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."

Achilles and Patroclus -- According to Homer, the Trojan War lasted ten years. Hopefully the war on Iraq won't last as long, because Berkeley theater companies will soon run out of variations on Homer's Iliad to use as antiwar messages. Add now the balanced, heartbreaking Achilles and Patroclus from CentralWorks. Writer Gary Graves can get a little ponderous, but this story is dynamic and shows off his versatility. Cole Smith's Achilles has one hell of a journey, from surly soldier to playful lover to sensitive spiritual guy and peace activist to his eventual descent into madness and vengeance. This is not your high school Homer; intensely realized, funny, and very sad by turns, Achilles and Patroclus is a complex, modern love story. -- L.D. (Through November 20 at the Berkeley City Club; CentralWorks.org or 510-558-1381.)

Finn in the Underworld -- Jordan Harrison is too young to remember the fallout shelters of the '50s. But somehow he still captures the paranoia in his crepuscular Finn in the Underworld, now premiering at the Berkeley Rep. Sisters Gwen and Rhoda haven't seen each other in a long time, and their reunion to pack up their dead father's house starts out tense. Things don't get any easier when Gwen's son Finn show up to help; there is too much unspoken between mother and son, who is already something of a ghost in his own life. Meanwhile the deceased patriarch, who made his fortune in fallout shelters, becomes more of a malign presence with every tick of the grandfather clock the women are trying to decide whether to sell. Harrison keeps the dialogue funny and arch near the beginning, but menace hangs heavy over the proceedings from the start. There's a lot this family is loath to talk about, and that's what drives Harrison's story. Disturbing as it is, Finn is a well-made thing, daring and remorseless. -- L.D. (Through Nov. 6 at the Berkeley Rep; BerkeleyRep.org or 510-647-2949.)

The Full Monty -- Will they or won't they? 1997's The Full Monty teased movie audiences with six unemployed British steelworkers debating whether to "get their kit off" in front of screaming strangers. The quirky tale did so well that the film's producer made the story into a Broadway musical. In terms of storyline, it's a faithful translation of Simon Beaufoy's screenplay, down to the last red breakaway thong. The film's core themes are intact. Men are forced to think about how they look at and treat women and each other. There's a lot to work with, and the musical garnered ten Tony nominations, ran for two solid years, and spun off a tour. So it's a crowd-pleaser, and CCMT's production is fun, but don't expect the sly charm of the original. -- L.D. (Through November 5 at the Dean Lesher Center; CCMT.org or 925-943-7469.)

Macbeth -- If you've always thought someone should do a Macbeth in which Green Lantern kills Superman and Batman, then your moment has come. With the entire cast in homemade-looking trick-or-treat costumes by Melissa Paterson, director Kevin T. Morales' Halloween-themed production is fun and diverting, though it often feels as if it's diverting from the drama of the story itself. With giggling teen witches, some impressive fight choreography by Bruce Cole, and familiar tunes by Green Day and the Police sung between scenes, there are plenty of amusements to help sell one of Shakespeare's plays that really doesn't need much help in the first place. -- S.H. (Through November 12 at Town Hall Theatre; THTC.org or 925-283-1557.)

My Fair Lady -- A revival of this 1956 musical is always a cause for celebration. The charming tale of an arrogant professor who teaches elocution to a raggedy flower seller benefits from the wordplay of English dramatist George Bernard Shaw, on whose play the musical is based. At the opening night performance at the Pleasanton Playhouse, there were a few snags: the chorus wandered into some dubious harmonies, and the pit orchestra occasionally had to beat its way out of the sonic thicket with violin bows flailing. But the leads carried off the evening admirably. Anna Cook's warm and "loverly" voice made Eliza Doolittle's songs a treat, and Paul Plain made a delightfully pompous Henry Higgins. -- E.S. (Through November 6 at the Amador Theater; PleasantonPlayhouse.com or 925-484-4486.)

Red Hot and Cole -- This Cole Porter musical revue also serves as a biographical sketch, and that's not the good news. Told in flat "I remember" monologues and a few flippant scenes, the show's strength is the stellar songbook it has to draw from, though it also serves as a reminder that Porter wrote some clunkers along with his classics, which are often given short shrift as tiny snippets within sprawling medleys. This production by Danville's Role Players Ensemble Theatre is uncomplicated community entertainment with no bones about it. -- S.H. (Through November 5 at the Village Theatre; VillageTheatreShows.com or 925-314-3463.)

Six Degrees of Separation -- Often funny if stilted and never naturalistic, John Guare's rumination on class and identity gives little room for misinterpretation but ample food for thought. Inspired by a true story that caused the playwright some grief and somehow did not directly involve Kevin Bacon, the action begins on the level of droll anecdote by a married couple of well-heeled art dealers who get an unexpected visit from a mysterious, eloquent young stranger who claims to be the son of Sidney Poitier. Actors Ensemble gives it a lively workout in this bare-bones production directed by Mike Ward with a surprisingly large cast considering how few are onstage at any one time. -- S.H. (Through November 19 at Live Oak Theatre; AEofBerkeley.org or 510-649-5999.)

The Women -- Clare Boothe Luce's witty play is one long gossipfest, as women exchange choice tidbits about cheating husbands over hands of bridge and in powder rooms. The men never make an appearance, but they are all-important in this 1930s milieu, when wealthy women of leisure had only one task: keeping their spouses happy by the homefires. Excellent work by the ensemble cast and a beautifully stylized production make this a show to remember. But a word to the wise: If you've been philandering of late, suggest alternate entertainment to your mate or be prepared for a most uncomfortable evening. - E.S. (Through November 19 at the Dean Lesher Center; DLRCA.org or 925-943-SHOW.)


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