On Stage 

Our critics weigh in on local theater

For complete, up-to-date East Bay theater listings, look under Billboard on the home page for the "Select Category" pulldown, then select "Theater & Performing Arts."

Ariel -- The premise of Marina Carr's dark, sanguinary tale of madness, politics, and faith is drawn from both the Greek classics and the ancient spirituality and mythology of Ireland. A shocking blend of poetry and death, Ariel is as ambitious as its protagonist, with the body count of a Shakespearean tragedy and a larger-than-life lyricism that confuses the boundary between reality and imagined states. It's set in the present, but it could as easily be taking place in some ancient Greek courtyard. Ariel is a loose retelling of Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis, the story of Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter to gain battlefield success; audiences may remember Shotgun's production back in 2001. These parallels are muted in the first act, where Carr introduces the ghosts that haunt the characters. You really need to pay attention during the intricate and subtle emotional shell game of the first act. In the second act, however, Carr gets very expository with an overlong scene. The acting is solid, the language gorgeous, the structure occasionally clumsy, and the story gripping if horrible. Carr is a modern fabulist who writes with the gravity of another age, and this Ariel is not for the faint-hearted. -- L.D. (Through May 1 at the Berkeley City Club; WildeIrish.org or 510-644-9940.)

Blood Relative -- No one knew exactly what would come of Traveling Jewish Theatre's long-awaited Middle East Project, a piece about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict created with international artists, but it was a fair bet it wouldn't be all bunnies and daffodils. That's evident from the very first moment of Blood Relative, in which half-Arab, half-Israeli Ibi (similarly Palestinian-Israeli guest artist Ibrahim Miari) staggers in with a bandaged nose and a bloodied shirt and sets about upturning his apartment in impotent rage. In its delicate balance between rib-tickling satire and gut-punching satire, the comedy here proves as thought-provoking as the tragedy. -- S.H. (Through May 1 at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts; ATJT.com or 415-285-8080.)

Proof -- This Pulitzer- and Tony-winning 2001 play by David Auburn about the genius daughter and erstwhile caretaker of a recently deceased and long-addled mathematician touches upon some interesting issues of gender and politics in the sciences, if only glancingly, and this lively community theater production directed by John McMullen brings out its humor admirably. Everyone acts about five years younger than the characters they're playing, with the exception of David Coury as the dad, who comes off more like a petulant ten-year-old who doesn't want to eat his peas. But Lily Cedar-Kraft is amusingly girly as the clueless yuppie sister who actually pays the bills, and Carolyn Zola and Georg Herzog have very sexy stage chemistry as the pissed-off prodigy and the goofy math scholar sifting through her father's notebooks. -- S.H. (Through May 7 at Masquers Playhouse; Masquers.org or 510-232-4031.)

West Side Story -- The new production of West Side Story helmed by Grant Rosen for the Diablo Light Opera Company shows off Rosen's considerable chops as a choreographer and fight designer. Meshed with excellent visuals -- a dark, gritty set, beautiful lighting, and bright, sherbety dresses with contrasting crinolines -- this take on the Jerome Robbins musical is vividly cinematic. It's also huge. There are often as many as forty people onstage at a time, there's a 21-piece orchestra led by Cheryl Yee Glass, and the set pieces stretch high into the space. The dancing is great and marked by big showy numbers, while the fights are similarly flashy and intense. -- L.D. (Through May 8 at the DLRCA; DLOC.org or 925-943-SHOW).

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