What's Happening in East Bay Theater 

Our critics weigh in on local theater.

Brundibar and Comedy on the Bridge -- Hard to believe that the men behind Where the Wild Things Are and Angels in America have anything in common. But children's-book author Maurice Sendak and playwright Tony Kushner are so tight that Kushner wrote the text for the weighty The Art of Maurice Sendak: 1980 to Present, a massive tome covering Sendak's recent work, including explorations into theatrical design. The most recent collaboration between the two men is the micro-opera Brundibar, now running at the Berkeley Rep in a whiz-bang production. First they did it as a book, and now it's a gorgeous little chunk of live music, stunning sets, and masses of singing children. It's been paired with another Czech import, Vàclav Kliment Klicpera and Bohuslav Martinu's Comedy on the Bridge, for two different perspectives on the perils of fascism. Comedy on the Bridge follows a clutch of people stuck on a bridge between warring towns, trapped by snarling sentries who refuse to honor their visas. A drawn-out squabble on the bridge gleefully points up the absurdity of conflict. The story of Brundibar is equally simple. Two children, Pepicek and Aninku, learn that their mother is sick and needs milk to get better. They go into town hoping to get some, but find that they'll have to sing for money. Kids and adults will take away different things from the Rep's first eminently palatable foray into opera. -- L.D. (Through December 28 at The Berkeley Rep; BerkeleyRep.org or 510-647-2949.)

Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake) -- Most adolescents are convinced that adults will never understand what they're going through. Here, the youth in question is right. Screaming obscenities, serving bleach to the dolls at her tea parties, and refusing to wash, Janice is indeed odder than most eleven-year-olds. But then, Janice lost her dad a year ago, so it's to be expected that she's a little off. What's odd is that nobody seems to understand why that would be so, except the spirit of the dilapidated apartment she shares with her mom Clara, who's not doing so hot herself, what with the panic attacks. And the apartment, played by a black-clad man with a vaguely menacing accent, has its own agenda. -- L.D. (Through December 10 at LaVal's Subterranean; ImpactTheatre.com or 510-464-4468.)

Dear World -- Absolutely nothing happens in this pleasing but insubstantial 1969 Jerry Herman musical based on Jean Giraudoux' The Madwoman of Chaillot (despite a promising setup about blowing up a Parisian cafe to get at crude oil underneath), but there are enough hilariously dotty old ladies, cloying saintly mutes, gleefully fiendish entrepreneurs, and stirring songs drenched in sentimental antimodernity to keep you entertained. -- S.H. (Through December 17 at Masquers Playhouse; Masquers.org or 510-232-4031.)

The Dick 'N Dubya Show -- The idea of Bush and Cheney setting foot in Berkeley is pretty funny to begin with, but this "Republican outreach cabaret" takes that idea to the bank for a round of tax breaks. Directed by Duck's Breath Mystery Theater vet Bill Allard, who doubles as a silent Secret Service vassal, the work-in-progress features a little song and dance, a mess of malapropisms, and even some executive throat singing, but the best stuff comes out in the relatively unscripted Q&A portion that takes up much of the scarcely hour-long show. Amos Glick makes an amusingly smug and childlike chief executive, and as anyone who's seen a Mime Troupe show in the last couple decades might guess, Ed Holmes is a perfect Cheney, striking exactly the right mix of stiffness and contempt. - S.H. (Through December 18 at the Marsh Berkeley; TheMarsh.org or 415-826-5750.)

I Hate Hamlet -- Paul Rudnick's 1991 showbiz comedy is packed with breezy wit and over-the-top personalities (actors, you know), although a few plot threads hang loose and the gags about the gulf between TV and legit theater earn chuckles despite being older than television itself, and here it's given a solid, well-paced community theater staging by director Mike Reynolds. Kalon Thibodeaux is appropriately callow and petulant as Andrew Rally, a soap-opera actor reluctantly cast as the moody Dane who finds himself tutored by the ghost of John Barrymore, portrayed with flamboyant theatricality by Robert Hamm. The performances are delightful throughout, from Sofia Ahmad as the blithely romantic virgin girlfriend to Amanda Mitchell's Fran Drescher-esque real-estate broker. Diane Dahms' glitzy costumes add color to the already colorful performances, and Ric Koller's set nicely embodies the musty theatrical affectations of Barrymore's old apartment. -- S.H. (Through December 18 at California Conservatory Theatre; CCT-SL.org or 510-632-8850)

Marius -- Marius is the story of two people in love who must decide what they can stand to lose. Eventually one of them will have to sacrifice something important, but up until the very last minute we don't know which of them it will be. As the characters pile up promises, lies, misunderstandings, and well-intentioned schemes, the suspense builds. Whom will Fanny marry? Will Marius succumb to the wanderlust that makes him run to the door of his father's cafe every time he hears a ship's horn? And what is the nature of true love: jealousy or sacrifice, or some of both? What do we owe the people we love? The people are good people, solid and loving and as basically clueless about each other as people everywhere, and this cast makes them vibrant and affecting. Besides its people, this play is very much about Marseilles, from the length of the famous Pont du Gard bridge to the sounds of stevedores. Marcel Pagnol clearly loved Marseilles, and the Aurora production shows us exactly why. -- L.D. (Through December 18 at the Aurora; AuroraTheatre.org or 510-843-4822.)

Oliver! -- Folks who love the earnest enthusiasm of community theater will find plenty to relish in the Willows Theatre's new production. The Concord company pulls out all the stops, using revolving sets and complicated choreography to tell the classic tale of Oliver Twist, the orphan waif adrift in the mean streets of London. However, those who fault this musical for its mundane dialogue and sentimental, cliché-ridden songs will not find it improved in this interpretation by the sons of suburbia, whose pink cheeks are smudged with fake coal dust. For better or for worse, this show trades emotional depth for animated song and dance numbers. -- E.S. (Through December 31 at the Willows; WillowsTheatre.org or 925-798-1300.)

Thinderella -- An attempt to capture the British holiday panto tradition of madcap versions of classic fairy tales, Thinderella is full of corny jokes, pop songs with tortured new lyrics, performers in drag, and sendups of Ivana Trump and Martha Stewart. There's also a bad fairy who talks a lot about a fiendish master plan but never actually does anything except occasionally try to steal a teddy bear just so that kids in the audience can scream for someone to stop her. Written by Sue Trigg two years ago for Alameda's Altarena Playhouse, this chaotic Role Players Ensemble production with a mix of kids and grownups is supposedly directed by Jane Ayles, but there's no evidence of any direction. - S.H. (Through December 11 at the Danville Town Meeting Hall; VillageTheatreShows.com or 925-314-3463.)


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Anonymous and pseudonymous comments will be removed.

Latest in Theater

Author Archives

  • Beyond the Fourth Wall

    Our critics review local theater productions.
    • Mar 7, 2007
  • Beyond the Fourth Wall

    Our critics review local theater productions.
    • Aug 16, 2006
  • More»

Arts & Culture Blogs

Most Popular Stories

Special Reports

The Beer Issue 2020

The Decade in Review

The events and trends that shaped the Teens.

Best of the East Bay


© 2020 Telegraph Media    All Rights Reserved
Powered by Foundation