and well played, full of their own surprises, but women make things happen here. The result buzzes and snaps, especially with the great actors director Barbara Oliver uses here. — L.D. (Through December 10 at the Aurora; AuroraTheatre.org or 510-843-4822.)

Jukebox Stories — Welcome to Jukebox Stories at Impact, two guys sitting around in their living room sharing stories and tunes with titles like "Don't Do Drugs (on a School Night)," "Fat and Strange," and "What My Sister's Breast Implants Have to Do with Golf." Terrifyingly prolific playwright Prince Gomovilas' storytelling is paired with the quirkily smart songs of soft-voiced Brandon Patton and a life- and limb-threatening set strewn with clothes, half-full liquor bottles, mismatched couches, and an overturned chair. Both men used to live here, and both eventually took off — the diminutive Gomovilas to Los Angeles, the floppy-haired Patton to Brooklyn. When they visit each other, they have other people over and sit in their respective living rooms singing and telling stories. Now they're trying to capture that vibe onstage, and for once the basement of LaVal's Subterranean actually enhances and supports the theatrical experience instead of hindering it. Although there is a core of pieces the duo will perform each night, every show will be different because they're adding others, randomized by an extremely high-tech computing machine running algorithms invented by underpaid grad students. Or, if you prefer, two boxes filled with the names of the pieces written on paper crumpled up into balls. The selections may be random, but there is still an organic cohesion, a satisfying blend of humor and poignancy. The pieces are political, personal, funny, biting, sad, raunchy, and above all honest. And because each night's selection will be different, it's an experience that invites repetition. — L.D. (Presented by Impact Theatre at LaVal's Subterranean through December 13; ImpactTheatre.com or 510-464-4468.)

Passing Strange — How far do you have to go to find yourself? That's the central question in the musician Stew's first full-length musical, Passing Strange, an often-brilliant, sometimes labored coming-of-age tale that extols the virtues of love, political theory, and a righteous bass line. Anchored by four musicians set around the stage in separate pits and Stew's own brimming goodwill, six actors tell the story of Youth, a kid from Los Angeles who goes in search of "the real" in churches, hash bars, and European squats. Careening from a Baptist church to Amsterdam and Berlin, this is a travelogue of both exterior and interior journeys. The cast is fantastic and agile. The production could stand tightening, especially in the second act where the rock-opera virus gets a vise grip on the songs, but there's still a lot of wonderful stuff to discover. — L.D. (Through December 3 at the Berkeley Rep; BerkeleyRep.org or 510-647-2949.)

Rude Boy — When hip-hop spoken-word artist Azeem breaks into rhyme in this solo show, it's usually the feverish stream-of-consciousness of a Jamaican-American mental-ward inmate haunted by voices, hardship, and guilt. His rants about the San Francisco chapter of the Rodney King riots, allegorical battles between rage and reason, and the "alphabet police" watching you through your TV are frenetic and totally compelling, interrupted only by a few blackout-separated vignettes late in the show that would be better incorporated into the monologue. The ending's a bit abrupt and where we are in the present isn't clear, but Azeem's wordplay and intensity makes it well worth staying there for an hour or so. — S.H. (Through December 14 at the Marsh Berkeley; TheMarsh.org or 800-838-3006.)

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