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Our critics weigh in on local theater


As You Like It. Telling the story of the young noblewoman Rosalind's journey from the confines of her usurping uncle's tyrannical kingdom to love and freedom in the countryside, the fantastical plot of William Shakespeare's comedy is built around two diametrically opposed worlds: the urban (oppressive, shallow, artificial) and the rural (open, meaningful, natural). Setting courtiers in monochrome designer outfits against thrift store-costumed yokels and the dull thud of a house music bass line at a high-society cocktail party against composer Gina Leishman's euphoric, gypsy-inspired country music, director Jonathan Moscone's wildly entertaining production makes the most of the contrasts. While many other productions have done the same, Moscone distinguishes himself by refusing to turn his back on the court. Toffs "slum it" in the woods in tuxedos and high heels. The aggressive, almost lunatic edge to Susannah Schulman's jaunty Rosalind makes her seem like a spoiled little rich girl as she attempts to apply the customs of courtly romance to country lust against a fittingly full moon. The two worlds coexist in Moscone's fun-filled yet thoughtful Arden, providing tension and relief in equal amounts. Through Oct. 15 at the Bruns Amphitheater, 100 Gateway (at Hwy. 24), Orinda. Tickets are $15-57; call (510) 548-9666 or visit (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Sept. 27.

Big Love. If Aeschylus and Karen O. had a baby, it might look something like FoolsFury's latest production. Charles Mee's fascinating text collage steals liberally from the old Greek's play The Suppliant Women, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon (from Japan in the year 990), Andy Warhol shooter Valerie Solanas' writings, and a book on the psychic makeup of Nazi soldiers — forming a compelling exploration of love, power, dominance, and submission. The talented director Laley Lippard and the energetic cast bring a similar cut-and-paste aesthetic to the staging; classical and modern dance gestures mix with new-wave choreography from the '80s and punk rock abandon from the '70s. The actors demonstrate an intense commitment to illuminating the text: They literally throw themselves into something like a trance in an effort to fill Mee's sensual poetry. Big Love sacrifices character and narrative cohesion for language and movement-based images, and as a result there are awkward moments when a performer's excessive earnestness and avant-garde flailing betray this young group's lofty ambitions. That said, I can't think of another local company that's aiming so high. Through Oct. 21 at Traveling Jewish Theater, 470 Florida (at 18th St.), S.F. Tickets are $15-30; call 626-0453, ext. 108, or visit (Frank Wortham) Reviewed Oct. 4.

Love, Janis. What starts as a black-and-white photo montage of a young Midwestern girl in frilly baby-doll dresses soon explodes into a rainbow of psychedelic color and debaucherously good rock 'n' roll. Following the young and naive Joplin as she thumbs a ride from Port Arthur, Tex., to late-'60s San Francisco, Love, Janis documents four packed years through her tenure fronting Big Brother and the Holding Company and on into her solo career — and then comes to a screeching halt with her untimely heroin overdose in 1970. The narrative is pieced together from letters Joplin wrote home and bits of interviews, but though every word spoken on stage comes from Haight Ashbury's first pinup herself, these interludes are the weak link in an otherwise powerhouse show. Two actors play Joplin nightly, and the electric and deliriously pained voice of the singing stage persona (Mary Bridget Davies) contrasts shockingly with the giddy and practically ditzy Southern girl personality (Elizabeth Rainer), who sends mundane letters describing car trouble, TV-watching, and fluffy puppies. Thankfully, Love, Janis is primarily a pulse-pounding rock concert, with surging electric guitars, tie-dyed light show, and wafting incense — and Davies howling pure, unadulterated dirty blues that make the slickly recorded and sequenced music of today seem sadly soulless. Through Nov. 12 at Marines Memorial Theater, 609 Sutter (between Mason and Powell), S.F. Tickets are $35-67; call 771-6900 or visit (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Sept. 20.

Menopause the Musical. Set in Bloomingdale's department store, this play unites four contrasting female characters — an Iowa housewife, an executive, a soap star, and a hippie — through the combined forces of cut-price lingerie and hormone replacement therapy. Singing doctored versions of 1960s and '70s pop favorites like "Stayin' Alive" ("Stayin' Awake") and "Puff, the Magic Dragon" ("Puff, My God I'm Draggin'"), the ladies potter from floor to floor, sharing their worst menopausal hang-ups as they try on clothes, rifle through sales racks, and run in and out of the store's many strategically placed powder rooms. Although Menopause is entertaining and energetically performed, it's unabashedly tacky. An ode to the delights of masturbation, sung down a pink microphone to an adaptation of the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations," for instance, makes one think that all that's missing from this (very) belated bachelorette party is a male stripper. And as much as the show makes its largely 40-plus female audience feel more comfortable about getting older, it doesn't go far enough. Menopause is euphemistically referred to as "the change," which just seems to reinforce taboos. And its obsession with shopping, sex, and cellulite makes Menopause feel a lot like a geriatric issue of Cosmo. Rather than empowering women, the musical ends up underscoring clichés. In an open-ended run at Theatre 39, Pier 39, Beach & Embarcadero, S.F. Tickets are $46.50; call 433-3939 or visit (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 11.

Shopping! The Musical. Some theater types want to be Hamlet; others want to be Liza Minnelli. The smiling, hardworking performers in this new musical revue definitely fall into the latter category. Lyricist-composer Morris Bobrow uses his infectious, irreverent humor to great effect as he pays homage to the highs and lows of our compellingly crass commercial culture. He uses the small, cramped theater in a straightforward manner — four center-stage stools and an amusing backdrop provide the set. The accomplished accompanist Ben Keim keeps things lively on one side of the stage behind an upright piano. The actors lead us through songs that bring to mind Jerry Seinfeld's sharp observations on mundane modern life: "Shopping in Style" extols the virtues of Costco, and "Serious Shopping" imagines a man trying to buy lettuce from a riotously over-the-top grocery cult. The musical runs just over an hour, yet it still has a few rough spots. The mid-show sketch "Checking Out" gives us a limp comedic premise that we've seen before on sub-par sitcoms, and the piece "5 & 10" is a mix of awkward nostalgia and pitch problems. Nevertheless, this is a clever collection of tunes performed with an unabashedly cheesy enthusiasm that would make Liza proud. In an open-ended run at the Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (between Powell and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $25-29; call (800) 838-3006 or visit (Frank Wortham) Reviewed June 14.

Taming of the Shrew. The African-American Shakespeare Company's production of the Bard's tale depicting the battle between a husband and wife for the marital upper hand can't be faulted for making bold production choices. Instead of traditional Elizabethan settings and garb, director Victoria Evans-Erville opts for a '70s Funkadelic/Blaxploitation/Good Times vibe. That means plenty of afros, polyester, and bell bottoms colored every hue of the DayGlo rainbow. Apparently Evans-Erville took the Shrew's phrase "irreverent robes" seriously. While updating Shakespeare to modern, relevant, and even fun locales sounds great, this production has so much fun that it seems almost mocking, showing little regard for the original writing and language. Traditional lines get contemporary additions such as "Tres cool," "You dig?," and "Here's the skinny." The musical interludes — featuring actors busting out into versions of Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye hits — might have been brilliant had they been sung and not badly lip-synched. Actors David Moore (Petruchio) and Tonia Usher (Kate) generate some nice friction in the famous seduction scene as they tango to the iambic pentameter beat, and Federico Edwards (Gremio) turns in an enjoyably bizarre, bug-eyed performance reminiscent of Don Knotts, but many of the others fumble the language. In the end, this attempt at a clever, hip interpretation of a classic becomes a goofy parody. Through Oct. 22 at the Buriel Clay Theatre, 762 Fulton (between Webster & Buchanan), S.F. call 762-2071 or visit (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Oct. 4.

Also Playing

13 Steps
Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.
Absolutely San Francisco
Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 989-0023.
Beach Blanket Babylon
Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.
Beyond Therapy
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Cloud Nine
SFSU Campus/Little Theater, 1600 Holloway (at 19th Ave.) (Creative Arts Bldg.), 338-2467.
Cowboy Mouth
Exit Theatre on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), 673-3847.
Death of a Salesman
Actors Theatre San Francisco, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 296-9179.
Die Fledermaus
War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330.
Down Broadway
Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero).
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Far Away
Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.
Fred Anderson
Pier 39, Beach & Embarcadero, 705-5500.
Z Space Studio, 131 10th St. (at Mission), 626-0453.
Hipolito: Ready, Aim, Fire!
Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, 2868 Mission (at 25th St.), 821-1155.
The Living Corpse
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Love is a Dream House in Lorin
The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at MLK Jr.), Berkeley, 510-841-6500.
Lulu Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St. (at Capp), 863-7576.
Mother Courage and Her Children
Berkeley Repertory's Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2949. Murder Mystery Dinner
The Archbishop's Mansion, 1000 Fulton (at Steiner), 563-7872.
Not a Genuine Black Man
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Rhinestone Cowgirl
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
Ride Down Mount Morgan
SF Playhouse, 536 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.
War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330.
"Shocktoberfest!! 2006: Laboratory of Hallucinations"
The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 248-1900.
SF Playhouse, 536 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.
Tings Dey Happen
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Tristan und Isolde
War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330.
War at Home
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
Young Frankenstein: The Play
Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), 401-7987.


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