I had the good fortune to attend two excellent productions from to very different Shakespearean companies this past week -- one right here in the East Bay and one in beautiful Lake Tahoe.

California Shakespeare Theater opened George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion" this past weekend at Orinda's Bruns Amphitheatre. So well written, Shaw's treatise on the British class system and relationships is always a treat.

Jonathan Moscone directs Cal Shakes' smart, fast-paced production, which runs through Aug. 24. Annie Smart's elegant set with its romantic rose walls and sweeping "marble" staircase makes a gorgeous backdrop for Higgins' manly study, and Mrs. Higgins charming parlor with Anna Oliver fabulous period costumes adding additional lovely colors.

The superb cast easily handles Shaw's witty repartee and seems to have as much fun as the audience. Performing for the first time at Cal Shakes, Irene Lucio brings a feisty almost tomboyish quality to Eliza, and has no problem holding her own with Anthony Fusco's more taciturn Henry Higgins. Both show their range in a powerful ending scene.

L. Peter Callender adds his own unique touches to Col. Pickering, with Catherine Castellanos (Mrs. Pearce/ensemble) and Sharon Lockwood (Mrs. Higgins/ensemble) displaying their versatility in several roles.

But, it's James Carpenter who steals the show as Alfred Doolittle. Completely transformed physically and vocally, Carpenter manages the comedy inherent in the role but also adds hints of a more ruthless street quality.


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For tickets, call 510-548-9666 or go to www.calshakes.org.

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    If you're in Tahoe between now and Aug. 24, I highly recommend the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival at Sand Harbor (near Incline Village).

    Not only will you be treated to a breathtaking view of Lake Tahoe, you'll also experience a top-notch production of Shakespeare's "As You Like It," one of the best productions of Shakespeare's clever comedy that I've seen.

    Edward Morgan directs the largely Equity cast with a sure hand and a clever wit, not to mention some very impressive fight choreography by Ken Merckx.

    Moving the action to New England during the second Industrial Revolution, Morgan places the Forest of Arden in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains with the villains of the piece now greedy industrialists. Meanwhile, the exiled duke is a would-be Thoreau, with Rosalind and Orlando part of the fiercely democratic new Americans.

    Shakespeare's songs now mimic the period with a Vaudevillian style and four-part barbershop harmonies well done by music director Nathan Motta and the talented cast.

    Russell Metheny's wrought iron and rust-colored set, complete with working welding equipment, easily transforms into the forest setting for Act II while Kim Krumm Sorenson's costumes bring back the fashions of the early 20th century with style.

    The well-chosen cast includes highly experienced performers from across the country with Betsy Mugavero a wonderfully spirited Rosalind, Torsten Johnson a spunky Orlando, and Christine Weber a subtle, more mature Celia.

    But, Dustin Tucker as the court fool Touchstone steals the show. Capitalizing on Tucker's comedic timing and virtuoso tap dancing skills, Morgan expands the fool's theatrics to create some of the show's most entertaining moments.

    Add the delicious food selections by Brimm's Catering (I recommend the salted caramel brownie) to the beautiful venue and the highly entertaining production, and you have a memorable evening at the lake. For more information, call 800-74-shows (800-747-4697) or go to www.laketahoeshakespeare.com.

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    Thirty-five talented young people take over the Lesher Center for the Arts as Poison Apple Productions presents "Peter Pan Jr." The trip to Neverland takes place at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 6-8, and 12-14.

    Based in Martinez, Poison Apple strives to present challenging classes and creative productions for young performers ages 8—19.

    "Seeing the fabulous costumes and the crocodile are worth the price of admission alone," enthuses Cecilia Hults, whose family has been involved with the company for the past four years. For tickets, call 925-943-SHOW (925-943-7469) or go to www.lesherartscenter.org.

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    Bill Chessman will hold auditions for two radio plays to be performed and recorded before a live audience in September. Eight vocally flexible actors are needed, with an additional two or three people to perform live sound effects.

    Auditions take place from noon to 3 p.m. Aug. 9, at Chanticleers Theatre, 3683 Quail Ave., in Castro Valley.

    The plays are: "Cleaners," about the first manned mission to Mars where the astronauts meet a congenial group of Martians adept at providing efficient cleaning services; and "Low Pirates on High Seas," where the infamous pirates search for the Treasure of Sarah Madre.

    For more information and complete character descriptions, email Chessman at guitarwebguy@yahoo.com.

    Contact Sally Hogarty at sallyhogarty@gmail.com.