"The Mystery Plays." Fantastic Four comic-book writer and Yale playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa steals from The Twilight Zone, H.P. Lovecraft, and Hitchcock in his bid to be the theatrical heir to M. Night Shyamalan. This slick production is actually two otherworldly plays about mystery, sin, dark secrets, and, as one character puts it, what happens to human beings when "God [is] looking the other way." In The Filmmakers Mystery a Hollywood director (T. Edward Webster) is haunted by a ghost after finding himself the sole survivor of a gruesome train crash -- think Shyamalan's Unbreakable, complete with twist ending. This is followed by Ghost Children, which explores the bloody ties and secrets between an attorney (Cristina Anselmo) and her brother (Chris Yule), who's serving life in jail for the murder of their parents. The superb cast (with standout Rod Gnapp as the Rod Serling-like narrator) and sci-fi production values create an engaging eeriness, but the potential for real creepiness is lost in Aguirre-Sacasa's script, which plays like a stylized, staged reading of a screenplay, relying too heavily on a protagonist's first-person narrative while all the juicy action happens offstage. Perhaps this is why the playwright is currently working on a big movie deal. Through Feb. 11 at the S.F. Playhouse, 536 Sutter (between Powell and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $36; call 677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.com. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Jan. 18.
Sexual Perversity in Chicago. Ever since it premiered at New York's Cherry Lane Theatre in 1976, David Mamet's comedy about the experience of four young singles (two men and two women) in the dating pool, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, has enjoyed consistent popularity. As Peter Riegert's staging for ACT proves, the play still makes for an entertaining evening at the theater. Firstly, it's short, which for your average ACT subscriber is probably a good thing. Secondly, it's savagely funny: bursting with non sequiturs, outrageous hyperbole (mostly regarding the size of various parts of the human anatomy), and archetypal characters clumsily failing at life. ACT's spunky cast of four ejaculates Mamet's text, hitting his loaded platitudes and four-letter words with forceful comic timing. But watching the actors stomp around Kent Dorsey's Formica-furnished set in their bell-bottoms and platform heels, I couldn't help but notice that the retro feel applied to more than the costumes and the scenic design: If this 30th anniversary production celebrates anything, it's how divorced I feel from Mamet's view of dating and sexual relationships. It's not that Neanderthals like his Bernard Litko (Gareth Saxe) don't exist. It's just that there's something so predictable and one-dimensional about these characters. And smart-aleck twists on heterosexual truisms -- such as the jaded observation by Joan (Elizabeth Kapplow), "Men ... they're all after only one thing ... but it's never the same thing" -- don't pack the same punch as they might have three decades ago. Through Feb. 5 at the Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $16-76; call 749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 25.
The Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey & Dean. Sandy Hackett's swingin' tribute to the Rat Pack takes us back to a time when men wore tuxedos in the desert, women could be one of two things (a lady or a tramp), and Celine Dion was just a golden apple in Las Vegas' hungry eye. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, and Dean Martin are brought back to life by God -- and the talents of a quartet of impersonators -- for one more night of highballing at the Sands Hotel. The concert-style production, featuring a live 12-piece band, perfectly captures the spirit of a long-lost era -- from Johnny Edwards' (or Andy DiMino's) glossy Dean Martin pompadour to what would now be considered terribly un-PC gaffs about black Jews. These particular tribute artists aren't necessarily dead ringers for Frank and company, but if you close your eyes and listen to Tom Tiratto's silk-voiced renditions of "My Way" and "Come Fly With Me," you almost feel like you've been transported, martini in hand, to another time and place. In an open-ended run at the Marines' Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $38-70; call 771-6900 or visit www.marinesmemorialtheatre.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Aug. 24, 2005.
9 Parts of Desire Berkeley Repertory's Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2949.
Actors Reading Writers Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.
Around the World in 80 Days Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic (at Locust), Walnut Creek, 925-943-7469.
BATS: Sunday Players Fort Mason, Bldg. B, Marina & Buchanan, 474-6776.
Beach Blanket Babylon Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.
Beyond Therapy Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 931-8385.
Big City Improv Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 931-8385.
Biglittlethings Zellerbach Hall, Bancroft & Telegraph (UC Berkeley campus), Berkeley, 510-642-9988.
Clean House Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro (at Mercy), Mountain View, 650-903-6000.
D*Face New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
Dick n' Dubya Show: A Republican Outreach Cabaret The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Falstaff Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College (at Derby), Berkeley, 510-845-8542.
Family Alchemy Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 285-8282.
from okra to greens/a different kinda love story Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter (at Mason), 474-8800.
GayProv Off-Market Studio, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Happiness The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
How We First Met The Purple Onion, 140 Columbus (at Pacific), 217-8400.
The Immigrant San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio (at South Third St.), San Jose, 408-367-7255.
In Bed With Fairy Butch for Women, Transfolks, & Their Pals 12 Galaxies, 2565 Mission (at 22nd St.), 970-9777.
In on It The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 587-4465.
Love, Chaos & Dinner Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 273-1620.
Maids Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy (between Taylor & Mason), 673-3847.
The Master Builder Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.
Miss-matches.com Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 931-8385.
Monday Night Improv Jam Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 368-9909.
Monday Night Marsh The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
New Woman Florence Gould Theater, 34th Ave. & Clement (Palace of the Legion of Honor), 863-3330.
Shaker Chair Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 820-3320.
Symphony of Frogs Exit Theatre on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), 673-3847.
Theatre District New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
Twelfth Night Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck (at Berryman), Berkeley, 510-704-8210.
Your Nightgown Is Jealous When You Dream Exit Theatre on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), 673-3847.