Stage Reviews

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A Christmas Carol
Playwright Doris Baizley and director Frank Condon gently recast the Dickens standard as a play within a play, as a struggling theater company recruits a grouchy stage manager to play Scrooge after the leading actor quits. Dickens’ plot is slightly streamlined, and some colorful extras have been mixed in: carols, hand-bell music and a bit of juggling and clowning in the commedia dell’arte style. Veteran Loren Taylor makes a good Scrooge (moving believably from grim to giddy), and Condon wisely uses his actors’ natural voices (rather than fake English accents) and real sideburns (rather than remnants from the House of Carpets), which lends a touch of class. This warm, enjoyable adaptation is actually quite faithful to the spirit of the original.
River Stage at Cosumnes River College; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday; $7-$12. 8401 Center Parkway, 691-7364. Through December 15. J.H.

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There are a few changes in this year’s model of the Sacramento Theatre Company ’s popular holiday musical. Mark Brey—for the past two years, the undisputed star as the wicked stepmother Mrs. Baden-Rotten—has moved on. New arrival Jay Rogers has gamely taken over the role, but he doesn’t display the same incendiary edge or dominate the show the way Brey did. At the same time, several roles taken by teens in past productions are filled this year by more experienced community players. Overall, it makes for a more even-keeled production, but, if you’ve seen the show before, there aren’t many surprises in store.
Sacramento Theatre Company; 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, plus matinees at 12:30 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; $21-$36. 1419 H Street, 446-6722. Through January 5. J.H.

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At long last, a local production of Michael Frayn’s physically compact, intellectually vast script. The occasion is a mysterious meeting in Nazi-occupied Denmark in 1941. German physicist Werner Heisenberg, on the Nazi payroll, makes a difficult re-acquaintance with his former mentor Niels Bohr, who is part Jewish and who will escape to the West soon. Director Ken Kelleher and actors Julian López-Morillas, Jessica Powell and Alex Moggridge do a bit of magic with an enormously potent piece of writing.
B Street Theatre ; 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. Additional Wednesday matinees are November 27; December 4, 11 and 18; and January 8. $16.50-$20.50. 2727 B Street, 443-5300. Through January 12. J.H.

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Christmas on Mars
Strange, stranger, strangest. This nervous, acrobatically absurd Synergy Stage play amounts to a sort of demolition derby involving four of the most self-serving, exploitive characters imaginable. Smiling lies, shrewd manipulation and multiple infidelities and betrayals unwind, interspersed with “mad scenes” in which individual members of this nutty quartet go bonkers and sail over the top. It’s the antithesis of every other holiday show in town, and playwright Harry Kondoleon (Ivy League, clearly talented, died of AIDS in 1994) drops in cool, deadly accurate passages of clarity amid the madness. This low-budget production has a few rough edges, but it comes to a boil.
California Stage
, 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, $10-$15. 1721 25th Street, 451-5822. Through December 22. J.H.

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Fully Committed
Our tour guide into the culinary confusion and demanding upscale clientele of a four-star New York restaurant is Sam, an out-of-work actor and restaurant employee in charge of the reservation list. This one-man theatrical tour de force is presented by Matt K. Miller, who masterfully portrays more than 40 different characters—changing personalities and accents within nanoseconds. Miller plays Sam as well as the pushy patrons, the chaotic kitchen staff and the cantankerous chef.
Sacramento Theatre Company ; 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, 12:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday; $18-$36. 1419 H Street, 443-6722. Through January 5. P.R.

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The setting is Tinsel Town in the early 1980s, in a “stag apartment” replete with weed, pills, coke and booze—served for breakfast. The major players are four men on the fringes of the business who are angry with their former wives and who are amnesiacs concerning the children they have spawned along the way—totally selfish. They are too smart by half, and they haven’t an ethical bone in their bodies. But they do possess a bizarre, humorous charm, even as they bed their best friend’s girlfriend behind his back. Hurlyburly features strong performances from community actors.
Actors Theatre , 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, $12-$14. 1616 Del Paso Boulevard, 925-6579. Through December 8. J.H.

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“?” (Question Mark)
The 12-member Abandon Productions troupe, under the guidance of founder and artistic director Doniel Soto, presents vignettes that combine vocal experiments, dramatic interpretations and physical movements. The troupe’s current production brings all these aspects together. The a cappella vocals range from doo-wop to Gregorian chants and strange, tribal rhythms, while the movements portray spider webs, roller coasters, the Eiffel Tower, rivers, mountains and high-concept themes. The joy these performers project is highly infectious as they emote with their bodies, their faces and their voices. It’s a shared experience, with not a single selfish performance or ego-driven action onstage.
The Space, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, $10-$13. 2509 R St., 737-2304. Through December 21. P.R.

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Sexual Perversity in Chicago
David Mamet’s look at the 1970s dating and mating scene is about sex. It’s also about Chicago, with four characters in 33 short scenes throughout the city, and a bit of perversity. But, although the language is raw and the sexual portrayals explicit, the content is hardly shocking. It’s more like a little titillating. In the skits, we watch as desires and fears both help and hinder a blossoming relationship between two of them. The cast members manage to add pathos and vulnerability to their scenes while making us care about four singles awash in a sea of sexual misadventures and emotional near misses. An impressive debut for new theater company . Geery Theatre, 8 p.m. Friday, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday, $12.50-$14.50. 2130 L Street, 451-4152. Through December 14. P.R.

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Woody Guthrie’s American Song
Woody Guthrie’s classic songs about the Dust Bowl, the Depression, union organizing and American life in general form the center of this ensemble revue. It’s not a docudrama: Guthrie’s character is embodied by three different actors representing different aspects of his personality as he moves through life—hitching a ride on a passing freight train or singing to a crowd of unemployed laborers in shantytown in the upper Sacramento Valley. Things move at a leisurely pace, but director Luther Hanson paints effective tableaux, and music director Jesse Valerio doesn’t let his band overpower the singers.
Art Court Theatre , 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, with a 2 p.m. matinee Thursday, December 12, $7-$12. On the Sacramento City College Campus, 3835 Freeport Boulevard, 558-2228. Through December 14.