Man, playwright Sam Shepard sure doesn't skimp on his so-called secondary characters—the guy wraps up loose ends every bit as eloquently as he introduces his principals, sustaining interest in his creations and fueling some excellent production values. If you don't believe me, you need to see New Village Arts' current Simpatico, an ambitious yarn about greed, opportunism and horse racing's sleazy side. It's lean, it's logistically solid and it's director Lisa Berger's best job to date.
Twenty years ago, hard-drinking gumshoe Vinnie (Manny fernandes), high-roller Carter (Mike Sears) and cougar wannabe Rosie (Terri Park) switched out some winning horses for stinkers, thus tilting their betting odds at an Azusa track. A rocky marriage, a Kentucky racing official's blackmail and a dowdy grocery clerk's thirst for adventure figure in the tight conclusion, featuring an excellent Park in a role that ties everything together on a dime. Clerk Cecilia (Kim Strassburger) and nanny Kelly (Kelly Iversen) are the well-meaning exceptions in this collection of losers, whose desperation is the product of some eminently readable ensemble work. I didn't fully understand Tim Wallace's too stylized scene design, though, and I was forced to suffer the two giddy patrons next to me, who kept laughing in the wrong spots. Sheesh.
Through March 27 at New Village Arts Theatre, 2787 State St. in Carlsbad. $25-$30. newvillagearts.org
Eurydice: Dying too young on her wedding day, Eurydice must journey to the underworld, where she reunites with her father and struggles to remember her lost love. Produced by the SDSU School of Theatre, Television and Film, it opens March 11 at the campus' Experimental Theatre. $13-$15. theatre.sdsu.edu
Groundswell: In a small lodge on the South African coast, three men find themselves caught in a power struggle fueled by greed and desperation and will go to any length to secure a chance at a better life. Opens in previews March 12 at The Old Globe Theatre's Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in Balboa Park. $29-$67. oldglobe.org
* Fair Use: Two lawyers (one a straight guy, one a gay chick) have it bad for their pretty co-counsel as unrequited love rears its ugly head in the office. Through March 13 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. $31-$33. diversionary.org
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat: Though beset with adversity, the biblical Jacob's son Joseph perseveres through wit and faith and becomes the governor of Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh. Produced by J* Company Youth Theatre, it runs through March 13 at the Garfield Theatre in University City. $16. sdcjc.lfjcc.org/jc
The Beard of Avon: A writing partnership is formed as William Shakespeare meets up with an unknown but excellent playwright. Through March 13 at Patio Playhouse, 201 East Grand Ave. in Escondido. $7- $15. patioplayhouse.comLast of the Red-Hot Lovers: Dreary barney invites three women to his house while his wife and kids are away for the summer. Through March 19 at OnStage Playhouse, 291 Third Ave. in Chula Vista. $8-$16. onstageplayhouse.org
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: A group of dysfunctional wannabe spelling champs compete for a title and drive the adults to distraction. Produced by San Diego Junior Theatre, it runs in repertory with Fantastic Mr. Fox through March 19 at Casa del Prado Theatre, 1800 El Prado in Balboa Park. $8-$14. juniortheatre.com
Richard II: The English throne is about to be usurped, laying the groundwork for a bloody civil war. Produced by Intrepid Shakespeare Company, it runs through March 20 at Roundabout Theatre on the campus of San Dieguito Academy in Encinitas. $15-$25. intrepidshakespeare.com
* Steel Magnolias: Truvy Jones' hair salon is a cultural center of Chinquapin, La.—a place where three generations of women can laugh, cry and celebrate together. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through March 20 at the Ione and Paul Harter Stage, 1142 Orange Ave. in Coronado. $28-$58. lambsplayers.org
The Drawer Boy: Two World War II vets and a befuddled young actor find the meaning of true friendship through the transformative power of storytelling. Through March 20 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. $30-$47. northcoastrep.org
Little Miss Sunshine: When Olive Hoover enters a regional children's beauty pageant, the family thinks its bad luck could change and embarks on a cross-country trek. Produced by La Jolla Playhouse, it runs through March 27 at the Mandell Weiss Theatre in La Jolla. $49-$64. lajollaplayhouse.org
Skin Deep: Joe and Maureen are perfect for each other, even if they can't admit it. Through March 27 at Poway Performing Arts Center. $13-$15. powpac.org
* 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 23 at the Horton Grand Theatre Downtown. $28-$58. lambsplayers.org