Stage Reviews

Willie RatingBash: The Latterday Plays of Neil LaBute Better known these days for his films—stark explorations into everyday evil (In the Company of Men, Your Friends and Neighbors)—Neil LaBute returned to his roots with this 1999 trilogy, exploring ancient and enduring themes of revenge, jealousy, lost innocence … and murder—in fact, all of these short plays are riffs on classical tragedy. In Media Redux, Whitney Deatherage is a young woman confessing all in a police station, relating the tale of her seduction in the seventh-grade by a teacher, the birth of a child and the ultimate in pay-backs. Greg Stirnaman protects his … quality of life in Iphigenia in Orem (the most chilling of the batch, making for my single most uncomfortable theatrical experience to date) and in A Gaggle of Saints, Darcy Villere and Melissa Craib reflect on the loveliest night of all—the time they went to the big city to celebrate their anniversary, an event that involves both great tenderness and shocking violence. Bash is ugly, horrifying even, and yet it’s devastatingly resonant.
Thistle Dew Dessert Theatre , 8pm F, Sa. $13-$17. 1901 P St. 444-8209. Through Nov.4. D.M.

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 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 RatingStop Kiss In what should be a dramatic, emotionally charged presentation, the well-meaning cast of Stop Kiss gives an uninspired performance. The story—the tale of a budding friendship between two New York City women (Theresa Huntington and Fusako Yokotobi) that veers toward romance only to end in tragedy—is an exciting departure for the multicultural troupe, but good intentions are not enough to overcome poorly delivered dialogue and weak technical direction. Nonetheless, it’s a delight to see theater companies such as InterACT branching out to experiment with non-standard formula productions that challenge traditional female societal roles.
InterACT , 8pm F, Sa; 3pm Su. $10-$12. 4010 El Camino Way. 452-6174. M.B.C.

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.