"If you grow up in a country that doesn't allow you to question, then you're going to grow into an adult that never questions anything."
So says seventy-something activist Conrad Knudsen near the beginning of Walking Elephant Theater's new slice of political-documentary performance art, Civil Disobedience: The Musical. As directed by Brian Glenn Bryson, Civil Disobedience features a cast of 12 journalists/performers (ages eight to 18) presenting theatrical recreations of interviews they've conducted with a string of real-life protesters, all folks who've put their ideals and bodies on the line for their beliefs.
Social causes represented in the show range from civil rights and free speech (Mario Savio's famous UC Berkeley oratory is recreated by eight-year-old Symian Trott) to animal-rights issues and the Occupy movement. Knudsen, who walked with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma in 1965, is portrayed onstage through video interviews and the word-for-word performance of young actor Jordan Torres (Knudsen's grandson).
Deeply heartfelt and often highly inventive, though occasionally a bit clunky and uneven, the show defies conventional criticism but is best summed up in a comment Knudsen makes at the end of the show: "Hope," he says, "is contagious." Ultimately, so is the hopeful spirit and stirring open-heartedness of Civil Disobedience.
Meanwhile in Rio Nido, Pegasus Theater has launched a show about a very different kind of open-heartedness, that of a canine game-changer who wreaks havoc on the marriage of a middle-aged couple. In A. R. Gurney's enduring 1995 comedy Sylvia, an energetic stray (played brilliantly by Rachel Custer, who captures doghood with charming accuracy) is brought home by unhappy New York businessman Greg (Mark Gregory, a little too muggy and surface-level until his effectively tender final scenes). To say the dog is not welcomed by Greg's schoolteacher wife, Kate (an excellent Jacquelyn Wells, all churning contradictions), is an understatement.
Smartly and crisply directed by Beulah Vega, Sylvia is often hilarious. The dog's foul-mouthed face-off with a cat is one of many little comic gems. By its unexpectedly loving, satisfying ending, Sylvia proves itself to be more than a play about a dog; it's a play about people learning how to love all over again.
'Civil Disobedience: The Musical' runs Feb. 3–5 at the Glaser Center (547 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa; Friday–Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 3pm; $10–$15) and Feb. 10–11 at the Russian River Hall (20347 Hwy. 116, Monte Rio; 8pm; $10–$15).'Sylvia' runs Friday–Sunday through Feb. 12 at the Rio Nido Lodge. 4444 Wood Road, Rio Nido. Friday–Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 2pm. $15–$20. 707.583.2343.