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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Wednesday, Jan 30 2008
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reOrient. What makes Golden Thread's collection of five short plays about the Middle East better than your average festival aimed at a Large Theme or Important Cause is the theatrical imagination with which the company approaches the various stories. In The Monologist Suffers for Her Monologue, rather than lecture us on the plight of Palestine, playwright Yussef El Guindi and actress Sara Razavi show with wit and insight the struggle of a nation that isn't treated as a nation. Actors Danielle Levin and Julien López-Morillas find a halting, touching connection in Naomi Wallace's Between This Breath and You, a play about a past tragedy that took one life as it gave another. Not all the plays in the nearly two-and-a-half-hour evening work so well: An ambitious and multifaceted staging of a Simin Behbehani poem by Golden Thread's artistic director Torange Yeghiazarian suffers from having so much going on that the power of the words gets lost. But as a whole, the festival does an admirable job confronting the Big, Intractable Issues that surround the Middle East and showing us the people caught inside. Through Feb. 3 at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Building D (Marina and Buchanan), Third Floor, S.F. Tickets are $25; call 626-4061 or visit www.goldenthread.org. (Molly Rhodes) Reviewed Jan. 16.

Shopping! The Musical. The world is made up of two kinds of people — those who like musical revues and those who really, really don't. Writer and director Morris Bobrow's original compilation of song and skits is unlikely to convert anyone, but its 80 minutes are filled with plenty of amusing harmonized insights into everyone's favorite pastime. Who hasn't gritted their teeth at the quasi-ethnic knickknacks at street fairs? And, yeah, what exactly are handling fees? The evening could do with more variety of musical and performance styles; it falls back too often on the softly building show tune and the big-eyed, winking delivery. But as they enter the third year of their run in March, Bobrow and his cast and crew have honed an enjoyable formula that keeps you smiling — if not always singing — along. Ongoing at the Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $27-$29; call 392-8860 or visit www.shoppingthemusical.com. (M.R.) Reviewed Jan. 2.

Speed-the-Plow. There's a growing collection of behind-the-scenes Hollywood plays involving coke-addled Tinseltown assholes stomping on good people in their single-minded quests to make celluloid drivel. Speed-the-Plow falls squarely into that category, but David Mamet's writing and Loretta Greco's direction elevates it from clichéd storytelling into a ferocious battle for integrity and career. Essentially a debate between soulful filmmaking versus schlock movie production, Plow pits two Hollywood producers and an idealistic secretary against each other in a battle that, in the end, is physically violent and soul-wrecking. Plow's ever-shifting power play of sex, greed and ideology, saturated with the constant question of artistic taste, ultimately gives us a night of viscerally thrilling theater. Through Feb. 3 at American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $17-$82; call 749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Jan. 16.

Taking Over. Hip-hop theater artist Danny Hoch plays nine different characters in his provocative if overly simplistic new solo show concerning the effects of gentrification on urban communities — specifically the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. On the surface, the personalities and circumstances Hoch inhabits all seem very different. They include a multitasking, middle-aged white property developer, a foul-mouthed Dominican taxi dispatcher, and a black rap artist with a passion for Noam Chomsky. Hoch's eye for detail makes us believe that he's tackling the subject of gentrification from many different perspectives. But despite the range of characters he embodies during the course of the 90-minute show, he offers only one: the viewpoint of someone radically opposed to urban development, who believes that a community is defined solely by its long-term residents and that everyone else should stay away. You have only to look below the surface of the play to see what's really going on. While all of the "authentic" born-and-bred Williamsburg residents depicted by Hoch are likable — or at the very least worthy of empathy — the new arrivals are stupid, evil, or both. Through Feb. 24 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Tickets are $33-$69; call 510-647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 23.

Territories. Set during the Crusades and based on much conjecture, Betty Shamieh's play tells the story of a Muslim woman who changed the course of history. Alia (Nora el Samahy), a beautiful yet crippled noblewoman, is forced to employ the strategic manipulation of language and sex in the face of the inaction of two influential men who command opposing armies. Shamieh's dialogue veers between classical ("Get me their dirty prophet's bones") and crude modernism ("Do you have the balls to invade Mecca?"), which confuses the play's tone. Samahy does an admirable job playing her pivotal role with a buoyant energy reminiscent of Kate from The Taming of the Shrew, but it isn't enough. There is a depth of dialogue and essential chemistry between characters that is missing for an audience to fully buy into this plot. The final image of the strong and animated Alia smothered in the confines of a burka is devastating, and perfectly captures Shamieh's overarching theme of an unremembered woman guiding historical events. Unfortunately, this exquisite moment only reminds us of what Territories has the potential to be but doesn't quite deliver. Through Feb. 10 at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Building D (Marina and Buchanan), S.F. Tickets are $20-$45; call 441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org. (N.E.) Reviewed Jan. 23.

Actors Reading Writers: Popular local actors read modern and classic short stories. First Monday of every month, 7:30 p.m., free. Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.

Bat Boy: The Musical: The cult classic about the half-man, half-bat found in West Virginia. Jan. 31-Feb. 10, $8-$10. Randall Museum Theater, 199 Museum (at Roosevelt), 554-9600.

BATS: Sunday Players: Each week Bay Area Theatresports players pit their improv work against all comers. Sundays, 8 p.m., $8, www.improv.org. Fort Mason, Bldg. B (Marina & Buchanan), 474-6776.

Beach Blanket Babylon: A North Beach perennial featuring crazy hats, media personality caricatures, a splash of romance, and little substance. $25-$65, www.beachblanketbabylon.com. 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, www.bigcityimprov.com. Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226, www.sheltontheater.com.

Brainpeople: In an apocalyptic future, two women are invited to dine at the home of a wealthy, lonely stranger. As they eat and drink, they reckon with the complexities of their pasts and the maddening nature of love, death, and poverty. Jan. 30-Feb. 16. Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 820-3320.

Come Home: Jovelyn Richards' solo play about 26 black soldiers in WWII. Jan. 31-March 8. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

Coronado: A drama by Dennis Lehane. Jan. 30-March 8. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org.

Curvy Widow: Cybill Shepherd's solo show. Through March 9. Post Street Theatre, 450 Post (at Mason), 321-2900, www.poststreettheatre.com.

Disney und Deutschland: A drama by John J. Powers based on the real-life meeting between Walt Disney and Adolf Hitler in Munich in 1935. Jan. 31-Feb. 24. The Garage, 975 Howard (at Sixth St.), 289-2000.

Elagabalus, Emperor of Rome: This (mostly) true story of the youth who became a Roman emperor is told with Grand Guignol horror and comedy. Through Feb. 2. Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th St.), 626-3311, www.theintersection.org.

I Am My Own Wife: One-man show by Doug Wright about Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a German transvestite who survived both the Nazis and the Stasi. Through March 2, 8 p.m., $22-$34. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org.

In Gabriel's Kitchen: A drama about an Italian-Canadian family by Salvatore Antonio. Through Feb. 17. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org.

Insignificant Others: L. Jay Kuo's musical, directed by George Quick, is about five friends who move to San Francisco from the Midwest. Previews begin Feb. 1; opening night is Feb. 16. Starting Feb. 1, Daily. Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero).

Little Shop Of Horrors: A florist makes a Faustian pact with a man-eating plant. Through Feb. 3. San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden (at Park), San Jose, 408-277-5277.

Little Women: Based on Louisa May Alcott's novel about family life and love. Through Feb. 3. Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College (at Derby), Berkeley, 510-845-8542, www.juliamorgan.org.

Monday Night Marsh: Each week 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, www.themarsh.org.

Murder Mystery Dinner: A dinner that begins with detectives gathering to split $5 million in royalties from their latest book. Includes fruit and cheese reception and three-course dinner. One Saturday a month. Call for specific date. Saturdays, 6 p.m., $95, www.incentivestointrigue.com. Queen Anne Hotel, 1590 Sutter (at Octavia), 441-2828.

Nixon's Nixon: A play about the late-night meeting between Nixon and Kissinger the night before the president's resignation. Jan. 31-March 1. Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic (at Locust), Walnut Creek, 925-943-7469, www.dlrca.org.

Rapunzel: A story about a couple and their desire to have a child and the harsh bargain they make with a witch. Through Feb. 10. Young Performers Theater, Bldg. C, Fort Mason (Marina & Buchanan), 346-5550.

Satellites: Playwright Diana Son raises challenging issues about parenting, racial identity, and community. Jan. 31-March 2. Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-843-4822, www.auroratheatre.org.

Savage Arts: A solo performance piece based on the true story of an Indian witchcraft trial in New York State in 1930. Through Feb. 16. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

The Scene: Award-winning playwright Theresa Rebeck tackles New York's entertainment scene. Feb. 2-March 8. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org.

Shark Bites: Through Feb. 9, 8 p.m., $16. Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079, www.therhino.org.

Slavs! Or Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness: Pulitzer Prize–winning Tony Kushner's follow-up to Angels in America. Through Feb. 23. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477, www.offmarkettheater.com.

Sonny's Blues: Feb. 5-March 2, 8 p.m., $12-$95. Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter (at Mason), 474-8800, www.lhtsf.org.

Third: Wendy Wasserstein's last play crackles with the wit, intelligence, and wryness that made her one of the most prominent female playwrights of the last 20 years. Through Feb. 10. Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro (at Mercy), Mountain View, 650-903-6000.

Tranced: International politics, intrigue, and a riveting examination of truth are at the heart of this contemporary thriller by Robert Clyman. Through Feb. 24. San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio (at South Third St.), San Jose, 408-367-7255, www.sanjoserep.com.

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