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San Francisco Spotlight: May 2007

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Michael Wartella and Ned Eisenberg in Oliver Twist
(© Michael Lutch)
Neil Bartlett's widely applauded adaptation of Charles Dickens Oliver Twist gets its West Coast premiere at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre (May 11-June 24). With music by Gerard McBurney, Bartlett's production uses the original language of the cherished Dickens novel about a precocious little boy fighting to survive in 19th-century London's brutish underworld.

Woe to the school district that burns Sandra Loh, the public radio commentator whose one-woman show Mother on Fire makes its San Francisco debut this month (May 11-20). While she doesn't quite go to the length of self-immolation, the sharp-tongued comedienne doles out a scathing albeit hilarious reprimand of California's public schools. The show is inspired by Loh's maddening search to find her daughter a decent kindergarten. What she found is that, despite touting some of the highest priced real estate in the country, California's public schools are the pits.

This summer signals the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love and James Rado and Gerome Ragni's iconoclastic rock musical Hair. Celebrate both historic events by catching a performance of Mountain Play's production of the cultural phenom (May 20-June 17). Staged at the 4,000-seat Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre in Marin's Mount Tamalpais State Park, the show's impressive cast of 40 includes Jeff Wiesen, making his Mountain Play debut, and company veterans Tyler McKenna, Susan Zelinsky, and Wendell H. Wilson.

Also fighting the system of the 20th century is Josh Kornbluth, who presents his world premiere monologue Citizen Josh, directed and co-written by David Dower, at the Magic Theatre (May 12-June 10). Created in conjunction with the campus-based movement Democracy Matters, Kornbluth's latest endeavor details his attempts to take part in this new American experiment.

Politics is the order of the day as well in TheatreFIRST's production of Serjeant Musgrave's Dance. Written by John Arden in 1959 and considered his seminal piece, the play centers around four soldiers who travel to a desolate mining town to recruit more soldiers to fight a losing war on a foreign shore. The twist is that the soldiers' true intent is to unmask the harsh reality and brutality of war.

The Shotgun Players read between the lines or, better said in this case, the lies as they present David Mamet's The Cryptogram (May 9 through June 10). Directed by Patrick Dooley, Mamet's bristling, deeply personal family drama consists of three short scenes set in a 1959-living room. The three characters find their lives in turmoil when a lie that was buried years ago is painfully exhumed.

Family secrets are also exposed in Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who is Syliva? (May 17 through June 17), directed by Kit Wilder and presented by the City Lights Theater Company of San Jose. A family's life is torn apart when one of its members reveals to his loved ones the details of his peculiar adulterous affair. The cast features Sam Krow-Lucal, Steve Lambert, Nancy Sauder, and Michael Jerome West.

Love found and lost is the subject of many American musicals; Jason Robert Brown's fresh and lively tuner The Last Five Years, though emulating convention, manages to turn it on its head as a five-year relationship between an actress and a writer is examined from beginning to end -- and from end to beginning. The show, directed by Ken Sonkin, plays at the Altarena Playhouse in Alameda from May 18 through June 24.

Making its long-waited Northern California premiere is David Yazbek and Jeffrey Lane's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, at San Jose's Center for the Performing Arts (May 1-13). Based on the 1988 film starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin, the musical features D.B. Bond as novice con-man Freddy Benson and Tony-nominated actor Tom Hewitt as smooth operator Lawrence Jameson, a pair of dirty rotten scoundrels who make their livelihood wooing rubies and diamonds off the fingers, necks, and wrists of wealthy women.

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