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.
Fred Forsman Amphitheatre; 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 4:30 p.m. Sunday; $19-$23. Show dates are August 28 and September 3, 5, 9, 11, 17 and 19. Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley; (530) 265-8587. J.H.
Johnny Got His Gun The Lookout! Players production of Johnny Got His Gun is a searing look at the cost of war. Adapted from Dalton Trumbo’s historic 1939 novel, the story centers on a 20-year-old soldier who slowly wakes up to discover he is a living war causality. He has no arms, no legs, no eyes, no ears and no mouth. The book has been condensed into a one-hour, one-man performance. Is a play about a horribly maimed soldier depressing? Yes. Is it memorable, thought-provoking and strangely life-affirming? Yes. Is it worth a visit? Absolutely. Not only does the story resonate, but so does the remarkable performance by
Ricardo Pérez Gonzalez. Eagle Theatre, 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, $10-$12. 925 Front Street in Old Sacramento, (916) 265-4125. Through August 28. P.R.
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 onstage in the first scene.) The shift opens the way for a bit of ragtime, some Chinese paper lanterns and other interesting touches.
Fred Forsman Amphitheatre; 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 4:30 p.m. Sunday; $19-$23. Show dates are August 27 and 29, and September 2, 4, 10, 12, 16 and 18. Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley, (530) 265-8587. J.H.
Much Ado About Nothing Amador County’s Main Street Theatre Works—a 10-year-old, “heads up” community theater company that unfortunately lost its lease on an art-deco-era performance space last year—resurfaces in a lovely new venue with this production. The Kennedy Mine Amphitheatre is a little gem of an outdoor space, with grassy terraces, mature oaks and a temporary stage. This summer’s show is a solid, straightforward, accessible interpretation of a classic Shakespeare comedy in comparatively traditional vein. Several veteran Sacramento community actors have leading roles (including Julie Anchor as Beatrice, Allen Pontes as Benedick and Ron Adams as Leonato).
Kennedy Mine Amphitheatre, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, $8-$15. Bring your own folding lawn chairs and a sweater. Gates open for picnicking at 6:30 p.m., with an informal “Bard Talk” at 7:15 p.m. Access via North Main Street, off Highway 49 in Jackson; (209) 243-6789. Through September 11. J.H.
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. 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.
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. 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.
University of California, Santa Cruz; various times; $21-$36, or $78-$98 for a season pass. (831) 459-2159. Through August 29. J.H.
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.