Ah, Wilderness! Great American playwright Eugene O’Neill’s only comedy deals with one of the same issues as his signature dramas: alcohol and how it damages relationships. In this tale, set in 1906, a small-town newspaperman’s teenage son upends the family’s Fourth of July plans by skipping the fireworks and going to a sleazy dive, where he meets easy women and gets drunk. What makes Ah, Wilderness! different from O’Neill’s brooding dramas is that this play is a brush with adult life’s temptations (cushioned by forgiveness and parental love), rather than a shattering collision. This production features excellent interplay between cast members Lew Rooker and Laura Kaya as the concerned parents, and good work by Stephen Mason as the often tipsy Uncle Sid.
City Theatre, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday, with 2 p.m. matinees on December 7 and 9; $10-$15. Art Court Theatre at Sacramento City College, 3835 Freeport Boulevard; (916) 558-2228; www.citytheatre.net. Through December 10. J.H.
The Gift of the Magi The Foothill Theatre Company, nestled in the picture-perfect Christmas-card town of Nevada City, has all the ingredients for a sweet holiday treat. It has the classic O. Henry Christmas short story of selfless love through the gift exchange between two poor newlyweds, a delightful Victorian set, and endearing acting and singing. The result is a festive holiday dish that’s tasty and timely, but unfortunately suffers from an overdose of sugar. The sappy, syrupy songs make the story more saccharine than quietly sweet and thoughtful. Fortunately, holiday time is the one time that a too-sweet musical can still be a Christmas treat for the whole family.
Foothill Theatre Company, 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday; $11-$26. Nevada Theatre, 401 Broad Street in Nevada City; (530) 265-8587, www.foothilltheatre.org. Through December 30. P.R.
Mahalia Celebration Arts revives its 2005 holiday show devoted to the music and life of gospel great Mahalia Jackson. Elise Reese returns in the title role. She’s got a big, soulful voice, and she’s singing the wonderful hymns and standards that made Mahalia a stadium entertainer in the 1950s and 1960s: “Move On Up A Little Higher,” “Deep River,” “Elijah Rock” and others. Interspersed between the songs are biographical sketches by playwright Tom Stolz, some of which are pretty corny. This show’s well worth seeing for the music, which is one of this country’s gifts to the world. Last year, many performances in this 49-seat theater sold out. Call ahead for tickets.
Celebration Arts, 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday; $8-$15. No performance on December 24. 4469 D Street, (916) 455-2787. Through December 20. J.H.
The Peculiar and Sudden Nearness of the Moon Sydney Spencer is discovering dark family secrets. “Dark,” as in the color of her newborn baby’s skin, a color that doesn’t match the paleness of either parent. The idea that one incident can topple an ingrained identity and belief in one’s own skin color, culture, and class is a fascinating topic explored in this world premiere from multiracial playwright Velina Hasu Houston. Most of it works, if you keep in mind that the play is still being work-shopped. There is much to applaud about this production, from the thought-provoking subject matter to the talented cast. However, Houston needs to lessen the dramatics of the first half and pull the second half together.
Sacramento Theatre Company; 12:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday; $32-$36. 1419 H Street, (916) 443-6722 or (888) 4-STCTIX, www.sactheatre.org. Through December 31. P.R.
The Princess and the Pauper Playwright David Pierini’s comedy for children is very (very) loosely based on a classic tale by Mark Twain. The prince becomes a princess, putting a girl into an otherwise male-dominated story. Pierini and director Jerry Montoya work in lots of gender inversion and physical comedy, like a very funny king (Rick Kleber) who burps in an almost volcanic manner, and a bumbling henchman (Miles Miniaci) who steals a scene by turning up in a wedding dress. Parents looking for genuine Twain may be disappointed, but kids will enjoy the loopy humor. Playwright Pierini clearly is very much in touch with his own inner child.
Children’s Theatre of California; 7 p.m. Friday, 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday; $15-$20. 2711 B Street; (530) 443-5300, www.bstreettheatre.org. Through December 31. J.H.
Steambath The action in this dark existentialist comedy takes place in a steamy spa, with men lounging around in white robes and towels, talking about their lives and relationships. Confused newbie Tandy slowly realizes he’s dead, and this room is limbo, a stop on the road to wherever the afterlife leads. Although the thought of being dead unnerves Tandy, being introduced to God as a Puerto Rican steam-bath attendant sends him over the edge. Though the play can be a bit frustrating at times, it’s never dull. It’s best to sit back and let the steamy dialogue engulf you. Allow the heavier questions to linger, and enjoy the impressive performances.
Actor’s Theatre, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday; $14-$15. 1616 Del Paso Boulevard; (916) 925-6579; www.actinsac.com. Through December 10. P.R.
Tell Me on a Sunday This is a great showcase for a talented performer to show off her singing and acting chops, and that’s just what Alexandra Ralph does in this Andrew Lloyd Webber one-woman musical. This story of Emma, a British hat designer trying to make it in New York City, is told all in song and without dialogue. To succeed, one has to be an engaging performer with an impressive singing voice. Ralph delivers on both counts. Unfortunately, this is basically a string of songs about Emma’s string of men. We begin to wish Emma would spend as much time finding a life as she does finding, losing and pining for men. This revival of last May’s production is the Actor’s Theatre’s first effort at its new Folsom venue.
Actor’s Theatre of Folsom; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 3:30 p.m. Sunday; $20-$22. Stage Nine Entertainment Store and Theatre, 717 Sutter Street in Folsom; (916) 933-8008. Through December 31. P.R.
Throwing Parties Writer/director Buck Busfield’s new holiday play introduces us to a working-class Italian-American family in the economically declining Midwest. The story begins as domestic comedy (with a Catholic twist) based on everyday life. We treasured the marvelous, mute performance by white-haired Mitch Agruss, the patriarch of the B Street acting company. This is suddenly interrupted by serious real-world events as the story spins into crisis, yet just when despair is closing in, there’s an otherworldly intervention. Need we add that there’s a warm and fuzzy ending? The final scene could still use a bit of tweaking, but, for the most part, this is a good little play.
B Street Theatre, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 5 and 9 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday; $25-$30. 2711 B Street; (916) 443-5300, www.bstreettheatre.org. Through December 31. J.H.