Figaro. People are so seduced by Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro that they tend to overlook the opera's anarchic roots. Historians today widely consider the 18th-century French dramatist Beaumarchais' stage play of the same title to have performed a major role in instigating the French Revolution. It is the revolutionary zeal at the heart of Beaumarchais and Mozart's works that audacious Minneapolis-based theater company Theatre de la Jeune Lune aims to restore and explore in its adaptation of the story. Director Dominique Serrand's version takes place nearly 20 years after the events depicted in Marriage, as the decrepit, philandering Count Almaviva (Serrand) thinks wistfully back to the good old days of sexual intrigue and power in the company of his long-suffering servant Figaro (Steven Epp). The music-infused production examines what it's like to live among the embers of a once-blazing revolutionary pyre through a mixture of Mozartian melody, Beaumarchaisian bombast, and Jeune Lunian lunacy. The physically adventurous and linguistically ingenious double-act of Serrand and Epp reveals thoughtful parallels between the staleness of post-revolutionary France and the widespread feeling of sluggish impotence that has become a hallmark of our own times. But being subjected to lengthy flashback sequences involving renditions of arias from Mozart's opera by an uneven cast dampens the fire. Through June 8 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Tickets are $16.50-$69; call 510-647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org.(Chloe Veltman) Reviewed May 7.
Flaming Sin: London's Grand Guignol. The most enticing aspect of Thrillpeddlers' latest Grand Guignol theater spectacle is the way it messes with our emotions. The first of the evening's entertainments, a recently rediscovered one-act by Noel Coward, is anything but a lightweight domestic farce. Set in the home of a wealthy, unhappily married woman, the narrative deals with her attempts to force her superficially dashing and upright husband to get in touch with his dark side. The work feels utterly contemporary for its unconventional views on marital relationships, drawn out by Eddie Muller's tight direction and nuanced performances from Alice Louise and Jonathan Ingbretson. Next on the bill is a macabre drama by Christopher Holland, adapted from a seminal French Grand Guignol play. Unraveling in a lunatic asylum, the story concerns an innocent young inmate's ghastly fate at the hands of three delusional old crones. Powerful sound and lighting effects help to heighten the drama's slow-simmering build toward its inevitable gory conclusion. Through May 31 at the Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), S.F. Tickets are $20-$34.50; call 377-4202 or visit www.thrillpeddlers.com. (C.V.) Reviewed April 23.
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. 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. 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.
Out Cry. Even the best Tennessee Williams plays present a problem for actors: So much of his dialogue is so overripe that unwitting performers can be sucked into a camp vortex that transforms mannered tragedy into farce. And that's in his good shows. His bad ones — such as the 1973 stinker Out Cry: The Two-Character Play — are almost sure to leave both actors and audiences in a state of severe Southern discomfort. Out Cry concerns Felice (Oleg Liptsin) and Clare (Felecia Faulkner), sibling actors who find themselves abandoned by their theatrical troupe; they proceed to act out a two-person play that's supposed to sound improvised. To Williams' credit, the show really does feel as if it's being made up as it goes along. The problem is that Out Cry offers almost zero dramatic interest, unless you think of it as an unfortunate example of the playwright's late flirtation with absurdist drama. (Imagine Beckett's Vladimir and Estragon decked out in feather boas after too many mint juleps, and you're about halfway there.) Liptsin directs himself in this International Theater Ensemble production — a production that is, almost miraculously, even worse than its source material — and he and Faulkner attempt a kind of overlapping banter that is probably intended to create a kaleidoscopic effect. But the result is closer to complete incoherence: much of the dialogue is indecipherable, and that which can be deciphered was insufferable to begin with. Through June 1 at the Next Stage Theatre, 1620 Gough (at Bush), S.F. Tickets are $15-$25; call 333-6389 or visit www.internationaltheaterensemble.com. (Christopher Jensen) Reviewed May 7.
3 Vanek Plays. Before becoming the president of Czechoslovakia in 1989 and after spending four years in jail as a political dissident, Václav Havel wrote these three plays. Each of these semiautobiographical shorts contains the same protagonist, Ferdinand Vanek, an activist playwright who is less a character per se and more a dramatic principle of morality. In the first Kafkaesque short, "Audience" (the weakest of the bunch), Vanek (Craig Souza) works at a brewery and his boss (Jeff Thompson) engages him in a spiraling drunken conversation about the mounting pressures of an omnipresent "they" watching over operations. Thompson deliriously works himself into a sweaty, paranoid mess but it is frustrating to navigate his character's oblique and absurdist dialogue. The second play, "Unveiling," is delightful and very funny, as Vanek finds himself having drinks with a couple (Amanda Krampf and Wylie Herman) obsessed with image and material possessions while being hilariously disdainful of his poor writerly lifestyle. The third and most powerful offering, "Protest," offers a view into the articulate and guilty mind of a TV producer (Craig Dickerson) who secretly sides with Vanek's political dissidence, but struggles to go public. Dickerson is a tour de force of anguished tics and pauses, and captures Havel's theme of navigating difficult morality choices, capping a truly engaging night of theater. Through May 18 at Jewish Community Center of the East Bay, 1414 Walnut (at Rose), Berkeley. Tickets are $15-$20; call 800-838-3006 or visit www.jcceastbay.org. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed May 7.
Best of PlayGround 12: A Festival of New Writers & New Plays: Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through May 25. The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 401-8081.
Book of Mark: A solo performance written and performed by Charles Pike. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through May 17. The Garage, 975 Howard (at Sixth St.), 289-2000.
Breast of Sherry Glaser: The founder of Breasts Not Bombs sets out to save the world. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through June 14. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Bug: A cocktail waitress and an AWOL Gulf War veteran hide out together. Through June 8. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.
Crazy Wisdom Saves the World Again: A solo show by Wes "Scoop" Nisker. May 16-24. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Curse of the Starving Class: A dark satire by Sam Shepard. Through May 25. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228.
It's Murder Mary: Murder mystery set in a Russian River resort. May 17-June 28. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
Octopus: Four men, one night. A drama by Steve Yockey, coproduced by the Magic Theater and Encore Theatre Company. Through June 8. Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D (Marina & Buchanan), 441-8822.
The Odd Couple: Oscar and Felix, together again. Through June 7. The Custom Stage, 965 Mission St. (at Sixth St.), 838-3006.
Peddling Rainbows: Celebrating the songs and poetry of E.Y. "Yip" Harburg. May 15-25. Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469.
The Rosenbach Company: A Pop Opera: By graphic novelist Ben Katchor and composer and singer Mark Mulcahy. Wed., May 14, 8 p.m. $15-$22. Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California (at Presidio), 292-1200.
San Francisco Young Playwrights Festival: A selection of plays by local high school students. May 15-18. Diego Rivera Theater/CCSF, 50 Phelan (at Judson), 239-3100.
Squeeze Box: Ann Randolph's solo show about her minimum-wage life. May 17-June 29. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
The W. Kamau Bell Curve: The comedian is back for more in his solo show. Thursdays. Continues through June 12. Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.