By Kathleen Vanesian
By Amy Silverman
By Robrt L. Pela
By Jim Louvau
By Kathleen Vanesian
By Benjamin Leatherman
By New Times
By Becky Bartkowski
Kiss of the Spider Woman: Richard Trujillo gives a thrilling performance as Valentin, a puffed-up political prisoner trapped in the tenets of Marxism who, at the start of Manuel Puig's dreamily claustrophobic play, is harshly intolerant of his cellmate, Molina, whom he sees as less of a man because he is an effeminate homosexual and -- worse! -- apolitical. Valentin's gradual transformation from intolerance to acceptance and eventually love is a tough acting assignment, one that's made all the more difficult by the black humor scribbled between the lines of this very dire story. Trujillo's performance is all the more impressive because it shares the stage with Oliver Wadsworth's nearly operatic Molina. Because Molina believes he is a kind of a woman, Wadsworth easily could have played him as a simpering fruit and still nailed Molina's campy femininity. But the actor chooses a more ambiguous, almost genderless approach to a character who's really just one big ball of yearning. In an era where nearly every sitcom includes a gay character and when our rock 'n' roll and political icons are out-and-proud homos, this sort of story isn't as shocking as it was when Puig first presented it. But its new Actors Theatre production is both relevant and entertaining. Brokeback Mountain has nothing on these guys. Through Sunday, Feb. 5. Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe St., Phoenix, 602-253-6701 (Reviewed 1/26)
Bunnicula: There's no need to fear, apparently: Bunniculais here. Jon Klein and Chris Jeffries' musical comedy for kids, based on James and Deborah Howe's popular books, is all about the Monroe family as seen through the eyes of its pets. Harold the Dog and Chester the Cat freak when a bunny joins the family, and really come unglued when they find a tomato drained of its juice. When still more vegetables turn up annihilated, the four-legged duo suspects the silly rabbit in a story filled with song that's strong on messages about why kids needn't fear imaginary monsters. The cast features Childsplay vets Debra K. Stevens and Jon Gentry. Through March 12. Tempe Performing Arts Center, 132 E. 6th St., Tempe. Call 480-350-8119 for times and ticket prices.
The Complete History of America (Abridged): The third in a trio of the Reduced Shakespeare Company's hit plays (following The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [Abridged]and The Bible: The Complete Word of God [Abridged], each of which has been produced here by Actors Theatre) is an irreverent, often funny peek into thousands of years of American history. Billed as "600 years of history in 6,000 seconds," this dinner theater remount tackles such heady stuff as who really discovered America, why Abe Lincoln freed the slaves, and how many Democrats it takes to screw in a light bulb. Directed by Peter J. Hill and featuring Hill goofing politics and the nation alongside actor Jack Dwyer and new comic Matt Krause. Dinner is served at 6:30 p.m., and curtain time is 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5:30 and 7 p.m. Sundays. $32.95 includes dinner, show, tax and gratuity. Through Feb. 12. Copperstate Dinner Theater, located at Phoenix Greyhound Park, 3801 E. Washington St., Phoenix. Call 602-279-3129 for more information.
Sweeney Todd: Like the song says, "Sweeney Todd/His skin was pale and his eye was odd/He shaved the faces of gentlemen/Who never thereafter were heard of again." Created by the modern master of the musical, Stephen Sondheim, this award-winning tuner is as blackly comic as song cycles come. Hugh Wheeler's book is full of murder and sly references to more traditional musical fare. Through Feb. 12. Fountain Hills Community Theatre, 11445 N. Saguaro Blvd., Fountain Hills. Call 480-837-9661 for times and ticket prices.
The 1940's Radio Hour: Walton Jones' nostalgic trip down memory lane sets a World War II stage full of swinging big band music and some occasionally clever situation comedy. Directed and choreographed by Robert Kolby Harper, this production features several up-and-comers, although the cast also includes local vets Ben Stewart and Jim Roehr. Music director Jonathan Ivie has put some swing into highlights that include "Ain't She Sweet," "Blue Moon," and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." Through Sunday, Feb. 5. Phoenix Theatre, 100 E. McDowell Rd., Phoenix. Call 602-254-2151 for times and ticket prices.