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Encore 

Our critics weigh in on local theater

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Oy Vey in a Manger. "Trampolina, you can't go around making comments about Hitler like that," says Winnie, the mainstay of the Kinsey Sicks, San Francisco's homegrown a-cappella-group-in-drag. "Imagine the Führer." [Groans from the audience.] Winnie and friends wait for guests to come to their holiday party, which might be a Hanukkah celebration but includes a Christmas tree, Jesus schmaltz, and a hay-filled manger in the middle of the room. Winnie and Rachel are Jewish, you see, Trampolina and Trixie are goyim, and the cultural divide provides about two hours' worth of tasteless puns. If the group never interrupted its appalling script with smooth, crisply sung barbershop harmonies, Oy Vey in a Manger would be hard to take, but some of the songs are lovely. There's a Jewish "Macarena," a "Jingle Bells" about gays in the military, an "O Holy Night" about filming porn, and a delightfully perverted thing called "A Lay in a Manger" sung by Trixie (Jeff Manabat) as a torchy ballad. Some songs are unfortunate -- like "Where the Goys Are" and "Anal Warts" (sung to "Edelweiss") -- but Irwin Keller, as Winnie, makes it all worthwhile with an improbably pretty love ballad in Yiddish. Through Dec. 31 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), S.F. Tickets are $25-35; call 861-8972 or visit www.nctcsf.org. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Dec. 8.

Polk County. Zora Neale Hurston wrote Polk County in 1944, in collaboration with a white woman named Dorothy Waring. It's an honest-to-God blues musical, American to the bone, which may be one reason no one in New York has produced it yet. This new edit by Cathy Madison and Kyle Donnelly premiered at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., two years ago, to rave reviews, but the script still has scars from what must have been a bad argument between Waring and Hurston -- a tension between showy silliness and drama, between Broadway and the blues. The songs here are all terrific, from traditional numbers like "Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dyin' Bed" to dirty originals like "Lick It Like That," by Chic Street Man, the show's music director. And the brilliantly talented cast can play its own live music. As a revue of homegrown American songs the show deserves a nice, long Broadway run -- but it's not what it could be. What starts as a promising drama of self-discovery in a Florida sawmill camp becomes an excuse to shove as much (admittedly great) music into the performance as possible. Through Jan. 9 at the Berkeley Rep's Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Tickets are $25-60; call (510) 647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Dec. 8.

"Significant Others." Tom Kelly's collection of five brief plays about gay relationships ranges from the depressive worldliness of a gay cruise, where a man almost commits suicide, to the hopeful virginal groping of a pair of boys in a janitorial closet during their senior prom. The acting also ranges from stilted and false, like a bad soap opera (in Faded Photographs, about the cruise), to honest and almost cute (in The Virgin Tango, about the prom). In between we find another soap opera, Roadside Assistance, about two guys lost on a mountain path who start to bicker; Twice Blessed, about two lovers in separate long-term relationships who wonder if they can ever be happy together; and a welcome bit of satire in ... Or Not to Be? This last piece shows three gay friends in a cafe, gossiping and flirting with other men, constantly interrupted by their own chirping cell phones. Eric Rice, as the most successful of the three friends, turns in the clearest performance of the night; he trusts himself enough not to overact and lands a few deadpan, funny lines. Most of the production, otherwise, is leaden with sentimental overacting and outworn gay stereotypes. Even the high school boys aren't immune: "Are we clichés?" one of them asks in the janitorial closet, aware of fitting neatly into a teen-romance flick -- or, actually, a New Conservatory show. "No way," says the other. "If we were clichés, we'd be straight." Hmmmm. Through Jan. 2 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), S.F. Tickets are $20-32; call 861-8972 or visit www.nctcsf.org. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Dec. 1.

Take Me Out. Darren Lemming, a half-black star hitter on the Empires (read: New York Yankees), inspires the sort of adulation reserved for men like Barry Bonds and Derek Jeter. But he's gay. He comes out in public at the height of his fame, during a balmy season for the Empires, and the hurt morale in the locker room finds public expression in the mouth of a mulleted, white-trash pitching sensation named Shane Mungitt. The drama isn't subtle; in fact, the fallout between Darren and Shane is larger than life, while some of playwright Richard Greenberg's lines seem to demand a smaller stage. But this touring Broadway production also manages to offend the audience, which is a rare, good thing. Darren may be half-black and gay, but he's a multimillionaire superstar; Shane's a bit of bewildered, half-educated trailer trash. Who, exactly, is the victim? Greenberg shows just enough sympathy for his devil to make Take Me Out a moral conundrum. Through Jan. 9 at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor (at Market), S.F. Tickets are $37-75; call 512-7770 or visit www.bestofbroadway-sf.com. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Dec. 22.

Also Playing

Actors Reading Writers
Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.

Are We Almost There?
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.

BATS: Sunday Players
Fort Mason, Bldg. B, Marina & Buchanan, 474-6776.

Beach Blanket Babylon
Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.

Beast
Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 777-2800.

Big City Improv
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.

Birdhouse Factory
Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon (at Bay), 567-6642.

The Bright River
Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 285-8282.

Cirque Do Somethin'
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org

Comedy Improv at Your Disposal
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.

I Look Like an Egg, But I Identify as a Cookie
Hotel Rex, 562 Sutter, 433-4434.

Improv Revolution
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477, www.offmarkettheater.com.

In Bed With Fairy Butch for Women, Transfolks, & Their Pals
12 Galaxies, 2565 Mission (at 22nd St.), 970-9777, www.12galaxies.com.

Love, Chaos & Dinner
Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 273-1620.

Monday Night Improv Jam
Climate Theater, 285 Ninth St. (at Folsom), 364-1411.

Once Upon a Mattress
Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469.

Princess Bride: The Play
Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), 401-7987.

Rush Limbaugh in Night School
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

Shelley Mitchell's Talking With Angels
Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness (at Grove), 392-4400.

Striking 12
Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield (at Embarcadero), Palo Alto, 650- 903-6000.

Sugar Plum Fairy
San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio (at South Third St.), San Jose, 408-367-7255, www.sanjoserep.com.

"Throckmorton Stories"
142 Throckmorton Theatre, 142 Throckmorton (at Madrona), Mill Valley, 383-9600.

Travesties
The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at MLK, Jr.), Berkeley, 510-841-6500.

True Fiction Magazine
Florence Gould Theater, 34th Ave. & Clement (Palace of the Legion of Honor), 863-3330.

When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder
The Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush) (Trinity Episcopal Church), 333-6389.

White Christmas
Curran Theatre, 445 Geary (between Taylor and Mason), 551-2000.

Wrapping Paper Caper
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

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