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Also Playing: Act a Lady, Evil Hamlet, Thom Pain 

Our critics weigh in on local theater

Wednesday, Apr 15 2009

Act a Lady. Act a Lady ought to be a great time. Set in the Midwest in 1927, it's a comedy that considers what happens when small-town menfolk begin impersonating womenfolk at the local playhouse. In the show's Bay Area premiere at NCTC, the actors work admirably, sometimes even successfully, to make dramatic sense of the material — in particular, Glenn Kiser's drag act is worthy of a far better play. But the performers can only do so much with a preachy, bizarrely undeveloped script. (I say "bizarrely" because the play made its debut at Louisville's vaunted Humana Festival and has since been produced elsewhere to some acclaim, so you'd think we'd be dealing with a relatively polished product here.) Playwright Jordan Harrison tries to create a self-serious backstage comedy about Midwestern men who don dresses and learn grand new truths about gender identity. But instead of letting his characters transform gradually as we watch, he simply alternates between backstage and onstage action, never giving us a clear sense of how one informs the other. The result feels like two totally separate plays competing for attention, with the drag scenes providing just enough witty dialogue to make you wonder how the whole thing went so wrong. Through April 26 at New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Oak), S.F. $22-$34; 861-8972 or (Chris Jensen) Reviewed April 8.

Evil Hamlet. The title suggests that adapter Jim Strope has made some radical shift in William Shakespeare's masterpiece, yet the changes he added — editing down the text and setting it in a drug-and-drink–infested 1960s – do not an intriguing new adaptation make. This shortened version of the Hamlet we all know goes neither far enough in challenging the work, nor deep enough into the heart of the characters to bring something fresh or exciting out of the play. There are some nice choices that are different than most versions, like an Ophelia and Gertrude who give as good as they get and have fabulous outfits to boot. But the choice to have Hamlet come across as if he regularly gets into weekend brawls is at odds with a character so trapped in inaction. What's more, each actor has chosen one note to cling to throughout the play – Hamlet's rage, Ophelia's impatience, Gertrude's indifference – so there is not enough going on onstage to sustain the two-and-a-half-hour show. There is much rich text to mine in Hamlet, but this attempt only tickles the surface of the deeper story it holds. Through April 25 at Stage Werx Theatre, 533 Sutter (at Powell ), S.F. $20; 412-3989 or (Molly Rhodes) Reviewed April 8.

Thom Pain (based on nothing). This play, as its subtitle suggests, is a one-man Beckettlike riff about "nothing," written by the incomparable Will Eno. The script was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, and this production, directed by Marissa Wolf, is solidly one of the best pieces of theater I've ever witnessed. So much so, it leaves me speechless. That said, let me first riff some honest, yet terribly clichéd, adjectives: mind-blowing, confronting, difficult, heady, hilarious. If this sounds like hyperbole, let me then quote from Charles Isherwood's review of the Off-Broadway production from The New York Times: "astonishing ... audacious ... grabs us by the throat ... a small masterpiece." So really, what is this show about nothing really about? A young man (the thrilling Jonathan Bock) stands alone on a blank stage. He delivers, in a measured and controlled Rod Serling–esque tone, a stream-of-consciousness monologue about the horror and beauty of being alive. It's menacingly funny. Bock makes serious eye contact with the audience, breaking down the fourth wall and asking questions. Don't worry, you don't have to answer — they're rhetorical, aren't they? The guy seated to my right captured it best: "This show has all the emotion in that moment before a first kiss ... or a fist fight." It's brilliant. Through April 19 at the Cutting Ball Theater at the Exit, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), S.F. $15-$30; 800-838-3006 or (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed March 25.

Act a Lady: Gender bending in a small, Prohibition-era town. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through April 26. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972,

American Hwangap: Lloyd Suh's drama about a Korean immigrant reuniting with his family. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through May 3. Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 441-8822,

An Intimate Evening with Del Shores: The playwright shares his tales. Fri., April 17, 8 p.m. Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079,

Audacious Artefacts: Parisian Grand Guignol: Original Grand Guignol. Through May 2, $15-$30. The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 377-4202,

Baptized to the Bone: A comedy by Dave Johnson about a theater producer scrambling for money. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through May 3. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972,

BATS: Sunday Players: Each week Bay Area Theatresports players pit their improv work against all comers as the audience votes them off one by one until the winner stands alone on the stage. Sundays, 7 p.m., $5-$8, Bayfront Theater, 16 Marina (at Laguna), 474-6776,

Beach Blanket Babylon: A North Beach perennial featuring crazy hats, media personality caricatures, a splash of romance, and little substance. Now with Rod Blagojevich! Wednesdays, Thursdays, 8 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 6:30 & 9:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 5 p.m., $25-$80, Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.

Big City Improv: Actors take audience suggestions and create comedy from nothing. Fridays, 10 p.m., $15-$20, Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 882-9100,

Bitter Sweet: Lamplighters Music Theatre's production of Noel Coward's work. Thu., April 16, Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness (at Grove), 392-4400,

Confessions of a Refrigerator Mother: Carolyn Doyle's play about a day in the life of her autistic son. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through April 25. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750,

Conversation with Jose Rivera: Talking with Carey Perloff. Sat., April 18, 10 a.m., free. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228,

Divafest: Women-centered theater festival. Through April 25, $10-$20. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 931-1094,

Eccentrics of San Francisco's Barbary Coast ... A Magical Escapade: Historical magic show with Walt Anthony, David Miller, Brian Scott, and Ruth Fraser. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 27, $30, Chancellor Hotel, 433 Powell (at Post), 362-2004,

E.O. 9066: Lunatique Fantastique's puppetry. Saturdays, 1 p.m. Continues through April 25, $15-$50. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750,

Evil Hamlet: Written by William Shakespeare, edited by Jim Strope. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through April 25. Stage Werx, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 730-3433,

The Floating Lightbulb: Woody Allen's story about a Jewish family in Brooklyn. Starting April 16, Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through May 24. Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 292-1233,

Fresh Voices IX Festival of New and Used Operas: Goat Hall Productions' operas about the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Starting April 17, Fridays-Sundays. Continues through April 26. Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa (at Florida), 621-7978,

Grease: With American Idol winner Taylor Hicks. Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through April 19. Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor (at Market), 551-2000.

Haunted Manor: Pocket Opera's production of Stanislaw Moniuszko's opera. Starting April 19, Sundays. Continues through April 26. Florence Gould Theater at the Legion of Honor, 100 34th Ave. (at El Camino del Mar), 863-3330,

Helen: Staged reading of Euripides' work. Tue., April 21, 7 p.m., free. Exit Theatre on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), 931-1094,

Illuminate the Night: Annual gala benefiting A.C.T., featuring Judy Kaye and Anika Noni Rose. Sun., April 19, 5 p.m., Four Seasons Hotel, 757 Market (at O'Farrell), 633-3000,

An Inspector Calls: A police inspector pays a visit to a party in 1912 in J.B. Priestley's drama, produced by San Francisco StageWorks. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through April 25. Boxcar Theatre, 505 Natoma (at Sixth St.), 776-1747,

License to Kiss: Sabine Hettlich stars in the espionage thriller, with a side of dinner. Wednesdays-Sundays, $116-$190, 438-2668. Teatro ZinZanni, Piers 27 and 29 (Embarcadero & Battery),

Monday Night Marsh: On select Mondays a different lineup of musicians, actors, performance artists, and others takes the stage at this regular event. Mondays, $7. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750,

A Necessary Evil: A workshop performance of John Fisher's new play. Thu., April 16, 8 p.m.; Sun., April 19, 3 & 7 p.m. Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079,

Not a Genuine Black Man: Brian Copeland returns for another go-around. Through May 2. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750,

Over the Mountain: Brian Thorstenson's drama about an artist and her propaganda. April 15-25. Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St. (at York), 641-7657,

Point Break Live!: Bank-robbing surfers make audiences happy. Fridays, 9 p.m., $25, CELLspace, 2050 Bryant (at 18th St.), 648-7562,

Rhino Beer Bust Fund-Raiser: Jordan L'Moore as Carol Channing hosts this benefit, featuring the five finalists of the GayPocket SF Cover Model Contest. Sun., April 19, 2 p.m. Truck, 1900 Folsom (at 15th St.), 252-0306,

Road to Playland and Back: A musical and art exhibit about S.F.'s Playland at the Beach. April 17-May 2, Royce Gallery, 2901 Mariposa (at Harrison), 558-1749,

Shadow Circus Vaudeville Theatre, Theremina, Hernan Cortez, Angela Mae Thompson, Jill Parker, Victoria & the Vaudevillians: Wed., April 15, 8 p.m., $10-$15, all ages. Climate Theater, 285 Ninth St. (at Folsom), 263-0830,

Shadows of Pompeii: 42nd Street Moon's musical about a woman expressing herself in AD 79. Starting April 16, Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through April 26. Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469,

The Shape of Things: Playwright Neil LaBute retells the story of Adam and Eve. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through April 24. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596,

Shopping! The Musical: Songs and sketches about shopping. Daily, $23-$29, Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 882-9100,

ShortLived 2.0: Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 27, $15-$20, Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 820-1656,

The Story: A reporter fabricates a story, by Tracey Scott Wilson. Through April 25. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596,

Thom Pain (based on nothing): Cutting Ball Theater produces Will Eno's one-man show. Through April 19, $15-$30, Exit Theatre on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), 931-1094,

Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding: Be a part of the wedding reception. Thursdays-Saturdays, Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (at Embarcadero), 433-3939,

War Music: A drama by Lillian Groag about Agamemnon and Achilles. Through April 26. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228,

Wicked: The Tony Award–winning musical. Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through June 27. Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 551-2000.


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