Carry the Tiger to the Mountain This play by Cherylene Lee deals with the Vincent Chin case. Chin was a Chinese-American killed by two Michigan autoworkers in the 1980s, after they mistook him for a Japanese man during a fracas at a strip bar. Though some dialogue comes from court transcripts, Lee’s play isn’t a documentary. It’s a polemic based on righteous anger, deploring the incomprehensibly light sentence for Chin’s killers (probation and a $3,700 fine) while positioning the character of Chin halfway between American consumer culture and traditional Chinese tai chi. Interactive Asian Community Theatre’s community production has some rough spots, but there’s a strong natural performance by Ting Sun as Chin’s long suffering mother.
The Space, 8:15 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, $12-$14. 2509 R Street, (916) 267-7280, www.interact-theatre.com. Through September 18. J.H.
The Gin Game A card game is a perfect dramatic device. Two people can communicate through their playing styles and in the chitchat that happens between hands. This two-character play, set in a dilapidated senior-citizens home, highlights the humor and the pathos of two gin-rummy players with completely different attitudes toward the game. It’s a slice of senior life, but don’t confuse it with a warm, go-gently-into-the-good-night look at the aging process; these two are a prickly pair. The two stars are perfectly matched. Ed Claudio is the crusty Weller, and Hazel Johnson is his equal in her delicate performance as the quiet, tough-as-nails Fonsia.
Actor’s Theatre; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday; $12-$15. 1616 Del Paso Boulevard, (916) 925-6579. Through September 25. P.R.
Hate Mail Preston, not happy with his snow-globe purchase, writes a brusque letter to the store manager for a refund. She’s just as curt writing back. Thus starts a war of the words and the beginning of a perverse relationship. Hate Mail is a glib alternative to the theater classic Love Letters, with a similar dramatic premise: a dialogue between two characters exchanged through letters. But this is a twisted version, with two rather unsympathetic characters battling it out through letters, notes and e-mails. The play is a bit superficial, but the repartees are clever and wicked.
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; $20-$28. 2711 B Street, (916) 443-5300. Through September 25. P.R.
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Part 2 California Shakespeare’s epic production is expansive and enthralling. Part 2 is even bigger than Part 1, covering three-and-a-half hours (with two short intermissions) and featuring a cast of 24 actors. Nickleby is a vast, intricate tapestry, with a dark view of business-driven Victorian society balanced by the bright, fragile goodness of human nature. And it’s illustrated through a melodramatic (but absorbing) story that shows us the decadence of the idle rich, the desperate lives of the poor, and the wrenching transition when someone falls abruptly from the former category into the latter. Don’t miss this outstanding, rare event that people will be talking about for years. Parts 1 and 2 will be staged in repertory during mid-September.
California Shakespeare Theatre, performance times vary, $35-$55. Outdoors in the often-chilly Bruns Memorial Amphitheater, 100 Gateway Boulevard in Orinda, (510) 548-9666, www.calshakes.org. Through September 18. J.H.
Love Letters A.R. Gurney’s play has a simple plan: Tell the story of a relationship through letters. Two childhood friends flirt, fight, forgive and forge separate lives—remaining there for each other through the written word at each stage in life. Despite the telling of two life stories, Love Letters is not a heavyweight drama. Big Idea Theatre lures audiences out with two well-respected local actors, Linda Nalbandian and James Wheatley. Nalbandian brings real pathos and growth to the troubled Melissa. However, Wheatley, known for his memorable performances, gives a rare disappointing turn as Andrew, with a rushed and mumbled delivery.
Big Idea Theatre; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; $10-$14. Polish American Community Hall, 327 Main Street in Roseville, (916) 789-8477, www.bigideatheatre.com. Through September 17. P.R.
The Rainmaker This latter-day Western dates from the 1950s, and some of the language is a tad dated. But the story—which deals with overcoming entrenched negative relationships and allowing yourself to take a chance on romance—feels contemporary. When the long drought (a lack of rain and a lack of love) finally breaks, everyone feels the lift. This production benefits from its outdoor venue (chirping crickets and a starry sky) and a big, attractive set, but it’s the performances that close the deal. Most noteworthy are Michael Claudio (as the dubious but charming “rainmaker”) and Dale Lisa Flint (as the “plain Jane” daughter who comes out of her shell). Bring your own lawn chair and a picnic.
Main Street Theatre Works, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, $10-$15. Kennedy Mine Amphitheatre, on N. Main Street in Jackson, www.mstw.org. Through September 17. J.H.