Stand and Deliver 

Staged readings give theatergoers and local companies some options short of a full-fledged production.

Once they get a taste of staged readings, some people just can't stop. They're a great way to get a little theater fix on nights when most stages are dark. They're cheap and informal, and good for acting and playwriting students. If PlayGround's Monday Night Series isn't enough to scratch your staged-reading itch, there are several other East Bay options.

TheatreFIRST has cranked its staged-reading machine back up with events at Barnes & Noble in Jack London Square. According to artistic director Clive Chafer, the readings serve "sometimes as a tryout for a full production, sometimes just because we like the script but can't afford to produce it." They are free (although donations are always gladly accepted) and begin at 7 p.m. every third Tuesday. February's play will be the Eugène Labiche farce The Threesome. March comes in like a lion with Janet Suzman's The Free State, which transposes Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard to modern-day South Africa.

The Aurora takes a slightly different tack, offering readings of short stories as a benefit fund-raiser for the theater's building fund. Well-known past readers have included Dan Hiatt, Amy Resnick, and Isabel Allende. The first Aurora Stories of 2004 takes place Monday, February 9 at the Berkeley theater; the theme is "Love Letters" in honor of Valentine's Day, with a suggested donation of $20. Tickets are available after 5 p.m., and doors open at 7. 510-843-4822

At press time, Oakland's Eastenders were still waiting to hear which of two plays they would get the rights to read in March as part of their series. Interested audiences are invited to check out for more information. Likewise, PlayCafe's Steve Lyons is reading scripts while you read this paper, trying to choose the best one for a March reading at LaVal's Northside. Check for more information.

San Francisco's Crowded Fire will be crossing the bay to present its new Matchbox series at LaVal's. Technically, these are workshop productions -- somewhere between a staged reading and a full production -- but they still promise an intriguing, intimate experience. Next up: Mollena Williams' Boys, Guys, Men: A Field Guide running July 9-17. Also in the workshop-production business are Shotgun Players, at

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