Stage Reviews

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As You Like It Most California festivals stage Shakespeare with modern updates, but this production hews close to the traditional Bard. The costumes look Elizabethan, and there are no modern props. The cast includes eight Equity actors, giving the show a sleek feel. It’s an intelligent, orthodox reading, with threats of chaos and violence dominating the opening palace scenes. But things get peaceful in a hurry when we move to the Forest of Arden (a pastoral setting for love), to observe the frolics of four wooing couples, whose romances range from the noble to the absurd. Director Rebecca Dines presents the lovers for vivid language and physical comedy. There’s not much sexual heat, though sex certainly is implied.
Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, 7:30 p.m. August 19 and 8 p.m. August 21, $20-$65. Sand Harbor, on the Nevada shoreline southeast of Incline Village; (800) 74-SHOWS. J.H.

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Much Ado About Nothing It’s the battle of the sexes, as strong-willed Beatrice (Rebecca Dines) and Benedick (Dan Hiatt) are led to the altar despite their protestations. Dines and Hiatt, who have credits with major companies in the Bay Area and elsewhere, give this production a pair of very capable, smart and sexy leads. Hiatt also plays Dogberry (though you might not recognize him). Director Philip C. Sneed moves the setting to Sausalito in 1899, where American soldiers are returning from war in the Philippines. (There’s even a flag-draped coffin solemnly carried on stage in the first scene.) The shift opens the way for a bit of ragtime, some Chinese paper lanterns and other interesting touches.
Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, 8 p.m. August 20 and 22, $20-$65. Sand Harbor, on the Nevada shoreline southeast of Incline Village; (800) 74-SHOWS. J.H.

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Real Women Have Curves This Latino comedy, produced by Teatro Espejo and California Stage, features five women who work in a miserably hot, low-paying sweatshop, making expensive dresses that will be bought by skinny Anglo women at department stores. The women making the dresses are well aware that they couldn’t fit into these skimpy garments, even if they could afford them. The laughs spring from frank discussions of body size and shape (including a hilarious scene involving a comparison of ample hips and stretch marks), their cravings for food, how they lost their virginity, how they get along with men, etc. Playwright Josefina Lopez establishes each character as symbolic of a type of woman. There’s the 40-ish matron with eight children, the young single girl determined to get a college education and become a writer, and so on. Director Manuel Pickett compensates by keeping the mood spontaneous and the situation fluid. There are good performances by the all-female cast of community actresses.
California Stage; 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday; $12-$15. 1725 25th Street, (916) 451-5822. Through September 19. J.H.

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The Sacramento 2Page Play Festival Think of this as an evening of miniatures. There are 24 little plays, none more than five minutes long and most featuring two-character dialogues that deal with love (or flirtation, or pregnancy) in various comic styles. The titles, like Death Rides a Bicycle and God Meets the Speech Therapist, give some hint of what’s in store. The bottom line is that this is a diverse, low-budget showcase for 10 actors from Evan Nossoff’s classes, ranging from skinny teens to graying middle-agers—many in a show for the first time. Give ’em credit, because even though many of the participants are rookies, this unassuming show delivers a good measure of fun.
William Geery Theatre, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, $9.50 or $49 for a “SixTixPak.” 2130 L Street, (916) 451-4152. Extended through August 21. J.H.

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Shakespeare Santa Cruz Artistic director Paul Whitworth is back after a two-year sabbatical, and he’s put together one of the best summer festival seasons Northern California has seen in years, with a large professional cast and three ambitious, successful productions.

There’s just one Shakespeare play, The Taming of the Shrew. Director Tim Ocel, formerly of the Sacramento Theatre Company, gives us Petruchio as a world-weary World War II officer who abruptly marries the frumpy spinster Kate for her father’s money. The tart verbal skirmishing yields the expected laughs. What’s unexpected is the gloom that Ocel locates in the final scenes, which are more of a “cease fire” than a celebration. Sacramento’s Gregg Coffin contributes a jazzy, bluesy score.

Paired with Shrew (and featuring the same cast) is The Tamer Tamed, a long-lost sequel by Shakespeare’s younger contemporary, John Fletcher. Petruchio is marrying a second time, but his new wife Maria is not going along meekly. She locks Petruchio out of the house on their wedding night and issues a list of demands. Soon, all the women are in open revolt, drinking and dancing. Director Danny Scheie goes over the top with wild visual humor and pop-culture quotations, including a ’70s-style bra-burning party the playwright didn’t envision (but might have enjoyed).

The best of the three shows is Edward Albee’s acid portrait of a dysfunctional marriage, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Director Michael Donald Edwards gets great performances from Whitworth and actress Kate Skinner. It’s three hours of late-night boozing amid brilliant, devastating put-downs and manipulative behavior, as four characters indulge in nasty games like “humiliate the host,” “hump the hostess” and “get the guests.” It’s a dark, magnificent piece of theater.
University of California, Santa Cruz; various times; $21-$36, or $78-$98 for a season pass. (831) 459-2159. Through August 29. J.H.

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Smoke on the Mountain This faith-based musical about the antics of a family of traveling singers is really just a showcase for some old-fashioned gospel music, peppered with a bit of comic preaching and scripture-based one-upmanship. It’s campy, silly and full of promise that doesn’t quite deliver. Going in, you pray such a well-intentioned production will succeed, but sadly this Smoke has no fire. God knows this is an earnest cast full of enthusiasm and love for the music, but the majority of the cast has very limited stage experience, and the script is both hokey and pokey. On the plus side, you’re sure to leave humming a gospel tune or two.
Garbeau’s Dinner Theatre; 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday with dinner at 6 p.m., and 2:30 p.m. Sunday with brunch at 1 p.m.; $29-$39 for show and meal or $20 for show only. 12401 Folsom Boulevard in Rancho Cordova, (916) 985-6361. Through August 22. P.R.

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The Underpants There’s a lot of Steve Martin in this broad comedy filled with sexual innuendoes, crazy characters and slapstick humor. Martin adapted a classic 1910 German farce about a young wife who loses her knickers just as the king rides by, creating a social scandal and marital upheaval. Underwear humor becomes a running gag and sets an over-the-top tone. There isn’t an ounce of subtlety or a smidgen of sophistication to be found, but amusing absurdities abound.
B Street Theatre; 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Sunday; $25. 2711 B Street, (916) 443-5300. Extended through August 22. P.R.

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While We Were Bowling The setting is Buffalo, N.Y., in 1957. Playwright Carter W. Lewis begins his script by dishing up images of family domesticity paralleling the TV comedies of the time. But life was never that tidy, and several underlying family issues you couldn’t dwell on in a ’50s TV comedy come spilling out, albeit in a gently funny way: alcoholism, marriage at 17, closeted homosexuality, and racism, among others. What lifts this production into a high category are the sharp performances by B Street regulars Julia Brothers, John Lamb, Kurt Johnson, Dana Brooke and Greg Alexander, who are by now familiar with director Buck Busfield’s nimble style.
B Street Theatre; 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday; $18.50-$23.50. 2711 B Street, (916) 443-5300. Through September 5. J.H.