Franz Kafka's Love Life, Letters, and Hallucinations in Short Scenes with Live Actors. The long title essentially sums up the plot structure of this meticulously detailed biography of the famous writer's tumultuous love life and his seemingly pained relationship with his work. Playwright and visiting UC Berkeley scholar Mae Ziglin Meidav has been crafting this material for close to 20 years; even at a long two and a half hours, it's still only a distilled version. The repetitive conceit of many of the scenes can become tedious: Kafka becomes obsessed with a woman, seduces her, then loses interest and falls back into the arms of his true love — writing. At the center of this exhaustive production that tracks Kafka from his youthful attempts to woo his wet nurse to his early death from tuberculosis is the whirlwind performance of Carson Creecy. His tour-de-force manic and childlike portrayal energetically propels the show and illuminates how many of Kafka's romantic relationships affected his fiction, but it starts to feel one-noted in the end. Through June 29 at Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley. Tickets are $16-$34; call 800-838-3006 or visit www.brookside-art.org.(Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed June 11.
Heist a Crow. If the title causes you to tilt your head quizzically, just wait until you see the show. Sean Kelly's Heist a Crow is a self-consciously odd little number about a recently dead guy (Matt Gunnison) who discovers that God is an "unlikely and improbable universal architect" named Fivepockets and that the angel of death reads Details. He also finds that the afterlife is full of resentful celestial beings who yearn to eat meat (they're partial to internal organs, since the pancreas is the seat of the soul). Oh, and the only way for an ordinary dead person to travel from heaven to earth? Hitch a ride with a crow, naturally. Heist a Crow is moderately successful at conveying the sheer horror that the very notion of an eternal afterlife should generate in any reasonable person. And one sequence in particular—in which our hero is cast into the Void and subjected to profound darkness and isolation—is both technically impressive and eerily convincing. Yet at just over 60 minutes, the show generates far more promising ideas than it can possibly explore. It also spends too much of its brief running time indulging in a kind of mawkishness that meshes poorly with its otherwise absurdist tendencies. You can't fault Crow for lack of ambition; you can, however, hope that its next iteration will be more fully developed and less inclined to trite emotionalism. Death is sad and ridiculous and final enough without imploring us to get choked up about it. Through June 28 at Stagewerx, 533 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $15; visit www.helpwalrus.com. (Chris Jensen) Reviewed June 18.
Jihad Jones and the Kalashnikov Babes. From Disney's animated feature Aladdin to the Fox television series 24, unseemly portraits of Arab characters have become increasingly common in U.S. popular culture in recent decades. Set in a Hollywood agent's script-strewn, envy-green-walled office (meticulously brought to life onstage in Golden Thread's premiere production by scenic designer James Faerron) Yussef El Guindi's new comedy flimsily explores racial typecasting issues facing actors with Middle Eastern roots. In the opening scene, agent Barry (David Sinaiko) tries to persuade actor Ashraf (Kamal Marayati) to play a gun-toting radical in a new big-budget film. Ashraf feels torn: On one hand, it's the role of a lifetime. He'll get to act opposite sexy A-lister Cassandra Shapely and work with Julius Steele, one of the industry's most respected directors. On the other, playing "Mohammed, the bug-eyed, psycho sadist terrorist" amounts to self-betrayal. This argument essentially repeats itself over and over for the entire 90-minute play with little variation or development. Julius (Mark Rafael Truitt) and Cassandra (Cat Thompson) show up to conduct a screen test with Ashraf while Barry does his best to massage his client's misgivings. But despite moments of color injected by the presence of Jessica Kitchens as Barry's adorably starstruck secretary, Peggy, the action and characterizations otherwise generally feel as monochrome as the one-dimensional Hollywood product that the play tries so hard to send up. Through June 29 at the Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), S.F. Tickets are $15-$25; call 626-4061 or visit www.goldenthread.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed June 18.
Out of This World Cole Porter's once-forgotten musical gets a high energy and fun-loving revival from 42nd Street Moon. The plot revolves around Jupiter, king of the gods, as he enlists the help of his many children to entice a Hollywood star into his arms. Some of the cast members return from the company's original 2000 production, with the heartiest applause coming when Darlene Popovic appears as Juno, the jilted queen of the gods. And for good reason: She effortlessly milks her lines for all their saucy goodness, such as when her strident daughter Diana (Kristin Clippard) declares "Male superiority is a myth!" to which Popovic purrs back, "So are you, dear." Director Greg MacKellan didn't manage to excise all the bumps when he revised the musical for this production – we still spend too much time listening to innocuous but bland songs from the sincere and not nearly so fun mortals in love. But when the lustful gods take to the stage, MacKellan and his cast know how to let it rip — such as when Mercury (Steve Rhyne) is listing the many babes he's bagged, such as one with golden locks, "bright Aurora, and Pandora, who let me open her" — well, you get the idea. Through June 29 at Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), S.F. Tickets are $33-$38; call 255-8207 or visit www.42ndstmoon.org.(Molly Rhodes) Reviewed June 18.
ShortLived. PianoFight Productions encourages audience members to brown-bag their own booze; the crew even throws a couple of Budweisers and miniature whiskey bottles into the crowd right before the lights go down. But you don't have to be drunk, or even buzzed, to have a rip-roaring good time. ShortLived is a three-month competition of original short plays where the audience votes which ones make it to the next round. The night I attended, five of the eight plays (each under 10 minutes) were very funny and the other three quite gripping. Most were sustained short bursts of bizarre hilarity, such as a wedding involving ninja costumes and antidepressants, and a man trying unsuccessfully to use a coupon at a supermarket. Artistic directors Rob Ready and Dan Williams (both stars in their own right) lead an acting company that is irreverent, skilled, and clearly loves to have a good time. Through June 28 at Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), S.F. Tickets are $15-$20; call 820-1656 or visit www.pianofight.com. (N.E.) Reviewed May 21.
Squeeze Box. What could have been a simple, sweet tale about a woman finding herself gets a jolt of saltiness in Anne Randolph's hands. Or, really, it's her face, with her large eyes and incredibly expressive tongue that can grab you out of your lulled state of deep liberal sympathy at the plight of the mentally ill women she worked with in Los Angeles and instead thrust you into a world where she can be just as desperate and dirty as the women she serves. Randolph isn't afraid to skewer anyone in her one-woman show – her sexual exploits with her boyfriend get a particularly detailed and not always flattering working over. Yet this choice actually makes her moments of insight into herself and others resonate all the more. Randolph isn't out to get you to congratulate her for taking on noble causes, but to see that she – like all of us – is simply struggling to cling to the faith we all need to find those small, incredible moments of happiness in our own lives. Through June 29 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), S.F. Tickets are $15-$35; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org. (M.R.) Reviewed June 4.
Teatro ZinZanni's Hail Caesar! Loosely based on the love affair between Cleopatra and "Chef" Caesar, the current Egyptian-themed production by San Francisco's long-running dinner theater company, Teatro ZinZanni, combines the sensual-brash cabaret singing talents of Debbie de Coudreaux (the only American other than Josephine Baker to have starred at Paris' Moulin Rouge) with the vaudevillian swagger of ZinZanni old-timer Frank Ferrante. What little plot the show has is quickly subsumed by the happy business of eating, drinking, and watching Ferrante and de Coudreaux' capable supporting cast of clowns, acrobats, and contortionists perform daredevil exploits mere feet beyond our dinner plates. Thanks to the professionalism of the performers, the gorgeousness of the "Spiegeltent" setting, the decent cuisine, and copiously flowing booze, Hail Caesar! makes for an entertaining way to spend an evening. The performance would be significantly improved by a more carefully integrated plot, one that seamlessly weaves the entertainment into the delivery of each culinary course, with less reliance on lengthy and often embarrassing audience participation sequences. Through Sept. 21 at the Spiegeltent, Pier 29 (at Battery), S.F. Tickets are $123-$197; call 438-2668 or visit www.zinzanni.org. (C.V.) Reviewed June 11.
The Busy World Is Hushed: Keith Bunin's story about an Episcopalian minister and her gay son. Through July 20. $28-$42. Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.
Citizen Josh: Josh Kornbluth's solo show. June 26-July 20. www.shotgunplayers.org. The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at MLK Jr.), Berkeley, 510-841-6500.
The Golden Girls: The Gay Episodes: W/ Heklina, Cookie Dough, Matthew Martin, Pollo DelMar, Mike Finn, and Laurie Bushman. Through June 28. $20. www.trannyshack.com. Mama Calizo's Voice Factory, 1519 Mission (at Van Ness), 690-9410.
It's Murder Mary: Murder mystery set in a Russian River resort. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through June 28. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
Jack and the Beanstalk: Thrillpeddlers' Theatre of the Ridiculous Revival stages a comedy by Charles Ludlam. Sundays. Through June 29. The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 248-1900.
Journeys of the Angels: A drama about Vietnam by Roy Conboy. Through July 18. El Teatro de la Esperanza, 2940 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 338-1341.
Men in Uniform: Examines the men under the attire. Through July 6. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
Oh My Godmother!: A fairytale about a young gay San Franciscan written by Ron Lytle. June 26-July 26. $20-$35. www.ohmygodmother.com. Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 820-3320.
Queer Arts Festival: The month-long festival features theater, dance, film, and more at nearly 20 venues. Through June 30. www.queerculturalcenter.org.
Theodora, She-Bitch of Byzantium:Thrillpeddlers ushers in its Theatre of the Ridiculous Revival with Charles Busch's play. Through July 26. The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 248-1900.
Tuna Does Vegas: A romp in Sin City from the Greater Tuna creative team. Through June 28. Curran Theatre, 445 Geary (at Taylor), 551-2000.
Work Eats Home: Six one-act plays by Sleepwalkers Theatre. Through July 12. www.sleepwalkerstheatre.com. Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 989-0023.