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."

Bullshot Crummond -- This popular spoof of '30s B-movies and detective serials is bald-faced balderdash, packed with cute gags and quick-changes. Joel Roster makes for a nicely dashing lummox as the veddy British hero (though his habit of sticking his tongue out is unnerving), especially when Sarah Andrews Reynolds brightens the scene as his perpetually perplexed foil and love interest. Randy Anger and Melynda Kiring have the sneer and swagger down as cartoon villains in the Boris and Natasha mode. Jerry Motta is amusing enough as everyone else, though his characterizations are so over the top that it's sometimes difficult to discern whether we're meeting a new character or an old one in an outrageous disguise. Scott Fryer's production keeps the pace lively enough that we don't sweat the small stuff. -- S.H. (Through May 22 at Town Hall Theatre; THTC.org or 925-283-1557.)

Impact Briefs 7: The How-To Show -- The briefs in question aren't short plays so much as skits unified by a clever "how-to" theme. Fortunately, they're very funny, and don't have that irritating Saturday Night Live quality of starting strong and going nowhere slowly. It's all pretty slight stuff but awfully entertaining, and the actual vintage instructional films shown between the segments are nearly as funny as the briefs themselves. -- S.H. (Through May 28 at La Val's Subterranean; ImpactTheatre.com or 510-464-4468.)

Judgment at Nuremberg -- After World War II, an international tribunal assembled at Nuremberg to try high-ranking Nazis for war crimes. But that is not the judgment we witness in Judgment at Nuremberg. By the time the play begins, the rest of the world has gone home, and American tribunals have gone down the food chain to put on trial a variety of professionals who in one way or another collaborated with the Nazi regime -- in this case, several German judges. The titular judgment is that of Judge Dan Haywood, all folksy charm at his leisure, but stern and authoritative in the courtroom. The only significant defendant is Ernst Janning, an internationally respected jurist who, despite all his high ideals, played along with the dictates of the dictatorship. The more we hear about him, the more he sounds like an honorable man in an impossible situation. That's very much to the credit of his lawyer, Oscar Rolfe, played with passion and gravity by Mark Farrell. There are, of course, many sides to the story, and when the judgment comes it chooses between them unequivocally in a way that leaves no doubt as to where the author stands. Ultimately, though, the play's questions are far more interesting than its answers. -- S.H. (Through May 29 at the Willows Theatre; WillowsTheatre.org or 925-798-1300.)

The People's Temple -- It's no coincidence that the parts of our history we don't like to remember are precisely those parts it's imperative that we not forget. So it is with the 1978 tragedy at Jonestown, Guyana, where the Reverend Jim Jones murdered visiting Congressman Leo J. Ryan and commanded nine hundred members of Peoples Temple to poison themselves and their children in a mass murder-suicide. That makes Berkeley Rep's world premiere of The People's Temple, a new testimonial theater piece created and directed by Tectonic Theatre Project's Leigh Fondakowski, a noble effort and an important one. But that doesn't make it good theater. That it is such a remarkable piece of work is a testament to the three and a half years of hard work that went into weaving together excerpts from interviews with survivors. The focus is always on the people's stories, not one of which could possibly leave you cold. Bob Ernst as the hard-boiled reporter who broke the story about what was really going on in the Peoples Temple, shows surprising sympathy to Jones' motives and even claims responsibility himself for the group's increasing sense of persecution and sudden exodus to Guyana. One of the marvelous things about this play is how well it captures the joy of Peoples Temple at its height, even as it foreshadows the horrific end to come. Without this sense of the beautiful community these people had, we can't possibly understand how they could go so far as to kill and die for it. -- S.H. (Through May 29 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre; BerkeleyRep.org or 510-647-2949.)

White Darkness -- On the surface, it all sounds a little much: a new opera rising from the ashes of Sergei Prokofiev's Fiery Angel, centered on the Jonestown massacre and Dan White's murder of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, with bikers and voodoo thrown in for good measure. But Oakland Opera Theater pulls it off beautifully in this confusing but enthralling work. Tom Dean's avant-garde score merges Prokofiev's melodies with Afro-Haitian rhythms to magnetic effect, and the amusingly colloquial libretto by Dean and Lori Zook is sung beautifully throughout. The love of a smiling hippie angel (dancer Michael MacLaren) spurs White (immaculately creepy tenor Jonathan Smucker) to murder and desperate spiritual searcher Renata (heartbreaking soprano Erina Newkirk) to mass suicide, but is he an evil spirit or tragically misunderstood? Only Papa Legba knows, but the confusion becomes comic in a way that only makes it all the more enjoyable. -- S.H. (Through May 22 at Oakland Metro;OaklandOpera.org or 510-763-1146.)


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