Beyond the Fourth Wall 

Our critics review local theater productions.

Romeo and Juliet, a Fire Ballet -- The good news is that the fire-suppression system works at the Crucible, West Oakland's industrial-arts-school-slash
-Burning-Man-mecca-slash-performance-space. The bad news is that it proved itself at the beginning of the masked ball scene in the opening-night performance of Romeo and Juliet, history's first recorded Fire Ballet. A large flaming chandelier draped with four aerialists from Flyaway Productions got cranked up too close to the sprinkler, fifteen or twenty feet above the stage. Great sheets of water came down, enveloping the stage and the first row of audience members in a silvery calm. It took a moment to realize something had gone awry, even as the red-and-black-clad dancers who had been tangoing just a moment before with flaming staffs and fans disappeared. But one hour later, the stage and aisles were piled with sopping rags, and Crucible founder Michael Sturtz was sheepishly ebullient. That's because even without the Oakland Fire Department's half-time show, the Fire Ballet is damn exciting. The first big scene features Jonathan Rider's deliciously innovative Capulet-Montague streetfight, with the Flavor Group breakdancers facing off against Wushu West while the Flyaway ladies undulate like seaweed on a spiral staircase. That same staircase features later in a swordfight that borders on the gratuitous, making every Errol Flynn movie seem measly and pale by comparison. The prince who tries unsuccessfully to end the feud is a real live whirling dervish with fire blossoming off the hem of his robe in a lovely, sinuous blue curve. Around the action, asbestos-and-leather-clad artisan instructors of the Crucible forge steel, blow glass, and cast molten metal into props. The Crucible's events have since gotten a lot slicker and better organized since its 1999 opening, but the fact that almost everyone stayed when it looked like the show might not go on attests to the loyalty within this community, slickness and whiz-bang aside. — L.D. (Through January 20 at the Crucible; or 510-444-0919.)

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 is 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 January 27 at the Marsh Berkeley; or 800-838-3006.)

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