From the moment the bone-tired and recalcitrant Anna Christie plops herself down in Johnny-the-Priest's saloon, you suspect that she's the proverbial “woman with a past.” By the end of Act 1, you're damned near sure of it. When your suspicions are confirmed in Act III, you wonder what took Anna's guilt-ridden old salt of a father and churlishly self-righteous lover so long to figure it out.
Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie, one of the Irish playwright's most melodramatic works (and that's saying something), withholds its emotional explosions. But the tale finally becomes a shouting match between Anna's Swedish father and Irish lover, with the alternately contrite and resolute girl in the middle, dodging flailing arms and recriminations. In an overcooked production at the Old Globe Theatre, Bill Buell (as Anna's father, Chris), Austin Durant (as the lover, Mat Burke) and Jessica Love in the title role occupy the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre like combatants without neutral corners. Lurking in the darkness, invisible, is the “old devil sea” that is the play's much-repeated metaphor. Love's too-measured delivery is swamped by the warring Swedish and Irish accents, and O'Neill's resolution, which smacks of Anna's submission, doesn't elicit sympathy for anyone.
Anna Christie runs through April 15 at the Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park. $29 and up.
If R2D2 took an acid trip, he'd no doubt wind up in the world of Heddatron, Elizabeth Meriwether's spaced-out story of a Michigan housewife, Henrik Ibsen and robot abduction. If that sounds like input overload, imagine the task of pulling off a show featuring five functioning robots on Ion Theatre's little BLKBOX stage.
The 'bots are the stars of the show, but a human cast led by Monique Gaffney as abductee Jane Gordon holds its own in a production directed by Claudio Raygoza.
Besides the transcontinental travel, there's a time-travel subplot, in which a doofus Ibsen (Charles Peters) tangles with August Strindberg, a deprecating wife and an uneasy legacy. Heddatron is a narrative and audio-visual mishmash not for the conventional theatergoer, or for those who can't abide Bonnie Tyler's “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” resurrected to shuddering effect.
Heddatron runs through March 31 at BLKBOX @ 6th & Penn in Hillcrest. $12-$29.
Almost Maine: Love both poignant and hilarious happens concurrently in John Cariani's play set in the mythical town of Almost, Maine. Opens March 24 at Scripps Ranch Theatre at Alliant international University. $22-$25. scrippsranchtheatre.org
Beau Jest: Moonlight Stage Productions presents James Sherman's comedy about a daughter's romantic ruse, her unsuspecting family and some unintended consequences. Opens March 22 at Avo Playhouse, Vista. $22-$30. moonlightstage.com
Rock of Ages: Eighties hits by the likes of Journey, Styx and REO Speedwagon, along with higher-volume fare from Whitesnake, Poison and Twisted Sister, underscore a love story that begins, appropriately, on the Sunset Strip. Opens March 27 at Civic Theatre, Downtown. $20 and up. broadwaysd.com
The Second City's Laugh Out Loud Tour: A cabaret space in the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre is the setting for a special engagement of sketches and improvisations from the famed Second City troupe. Opens March 21 at La Jolla Playhouse. $30-$45. lajollaplayhouse.org
Tortilla Curtain: San Diego Repertory Theatre presents a world-premiere play set in southern California's Topanga Canyon and based on the novel by T.C. Boyle. Previews March 21 and 22; opens March 23 at Lyceum Theatre, Downtown. $32-$57.
Ten Minute Madness V: An ensemble cast performs six new short plays in a very intimate setting. Through March 24 at North Park Vaudeville and Candy Shoppe. $14. northparkvaudeville.com
Visiting Mr. Green: A close call between a driver and a pedestrian throws together a young executive and an 86-year-old widower in this entertaining play by Jeff Baron. Overarching themes of moral judgment and acceptance are couched in comfortably light drama, though the story doesn't settle for a convenient resolution. Through March 18 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. $32-$49. northcoastrep.org
Awake and Sing!: Clifford Odets' play set during the Great Depression is staged by Poway's community theater. Through March 25 at Poway Performing Arts Company. $15-$18. powpac.org
The Nerd: Larry Shue's offbeat comedy about a Terre Haute architect and an unexpected houseguest, a man who once saved his life. Through March 25 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. $7-$15. patioplayhouse.com
Next Fall: Luke and Adam, partners in a five-year relationship, find their world turned upside down after an accident. Mark McGrath, seen last year in the Globe's Rocky Horror Show, leads a strong cast that maneuvers ably through the Geoffrey Nauffts play's choppy philosophical waters. Through March 25 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. $20-$33. diversionary.org
The Producers: Mel Brooks' hit musical (based on Brooks' previous hit film) tells the story of an unlikely pair attempting to profit by staging a surefire flop. Through March 25 at Welk Resorts Theatre in Escondido. $36-$63. welktheatersandiego.com
Heddatron: Ion Theatre stages Elizabeth Meriwether's daring work about a kidnapping, robots, the South American jungle and Ibsen. Through March 31 at BLKBOX @ 6th & Penn in Hillcrest. $12-$29. iontheatre.com
Rosencrantz and Guildensteare Dead: Two minor characters from Hamlet take center stage in Tom Stoppard's 1966 Shakespeare-inspired play. Through March 31 at OnStage Playhouse, Chula Vista. $16. onstageplayhouse.org
Guys and Dolls: Frank Loesser's musical, based on the stories of Damon Runyon, includes the classic songs “Luck Be a Lady,” “Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat” and the title tune. Through April 1 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. $26-$64. lambsplayers.org
Anna Christie: Eugene O'Neill's Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a woman wrestling with her past while entangled with an estranged father and a young man who comes into her life. Through April 15 at Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. $29 and up. oldglobe.org
A Room with a View: This world-premiere musical, based on the novel by E.M. Forster, offers the old-fashioned pleasantness of a show from two generations ago. Well, there is a (tame) nude scene, but otherwise there are no surprises in the lavishly costumed tale of a young woman's awakening to passion during the stuffy Edwardian era. Through April 15 at Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. $39 and up. oldglobe.org
Parade: The musical by Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown recounts the true story of a Jewish factory worker accused of the murder of a teenager in Atlanta in 1913. Presented by Cygnet Theatre. Through April 22 at Old Town Theatre. $35-$52. cygnettheatre.com
miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through April 29 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. $28-$58. lambsplayers.org
Late Nite Catechism: The participatory solo comedy by Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan turns 20 years old this year. Through May 19 at Welk Resorts Theatre in Escondido. $44-$59. welktheatersandiego.com
Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. $59.50. mysterycafe.net