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The Soldier's Tale 

When: Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. and Tuesdays, 7 p.m. Continues through Dec. 18 2011
Price: $10-$55

Muriel Maffre's idea of casting a puppet as the male lead in her version of C.F. Ramuz and Igor Stravinsky's 1918 ballet The Soldier's Tale was, by all measures, a huge risk. But it worked beautifully. A lot of that owes to Maffre and co-director Tom Ross' decision to consolidate the soldier-puppet's voice and narrator roles, both played by L. Peter Callender in this production. A brilliant Shakespearian actor with a rich baritone, Callender lends emotional depth and resonance to what would otherwise be a mere cipher. Maffre, who was a prima ballerina at San Francisco Ballet before venturing into theater, plays both the puppeteer and love interest -- an ailing princess with an evocative solo dance number. Joan Mankin is cripplingly funny and unnerving as the devil who lures our hero into a Faustian bargain. Ear Play chamber quartet handles the score, supplying a forceful, tense soundscape to undergird Callender's luxuriant vocals. The format is true World War 1, but the parable -- which deals with avarice and the perils of class ascent -- could easily apply to present-day society. Through December 18 at AuroraTheatre (2081 Addison St., Berkeley). $10-$55. 510-843-4822 or AuroraTheatre.org

— Rachel Swan

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