Capsule Reviews 

Our critics weigh in on local theater.

Aida -- This Disney version by Sir Elton John and Sir Tim Rice is to the original opera what The Pirate Movie was to Gilbert & Sullivan: Verdi goes Vegas, the award-winning score a forgettable pastiche of Grease rock, R&B lite, and Elton's idea of gospel. But the Willows production by managing director Andrew Holtz gives it the old razzle-dazzle, the canned music offset by choreographer Colette Eloi's lively dance numbers and universally strong singing, if unevenly miked. -- S.H. (Through March 26 at the Willows Theatre; 925-798-1300 or

Enemy Combatant -- What are the things we do that others may live? How far are we prepared to go to prevent, say, another 9/11? Is torture an effective and thus acceptable way of getting useful information? These are the questions posed in Gary Graves' Enemy Combatant, and ones that Central Works considers by conflating John Walker Lindh, Abu Ghraib, and Alberto Gonzales into the story of a man up before a military tribunal for treason. The play opens with JAG Captain Rachel Radcliffe (Jan Zvaifler) arriving at an American military base in Afghanistan to defend an American citizen who has been accused of shooting a CIA man in the head. The suspect, Marvin Moorhouse, is, to put it mildly, uncooperative. We learn that's because the whole situation is rigged, and watch with Radcliffe in growing horror as Moorhouse -- who now calls himself Farhid and follows Islam -- tells the story of the riot which left the CIA man dead. -- L.D. (At the Berkeley City Club through March 26; or 510-558-1381.)

Othello -- The Bay Area finally gets a honest-to-god lesbian Othello in Impact Theatre's careful adaptation of Shakespeare's shortest, bluntest tragedy. And the world as we know it does not end, as some purists would warn us. None of the messages or themes of the original work are obscured by director Melissa Hillman's choice to have a woman playing a woman as the Moor of Venice; none of the questions of race, assimilation, love, or jealousy are given short shrift. Like Impact's other stabs at Shakespeare, this is the Bard laid bare swiftly and effectively for a modern audience. -- L.D. (Through March 19 at LaVal's; or 510-464-4468.)

The Real Inspector Hound -- Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound is more than thirty years old, but barely shows its age. A little easier to follow than Stoppard's wittily breakneck longer works, Hound still has all the playwright's favorite things -- clever wordplay, pastichey references to other people's works, and a play-within-a-play structure with very porous borders between the two. Hound is the story of two theater critics sitting through a tediously overacted little thriller that bears more than a passing resemblance to Agatha Christie's Mousetrap. Meanwhile, onstage a predictable story unfolds -- or at least it tries to, until the phone rings and critic Birdboot decides to answer it. Which is where things go from funny to insane, as Birdboot gets sucked into acting, his fellow critic Moon tries to get him to return to his nice safe seat just off stage right, and the bumbling police inspector Hound shows up. Or does he? You do eventually find out whodunit in this one, but by that time it doesn't really matter. The whole thing is so silly and snappily acted that the question seems secondary. -- L.D. (Through March 19 at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek. or 925-943-SHOW.)

Sexual Perversity in Chicago -- Four people wrestle with some very funny questions about intimacy and the relationships between men and women in the coarsely truthful language that made David Mamet famous. Probably the funniest things here are also the harshest, and that boils down to two characters: the swaggering misogynist Bernie, and the screeching man-hater Joan. So it stands to reason that Bernie will fail miserably with prickly Joan, whom he meets in a bar. Meanwhile, Bernie and Joan are the extremes against which young, sweet Danny and Deborah play out a tentative love affair. The actors are perfect with their timing, which is everything with Mamet. -- L.D. (Through March 19 at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek. or 925-943-SHOW.)

South Pacific -- There's trouble in paradise in Rodgers and Hammerstein's beloved musical, and not all of it is tied to the theme of racism that lends it some moral heft underneath all those hummable tunes, from "Some Enchanted Evening" to "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair." Are we really supposed to find it romantic when pidgin-spouting trader Bloody Mary pimps out her "younger than springtime" daughter to Lt. Joe Cable? This Contra Costa Musical Theatre production handles the musical half of the equation admirably with strong singing throughout, even if the stuff between the songs isn't particularly convincing. -- S.H. (Through March 19 at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts; 925-943-7469 or


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