Theater continues apace in Berkeley and environs, in an almost continual outpouring.
Handless,' Ragged Wing Ensemble at Central Stage, 5221 Central Ave., Richmond Annex (just west of I-80): Ragged Wing, the plucky little troupe that features the stylizations of physical theater, has scored again with another original, Handless, by co-founder Amy Sass, who also directed. Unlike the vaudevillized revue of Greek tragedy their last venture, So Many Ways To Kill A Man (also by Sass, with songs by Anna Shneiderman) came up with, Handless is adapted from old folk and fairytales concerning a young woman whose hands have been taken from her. Silverhands
is maybe the best-known of these stories. Shakespeare drew from them as well, for Titus Andronicus .' But Handless ' is no blood-and-thunder melodrama, nor misty New Age appropriation.
If just for Ragged Wing's impressive ability to maintain the fantastic, sensitive atmosphere of such a tale for almost two hours, with touches of humor and creative anachronism, Handless would be a success. Excellent casting--core members Keith Davis and Anna Shneiderman, as well as Annamarie MacLeod, Aleph Ayin, Sophia Sinsheimer, Henry Kinder, DiLecia Childress and Lauren Spencer--costumes and set (Plamena Milusheva), "trees flying from the sky," combine to evoke the daydream-like logic of intuition that many shows strive for without such a pleasing result. (Through March 27. raggedwing.org; 1-800-3006)
Concerning Strange Devices From the Distant West , Berkeley Rep. Naomi Iizuka's box puzzle of Americans in late 19th-century Japan, a snarl of relationships over time that revolve around old photographs and a tale of interlocking tattoos, is one of those shows to which there's less than meets the eye. A lot of exposition goes into putting forward the conceits the plot's founded on. It could be said what action there is, demonstrates this conceptualism.
Though never mentioning it, the playwright may well have read Camera Lucida , Roland Barthes' brilliant reflections on portrait photograhy (and on theater), or Susan Sontag's On Photography ,'partly inspired by Barthes. Replacing reflection, a slightly sordid melodrama's tipped in, where a stylized Gothic would've been more in order. The efforts of director Les Waters and his cast of professionals are overshadowed by Mimi Lien's set and Alexander Nichols' lighting and Leah Gelpe's projections, a spectacle about the spectacle of photography and perception, which also becomes overwrought. (Through April 11. 647-2949; berkeleyrep.org)
Learn To Be Latina ,Impact Theatre at La Val's Subterranean on Euclid, combines some very funny performances with some wacked-out production numbers (Choreographed by Rami Margron), all directed by Mary Guzman, who worked closely with playwright Enrique Urueta, in a sometimes-gamey parody of pop culture and the media, about a Lebanese-American folksinger (charming Carlye Pollack) who's ethnically made over for stardom by recording co. execs (Emily Rosenthal, Jon Nagel and Andrew Calabrese) and a mock-Irish dominatrice-consultant (Meanie Salazar Case). But there's this attractive--and real--latina (Marilet Martinez) around the office ...
The burlesque lessens as the play goes on, revealing itself as a pretty normal sketch comedy-cum-cautionary tale, in favor of ... a more diverse normalcy. But the cast keeps it together, even when the shine wears off the brashness. (Through March 27. 464-4468; impacttheatre.com)
Altarena Playhouse, on High Street in Alameda, is playing Man of La Mancha , directed by Stewart Lyle and featuring troupers like Donna Turner, John Hale and Ron Dritz. Through March 27. (523-1553; altarena.org)
--and Virago, an eclectic company, at Rhythmix Cultural Works, near the Fruitvale Bridge is opening their "concert event" of La Boheme , directed and narrated by co-founder Robert Paine-Lundy, set in contemporary San Francisco. With Eileen Meredith and Ray Chavez as Mimi and Rudolfo. Accompaniment by Skye Altman. Virago's staged adventurous productions of Threepenny Opera and Candide , in addition to dramatic fare. Preview March 18; shows, March 20 and 26-27 a. (865-6237; viragotheatre.org)