What's Happening in East Bay Theater 

Our critics weigh in on local theater.

Over the River and Through the Woods -- "Coots! What's the matter with coots today?" That's what callow Nick (Dillon Siedentopf) would be singing if Joe DiPietro's sentimental comedy were a musical. As is, all Nick can do is glower and kvetch as his full set of Italian-American grandparents smother him with affection: boisterous New Jersey natives on his father's side (strong performances by David Lee and Dory Ehrlich) and quaint immigrant maternal grandparents with Chico Marx accents on the other. (Marian Simpson's accent as grandma Aida would sound Russian were it not for the "-a" tacked onto each word.) Director Renee Echavez could stand to pick up the pace a bit, as the actors give each other's lines a wide berth, but on the whole it's a charming and gently funny show. David Wilkerson's tasteful New Jersey living room set gives a strong sense of what all this talk about home really means. -- S.H. (Through February 25 at Masquers Playhouse; Masquers.org or 510-232-4031.)

The Pirates of Penzance -- The fifth collaboration from Gilbert and Sullivan is deeply silly, even by their standards. The story is driven by a woman's inability to keep straight the words "pilot" and "pirate," and its twist is based once again on an accident of birth. Young Frederic's nurse Ruth is told to take the child to be apprenticed to be a pilot. But she hears a different word altogether, and Frederic ends up spending his childhood learning the fine art of terrorizing the high seas. This production is a bright, fun interpretation of the G&S classic. -- L.D. (February 2-5 at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts; Lamplighters.org or 925-943-SHOW.)

Twelfth Night -- Shakespeare's comedies are always a web of confusion, but Actors Ensemble's production of one of his most sturdy plays is further complicated by rushed delivery that makes the dialogue hard to follow and leaves no time for characters to concoct the thoughts they're expressing. -- S.H. (Through February 18 at Live Oak Theatre; AEofBerkeley.org or 510-649-5999.)

Walkin' Talkin' Bill Hawkins -- W. Allen Taylor's one-man show about searching for the father he never knew, the first black disc jockey in Cleveland, shows considerable polish, funny and poignant in all the right places. Directed by Gloria Weinstock from an earlier version helmed by Ellen Sebastian Chang, the production beautifully incorporates old R&B and jazz hits as well as slides and radio clips of father and son. -- S.H. (Through February 5 at the Marsh Berkeley; TheMarsh.org or 800-838-3006.)

Wit -- Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning (and only) play is challenging stuff, about a Donne scholar undergoing harrowing experimental treatments for ovarian cancer. Despite its harrowing subject, the play is often very funny and almost pathologically smart, its heroine deconstructing doctors' language and even the play she's in, but it also packs an emotional wallop without indulging in cheap sentiment. And Town Hall Theatre Company of Lafayette nails it in this excellent production directed by Jake Witlen, fresh from the Actors Theatre of Louisville. Everything we'll later learn about the tough, brilliant professor of literature is visible and audible in Scarlett Hepworth's remarkable performance from the start, without any hint of caricature. The able supporting cast including several Town Hall regulars manages to carry off the humor even in a mortifying pelvic exam. This isn't just good community theater; it's a flat-out triumph and a must-see. -- S.H. (Through February 19 at Town Hall Theatre; THTC.org or 925-283-1557.)

Wrong Turn at Lungfish -- In the confines of a hospital room, a blind and curmudgeonly college professor wants only to muse upon his impending death. If only Anita, the sassy young Brooklyn girl who comes to read to him, would stop distracting him with her shenanigans. Ultimately, the attempt to probe deep, philosophical questions -- such as why we're here on Earth and where to find solace at the end of life -- is as simplistic and insufferable as a suburban fifteen-year-old spouting existentialism. -- E.S. (Through February 11 at the Danville Village Theatre; 925-314-3463.)


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