Pleasanton Civic Arts Stage Company is exploring new theatrical territory with "Ramayana," an ancient Indian epic adapted by Berkeley playwright Anthony Clarvoe.

The play, which opens Friday in Pleasanton's Firehouse Arts Center, is based on the Sanskrit legend about the exploits of Prince Rama. In print, and in earlier generations by oral tradition, the story is said to span seven volumes and 25,000 verses. The piece was transcribed more than 2,000 years ago by the poet Valmiki.

Over the years, it continues to be told and retold in many different languages and continues as a tradition in India, Nepal, and South Asia.

"There is a reason it's been popular in South Asia for thousands of years. It has a little bit of something for everyone -- adventure, romance, questions of right and wrong and what it means to be human," said Rebecca J. Ennals, artistic director of the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, which produces the Pleasanton theater program. "Rama, the central character, would like to be a peaceful man but finds that some evils are so great, he must fight against them. The themes of the story are still relevant today."

While there is a message to the story, the play is made to entertain, with the adventures and exploits and with a blend of acrobatics and dance that keep cast members moving around the stage. Director Michael Truman Cavanaugh compares the piece to Greek mythology or epic tales like "The Lord of the Rings."


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Much of the physical theater used in a "Ramayana" is based on partner acrobatics or Acro Yoga, which involves simple lifts and using acrobatic positions and movement to share weight to represent soaring vultures, demons and even Hanuman, the flying monkey god.

Indian theater expert Maanasa Venkatasubbaiah joined the staff as cultural advisor and dramaturge for the project to help the cast learn to pronounce Sanskrit names and places and learn appropriate behavior for the ancient characters.

The show runs weekends, Friday through May 19, in the Firehouse Theater, 4444 Railroad Ave. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets cost $10 to $18, with discounts for children and seniors. Reservations may be made at 925-931-4848, or www.firehousearts.org.

SUMMER SHAKESPEARE: While most of us are still wondering if we had much of a winter this year, the Livermore Shakespeare Festival is gearing up for it annual summer season at Concannon Vineyard, 4590 Tesla Road.

Tickets are on sale now for the two-show season, which includes Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" and Pierre Corneille's farce "The Liar," adapted by David Ives.

"The Liar," directed by Gary Armagnac, opens June 21, and "Shrew," directed by Lisa A. Tromovitch, opens June 28. Each show will get a preview the Thursday before its Friday opening. The shows play in repertory after "Shrew" opens.

Performances, through July 21, are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and 8 p.m. for "Shrew" on June 27 after a fund-raising dinner and banquet. For details, visit www.livermoreshakes.org

Contact Pat Craig at pjcraig495@yahoo.com.