Beneath the Moon, Beyond the Stars Buck Busfield’s new play—bearing a somewhat unwieldy title—is a welcome change of pace for the B Street Theatre, which has relied a bit too heavily on lighthearted shows of late. This one’s a bittersweet story of espionage with a British twist, set against the backdrop of World War II. An attractive young woman, skilled in languages but inexperienced as a spy, is selected for a high-risk mission into Nazi-occupied France. Busfield, as playwright and director, develops the atmosphere of tension that the situation implies. But, more important, he brings out a depth and humanity in his characters that hasn’t been evident in his earlier comedies, as the plot evolves from spy vs. spy into an illuminating tale of personal sacrifice and forgiveness, with spiritual overtones. The cast of eight (including six Equity actors) is also larger than the typical B Street show, giving the production an additional sense of dimension. It’s a smart, well-executed piece with a touching ending, displaying a dramatic side of Busfield as a playwright that we haven’t seen before. B Street Theater, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 8 p.m. Friday; 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday. $9.75-$19.50. 2711 B St. 443-5300. Through April 22. J.H.
Chicago Conspiracy Trial Frank Condon’s spectacular production is not only the biggest show in town, but probably the best as well. The play recreates the trial of eight activists in the aftermath of the infamous 1968 Democratic Convention—with the audience as jury. The script is drawn from actual testimony and ranges from enormously funny political satire to bone-chilling scenes of a black defendant bound and gagged in court. The show is vastly entertaining as courtroom drama documenting a bizarre trial. But it’s also a passionate defense of free speech and also sheer lunatic fun as the more flamboyant radicals show off. The cast is enormous, featuring numerous strong performances by local actors. Highly, highly recommended. River Stage, 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday. $12-$14. Cosumnes River College, 8401 Center Parkway. 691-7364. Through April 22 (no performances Easter week). J.H.
The Millennium Monologues The Sacramento Theatre Company commissioned four monologues for this show—three by associated playwrights Velina Hasu Houston, Aviva Jane Carlin and Bob Devin Jones, and one by Davis writer Robert Daseler. They were asked independently to write futuristic one-acts based respectively on race, politics, gender and science. The result, as you’d expect, is a grab bag. But it makes for an evening that turns up several interesting surprises. The most pleasant is Daseler’s near-future script, a poolside essay in which a perky college student chats about everything from black holes to cybersex to the way rose petals move on the surface of the water. It’s marvelous writing, and actress Bari Newport brings her saucy character to vivid life. Carlin’s script (co-written with E. Eden) is a bit of far-future sarcasm: a syrupy infomercial for a terraformed community on a hitherto undiscovered moon of Jupiter. The humor’s brittle and pointed, but the concept’s borrowed science fiction, and the playwrights play a cheap trick at the end. Still, it’s engaging and funny until the final scene, and actress Tara Blau has a field day peddling her wares. Monologues on gender and race by Bob Devin Jones and Velina Hasu Houston are less successful. There are also two likable, smart-aleck songs written by local composer Gregg Coffin. Director Sheldon Deckelbaum conjures up some glowing visual images. Sacramento Theatre Company, 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; matinees 12.30 p.m. Thursday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. $16-$32. 1419 H St. 443-6722. Through April 8. J.H.
Sylvia Audiences just can’t seem to get enough of this A.R. Gurney comedy—this is at least the fifth production around the region in as many years. It’s actually a revival of Foothill Theatre’s popular 1997 production, featuring mostly the same cast. If anything, it’s better the second time around. Sylvia is the story of a mid-life Manhattan couple—the kids are off at college, and the husband’s lost interest in his career. All is transformed when he brings home a wandering, energetic dog—Sylvia—who quickly becomes the center of his life. Actresses love to play the title role, and it’s particularly well suited to Carolyn Howarth (star of this production), whose strength is physical comedy. The other parts are also well cast—Philip Sneed puts a funny twist on mid-life melancholy, while Gary Wright does hilarious variations in both male and female roles. Newcomer Trish Adair grits her teeth and perseveres as the spouse determined to retrieve her husband from this unfortunate episode of puppy love, and director Nancy Carlin takes the script for exactly what it is—silly fun. (Note: though the script quotes Shakespeare in scene after scene, the F-word also pops up loudly and frequently.) Call ahead for tickets before driving to Nevada City; many performances will be sold out. Nevada Theatre, 7 p.m. Thursday; 8:15 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday. $5-$21. 401 Broad Street, Nevada City. (888) 730-8587. Through April 8. J.H.
Two by Two This 1970 musical features one of the last scores by the great Richard Rodgers (Oklahoma, et al.). The songs are pretty good, but the story (based on Noah and the Ark) gets awkward, with a late 1960’s take on the “generation gap” grafted onto the Biblical story, with lots of comic interludes. The Woodland Opera House production features a good comic actor, Micail Buse, as Noah—he doesn’t sing so much as talk his way through the songs—but so did Danny Kaye, for whom the role was originally written. The show doesn’t transcend its status as community theater, but those who love musicals will want to check it out anyway, just to hear the relatively unfamiliar Rodgers songs. And the historic Woodland Opera House is a wonderful destination. Woodland Opera House, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday. $10-$16. 340 Second St., Woodland. |(530) 666-9617. Through April 14. J.H.