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Our critics weigh in on local theater

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Eavesdropper. It's easy to identify with the young man who finds himself trapped in a bathtub for the entire duration of S. Lamar Jordan's play. On the run from the cops (though the reason for his flight is never quite made clear), the pursued ducks into a nearby house only to discover a party raging around him. As the intruder cowers behind the hostess' shower curtain wondering when he might be able to escape, various party guests stumble into the bathroom to powder their noses and reveal their most intimate secrets and desires. If the show feels like an improv class aimed at aspiring television soap and sitcom actors rather than a fully developed stage play, it's probably partly due to the fact that the cast members don't have much of a script to work with. The characters are so one-dimensional that it's almost as if the playwright had given each actor a single personality trait like "angry lesbian," "bored cop," or "oafish frat boy" and simply told them to get up on stage and act out the clichés. The unripe, improvisational atmosphere is further underlined by the fact that all the action takes place in a narrow wedge of space in the middle of the cluttered stage. Billed as "L.A.'s Currently Longest Running Play," the show is currently being performed both in L.A. and San Francisco and is enjoying an extended run in both towns. It's hard to understand why. The relationships remain stupefyingly superficial. Through Aug. 25 at Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission St. (between Fifth and Sixth sts.), S.F. Tickets are $20; call 1-800-838-3006 or visit www.cafearts.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed July 4.

Glengarry Glen Ross. Who'd ever think the inside world of a small real estate office would contain such colorful dialogue as: "Ever take a dump that makes you feel you slept for 12 hours?" Leave it to David Mamet to transform the seemingly mundane world of selling property into a seething stew of deceit, desperation, and verbal violence. This production of Mamet's Tony Award-winning play, depicting ruthless salesmen doing absolutely anything to seal the deal, is sharply realized by the Actors Theatre of San Francisco. Director Jennifer Welch does not let the pace or tension lag in this 90-minute racehorse that starts out like a great caper film and ends as a tense whodunit. Despite an unremarkable set and a few cast members who can't naturalize Mamet's choppy dialogue, this Pulitzer Prize-winning script is practically foolproof. As real estate agents, Andre Esterlis is deliciously sinister and Aaron Murphy provides the great comic relief of an innocent in a cutthroat world. Even after two decades of stage productions and a Hollywood film adaptation, it still feels razor-sharp and brutally honest. Through Sept. 1 at Actors Theatre, 855 Bush (between Taylor and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $10-30; call 345-1287 or visit www.actorstheatresf.org. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Aug. 8.

Grandpa It's Not Fitting. By the time you leave a Will Franken performance, you barely know which way is up. At one point in his latest solo show, the comic performer imitates the voice and aspect of a cheesy History Channel documentary presenter. "The 1960s. A time of change and exploration," he chimes, poking fun at baby boomer nostalgia. Suddenly, without warning, we're thrown backward into a different era: "The 1860s. A time of chaos and exploitation." In another bit, Franken takes on the role of a Muslim suicide bomber, quietly reading the Koran on a plane with a bomb strapped to his tummy. When the plane goes down owing to some non-terrorism-related technical malfunction, he tries to enlist potential survivors to declare him responsible for the act. Elsewhere, Christianity is ridiculed when Franken, posing as a blustering British vicar, tucks references to Noam Chomsky and the Beatles into a cataclysmic religious debate. Sometimes, though, the performer's dense layering of cultural references, tangled viewpoints, and stream-of-consciousness style becomes disorienting. Franken's opening skit concerning a discussion between a terminal breast cancer patient named Mrs. Wit and her physician, one Dr. Posner, about the movie version of the patient's life, contains so much oblique content that the performer risks losing us at the start. As hard as it is to keep up with Franken, he's still San Francisco's patron saint of misrule. Through Sept. 1 at the Marsh San Francisco, 1062 Valencia St. (between 21st and 22nd sts.), S.F. Tickets are $15-35; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org. (C.V.) Reviewed Aug. 1.

Making a Killing. The San Francisco Mime Troupe's latest political comedy has plenty of wit and insight that would have been better served by trimming its excess plot. The story at the heart of this play is one of individual responsibility — will our Army field reporter continue to tell only the Iraq feel-good stories his bosses want him to, or get the guts to tell the truth about the corruption and devastation brought by the American invasion? It's a fine message at a time when ordinary citizens feel at a loss to make any difference, served up with the usual Mime Troupe song-and-dance flair. But it also comes cased in a courtroom drama that drags, and a lot of time spent with Dick Cheney. Don't get me wrong, Ed Holmes well deserves his kudos for nailing the absurdity of our vice president. There are many easy shots at Cheney, including a subplot about his quest to boost his popularity. Such distractions are fun for a time — and make the call for all of us to step up and do our part — but ultimately lose their punch. Through Sept. 29 at parks and other public sites across the Bay Area. Tickets are free; call 285-1717 or visit www.sfmt.org. (Molly Rhodes) Reviewed July 18.

Teatro ZinZanni. It's no wonder that this popular dinner-theater extravaganza of "love, chaos, dinner" has a special place in the hearts of locals and city newbies alike. Set in a 1920s vintage big-top tent, Zinzanni offers guests a taste of cabaret, vaudeville, and circus merriment. A cast of ever-rotating characters regales audience members with flirty high jinks: illusionists, contortionists, and aerial dancers peddle their magic while also making sure to badger the guests, not in a bad Vegas nightclub way, but with an air that's as endearing as it is cheesy. The best thing is that everyone who works there is somehow tied into the show; waitresses dance and do can-can routines as they bring out the grub (a rich, five-course prix fixe that's a little French, a little Italian, and a little Californian). Zinzanni's show won't offend or make anyone's fur bristle; and while arty innovation isn't their forte, the performance is a lighthearted, old-fashioned romp that offers a welcome reprieve from the somberness of, say, a night at the opera. Open-ended run at Pier 29, Embarcadero at Battery. Tickets are $116-$140. Call 438-2668 or visit www.zinzanni.org. (Nirmala Nataraj)

American Musical: Hopes and Dreams of the Working Class
Bayfront Theater, Fort Mason, Bldg. B (Marina & Buchanan), 474-8935.
Angel Face
Project Artaud Theater, 450 Florida (at 17th St.), 626-4370.
Avenue Q
Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 512-7770.
BATS Summer Improv Festival
Bayfront Theater, Fort Mason, Bldg. B (Marina & Buchanan), 474-8935.
BATS: Sunday Players
Fort Mason, Bldg. B (Marina & Buchanan), 474-6776.
"Beach Blanket Babylon"
Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.
Big City Improv
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
The Big Voice: God or Merman?
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
Blues in the Night
Post Street Theatre, 450 Post (at Mason), 321-2900.
Creep Show Live
Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), 401-7987. Deep Fried Cheese
Climate Theater, 285 Ninth St. (at Folsom), 863-1076.
Drop
CELLspace, 2050 Bryant (at 18th St.), 648-7562.
The Epic of Gilgamesh With a Long Prologue
The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at MLK Jr.), Berkeley, 510-841-6500.
Facing East
Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079.
Funny But Mean
Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.
GayProv
Off-Market Studio, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Greater Tuna
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
How We First Met
Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero).
Insignificant Others
Zeum Theater, Yerba Buena Gardens, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 866-811-4111.
Joan Rivers Theatre Project
Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D (Marina & Buchanan), 441-8822.
Man of La Mancha
SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.
Marga's Hot Mondays
Empire Plush Room, York Hotel, 940 Sutter (at Hyde), 885-2800.
Monday Night Improv Jam
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Monday Night Make Em Ups
San Francisco Comedy College, 414 Mason, #705 (at Geary), 921-2051.
Monday Night Marsh
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Murder Mystery Dinner
The Archbishop's Mansion, 1000 Fulton (at Steiner), 563-7872.
Rogue el Gato
Randall Museum Theater, 199 Museum (at Roosevelt), 554-9600.
Servant of Two Masters
Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 989-0023.
Shakespeare: Un-Scripted
SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.
Shopping! The Musical
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
A Sneak Peek at the Fringe
Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.
The Three Musketeers
John Hinkel Park, Southampton (between San Diego and Somerset), Berkeley, 510-655-0813.
Twelfth Night, Or What You Will
Film Night at Old Mill Park, 300th block of Throckmorton Avenue, Mill Valley, 453-4333.
Urinetown
Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College (at Derby), Berkeley, 510-845-8542.
Very McVerry
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.

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