Vera Wilde

When: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. and Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through Oct. 19 2008

Chris Jeffries' musical play Vera Wildeskims the surface of the lives of playwright Oscar Wilde and anarchist revolutionary Vera Zasulich, who became a symbol to a growing insurgent movement that would eventually culminate in the Russian Revolution, and was the subject of Wilde's poorly received first play. If the attempts to link the two lives directly are flimsy and forced, the way Jeffries plays with parallels between them is much more effective. The songs are stronger in the Dave Malloy's acoustic cabaret-style orchestrations than in Jeffries' lyrics. There are a lot of innovative touches in Maya Gurantz's energetic production, but the performances alternate between realism and clownishness in sometimes haphazard ways. Sean Owens' outsize campy charm is perfect for Wilde, and Alexandra Creighton makes an endearingly sincere young firebrand, although her tentative singing voice shrinks where it should swell. Through October 26 at Ashby Stage (1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley). or 510-841-6500.

Sam Hurwitt

Price: $12-$30