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."

A Murder Is Announced -- The town of Chipping Cleghorn has been thrown into a tizzy by the announcement in the newspaper of a murder to be committed at 6:30 that evening at the home of two elderly ladies. The Actors Ensemble of Berkeley owes the modest success of its latest play, A Murder Is Announced, to this striking premise, adapted from an Agatha Christie novel. The capable Miss Marple (Beverly Elkan) does her best to hold the play together as she unravels a tale of false identities and lucrative inheritances in the violet-scented drawing room. However, the other actors chew the scenery so thoroughly that the audience is hard pressed to care about the outcome. -- E.S. (Through August 13 at the Live Oak Theatre; AEofBerkeley.org or 510-649-5999.)

Anything Goes -- If your only exposure to the Cole Porter musical Anything Goes has been Kate Capshaw's opening dance number in the unfortunate Indiana Jones movie with the kid and the eating-the-brain-of-a-live-monkey scene, you could do worse than heading to Contra Costa Civic Theatre's colorful production. Even if you've never seen the show, you'll know the music; this is Porter at his lively best. There's a plot, just barely, but really, this one is about song and dance numbers. -- L.D. (At the Contra Costa Civic Theatre through August 13; CCCT.org or 510-524-9132)

As You Like It -- "I am falser than vows made in wine," a character sighs in Shakespeare's As You Like It. As the cabernets and chardonnays flow freely at the play's performance at the Retzlaff vineyards, a reviewer's declarations of the production's stirring success may be considered suspect by some. But verily, gentle reader, what could be more pleasant than imbibing the poetry of one of Shakespeare's goofiest romantic comedies while seated outside with a glass of wine as the sun fades gracefully on the golden hills and butterflies skip over the rows of grapes? Director Lisa Tromovitch is to be commended both for the staging, which is sprightly and energetic, and for the apt choice of play for the Valley Shakespeare Festival's third annual production. -- E.S. (Through August 13 at Retzlaff Estate Winery; ValleyShakes.org or 925-556-9624.)

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. It's just not fun. -- 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 tells his younger brother Alyosha is perhaps the best-known bit of Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. Clearly it spoke to CentralWorks' Gary Graves, who stepped out of the directorial shadows to act in the company's new adaptation. 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). -- S.H. (Through September 24 in area parks; SFShakes.org or 415-558-0888.)

Pericles -- if you like your Shakespeare full of pimps and pirates, incest and miraculous resurrections, Pericles is the play for you, and you could do a lot worse than San Leandro Players' madcap production on a tiny stage in that burg's Chabot Park. Most of the performances are lively and perfectly comprehensible (by no means a given with Shakespeare), and Eddie Kurtz' staging is so playful and often downright silly that the rough patches are soon forgotten. With an amiable dude as the serially unfortunate hero (Evan Lubeck), a sermonizing virgin in jogging shorts (Amrita Gandhi), and a dizzying onslaught of cowboy narrators, Hefneresque kings, leather witches, covetous queens, pool boys, water-balloon fights, beer-commercial tableaux, and perilous sea voyages set to "Magical Mystery Tour," this is a good show to spring on any teenager who insists Shakespeare is boring. -- S.H. (Through August 21 at Chabot Park; SanLeandroPlayers.org or 510-895-2573)

Richard III -- In Shakespeare's eponymous play, the discontented, deformed son of York is called all sorts of nasty things. Even his own mother doesn't trust him, and why should she? He systematically eliminates everyone who stands between him and the throne; marries and then does away with a woman whose husband, father, and father-in-law he has murdered; and then suggests he should solidify his grasp on the throne by marrying his niece. The pleasure of the play comes from watching the outrageous things he gets away with. He gets away with a lot in the Woman's Will production now being staged in area parks. Emily Jordan's serpentine Richard is downright sultry. -- L.D. (July 30 at Memorial Park, Hayward and Centennial Park, Pleasanton; WomansWill.org or 510-420-0813.)


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