Stage Reviews

Shirley (Aviva Jane Carlin): Pre-Greece

Shirley (Aviva Jane Carlin): Pre-Greece

Willie RatingHamlet All too often, a well-intentioned attempt at Shakespeare can be bogged down by too much acting and not enough action. This is not the case with Phantom Productions’ current production of Hamlet, however. Under the tight direction of Brian King, who pulls double duty by performing in the title role, the Bard’s tale of murder and revenge comes to life not as a platform for over-the-top monologues but as a stirring piece of narrative. Hamlet (King) doesn’t approve of the marriage of his mother, Gertrude (Susan Andrews), to Claudius (Stephen Vargo), the brother and heir to the throne of Hamlet’s late father, the king of Denmark. Disapproval turns to downright hatred when Hamlet’s father’s ghost (Ed Gyles, Jr.) appears and says he was murdered by Claudius, sending Hamlet on a quest for vengeance that ultimately destroys him and everyone close to him. King gives an extraordinary performance as the brooding, occasionally maniacal Hamlet, and Randy Kilgore is splendid as the sneaky Polonius, but it may be Michelle Armstrong’s portrayal of the doomed Ophelia that really steals the show. Armstrong brings such radiance to a girl full of love and innocence in the first act that it becomes heartbreaking to watch her eventual descent into madness. Watch you will, though—this production is too good to turn away from.
Capital Opera Sacramento , 8pm F, Sa; 3pm Su, $10-$12. 6219 Ross Ave., Carmichael. 978-5922. Through Oct. 29. G.K.

Willie RatingMaster Harold . . . and the Boys Under the sure hand of co-directors Bob Devin Jones and Myrtle Stephens, South African playwright Athol Fugard’s semi-autobiographical Master Harold opens simply. The year is 1950; the place is a small tea shop (a miracle of a thing in Celebration Arts’ tiny stage) in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, on a wet and dismal afternoon. Young Harold, or Hally (the mercurial Matthew Huffman) is tired of doing his schoolwork, so he engages the two workers, Willie (J.G. Gonsalves) and Sam (the stunning James Wheatley)—who have apparently been with the family forever—in conversation. Initially, Hally falls into reverie, recalling a cherished childhood memory about the time that Sam taught him to fly a kite. But when the dark moments come (be warned: they are very, very dark), the boy lets a few family secrets slip, relating how he and his father mock the black servants secretly, Sam lets loose the other half of the kite memory, with volcanic results.
Celebration Arts , 8pm Th-Sa; 2pm Su. $10-$12. 4469 D St. 455-2787. Plays until further notice. D.M.

Willie RatingMarvin’s Room Mark this one on your Day Timers, folks. Vista Players has done it again, this time collecting a grade-A Sacramento cast and bringing Scott McPherson’s best known comedy-drama to life. So just forget about the Meryl Streep/Leo di Caprio film version and get thee to the Actor’s Theatre. The cupid-faced Jan Ahders stars as the nurturing center of a very dysfunctional family that includes the local treasure Boots Martin, George Schau and Claire Lipschultz. As various forms of illness manifest themselves—the audience tours through cancer, mental health issues and a variety of personal difficulties—McPherson sets a model for a drawing back into orbit of the family circle, also known as the circle of life. The show gets a slight ding in that Ahders fails to veer from spunky mode (Is this a new form of movie illness?), and the show occasionally drags, buckling under its own weight. But these are minor faults, ones that the players more than make up for,
Vista Players , 8pm F, Sa; occasional Sunday matinees, $10-$12. Actor’s Theatre, 1616 Del Paso Blvd. 498-0477. Through Oct. 28. D.M.

Willie RatingOscar and Bosie Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the death of the eternal Oscar Wilde, local playwright Gregg Peterson has crafted a behind-the-scenes drama in his new work, Oscar and Bosie, which opens the Lambda Players’ 200-01 season. Rand Martin turns in a heartfelt performance as the famed writer and bon vivant, while Michael Hedges as Wilde’s much-younger lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, or Bosie—the man with whom Wilde had a 10-year affair that led to the writer’s two-year prison stint for gross indecency—comes off as a whiny homme fatale. Director Chad Cornwell has rounded up an enthusiastic cast who succeed some and fail some in the task at hand, but the show fascinates nonetheless.
Lambda Players , 8pm F, Sa. $10-$12. 2130 L St. 484-4742. Through Oct. 28. D.M.

Willie RatingShirley Valentine This one-woman show stars Aviva Jane Carlin, who endeared herself to Sacramento Theatre Company audiences last season with her solo performance of Jodie’s Body. Carlin has the wonderful ability to sink into her characters, filling them with a kaleidoscope of emotions that make us really care for them. She certainly has everyone pulling for Shirley Valentine—she who talks to the wall about her various disappointments—from the moment she starts to speak until we witness a dream fulfilled.
STC , various times and days, $10-$35. 1419 H St. 443-6722. Through Dec. 10. P.R.

Willie RatingSix Women with Brain Death The longest-running theatrical production in Sacramento has seen more than 25 cast members, been through two divorces, a marriage and assorted high school and college graduations. Boasting more than 700 performances, the show is continuously updated and rewritten to keep its biting edge on current events and pop-culture punch lines. Reminiscent of Mad-TV and early Saturday Night Live, the 10 skits that make up the production don’t always seem to have any rhyme or reason, but people don’t seem to notice because they are rolling with laughter. Written predominantly from the female perspective, without attempting to make the expected in-your-face social statement or feminist standpoint, Six Women with Brain Death is a great show for men as well.
The Studio Theatre , 8pm Th-Sa; 7pm Su. $15-$18. 1028 R St. 446-2668. Runs indefinitely. M.B.C.

Willie RatingStill Going Forward Backward This quirky Foothill Theatre Production examines the ever-fascinating and always-evolving relationships between men and women. Playwright Daniel Stein writes about the man-woman enigma through a series of short vignettes, but it’s Stein’s direction and the talent of set designer Michael Foster that make this odd production a worthy visit. As you enter the theater, you’re greeted by two bicyclists high in the rafters, riding in opposite directions. And so the evening goes, with the six cast members dancing, flirting, jumping and repelling all over a stage that includes a pole, a slide, a ladder, gliding sets, revolving doors and a floating rowboat. The animated cast is having so much fun it’s easy to overlook the fact that there’s nothing really new or insightful about the material. Too bad, because with a more clever script, this rather short evening would really shine. As it is, it’s still a lark.
Foothill Theatre Company , 7pm Th; 8:15pm F, Sa; 2pm Su, $5-$18. 401 Broad St, Nevada City. (530) 265-8587. Through Oct. 29. P.R.

Willie RatingThis is our Youth In this production of playwright Kenneth Lonergan’s This is Our Youth—a tale of early ‘80s Manhattan and privileged discontent—the sidekick is the principal character, and it’s a role that Andrew Benator does a remarkable job at bringing to life. With a cast that includes Peter Humer and Dana Brooke, and directed by Amy Resnick (The Affections of May), this disturbing, foul-mouthed, drug-filled presentation is another guaranteed hit for B Street.
B Street Theatre , various times and days, $15.50-$19.50. 2711 B St. 443-5300. Through Nov. 12. M.B.C

Willie RatingVivien You have to give the vibrant Janis Stevens, one-woman star of Vivien, credit for undertaking this project, a vacuum-packed, 85-minute portrait of the life of film star Vivien Leigh. From the moment we see her, only slightly decrepit at 54 in 1967, but choked up with TB and mental illness, musing over her very interesting life, we are swept along by the power of the narrative. From the star-struck young woman who was stage-bound from the moment she set eyes on Laurence Olivier, to the audacious gate-crasher for the much-coveted role of Scarlett O’Hara, to the mature woman of the theater and electric shock-therapy patient, we are fascinated with Leigh’s wit and complexity.
California Stage , 8pm Th-Sa, W; 6pm Su. $12-$18. 25th and R streets. 451-5822. Through Nov. 5. D.M.