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Encore 

Our critics weigh in on local theater

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Here Lies Jenny. Bebe Neuwirth has an unusual voice. It's not what you would call beautiful. In Here Lies Jenny, a showcase of loosely knit songs by German composer Kurt Weill, she sounds a bit like a sheep nursing a hangover. Weill's songs have long been favorites of many a diva, with artists as diverse as German chanteuse Ute Lempe and operatic soprano Dawn Upshaw bringing their own particular qualities to the composer's brazenly sweet melodies and galumphing accompaniments. Although the Tony Awardwinning Neuwirth is a charismatic, intense performer, the songs all sound rather similar: There's surprisingly little variety in the star's delivery. The show combines the talents of several Broadway luminaries -- including director Roger Rees, choreographer Ann Reinking, and set designer Neil Patel -- but for all the talent it feels cobbled together. Patel's dingy European speak-easy is evocative enough, but Reinking's movements are predictably camp, leaving Neuwirth frequently falling into the arms of some muscle-bound, wife beaterwearing stud. As a vehicle for one of this country's most prominent musical theater artists, Here Lies Jenny lacks drive. Through June 26 at the Post Street Theatre, 450 Post (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $35-55; call 771-6900 or visit www.poststreettheatre.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed May 18.

I Look Like an Egg, But I Identify as a Cookie. In her solo show, Heather Gold recounts the journey from Niagara Falls (where she spent the first 19 years of her life) to her current role as San Francisco's resident lesbian domestic goddess -- while baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies in front of a live audience. Even as she's plunking bits of soggy dough onto a battered metal baking tray and babbling on about her rugby-playing days as a law student at Yale, Gold, wielding her remarkable improvisation skills, creates an atmosphere of cozy intimacy. Certain parts of her monologue ramble on for too long, but even during the show's most half-baked moments, it's easy to understand why the audience gets so involved: Gold makes for an endearingly slapdash cook. Each performance involves a special guest, and it's a sheer pleasure to see a food-themed show that's not about battling one's body image (as is so often the case with productions by female artists -- e.g., Eve Ensler's The Good Body) and a program stuffed with recipes for delicacies like gingersnaps and caramel chocolate squares. Through June 20 at Hotel Rex, 562 Sutter (between Powell and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $30-50; call (800) 838-3006 or visit www.subvert.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 12.

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 June 25 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 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 good will 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 441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed May 11.

Also Playing

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

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

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

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.

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

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

A Body of Water Ocean Beach, Great Highway (between Fulton & Lincoln), 332-9454.

Broken Hallelujah Zeum, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 749-2228.

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

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

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

The Grand Inquisitor The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 401-8081.

Honour Berkeley Repertory's Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2949.

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

Hush Up, Sweet Charlotte Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter (at Mason), 474-8800.

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

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

The Kyogen of Errors Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon (at Bay), 978-2787.

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

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

The Mambo Kings Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor (at Market), 512-7770.

Medea: The Musical Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079.

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.

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

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

The Second Sin Black Repertory Theatre, 3201 Adeline St., Berkeley, 510-835-2270.

some life Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.

Someday, Love New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.

Stateless Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th St.), 626-2787.

Tall Tales Children's Fairyland, 699 Bellevue (at Grand), Oakland, 510-452-2259.

Tea at Five Marines Memorial Theater, 609 Sutter (at Mason), 771-6900.

Thanatics: A Rock Opera Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.

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

"Ticket to the Tonys" New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.

Whoop-Dee-Doo! New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Actors Theatre San Francisco, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 296-9179.

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