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."

Doing Good -- With this story of two young idealists who get sucked into the globalization machine, the San Francisco Mime Troupe has lost heart. Admirably, the troupe hopes to get us to question the global relationships between governments, corporations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. But this show fails to strike the troupe's usual balance between whimsy and world-changing, and instead replaces Bushiad with jeremiad. There's a lot that's distressingly different about this one. For one thing, it's just not fun. While many of the lines are funny, the overarching humor for which the troupe is known is painfully absent as it tries for something closer to straight drama. So too is the goofy physicality. Maybe they got too close to their source material, John Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, an awkwardly written memoir about making construction deals with local governments based on World Bank loans that they could never repay without becoming beholden to US interests. All that's left is a group of characters lashing out in frustration at American imperialism. -- L.D. (Through October in area parks; check SFMT.org for schedule.)

The Grand Inquisitor -- Eighteen pages out of nearly eight hundred, the story of the Grand Inquisitor is a mere slip of a thing compared to the hulking mass from which it is drawn. But the story Ivan Karamazov tells his younger brother Alyosha is perhaps the best-known bit of Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov -- probably as much for its thought-provoking subject matter as for the fact that it shows up early enough in the book that the folks who won't make it to the end might still be around. Clearly the story spoke to CentralWorks' Gary Graves, who stepped out of the directorial shadows to act in the company's new adaptation. With his head shaved and teeth blackened, Graves is virtually unrecognizable as the creepy, aged protagonist of Ivan's parable about freedom and responsibility. He shares the stage with CentralWorks newcomer David Westley Skillman, who plays all the other roles, using a variety of beautiful voices; the result is intense, if numbing. -- L.D. (Through July 31 at the Berkeley City Club; CentralWorks.org or 510-558-1381.)

Let's Go to the Movies Redux -- New Town Hall artistic director Kevin T. Morales' makeshift musical about a guy who has to write a musical (and who in turn writes a musical about a guy who writes a musical) is a hilarious satire of community theater that builds beautifully on itself, the second act a marvelously over-the-top parody of the first. -- S.H. (August 4-14 at the Ashby Stage; THTC.org or 925-283-1557.)

Much Ado About Nothing -- This summer's Free Shakespeare in the Park offering from the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival is an exceedingly light comedy with a great cruelty at the center, too-passionate Claudio's (Michael Navarra) shaming of radiant Hero (Sofia Ahmad) at the altar. Kenneth Kelleher's frolicsome production gives both the comedy and the pathos their due while no more dwelling on the disconnect than on the odd directorial decision to have our heroes seemingly be soldiers of Fascist Spain. The lively sparring of acid-tongued Beatrice (Julia Brothers) and Benedick (Stephen Klum) is marred only by a vulnerability too thinly veiled (in his case almost desperately). The choice to give constable Dogberry (Jack Powell) a thick accent undermines his malapropisms as possibly the audience's fault for not understanding, but goofy touches such as making the villainous Don Juan (Brian Herndon) a lisping fop work well, even when the slapstick and stage laughter don't. -- S.H. (Through September 24 in area parks; SFShakes.org or 415-558-0888.)

Ruthless! The Musical -- Nothing says summer more than camp, and camp is one thing this showbiz musical dishes out in spades. Fortunately, devilish wit and Broadway-pastiche showstoppers are also in plentiful supply. Joel Paley and Marvin Laird's comedy about a murderous moppet who will do anything to score the lead in the school play is given a delightfully lively staging in this Point Richmond community theater production. -- S.H. (Through July 23 at Masquers Playhouse; Masquers.org or 510-232-3888.)

The Thousandth Night -- An explosion sends a fast-talking French actor tumbling into a train station. So begins Carol Wolf's The Thousandth Night, a funny yet scathing examination of complicity and self-preservation written expressly to fit around actor Ron Campbell like his character's old coat. Night is set in Nazi-occupied France in 1943. Guy de Bonheur's concentration-camp-bound train has been thrown from the tracks by a Resistance bomb. Sheltering in the train station, the actor sets out to distract the gendarmes by acting out four of the "little stories" his troupe used to perform at Cafe Scheherazade in Paris before the other members were deported, beaten, or just mysteriously disappeared. -- L.D. (Through July 24 at the Aurora; AuroraTheatre.org or 510-843-4822.)


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