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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Wednesday, May 20 2009

Candide, or Optimism. Combining an 18th-century French satire with a traditional Japanese theatrical form may seem like a gimmick just waiting to fail. But in Theatre of Yugen's new Kyogen-style adaptation of Voltaire's Candide, form and content inform each other in fascinating ways. Kyogen is a centuries-old style of Japanese comedy, developed as a companion to the much more somber, formal Noh dramas. It is characterized by an extremely stylized presentation that, when done effectively, elevates comedy to the level of ritual. It's an ingenious way of presenting Voltaire's work, since the elaborate choreography and exaggerated line delivery complement the heightened reality of his wide-ranging, none-too-subtle satire. Audiences with no prior exposure to Kyogen may find the first few minutes a little jarring as they adjust to the deliberate rhythms of the dialogue. But those same rhythms soon become almost entrancing, and anyone with an eye for theatrical movement will appreciate the precision and inventiveness directors Jubilith Moore and Yukio Ishida bring to the stage. The production loses a bit of momentum in the second act, but the uniformly stellar cast helps maintain interest even when the story lags. This Candide is an unexpected thrill. Through May 23 at NOHspace, 2840 Mariposa (at Florida), S.F. $13-$25; 621-7978 or (Chris Jensen) reviewed May 13.

The In-Betweens. Dark Porch Theatre was formed as a dance-and-movement–based company in Portland, Oregon, and then moved to the Bay Area to focus on acting. This explains the dramatic dual nature of this ambitious original script and production, set in 1885. The first act is a solidly performed Agatha Christie–esque whodunit. Steel tycoon and occult aficionado Silas Danforth (Stuart Bousel) invites guests (each bringing a secret agenda) to his mansion for a spiritual and completely fake séance led by the hilarious and bumbling Professor M (Christopher P. Kelly). Act two turns the production's setting and style completely on its head, transporting the characters to an in-between world that feels like a cross between Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Sartre's No Exit. The fabulous costumes (designed by Cara Samski) morph from Industrial Age finery to all-white linen and lace as the characters are reborn into their truest forms (one becomes Pan, another Narcissus). The second act is a musical with skilled singing and dancing and a haunting score composed and performed live by the talented Ryan Beebee with four other musicians. Writer and director Margery Fairchild spices the plot with references to theosophy, murder, women's rights, and even an actual Pandora's box. It's ambitious, perhaps too much so, but a lovely hybrid of dream, dance, and theater. Through May 30 at Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), S.F. $15-$20; 673-3847 or (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed May 13.

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 until the winner stands alone on the stage. Sundays, 7 p.m., $5-$8, Bayfront Theater, 16 Marina (at Laguna), 474-6776,

Beach Blanket Babylon: A North Beach perennial featuring crazy hats, media personality caricatures, a splash of romance, and little substance. Now with Rod Blagojevich! Wednesdays, Thursdays, 8 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 6:30 & 9:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 5 p.m., $25-$80, Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.

Best of PlayGround 13: A Festival of Writers and New Plays: The best of the bunch. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through May 31, The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 401-8081,

Big City Improv: Actors take audience suggestions and create comedy from nothing. Fridays, 10 p.m., $15-$20, Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 882-9100,

Boleros for the Disenchanted: Jose Rivera's drama about love and scoundrels. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through May 31. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228,

Bright Young People: The Words and Music of Noel Coward: ACT's Young Conservatory takes the stage for songs and scenes by Noel Coward. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through May 23. Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 820-3320,

Candide, or Optimism: Produced by Theatre of Yugen, adapted from Voltaire. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through May 23. Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa (at Florida), 621-7978,

The Angel and the Woodcutter: Performance by South Korean ensemble Cho-In Theatre. Thu., May 21, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 23, 6:30 p.m., $20-$25. Fort Mason, Cowell Theater, in Herbst Pavilion, Marina & Buchanan, 345-7553,

Dead Man's Cell Phone: Sarah Ruhl's comedy about technology. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Continues through June 13. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596,

East 14th Street: Don Reed's solo show about growing up in Oakland. Fridays-Sundays. Continues through June 14. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750,

Eccentrics of San Francisco's Barbary Coast ... A Magical Escapade: Historical magic show with Walt Anthony, David Miller, Brian Scott, and Ruth Fraser. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 27. $30, Chancellor Hotel, 433 Powell (at Post), 362-2004,

The Floating Light Bulb: Woody Allen's story about a Jewish family in Brooklyn. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through May 24. Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 292-1233,

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune: A romance by Terrence McNally. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through May 24. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 931-3847,

Fresh Voices IX Festival: A fest of chamber operas and dramatic song cycles. May 22-24, Community Music Center, 544 Capp (at 20th St.), 647-6015,

Fukú Americanus: Based on the novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Through June 21. 8 p.m., $15-$25. Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th St.), 626-3311,

Handful Players with the Dee Spencer Jazz Trio, The Village Project: Sat., May 23, 1 p.m., $5, all ages. Yoshi's SF, 1330 Fillmore (at Eddy), 655-5600,

The In Betweens: A comedy by Margery Fairchild, presented by Dark Porch Theatre. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through May 30. Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847,

Ion: Outdoor performances of Euripides' comedy by Boxcar Theatre. Saturdays. Continues through May 23. Free. Multiple San Francisco locations.

Kamikaze Heart: Tim Barsky's circus/hip-hop extravaganza. Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through May 31. $14-$25, Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St. (at York), 641-7657,

Krapp's Last Tape: Cutting Ball Theater's production of Samuel Beckett's drama. Starting May 22, Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through June 21. Exit Theatre on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), 931-3847,

Monday Night Marsh: On select Mondays a different lineup of musicians, actors, performance artists, and others takes the stage at this regular event that's hosted local celebs like Josh Kornbluth and Marga Gomez in the past; see for a lineup of future shows. Mondays, $7. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750,

Monty Python's Spamalot: Based on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Starting May 22, Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through July 5. Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor (at Market), 551-2000.

Mr. Marmalade: Noah Haidle's comedy about a young girl, produced by Custom Made Theatre Co. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through June 13. The Custom Stage, 965 Mission (at Sixth St.), 626-2060,

Not A Genuine Black Man: Brian Copeland's long-running drama about San Leandro. Through June 14. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 820-1656,

Point Break Live!: Bank-robbing surfers make audiences happy. Through June 30. 9 p.m., $25, CELLspace, 2050 Bryant (at 18th St.), 648-7562,

Rafe Chase and Gerri Lawlor: Improv of scenes for a film. Starting May 22, Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through May 30. Stage Werx, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 730-3433,

San Francisco International Arts Festival: May 20-31, 399-9554, Multiple San Francisco locations.

Shopping! The Musical: Songs and sketches about shopping. Daily, $23-$29, Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 882-9100,

ShortLived 2.0: Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 27. $15-$20, Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 820-1656,

Strings: Terrence Beswick's play about brothers, produced by Guerrilla Rep. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 6. $10-$15. Mama Calizo's Voice Factory, 1519 Mission (at Van Ness), 690-9410,

Sultry Summer Magic: Teatro ZinZanni's new show features a rotating crew of headliners during the run, including Melanie Stace, Edna Wright and Honey Cone, Melba Moore, Sally Kellerman, and Darlene Love. Wednesdays-Sundays, $117-$200, 438-2668. Teatro ZinZanni, Piers 27 and 29 (Embarcadero & Battery),

Three on a Party: Word for Word's production of works by Tennessee Williams, Gertrude Stein, and Armistead Maupin. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through June 7. Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079,

Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding: Be a part of the wedding reception at Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding. Thursdays-Saturdays, Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (at Embarcadero), 433-3939,

¡Viva Cuba!: Fri., May 22, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 23, 8 p.m., $12-$18, all ages. Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs (off Route 101), Santa Rosa, 707-546-3600,

Wicked: The Tony Award-winning musical. Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through June 27. Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 551-2000.

Wildcat: A musical about an oil prospector in 1912. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through May 24. Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469,

Wreckage: Caridad Svich's drama about two boys in love. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through June 6. Boxcar Theatre, 505 Natoma (at Sixth St.), 776-1747,


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