Capsule Reviews 

Our theater critic weighs in on current productions.

Betrayal -- Harold Pinter's Betrayal tells a story of infidelity through nine short, crystalline scenes. Although the pieces are small and the characters subdued, taken as a whole the play is haunting, full of all those moments we so hate living through: the dissolution of a love affair, the realization that one has been lied to, the disappointment of youthful dreams. Quiet and contained, Aurora Theater's production starts out cool and cerebral yet ends visceral and sad. Betrayal didn't do well critically when it first opened in 1978. But it's a perfect size and shape for the Aurora, and timeless in its dead-on depiction of hearts breaking. Carrie Paff and Christopher Marshall both radiate carefully controlled stiff-upper-lip pain as they discuss the fact that they no longer spend the afternoons together; neither needs to come out and say, "It's over, isn't it?" (Through July 25 at the Aurora Theater; 510-843-4822 or AuroraTheatre.org)

Eclipsed -- A group of inmates is forced to strip naked so its members can undergo public humiliation. Held without trial and occasionally beaten severely, many are completely innocent of any crime. The locale, however, isn't Abu Ghraib. It's a Magdalen Asylum, one of the homes built by the Catholic Church to shelter and succor members of "this most wronged and helpless class of God's creatures": the Fallen Woman. Originally the Magdalen Asylums were inhabited by prostitutes trying to find another form of employment. But as the prostitute population fell, the nuns started filling beds with unwed mothers, the developmentally challenged, and plain old "difficult" girls. Not many people knew of the Catholic Church's great shame until playwright Patricia Burke Brogan brought it to light in 1992 with her award-winning play Eclipsed. There's plenty of fight in the engaging yet somewhat overdone Wilde Irish production of Eclipsed. In fact, there's almost too much fight. This production starts out ratcheted so emotionally high that there isn't much room for the actors to move. (July 16-25 at San Francisco's Magic Theatre)

Gypsy -- Young Louise, hidden by Mama Rose in the shadow of more talented sister June, is forced to dress like the boys with whom she shares the chorus in a vaudeville act. Even after June decamps and Louise is pressed into the leading role, she's dressed in traditionally male garb as a toreador. Mary Bracken Phillips sums up everything Gypsy Rose Lee had to say about the whirlwind Mama Rose: ambitious, seductive, wily, and a dreamer who has sacrificed everything in an attempt to make her children the stars she herself wanted to be. The Willows turns out a bright, lively Gypsy. They've always had a knack for finding talented kids for their shows, and this one needs plenty for all the nifty song and dance numbers. The adults aren't too shabby either; Briann Gagnon's adult Louise is sad, awkward, and eventually stunning, and Madeline Trumble is believably saucy as the would-be child star who has had it up to here with their mother's pushiness. (Through August 1 at the Willows; 925-798-1300 or WillowsTheatre.org)

Master Class -- Maria Callas was a consummate artist who worked incredibly hard on every aspect of her craft, yet her artistry was often overshadowed by public distortion of her troubled personal life. Her troubled childhood with a domineering mother, her marriage to the much older Giovanni Battista Meneghini and his abuse of his position as her manager, her affair with Aristotle Onassis, the unproven rumors of a love child; all of these things fascinated the public. Equally titillating were the charges that Callas was unreasonable, temperamental, capricious. Master Class integrates some of the details of her life without getting too far into the soup of what did and did not really happen. Rita Moreno captures Callas effortlessly, down to the precise hand gestures that recall photos of Callas in performance and the beautifully modulated voice. (Through July 18 at the Berkeley Rep; 510-647-2949 or BerkeleyRep.org)

Victor/Victoria -- Victoria Grant is a soprano wandering 1920s Paris looking for a gig: She's cold, hungry, and broke. Fortunately she meets the charming Toddy, who has the bright idea of dressing her up as his new boyfriend and pawning "Victor" off as "Europe's greatest female impersonator." Where Victoria couldn't get work, Victor goes gangbusters -- at least until the debonair (and very straight) King Marchan shows up and the two fall in love. The production now at the Masquers Playhouse features a few knockout performances, namely Vanessa Schepps as Victoria/Victor, Michael O'Brien as Toddy, and Michelle Pond as Norma Cassidy. Sadly, some of the good bits of the film got excised to tighten up the stage version, and writer Blake Edwards and lyricist Leslie Bricusse made some disagreeable changes. Still, this show is fun, especially if you've never seen the movie and don't know all the surprises in store. (Through July 24 at the Masquers Playhouse; 510-232-3888 or Masquers.org)

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