Coronado. Dennis Lehane is the current go-to guy for gritty drama soaked in family tragedy. He wrote books that were adapted for the screen for Ben Affleck's Gone Baby Gone and Clint Eastwood's Mystic River. In 2004, he joined the writing staff of The Wire, HBO's brilliant and critically lauded crime drama. As for his theater work, Lehane wastes no time getting down and dirty. Within the first five minutes of Coronado, we're drawn into a world of missing diamonds, bullets to the head, blackmail, and murder. On an absolutely stellar set (with SF Playhouse artistic director Bill English doing double duty as set designer and actor) depicting a rundown bar on the edge of a desert, a group of stories unwind and intertwine, linking each character to a heady world of adultery and deception. Stacy Ross is electric as a woman trying to forget her past ("There are worse crimes than murder") while simultaneously blackmailing and carrying on an affair with her therapist. Lehane's script and Susi Damilano's direction give this production a slick, sexy cinematic vibe but don't ignore the haunting undercurrent of transgression and regret. At its dark, twisted heart, Coronado is a reflection of the crossroads we encounter, the (sometimes disastrous) choices we make, and the regret we're forced to live with. This is heavy stuff, but this skillful production makes it all eminently pleasurable to watch. Through April 26 at SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $20-$65; call 677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed April 2.
Future Me. Edward Albee makes us feel compassion for a man who commits bestiality in The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, thus flying in the face of widely held beliefs about deviant sexuality. British playwright Stephen Brown doesn't go as far as Albee did, with his wide-ranging theatrical exploration of the journey of a pedophile from handcuffs to rehabilitation. Yet the dramatist's 360-degree view on society's treatment of sex offenders, receiving its world premiere in a TheatreFIRST production directed by Dylan Russell, similarly challenges audiences' expectations. Brown's compelling dramatic narrative tells the story of Peter, a successful London lawyer with a closeted interest in prepubescent girls. When Peter's computer malfunctions, accidentally sending an e-mail bearing an explicit attachment to his entire address book, the unwitting spammer finds himself hauled off to prison for three years. Despite Brown's unorthodox and at times unflinching view of a difficult subject and sensitive performances from all cast members, the actors don't seem altogether comfortable with the play's British accents and setting. Much of the play's sharp comedy gets lost in translation, which, in combination with the script's relentlessly episodic structure, undermines our ability to engage fully with the issue at hand. Through May 4 at Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley. Tickets are $14-$28; call 510-436-5085 or visit www.theatrefirst.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed April 16.
7 Sins. Halfway through James Judd's entertaining 75-minute solo show at Theatre Rhinoceros' studio, it dawns on you: Who the hell is this guy and why am I laughing so hard? While autobiographical one-person shows are nothing new, it's one thing to keep an audience's attention when you're someone famous like Carrie Fisher (whose run at the Berkeley Rep just ended), and quite another when you're a nobody. Judd, the nobody in question here, gets the audience to root for him as he recounts his life's not-so-serious struggles, from his ill-fated attempt in the fifth grade to be honored for giving the best book report (he unwisely chooses My Search for Patty Hearst) to his stint as a stand-up comedian working in sleazy Las Vegas hotels. Along the way, he always manages to say something during his misadventures that, in retrospect, he knows he probably shouldn't have. When, for instance, a man sitting next to him on the ski lift boasts that his woman is waiting for him at the hotel, Judd, who is gay, retorts that his boyfriend is at home doing his taxes. "I'm going to get a blow job and a refund," he gloats. 7 Sins began years ago as a group show; Judd later adapted it for himself and kept the title, which is somewhat misleading. The deadly sins play, at most, a marginal role in his personal stories. The second half of the show wanders some and could be tightened, but this is a minor gripe. In the end, you'll still leave with a smile on your face. Through May 17 at Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), S.F. Tickets are $10; call 861-5079 or visit www.therhino.org. (Will Harper) Reviewed April 16.
Strange Travel Suggestions. Jeff Greenwald has a mantra when embarking on one of his many treks to far-flung global destinations: "May all of your travels make a fool of you." In the return of this sublime 90-minute night of improvised storytelling, Oakland resident Greenwald, a best-selling travel writer, ponders the primal nature we take with us on journeys and the soulful adventures to be had when veering off a planned itinerary. His stories are different each night, and solely dependent on the spin of a beautiful wheel covered with hieroglyphics placed center stage. On the night I attended, the wheel stopped at "oracles," "meals of misfortune," and "magicians," and rip-roaring tales were told with Nepal, Iran, and Northern India as their backdrops. While Greenwald often finds himself in dangerous or awkward situations (such as trying to smuggle an endangered snow leopard to safety in Katmandu), he has a deep knowledge of local religions and customs, which keeps this from being a clichéd evening about bumbling tourists in strange lands. While indeed improvised, these stories are beautifully formed and truly riveting. The legendary and neurotic New York monologuist Spalding Gray always dreamed of moving to Northern California to become more of a wizened, worldly sage. If he had, he might have become the wonderful Jeff Greenwald. Through April 26 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 21st St.), S.F. Tickets are $15-$35; call 800-838-3006 or visit www.themarsh.org. (N.E.) Reviewed April 9.
Beach Blanket Babylon: A North Beach perennial featuring crazy hats, media personality caricatures, a splash of romance, and little substance. Fridays, Saturdays, 7 & 10 p.m.; Wednesdays, Thursdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 4 p.m., $25-$65, www.beachblanketbabylon.com. Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.
The Better Half: The U.S. premiere of a lost Noel Coward play. Through May 3, 8 p.m., $20-$69. The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 248-1900, www.hypnodrome.com.
Coco: A musical based on the life of Coco Chanel by Alan Jay Lerner and Andre Previn. Starting April 24, Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through May 11. Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469, www.eurekatheatre.org.
Curse of the Starving Class: A dark satire by Sam Shepard. April 25-May 25. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228, www.act-sfbay.org.
Defending the Caveman: The longest-running solo play in Broadway history explores the battle of the sexes. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through April 27. Marines Memorial Theater, 609 Sutter (at Mason), 771-6900, www.marinesmemorialtheatre.com.
DIVAfest: Plays and performances by women artists. Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through April 26. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847, www.sffringe.org.
Ghosts and Girls: The Legend of the Morning Glory: Supernatural drama by Brenda Wong Aoki. Fri., April 25, 8 p.m.; Sat., April 26, 2 p.m. Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California (at Presidio), 292-1200, www.jccsf.org.
hotshot: Terrence Beswick's drama about men and their obsessions: sex, love, and crystal meth. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 26, $10-$15, www.guerrillarep.org. Mama Calizo's Voice Factory, 1519 Mission (at Van Ness), 690-9410, www.voicefactorysf.org.
John Williams Is a Dick: The SPF7 troupe faces the bad things in life. Fri., April 25, 8 p.m.; Sat., April 26, 8 p.m. Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), 401-7987, www.darkroomsf.com.
Murder Mystery Dinner: A murder mystery 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. Call for specific date. Saturdays, 6 p.m., $95, www.incentivestointrigue.com. Queen Anne Hotel, 1590 Sutter (at Octavia), 441-2828.
Out Cry: The International Theatre Ensemble presents Tennessee Williams' play. Starting April 25, Fridays-Sundays. Continues through June 1. The Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush), www.wehavemet.org.
Point Break LIVE!: Stage adaptation of the Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze blockbuster. Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 & 10 p.m. Continues through June 21, $25, www.pointbreaklive.com. Xenodrome, 1320 Potrero (at 25th St.), 285-9366, www.xenodrome.com.
Riches: Lee Blessing's drama about a marriage that goes wrong. Through April 27. Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 989-0023.
Son of Sam I Am: Samuel Beckett short works, including Catastrophe, Rockabye, and Krapp's Last Tape. Starting April 24, Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through May 3. The Garage, 975 Howard (at Sixth St.), 289-2000.
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 À La Folie, starring Liliane Montevecchi. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 6 p.m., $116-$140, 438-2668, www.zinzanni.org. Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery).