The centerpiece of this program of shorts by the Shotgun Players (spread out over two nights) is Ethyl Eichelberger's Dasvedanya Mama, directed by Mark Swetz. Dasvedanya Mama is the late Eichelberger's spoof of Three Sisters and The Seagull, though "spoof" doesn't capture the inventive, irreverent absurdity of the piece. The show includes the cast's improvised, hilarious dialogues on the nature of acting and actors; interrupting a Chekhov parody to tweak Stanislavsky makes a grand, crazy sense. Done up in drag as the matriarch Olga, Brian Linden (an actor I haven't liked previously -- as he points out) takes all the crappy reviews he's ever received (many, apparently), and tells the critics to fuck off by giving a great, fearless comic performance. Linden is freer and more comfortable than I've ever seen him. Surrounded by ridiculousness, he seems finally to be at home. Whether doing a disco diva number about keeping "the door to your heart open," pining a little too lasciviously over Olga's absent son Vaslav (Andy Alabran), or stripping down to a god-awful leotard to give a farcical rendering of Olga's acting career that closely parallels his own, Linden is astonishing, and the rest of the cast is right there with him. Beth Donohue never misses a moment as all three sisters, Masha, Irina, and Maude. (She wears a mannequin head on each shoulder.) At one point, Masha calls to the idiot ward Nina (the very tall Andrea Weber, attached to three separate IV bags), and Donohue gets down on the floor in some weird position. When Linden asks what the hell she's doing, she replies, "I'm working with levels." Alabran bellows out a Dieter-meets-Omar-Sharif accent and Mary Eaton Fairfield as the faithful servant Fierz expectorates, shuffles, and collapses perfectly.
Through Aug. 13 Admission is $10-15; call (510) 655-0813
La Val's Subterranean, 1834 Euclid (at Hearst), Berkeley
Of the other three plays, both Richard Greenberg's The Author's Voice and Jose Rivera's The Winged Man are negligible (though Voice is well-acted by Danny Wolohan and Kevin Karrick). Don Nigro's Something in the Basement offers a creeping horror in its portrayal of a dead marriage, and Rachel Brown as the wife is an eccentric terror, picking at her wedding ring like a scab.