Stage Reviews

Willie Rating
As Things Remain
Melissa has come to America determined to find the answers to questions that have plagued her ever since she was a small child. Why did my father send us away? Who was he? Melissa discovers that the answers to all of her questions may be locked in an old trunk her father had kept. To her dismay, the trunk is now in the possession of her lovelorn neighbor, who is more interested in getting her to have dinner with him than in revealing the contents of the old trunk. As Things Remain is the B Street’s seventh world-premiere holiday comedy, following in the theater’s tradition of presenting original works during the holiday season. (Written by B Street cofounder and producing director Buck Busfield, As Things Remain is the sixth original play penned for the B Street holiday presentations.) It is unfortunate, however, that this season’s efforts fall short with awkwardly incomplete scenes, forced plot points and underdeveloped, clichéd characters. Actress Josephine Hall delivers a delightful performance that is perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of this production. Greg Alexander, as James, manages a nearly flawless and quite enjoyable performance. The character of Ginger, played by Anthony Shank, the electrician hired to rewire the inherited house, is sadly little more than poorly added comic relief, providing some laughs but mostly pointless distraction in an already muddled plot. As Things Remain is an enjoyable, romantic comedy with a plethora of potential and some truly inspired moments, but this production will need a few rewrites before it takes its place among Busfield’s better works.
B Street Theatre, various times Tu-Su. $15.50-$19.50. 2711 B St. 443-5300. Through December. M.B.C.

Willie Rating
The Boys Next Door
Norman loves his donuts and keys. Arnold frets over Russia and rugs. Lucian has a library card but can’t read, and Barry gives golf tips for a quarter. And watching over this foursome is their mental aid counselor, Jack, whose patience is waning while his caring goes into overdrive. In this Tom Griffin comedy, we are introduced to four roommates of various mental capacities who are trying to negotiate through the many land mines of everyday life. With much of the first half played for humor, the illogical seems logical and the simplest tasks are bungled badly. There is an uncomfortable feeling in witnessing all this, though, which leaves you unsure whether you are laughing at the boys next door or with them. It’s only the strong performances by the entire cast and a second half that gives the characters more depth that brings a tender, bittersweet warmth to the play. Director Bill Voorhees gets credit for clever staging and a well-chosen cast.
Thistle Dew Dessert Gallery, 8pm F, Sa. $10-$17. 1901 P St., 444-8209. Through Dec. 16. P.R.

Willie Rating
A Christmas Carol
If you’re expecting a scene from merry old England, proper costumes and traditional sets from this year’s version of A Christmas Carol presented by the River Stage Theater, you’re in for a shock—or a pleasant surprise—when half the actors are dressed as clowns and the stage is all but bare, save for a wooden bed that assembles and disassembles right before your eyes. Performed in the style of classic Commedia dell’arte (a colorful 16th-century Italian style of improv-oriented traveling comedy) this version of A Christmas Carol incorporates jugglers, musicians, singers and tumblers to create a magical and fun-filled twist to a time-tested Christmas treasure. Directed by Frank Condon, the production features quick-paced scenes with never a dull moment, perfect for keeping the children’s interest. The production also shows what can be done with a little imagination, using a minimalist set, dramatic lighting and properly timed smoke effects. The sounds of Marley’s mournful, ghostly wails echoing through the theater are enough to send a shiver up anyone’s back.
River Stage, 7:30pm Th, 8pm F, Sa, 2pm Su. $12. Cosumnes River College, 8401 Center Parkway. 691-7364. Through Dec. 17. M.B.C.

Willie Rating
Sacramento Theatre Company’s non-holiday holiday offering Cinderella is a delight from start to finish. This musical version of the glass slipper caper has something for everyone and delivers what it promises—entertainment for both adults and children. For the purists, there’s the romantic true-love fairy tale; for the children, there’s enough silliness and magic to keep them enthralled, and for the “elders,” there are naughty double entendres galore. What makes this production particularly fun is the audience participation portions, which the kids enthusiastically embrace. The show is mercifully nonsaccharine, saved by sly ribald humor and endearing characters. And not a sugarplum to be seen. The schedule is kid-friendly with lots of matinees and early evening start times.
STC, various times and days. $10-$32. 1419 H. St., 443-6722. Through Dec. 24. P.R.

Willie Rating
Instead of spreading Christmas cheer with any of the classic tales of yuletide, peace and joy, the California Stage takes an alternative approach to the holiday season with its presentation of the black comedy Reckless. Written by award-winning playwright Craig Lucas, Reckless is comparable to a freight-train accident that just keeps going and going, and every time you think it’s just about over it finds some way of getting even more perverse and muddled. If not for the talent of a fabulous ensemble, Reckless would be about as enjoyable as a trip to the dentist on your birthday. But led by Lynn Baker in the role of Rachel, the cast manages to pull together this wild ride and deliver a number of laughs—and even a few memorable moments. Elly award-winning actress and choreographer Erin Renfree steals several scenes with hilarious portrayals of six different therapists. Likewise, Mollie Michie-Lepp shines in the role of Pooty, and Nancy Martis brings unexpected laughs in the role of Trish, one of Rachel’s surly co-workers. Technical aspects also interrupt the flow of the play with poor lighting effects, numerous blackouts and unnecessary set changes. If nothing more, Reckless stands as an example of what good casting can do for a production.
California Stage, 8pm Th, F, Sa; 6pm Su. $12-$14. 1721 25th St. 451-5822. Through Dec. 17. M.B.C

Willie Rating
Valley Song
Veronica longs to leave the family farm in the Karroo Valley of South Africa to pursue her dream of a singing career in Johannesburg. Her aging grandfather, Buks, in a misguided effort to keep her from the same fate her mother met when she ran away from home, is determined to keep her in the valley, where he can make certain she is safe. Native South Africans of mixed race, their story is narrated by the character of the Author, a white man who is buying the farm they have spent their lives working. One of the many interesting twists of Valley Song is the stipulation by its author, Athol Fugard, that the characters of “Buks” and “Author” must be played by the same actor. Under the direction of Nancy Martis, Actor’s Workshop cofounder Edward Claudio tackles the dual role of Buks and the Author, bringing unexpected life and powerful emotion to the character of Buks. In what may be considered delicate subject matter (a white man playing a native South African man who still bears the scars of apartheid), Claudio manages to transcend race and prejudice and deliver a heart-wrenchingly emotional performance. In the part of Veronica is local actress Erinn Anova in her first production with the Actor’s Workshop. Known for her work at the Sacramento Theatre Company and Celebration Arts Theater, Anova shines in the role of the 17-year-old girl determined to dream big and to follow those dreams no matter what.
Actor’s Workshop, 8pm F, Sa; 2pm Su. $10-$14. 1616 Del Paso Blvd. 925-6579. Through Dec. 17. M.B.C.

Willie Rating
Six 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.