Dead Mother, or Shirley Not All in Vain. Like the ghost of an unpopular relative returning for a visit years after its demise, David Greenspan's surreal play is enjoying a belated — and totally transcendent — second coming at San Francisco's Traveling Jewish Theatre. Far from being "an angry play about a hateful mother," as The New York Times' powerful critic Frank Rich dismissively concluded 17 years ago during its only previous run, this contortionist comedy encompassing everything from Dante's Inferno to dentistry provides an engrossing workout for both the heart and mind. In some ways, there's so much going on in the play that it's easy to feel bewildered by it. We're treated to episodes of Marivaux-like domestic farce, two play-within-a-play scenes (one a reenactment of a Greek myth, the other a staged reading along Dantean lines), and multiple monologues dealing with the likes of driving through Los Angeles and the evolution of the microbe. And that's to say nothing of the random appearance of a philosophizing sperm whale several times during the show. Yet a feeling of disorientation may be just what the playwright is aiming for. For those among us able to kick back and just enjoy the ride provided Tony Kelly's bouncy, perceptive direction and the creativity and clarity of Traveling Jewish Theatre and Thick Description's fearless cast, the playwright's searing central message about the problems of patriarchy burns through. Through Feb. 17 at Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at 17th St.), S.F. Tickets are $31-$34; call 522-0786 or visit www.atjt.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 30.
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. (Molly Rhodes) Reviewed Jan. 2.
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. (C.V.) 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 (Marina & Buchanan), S.F. Tickets are $20-$45; call 441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Jan. 23.
Bat Boy: The Musical: The cult classic about the half-man half-bat in West Virginia. Through 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 as the audience votes them off one by one. 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.
Blood Knot: A drama by Athol Fugard, directed by Charles Randolph-Wright. Feb. 8-March 9. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228, www.act-sfbay.org.
Boston Marriage: David Mamet's same-sex romp, directed by John Fisher. Feb. 7-March 2. Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079, www.therhino.org.
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. Through Feb. 16. Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 820-3320.
Come Home: Jovelyn Richards' solo play about 26 black soldiers in WWII. Through March 8. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.
Coronado: A drama by Dennis Lehane. Through 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. Through Feb. 24. The Garage, 975 Howard (at Sixth St.), 289-2000.
Gone: A Crowded Fire production of a play by Charles L. Mee, directed by Marissa Wolf. Feb. 9-March 2. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org.
I Am My Own Wife: 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, about five friends who move to San Francisco from the Midwest. Previews begin Feb. 1 and opening night is Feb. 16. Daily. Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero).
Lost and Found and Inside Albert's Head: Two comedies by David Ackerman, presented by Sleepwalkers Theatre. Feb. 7-23. Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 989-0023.
Love Bites, My Dog Bites, And My Pickup Truck Won't Start: The Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco presents its fifth annual anti-Valentine's Day Cabaret and Musical Extravaganza. Feb. 7-16. Exit Theatre on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), 673-3847.
"Lovers & Other Monsters": w/ Jill Tracy & Paul Mercer, Jello Biafra, Monte Cazazza, Mel Gordon, Harmon Leon, V. Vale. Bewitchingly bleak ballads, spoken word, and Grand Guignol love stories. Feb. 12-16, 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 17, 7 p.m., $20, thrillpeddlers.com. The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 248-1900, www.hypnodrome.com.
Monday Night Marsh: Each week a different lineup of musicians, actors, performance artists, and others takes the stage. 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. Through March 1. Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic (at Locust), Walnut Creek, 925-943-7469, www.dlrca.org.
Othello Papers: A staged reading produced by the African-American Shakespeare Company. Feb. 8-10, $15. Buriel Clay Theater, 762 Fulton (at Webster), 922-2049.
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: Diana Son raises challenging issues about parenting, racial identity, and community. Through March 2. Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-843-4822, www.auroratheatre.org.
Savage Arts: Reviewed this week.
The Scene: Award-winning playwright Theresa Rebeck tackles New York's entertainment scene. Through 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.
Sheherezade VIII: Playwrights' Center of San Francisco's ten-minute play festival. Feb. 7-9, $20. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847, www.sffringe.org.
Slavs! Or Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness: Reviewed this week.
Sonny's Blues: Through March 2, 8 p.m., $12-$95. Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter (at Mason), 474-8800, www.lhtsf.org.
Talk Show Live SF: Second Monday of every month, 8 p.m., $15, www.talkshowsf.com. The Purple Onion, 140 Columbus (at Pacific), 217-8400.
Teatro ZinZanni: A bewitching evening of European cabaret, cirque arts, theatrical spectacle, and original live music, all blended with a five-course gourmet dinner, set in the nightclub of your dreams, now in its eighth season in San Francisco. Current show is The Royale Invitation. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 6 p.m., $116-$140, 438-2668, www.zinzanni.org. Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 273-1620.
Third: Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award–winning playwright 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.
"Viva Variety": The popular shows feature queer and queer-friendly musicians, actors, poets, comics, and unclassifiable performers, with proceeds going to various local charities. Second Tuesday of every other month, 8 p.m., $15. For more information, call 863-0741. Buriel Clay Theater, 762 Fulton (at Webster), 922-2049.
Wishful Drinking: Carrie Fisher's acclaimed solo show. Feb. 8-March 30. Berkeley Repertory School of Theatre, 2071 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2972, www.berkeleyrep.org.