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Our critics weigh in on local theater

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Kimberly Akimbo. When they get beyond a certain age, female actors don't often have much fun onstage. Relegated to playing doddering old dowagers, even the spriest sixtysomething must resign herself to spending the rest of her career serving tea from a samovar to bored Russian aristocrats, or bellowing "A handbag?!" at the top of her voice. Thankfully, playwright David Lindsay-Abaire somewhat readjusts the balance with this spiteful-sweet comedy. As depicted by the vivacious Joy Carlin in SF Playhouse's production, Kimberly, a teenager suffering from progeria (a disease that produces rapid aging starting in childhood), is one of the funniest and most complex roles for an older female actor on the contemporary stage. Surrounded by grownups so dysfunctional they make Homer Simpson look sensible, the wrinkly 16-year-old character becomes a grotesque metaphor for the ravages of time and a lost childhood. Featuring lurid performances by Clive Worsley, Susi Damilano, and Deb Fink as the "adults," a lovably gauche Jeremy Kahn as Kim's geeky friend Jeff, and vibrant candy-colored lighting by Jon Retsky, director Kent Nicholson's production hints at the sadness under the zany, comic-book exterior of Kimberly's existence. Through May 21 at SF Playhouse, 536 Sutter (between Powell and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $30; call 677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed May 11.

Not a Genuine Black Man. It's not easy being green, but try being a black kid in San Leandro in the early '70s. When Brian Copeland got there -- just a few months after the Summer of Love, he points out -- it was one of the most viciously racist suburbs in America. Now it's officially the most diverse. "Take that, San Francisco," Copeland chides. He's earned that attitude, not just for going through his hell of growing up, but also for extracting from it such affirmative, hilarious stuff. Copeland's rightfully popular one-man show is wrought from pain and rage but never really succumbs to bitterness. "Is that black?" he asks, and proves that it is. Some of his best stereotype-busting material doesn't feel especially new, but it does feel good. Besides, it's the stereotypes that have passed their expiration dates: Copeland's title comes from an accusation flung at him by a cranky listener who called in to his KGO radio program. This show is his response. With help from declarative lighting and David Ford's direction, Copeland creates an affecting hybrid of the dramatic monologue and the rollicking stand-up act. Through May 28 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd Street), S.F. Tickets are $15-22; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org. (Jonathan Kiefer) Reviewed June 2, 2004.

The Old Man and the Sea. Californians are no strangers to fusion. They eat mahi-mahi in wasabi-mango marinade as if it were chicken potpie, and combine acupuncture and BOTOX without blinking an eye. Blending Japanese noh drama, kyogen comedy, and scattered lines from Ernest Hemingway's classic novella The Old Man and the Sea with Balinese-inspired shadow puppetry, Japanese glass-blown sets and props, and a variety of musical styles (including Cuban percussion and Tuvan throat music), Theatre of Yugen's stage adaptation of Hemingway's work fits in with local multicultural appetites. The production tells the story of an old fisherman's Ahab-like pursuit of a prize marlin in the hostile, shark-infested waters off the Cuban coast, capturing something of the glassy stillness of the original with its delicately changing patterns of light, movement, and sound. Yet the rainbow blend of cultural odds and ends soon becomes rather tiring on the eyes, ears, and mind. At times, the melee of so many random ethnic techniques and styles gets in the way of the storytelling. As a result, The Old Man drifts somnambulant and directionless out to sea. Through May 21 at NOHspace, 2840 Mariposa (at Florida), S.F. Tickets are $15-20; call 621-0507 or visit www.theatreofyugen.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed May 11.

The People's Temple. It's easy to understand why so many people flocked to hear the Rev. Jim Jones preach. As depicted in Berkeley Rep's world-premiere production of The People's Temple, Jones, the leader of the cultish church, is charisma personified, a hip cat in dark shades and sharp suits with unbelievable powers of persuasion. Using archival material from the California Historical Society, evangelical songs, and interviews with former Temple-goers, writer and director Leigh Fondakowski (The Laramie Project) has created an engrossing documentary piece about the events that led to the deaths of more than 900 people in a Guyana jungle in 1978. Playing against Sarah L. Lambert's expressive scenery (resembling a cross between a morgue and a Container Store window display), the ensemble cast does more than portray Jones, congregation members, journalists, politicians, and families; the actors also capture the spirit of an entire era, from racial unrest to hippie euphoria. Besides the problem of creating real drama out of narrated interviews (which Fondakowski somewhat overcomes), only one issue remains: Jones swings from messiah to monster, but the play offers little explanation as to why. Through June 5 at Berkeley Repertory's Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Tickets are $10-55; call (510) 647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed May 4.

The Rules of Charity. John Belluso's engrossing new play describes what it's like to eke out a living in America on meager disability checks and food stamps. If poverty isn't enough to define Monty (Warren David Keith) -- whose cerebral palsy keeps him confined to a wheelchair and his daughter confined to the state of permanent caregiver -- as a social pariah, the fact that he's gay ought to do it. Belluso's writing veers into the terrain of soap opera toward the end, but it's powerful stuff nonetheless. Exploring the way Monty (both as an individual and as an archetypal American charity case) elicits polar responses from the other characters, this stylishly directed and subtly performed production shows how acts of generosity and goodwill often have little in common with the motives that lie beneath them. Through June 18 at the Magic Theatre Northside, Fort Mason, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Tickets are $20-38; call (415) 441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed May 11.

Rush Limbaugh in Night School. Charlie Varon has revived and revamped his hilarious 1994 solo tour de force, a satire that may owe more than a little to Tom Stoppard's Travesties, about Rush Limbaugh and a cast of mostly still-relevant national figures from the left and right. When a conservative Latino radio host threatens Limbaugh's dominance in a Florida market, the potbellied pundit puts on a beard and enrolls in Spanish night classes (at the New School), where he falls in love with a fugitive ex-member of the Weather Underground. For obscure reasons Limbaugh also tries to play Othello in blackface, in a star-studded production featuring Garrison Keillor, directed by Spalding Gray. Things go predictably to hell. Varon's in full command of his characters; the voices are sharp, if not perfect; and his timing is hard to beat. But he and Limbaugh are both visibly older. Varon's point in 1994 was that Limbaugh had upended the whole idea of satire -- he'd turned a traditional weapon of the underprivileged into a tool of power, and the last 10 years have only shown how potent that strategy can be. Limbaugh was pretty much on his own in 1994; lately his talk-radio spawn have probably helped a) elect a new governor in California, and b) re-elect a president. Depressing. Through May 29 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd Street), S.F. Tickets are $15-22; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Dec. 15, 2004.

Also Playing

Adventures of a Substitute Teacher Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.

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

BATS Improv Long-Form Festival Bayfront Theater, Fort Mason, Bldg. B (Marina & Buchanan), 474-8935.

BATS: Sunday Players Fort Mason, Bldg. B (Marina & Buchanan), for more information call 474-6776.

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

"The Best of PlayGround 9" Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 704-3177.

Beyond Therapy Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.

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

Cherry Docs 285-8282, www.atjt.com.

Comedy Improv at Your Disposal Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 510-595-5597.

Crimes of the Heart Actors Theatre San Francisco, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 296-9179.

The Dharma of Dollars The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.

GayProv Off-Market Studio, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.

A Handful of Dust Xenodrome, 1320 Potrero (at 25th St.), 285-9366.

Hannah and Martin San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio (at South Third St.), San Jose, 408-367-7255.

Hansel and Gretel: Choose Your Own Ending Young Performers Theater, Fort Mason, Bldg. C (Marina & Buchanan), 346-5550.

Here Lies Jenny Post Street Theatre, 450 Post (at Mason), 771-6900.

Hothouse Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D (Marina & Buchanan), 441-8822.

I Am My Own Wife Curran Theatre, 445 Geary (between Taylor and Mason), 551-2000.

Impact Briefs 7: The How-To Show La Val's Subterranean Theater, 1834 Euclid (at Hearst), Berkeley, 510-464-4468.

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

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

Macbeth Exit Theatre on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), 419-3584.

"Making Noise Quietly" Mills College Theater, Lisser Hall, 5000 MacArthur (between Seminary and High exits), Oakland.

Menopause the Musical Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero), 433-3939.

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

Monday Night Marsh The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.

A Moon for the Misbegotten Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228.

Moonlight Last Planet Theatre, 351 Turk (at Hyde), 440-3505.

Othello Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 552-4100.

Ragtime the Musical Randall Museum Theater, 199 Museum (at Roosevelt), 554-9523.

San Francisco Improv Festival The Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush) (Trinity Episcopal Church), 863-1076.

San Francisco Treasures Series The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.

Spit/Kiss Jon Sims Center for the Arts, 1519 Mission (at 11th St.), 554-0402.

StarCrossed Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary) (Suite 601), 820-1565.

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

"Twilight Zone: The Plays" Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), 401-7987.

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