A Doll’s House Even though they debuted as a couple more than 125 years ago, Nora and Torvald Helmer would have felt right at home on Wisteria Lane. This just-promoted banker and his adorable, adoring wife are the picture of suburban contentment, if there had been suburbs when Henrik Ibsen created this couple for his 1879 play. And, just like those housewives on the hit television show, behind Nora’s perfect facade is a desperate housewife embroiled in secrets, lies and blackmail. What director Ed Claudio wisely does in this production is to humanize the Torvald character, making the husband less brutish and more, well, desperate himself. And Nora’s layers are exposed slowly, painfully and realistically, so the quick disintegration of the marriage is more sad than empowering.
Actor’s Theatre; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday; $12-$14. 1616 Del Paso Boulevard, (916) 925-6579. Through July 3. P.R.
Down an Alley Filled with Cats It’s a mystery about a ceramic vase, a red carnation, old books and a good old-fashioned cat-and-mouse game. The story centers on two characters: bookstore proprietor Timothy Timoney (Lewis Rooker) and Simon (Ryan Williams), a patron looking for a particular rare book. Through odd circumstances, the two get locked in the bookstore overnight and begin a tentative conversation that progresses from mutual discoveries to hot clues, cold trails and red herrings. The premise is interesting, and the plot has twists, turns and “Aha!” moments, but overall it’s not particularly intriguing.
Thistle Dew Dessert Theatre, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, $12. 1901 P Street, (916) 444-8209. Through June 25. P.R.
Ganked Local playwright William A. Parker’s new project, Young Voices, is a black youth-theater startup serving the South Sacramento and Elk Grove area. The group’s first production is a one-hour morality play about a high-school athlete (Robert Andrews, in a charismatic performance) who’s dumping his girl as he leaves town on a football scholarship. The girlfriend (Zenetta Sheppard) is heading for college but develops a serious heartache. And then she gets pregnant. What should they do? This production lacks polish and subtlety, but it speaks from the heart to a real-world situation. Parker’s scenes of high-school kids hanging out have a loose, natural feel that wins you over. This is a project we hope will prosper.
Monterey Trail High School; 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday; $6-$8. Use the back entrance to the campus on Cliffcrest Drive, south of Calvine Road in Elk Grove; (916) 271-8202. Through June 26. J.H.
Master Harold … and the boys Celebration Arts revives its fondly recalled 2000 production of a great script by South African playwright Athol Fugard. Actors James Wheatley and J.G. Gonsalves reprise their excellent performances as two middle-aged black men working in a South African tearoom. The white, preppy son of the owner (played by Galen Howard this time around) stops by. The three characters are well-acquainted, but their friendly banter turns stormy, and the yawning gulf between South Africa’s blacks and whites opens right before your eyes. This revival doesn’t pack quite the intensity of the earlier production, but it’s still a remarkable, powerful piece. And it’s arguably the signature role for Wheatley, among many excellent performances he’s given in this long-running series of Fugard plays.
Celebration Arts; 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday; $8 Thursday and $13-$15 other days. 4469 D Street, (916) 455-2787. Through June 25. J.H.
Much Ado About Nothing This pocket-sized production of the classic Shakespeare comedy features 11 actors in 17 roles, with their numerous comings and goings squeezed onto one of the smaller stages in town. Perhaps director Christine Nicholson should consider a second career as an air-traffic controller. It’s a very funny, light and nimble production, with local professionals Jamie Jones and Eric Wheeler verbally sparring as the headstrong, reluctant lovers Beatrice and Benedick. Also in the cast are veterans of River Stage and City Theatre productions. Professional productions of Shakespeare are all too rare in Sacramento; this tasty, fun-oriented, heads-up example, using hometown Actors Equity talent and high-end community players, hopefully will serve as a model for future efforts.
Delta King Theatre; 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday; $8-$20 for show only, and $42-$49 for meal and show. 1000 Front Street in Old Sacramento, (916) 995-5464. Through June 26. J.H.
Othello This summer’s professional Shakespeare season begins with this well-staged, small-cast production in Orinda. Director Sean Daniels gives us a youthful Othello (actor Billy Eugene Jones). There’s fresh sexual heat between the young Moor and his new Italian wife, Desdemona (Sarah Grace Wilson). Iago (Bruce McKenzie) is a twitchy mid-ranking officer who’s nursing a big grudge over a lost promotion. Lighting designer Scott Zielinski also does “fade to black” with great effect. Director Daniels’ only serious mistake is the use of vapid music in climactic scenes; Othello’s final, solitary moments with the body of his wife are weakened by a sappy pop tune.
California Shakespeare Theater; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 4 p.m. Sunday; $10-$55. Bruns Memorial Amphitheatre, 100 Gateway Boulevard in Orinda, (510) 548-9666, www.calshakes.org. Through July 3. J.H.
Picnic William Inge’s Pulitzer-winning drama about life in small-town Kansas in the early 1950s gets a solid, if not landmark, interpretation at the Woodland Opera House. There’s good chemistry between the troubled young wanderer Hal (Danny Webber, doing a “young Elvis” interpretation) and local beauty Madge (Lindsay Wigen). It’s very much a case of the “wild thing” tempting the hometown girl who wants to live a larger life and doesn’t want to marry her well-positioned local boyfriend. And who can resist the semi-desperate romance between old-maid schoolteacher Rosemary (Marilyn McCrakin) and her dubious shopkeeper beau Howard (Dean Shellenberger)? Director Lydia Venables makes the show feel shorter than it really is—a good job.
Woodland Opera House; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday; $12-$14. 320 Second Street in Woodland, (530) 666-9617. Through June 20. J.H