Three Sisters. "She's a piece of work," says Masha (Natalia Payne) of Natasha (Emily Kitchens). That may not sound like Chekhov — or at least it doesn't sound like the mannered translations that often pass as Chekhov. But in Sarah Ruhl's fresh, colloquial version of Three Sisters, directed with gentle humor and compassion by Les Waters, the heartbreak never feels stuck in 1901. As Olga (Wendy Rich Stetson), Masha, and Irina (Heather Wood) reflect on the tediousness of work, the slow-motion tragedy of old age, and the impossibility of lasting love, this Berkeley Rep production takes on a close-knit intimacy that feels perfectly, fittingly fragile. The cast is exceptionally strong, but Payne is a standout as the embittered, mordant Masha; I also admired Sam Breslin Wright as an especially disturbed Solyony. Their stories play out under Alexander V. Nichols' autumnal lighting on an intricate, rust-brown dollhouse set by Annie Smart. "We will never go to Moscow," Irina says near play's end, finally realizing what even a Chekhov newbie could have predicted from the start. For all the liveliness and contemporary kick of Ruhl's translation, the play retains the power of its central theme — that modernity will never save us from unhappiness. Through May 22 at Berkeley Rep, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. $14.50-$73; www.berkeleyrep.org. (Chris Jensen). Reviewed May 11.
Vice Palace. Combine Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" with Fellini's La Dolce Vita, persuade most of your actors to show off their peens, then stage the whole thing as a '30s musical revue. You might end up with something like Vice Palace, but you'll be lucky if your version is anywhere near as much fun to watch. Thrillpeddlers' latest revival of a musical by the Cockettes — the ragtag band of gender-fucking misfits who enjoyed a brief heyday in San Francisco from 1969 to 1972 — isn't quite as solid as Pearls Over Shanghai, the company's long-running foray into psychedelic burlesque. But it's still a good-natured evening of minimally polished, unapologetically trashy entertainment. (If you're uncomfortable with the prospect of seeing a naked dude pull decorative ribbon out of his ass, then you might want to choose another show.) Vice Palace was the last musical performed by the Cockettes before the troupe disbanded, and some of the numbers demonstrate a cleverness, even a compositional maturity, that wouldn't have been out of place when Cole Porter and Jerome Kern ruled Broadway. Of course, Cole Porter never wrote a song called "A Crab on Uranus." Oh, well — his loss, I guess. Through July 31 at the Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), S.F. $30-$35; www.thrillpeddlers.com. (C.J.) Reviewed May 11.
"4GIVENESS: In a Family Way": Four new short plays by Susan Jackson. Wed., May 18, 8 p.m.; Tue., May 24, 8 p.m.; Thu., June 16, 8 p.m.; Fri., June 17, 8 p.m.; Thu., June 23, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 25, 8 p.m. $15-$20. Royce Gallery, 2901 Mariposa (at Harrison), 558-1749.
Absolutely San Francisco: Musical comedy about lost love and the San Francisco experience. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 29. $32-$50. Alcove Theater, 414 Mason (at Derby).
Beach Blanket Babylon: Steve Silver's musical revue spoofs pop culture with extravagant costumes. Wednesdays-Sundays. $25-$130. Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.
Big City Improv: Actors take audience suggestions and create comedy from nothing. Fridays, 10 p.m. $15-$20. www.bigcityimprov.com. Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 882-9100.
The Business: A Comedy Show: Wednesdays, 8 p.m. $5. Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), 401-7987.
Eleanor: A play by Margery Fairchild about the exploits of the French queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. Thursdays-Saturdays; Sun., May 22. Continues through May 28. $15-$25. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.
"Fauxgirls!": Third Saturday of every month, 10 p.m. free. www.fauxgirls.com. Kimo's, 1351 Polk (at Pine), 885-4535.
"Free Fridays! Improv Show": Late-night improv show. Fridays, 10:30 p.m. Continues through June 24. free. Alcove Theater, 414 Mason (at Derby).
Geezer: Geoff Hoyle's solo performance about what it's like to grow old. Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays. Continues through July 10. $20-$50. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
The Lily's Revenge: Play examining marriage starring playwright and burlesque performer Taylor Mac. Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through May 22. $20-$65. Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 441-8822.
Loveland: Solo show by Ann Randolph. Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through June 4. $20-$100. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Lucky Girl: Story of a woman's attempt to recover her life after being raped. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through May 28. $15-$25. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.
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 www.themarsh.org for a lineup of future shows. Mondays. $7. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
A Most Notorious Woman: Maggie Cronin's play about Irish pirate queen Grace "Grania" O'Malley. Thursdays-Saturdays; Sun., May 22. Continues through May 28. $15-$25. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.
Nobody Move: New play created from Denis Johnson's latest book. Thursdays are pay-what-you-can. Starting May 19. Sundays, 3 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 12. $20-$35. Intersection for the Arts, 925 Mission (at Fifth St.), 626-2787.
Reborning: Dark comedy on custom-made dolls created for people coping with the loss of a child. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Continues through June 11. $30-$70. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.
Secret Improv Society: Underground improvisational theater. Saturdays, 10 p.m. $15. Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 882-9100.
Shopping! The Musical: Songs and sketches about shopping. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. $23-$29. www.shoppingthemusical.com. Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 882-9100.
"Somebody to Love: My Musical Tribute To Freddie Mercury": Cabaret dedicated to Freddie Mercury and Queen. Fri., May 20, 10 p.m.; Sun., May 22, 8 p.m. $20. The Rrazz Room, at the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason (at Ellis), 394-1189.
Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding: Saturdays, 7 p.m.; Fridays, 7 p.m. $88.50-$115.50. www.tonyandtinasanfrancisco.com. Swiss Louis Restaurant at Pier 39, 2 Beach (at Embarcadero), 421-2913.
Upper Cut Improv Showcase: Improv and sketch comedy. Fridays, 7 p.m. $5. San Francisco Comedy College, 414 Mason (at Geary), 921-2051.
Wretch Like Me: Solo performance by David Templeton on his Christian upbringing and his eventual rejection of it. Through May 22. $6-$10. Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St. (at Valencia), 863-1087.
Your F!#&ed Up Relationship: Improv based on real-life relationship problems supplied by audience members. Fridays. free. Alcove Theater, 414 Mason (at Derby).