Becoming Julia Morgan Architect Julia Morgan designed the remarkable, irrepressible visions of William Randolph Hearst at San Simeon, as well as more than 800 different projects throughout the state. But her most impressive and enigmatic accomplishment was her own life. California Stage co-commissioned playwright Belinda Taylor to dramatize the story of the first state-licensed woman architect. The challenge? Morgan was revealing in her work, but she built a concrete wall around her private life. Janis Stevens gives a subtle performance that captures this no-nonsense woman with small, constrained gestures and expressions. The script is a fascinating character portrait told in tight and compelling, imaginative scenes—though the second half needs tightening up.
California Stage; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday; $15-$19. 1723 25th Street, (916) 451-5822, www.calstage.org. Through February 5. P.R.
Sweeney Todd This macabre storyline is cutting-edge! A barber unjustly accused of a crime returns to Victorian London many years later to exact revenge on all who did him wrong. His landlady, Mrs. Lovett, wants meat for her pies, so it’s a win-win situation for everyone but the unlucky victims. This is a mature musical for Runaway Stage, which usually stages family-friendly favorites. The material is darker, and the cast is more experienced, resulting in an entertaining gothic thriller tinged with perverse ghoulish humor.
Runaway Stage; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday; $12-$17. 24th Street Theatre, 2791 24th Street, (916) 207-1226, www.runawaystage.com. Through January 29. P.R.
What He Left There are plenty of jokes and funny stories in Jack Gallagher’s new one-man show, but it’s really a memory play, and a very personal one at that. Gallagher reflects on growing up and on watching his parents grow old, his dad in particular. His father’s voice, recorded before his passing, figures into the show, and you can feel his presence in the theater. The show is directed with sensitivity and understated style by Buck Busfield, but it’s very much Gallagher’s project. He uses both his skills as a stand-up comedian and a degree of revealing sincerity you don’t always sense in performers. What He Left is a solid, well-crafted effort and very much a companion piece to Gallagher’s much-admired show about the arrival of his son, Letters to Declan. If you liked that show, you definitely should see this one.
B Street Theatre; 6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday, with some 2 p.m. Wednesday matinees; $20-$28. 2711 B Street, (916) 443-5300. Through March 5. J.H.
Written on the Hill A nurse comes to help a famous, reclusive writer recover from a bad back—except this “nurse” has no training and burbles about how he adores his patient’s writing. Trouble’s brewing, and, as it turns out, both men have hidden agendas. Playwright/director Matthew Burlingame creates effective scenes in which literary shop talk, sexual attraction and calculated betrayal all simmer together. Actors Shaun Baker and Juan Flores bring this treacherous relationship to life. Baker also has a show-stopping monologue about a hostage incident. The comic interruptions by the kooky Teutonic housekeeper (Renee Gromecki) ultimately wear thin, and the ending could use a bit more work, but there’s some good material in this original play.
Lambda Players Theatre; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with special shows on January 22 at 2 p.m. and February 2 at 8 p.m.; $10-$15. 2427 17th Street, (916) 444-8229, www.lambdaplayers.com. Through February 4. J.H.