True story: In college, I took a class on the 17th century Dutch Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza and we examined his signature work "Ethics."
I tried very hard but understood very little, though statements such as "When the mind imagines its own lack of power, it is saddened by it," did speak to me with a certain unintended irony.
I also took more accessible (but not particularly less difficult) classes in Shakespeare's tragedies and contemporary British theater.
And somehow, all that erudition can now come together for me in the new Big Idea Theatre production with the mouthful of a title, "New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation: Amsterdam, July 27, 1656," which opens today and runs through Feb. 9.
Before you roll your eyes and say, "Oh, yeah, that sounds like good times," understand this is a play, and dramatic license has been taken to make it, you know, entertaining. Playwright David Ives gives us a tried-and-true courtroom drama, as Spinoza is summoned to a synagogue to refute charges of atheism and claims that his writings have threatened the well- being of Amsterdam's small Jewish community.
Shannon Mahoney directs "New Jerusalem," which opens Big Idea Theatre's 2013 season. Brian Harrower plays Spinoza; Patrick Murphy plays Saul Levi Morteira, a prominent rabbi; and Blair Leatherwood plays Gaspar Rodrigues ben Israel, a member of the committee judging Spinoza.
Performances are at 8 p.m. today, Saturday, Thursday, next Friday and on Jan. 19, 24-26, 31, Feb. 1-2, and 7-9.
Tickets are $16 in advance, $20 at the door. All Thursday tickets are $10.
At the Big Idea Theatre, 1616 Del Paso Blvd. For more information call (916) 960-3036 or go to www.bigideatheatre.com.
A pound of flesh
Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" also features substantial courtroom drama and a fairly uncomfortable resolution before all is said and done.
The play about what's fair in love, loans, religion and restitution doesn't leave anyone looking too good.
Ally Krumm, artistic director of the new Imprint Theater Works, gets her company off the ground with this knotty classic. Jeffrey Lloyd Heatherly stars as Shylock. Elizabeth Holzman's Portia forces the letter of the law upon him.
Tickets are $12 to $15. Playing at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays until Jan. 26, at the Grange Performing Arts Center, 3823 V St., Sacramento.
For information call (916) 838-0618.com.
Having nothing at all to do with courtrooms is the Sacramento Theatre Company's new production "BARK!: The Musical," which opens Saturday.
The musical comedy features actors as dogs, and they sound kind of like how dogs would if they could sing, I guess.
Michael Laun directs with a six-person (or canine?) cast featuring Armond Edward Dorsey as King, a Labrador retriever, Jessica Goldman as Boo, a cocker spaniel, and Tyler Wipfli as Chanel, a poodle.
The story is told from the dogs' points of view as they sing about their lives and desires to become part of a family.
At the Pollock Stage, 1419 H St., Sacramento. Opening 8 p.m. Saturday and continuing at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 12:30 p.m. Wednesdays and 7 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 17. Tickets: $15-$38.
For more information go to www.sactheatre.org. or call (916) 443-6722 or (888) 478-2849.