What's Happening in East Bay Theater 

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."

La Belle et La Bête -- It was interesting enough when Philip Glass composed a new soundtrack for the Jean Cocteau film, because it may be a quiet film but it's not a silent one, but it's certainly no less ambitious for Oakland Opera Theater to bring Glass' piece to life as a fully staged opera, without the film. Considering the funkiness of some of the props and whatnot, the experiment is remarkably successful, aided by circus performers contorting during scene changes and a sumptuous set by director Tom Dean, though it drags in some wordless stretches when Glass was composing to something primarily visual in the film, and some of the "meanwhile back at the tavern" scenes are relatively lackluster. Marguerite Krull brings emotional depth as well as a lovely soprano to the role of Belle, and the small orchestra conducted by musical director Deirdre McClure conveys the moody resonance nestled among Glass' repeating doodly-doodly-doodlies. -- S.H. (Through October 2 at Oakland Metro; OaklandOpera.org or 510-763-1146.)

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 2 in area parks; check SFMT.org for schedule.)

Love Lafayette -- Kevin T. Morales kicks off his first season as Town Hall's artistic director with an original comedy he wrote especially about and for the theater's hometown, directed by Berkeley Rep artistic assistant Eddie Kurtz. The premise is simple enough: A conservative couple invites a liberal couple over to discuss the budding romance between their teenage kids. The pace flags in some long expository conversations, but the dialogue is clever throughout, and in a sense the untidy, open-ended quality that makes it seem unfinished also makes it feel a little more like life. -- S.H. (Through September 24 at Town Hall Theatre; THTC.org or 925-283-1557.)

Miss Saigon -- The Diablo Light Opera Company knocks out a take-no-prisoners version of the infamously tech-heavy musical (and yes, there is a helicopter), an update of Puccini's Madame Butterfly, set in a South Vietnamese bar and brothel circa 1975. This tale of a heroine who sacrifices herself to save her child resonates with writers looking for a tear-jerker. As much as it is the story of a doomed love between the orphaned Kim and her GI Chris, Miss Saigon also is a scathing indictment of the Vietnam War. The production is a mixed bag. The orchestra plays the haunting score beautifully under the direction of Cheryl Yee Glass, but that score often drowns out the singing, especially in the ensemble numbers, making it very difficult to understand what's going on. Under the American-flag bikinis and heavy artillery, Butterfly's story is one that people love to tell, and the quieter moments of the DLOC production tell us why. -- L.D. (Through October 1 at the Dean Lesher Center; DLOC.org or 925-943-SHOW.)

Nicky Goes Goth -- There's almost nothing quiet about Nicky Goes Goth, Impact's crisp premiere of Elizabeth Meriwether's skewering of celebrity culture. For anyone who gloated when real-life hackers broke into Paris Hilton's personal organizer and obtained the phone numbers of friends such as the actor Vin Diesel, the story of younger Hilton heiress Nicky getting all existential is a riot. For anyone else, it's a strange love between a moody socialite, a suburban punk, and their assorted dendrites. Or the strange love between a bitchy princess and her gay makeup designer. -- L.D. (Through October 1 at LaVal's; ImpactTheatre.com or 510 464-4468)

Owners -- Maybe you really can't take it with you when you go, but Marion Clegg (Trish Mulholland) has bigger things to worry about -- such as her complete and utter domination of everyone around her, from her swinish husband and her suicidal assistant to a couple of old friends she jettisoned on her rise to power as a real-estate tycoon. And money is useful for that, along with sex and the flinty heart playwright Caryl Churchill placed at the core of her first professionally staged play, 1972's acidly funny Owners. Unapologetically political, deeply informed by her political and feminist convictions, and foreshadowing Churchill's lifelong experimentation with theatrical form, Owners is a fascinating if sprawling look into the playwright's process. -- L.D. (At the Ashby Stage through October 9; ShotgunPlayers.org or 510-841-6500.)

The Price -- On the surface, it looks completely ordinary. Two brothers are struggling over how to dispose of their dead father's things while a wife and an innocent bystander watch. But in The Price, one of Arthur Miller's most intimate plays, there's a lot going on, about secrets, responsibility, the pressure of history, the choices we make and their repercussions. The brothers -- one a cop about to retire, the other a surgeon -- haven't spoken in sixteen years, and bad blood is thicker than water. All of the nuances of which come across beautifully in the Joy Carlin-led effort at the Aurora, a precise and heartfelt effort anchored by four excellent actors. The Aurora comes across with the goods visually. Richard Olmsted and Rebecca Helgeson stack furniture like a protective wall between the family's history and what could have been. It feels exactly like the space Miller imagined, warm and sad and nearly impassable. -- L.D. (At the Aurora through October 9; AuroraTheatre.org or 510-843-4822.)

Private Lives -- When a honeymooning couple talks of nothing except one partner's disastrous first marriage, it's a good bet that the despised ex is nearby, about to complicate matters. There's little to this 1930 Noél Coward favorite aside from the flippant drolleries of people too sophisticated for anyone's good and the convenient coincidences that have become staples of TV sitcoms. Though sometimes dated, Coward's witty banter still goes a long way, and is carried along capably in Lois Grandi's elegant Playhouse West production. -- S.H. (Through September 24 at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts; DLRCA.org or 925-943-7469.)

Someone Who'll Watch Over Me -- The scenery is stark: In three spotlights, three men in grungy white T-shirts and boxer shorts sit, chained to the walls. In this production from Wilde Irish, the external details don't change at all, but the three characters go through fascinating transformations. Based on the true story of an Irishman, an Englishman, and an American held hostage together in Lebanon, the play tracks the men's struggles with boredom and encroaching insanity. But the show won't leave you depressed. The men beat back despair with humor, and the audience spent most of the show shaking with laughter, the rest, transfixed. -- E.S. (Through October 2 at the Berkeley City Club; WildeIrish.org or 510-644-9940.)

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