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.
Insignificant Others. Despite a goofy plot revolving around five friends from Cleveland in their early 20s who move to San Francisco and endure various romantic mishaps, including two love triangles (one straight, one gay,) and an ill-advised encounter with a pre-op transsexual, this new homegrown musical by local composer and lyricist L. Jay Kuo shows significant promise. It's not simply that Kuo knows how to write a catchy tune. He's also a witty lyricist. In "Gay or Straight," for instance, Kuo hilariously compares the domestic habits of homosexual men with their straight counterparts. As ex-Ohian Jordan (Jason Hoover) prowls around the apartment of his desirable co-worker Erik (Justin McKee) after his date has passed out on the couch, we find out about Erik's peculiar, "on the fence" lifestyle. "What about his DVDs? They won't be accidental," Jordan's friend Margaret (Sarah Kathleen Farrell) advises over the phone. The results prove inconclusive: "There's a pile of action movies," Jordan reports. "Wait! There's Beaches and there's Yentl!" However, the musical feels about an hour too long. For every memorable song, there are two bland ones that could be cut, such as Erik's sentimental ballad about his childhood "There's a House" and the syrupy-insipid "Christmas in the City." Also, while Kuo's gay characters are full-bodied, the straight ones with the notable exception of fag-hag Margaret are utterly flimsy. Insignificant Others feels like a work in progress. Yet there's enough wit and verve in the material and strength in the performances (led by Sarah Kathleen Farrell's endearingly buxom Margaret) to portend a bold future. Extended through Sept. 23 at Zeum Theater, Yerba Buena Gardens, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard Street), S.F. Tickets are $35-39; call 1866-811-4111 or visit www.isomusical.com. (C.V.) Reviewed Aug. 8.