How We First Met. Past performances of How We First Met in which the love life of a couple from the audience is used as a source for improvised songs and sketches have involved a pair who met online in a Dungeons and Dragons[en]style chat room and a man who proposed to his girlfriend in the middle of a show. Not every pair invited up to the Purple Onion's diminutive stage will have as thrilling a story to tell, but that shouldn't matter. The production's cast of improvisers reacts quickly to the information they learn about the guests' romance. Creating snappy, relatively tuneful songs and funny skits out of such banalities as Marie Callender's chicken pot pie and the family cat, the performers prove that it is indeed possible to create comic theater out of life's pathetic details. Yet despite the warm atmosphere and all-round goodwill, the performance is hit-and-miss. Inspired moments come and go, and the overuse of the same few ideas becomes predictable. Jill Bourque (who conceived the show in 2001 as a one-off Valentine's Day special) maintains a crisp rhythm by interweaving questions to the guest couple with improvised material and more rehearsed sections involving costumed characters such as an Italian waiter and a beatnik poet. But despite her attentive direction, the costumed sections feel stagey. Still, judging by the demographic variety in the audience, How We First Met speaks to a wide population. Plus, it's quite fun. In an open-ended run at the Purple Onion, 140 Columbus (at Jackson), S.F. Tickets are $25; call 348-6280 or visit www.howwefirstmet.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed April 19.
The Long Christmas Ride Home. Even taking into account the eccentricities of our local climate, June does seem like a strange month in which to stage a play about Christmas. Nevertheless, in the script notes for her 2003 drama, Paula Vogel specifies that "this play be produced in January, in October any month except December." Outwardly, this seems like an odd request, for Ride shimmers with the sort of magic commonly associated with pristine white Christmases of yore. But despite all the talk about snow, presents, and cranberry sauce, Vogel's presentation of a middle-class suburban Yule set in Eisenhower's America couldn't be more satirical. As much as the writer and her collaborators in the Magic Theatre's mesmerizing production fill the air with the sensation of breathless expectation, the work also exerts a relentless downward pull, miring us in the petty stresses and hardships of everyday existence. As a result, watching Ride is a charged experience: One minute, we feel like children waking up on Christmas morning, and the next, we're being dragged behind the family's car. The experience feels at once tied to Christmas rituals and distant from them. That alienation may not always achieve the desired effect, yet it hardly matters, for Ride presents an adult's view of childhood that's disarming, regardless of the season in which it's performed. Through June 17 at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Tickets are $20-50; call 441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed June 7.
Menopause the Musical. Set in Bloomingdale's department store, this play unites four contrasting female characters an Iowa housewife, an executive, a soap star, and a hippie through the combined forces of cut-price lingerie and hormone replacement therapy. Singing doctored versions of 1960s and '70s pop favorites like "Stayin' Alive" ("Stayin' Awake") and "Puff, the Magic Dragon" ("Puff, My God I'm Draggin'"), the ladies potter from floor to floor, sharing their worst menopausal hang-ups as they try on clothes, rifle through sales racks, and run in and out of the store's many strategically placed powder rooms. Although Menopause is entertaining and energetically performed, it's unabashedly tacky. An ode to the delights of masturbation, sung down a pink microphone to an adaptation of the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations," for instance, makes one think that all that's missing from this (very) belated bachelorette party is a male stripper. And as much as the show makes its largely 40-plus female audience feel more comfortable about getting older, it doesn't go far enough. Menopause is euphemistically referred to as "the change," which just seems to reinforce taboos. And its obsession with shopping, sex, and cellulite makes Menopause feel a lot like a geriatric issue of Cosmo. Rather than empowering women, the musical ends up underscoring clichés. In an open-ended run at Theatre 39, Pier 39, Beach & Embarcadero, S.F. Tickets are $46.50; call 433-3939 or visit www.menopausethemusical.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 11.
Miss-Matches.com: Sex, Lies and Instant Messaging! "I'm barfing out the story unabridged!" That's how actor and writer Leslie Beam explains it in her one-woman show Miss-Matches.com. This self-declared "queen of cyberland" takes us on a 66-minute journey through a small sampling of more than 300 badly matched Internet dates after the breakup of her 13-year marriage (he was obsessed with football and bong rips; she was consumed with computer-sex chat rooms). Beam gets props for hanging out her dirty laundry: Onstage she brandishes her favorite sex toys (including a 3-foot-long Black & Decker vibrator), shows us dungeon floggings, makes fun of gimp-armed lovers, complains about fat people, and confesses to multiple dates with a convict tattooed with the words "white pride." Any sympathy she generates sours when she lightheartedly reveals her prejudice, recounting her ghastly treatment of an innocent date solely because he was black. She doesn't delve into her discrimination or give it any particular reason or depth; she simply tries for a laugh. Later she turns down another black cybersuitor, responding that she hasn't yet "exhausted the entire pool of eligible white men." In trying to illuminate the human and humorous side of Internet dating, Beam delivers a one-dimensional portrayal of herself and caricatures of her dates, seeming intent on proving that the Web is filled with a disproportionate number of weirdos and psychos. Through July 1 at the Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), S.F. Tickets are $15-20; call 820-1454 or visit www.miss-matches.com. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed March 1.
2 Pianos, 4 Hands San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio (at South Third St.), San Jose, 408-367-7255.
Baroque Carnival Zellerbach Hall, Bancroft & Telegraph (UC Berkeley campus), Berkeley, 510-642-9988.
BATS: Sunday Players Fort Mason, Bldg. B, Marina & Buchanan, 474-6776.
Battle-of-the-Bay Theatresports Tournament Bayfront Theater, Fort Mason, Bldg. B (Marina & Buchanan), 474-8935.
Beach Blanket Babylon Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.
Beyond Therapy Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Big City Improv Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Campo Santo 10th Anniversary Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th St.), 626-2787.
Chemical Imbalance Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.
D*Face New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
The Fabulous Adventures of Captain Queer New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
GayProv Off-Market Studio, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Happy End Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228.
Hunter Gatherers The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 587-4465.
"Intrigue in the Mansion: Murder Mystery Dinner" The Archbishop's Mansion, 1000 Fulton (at Steiner), 563-7872.
Joan of Arc War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330.
Killer Joe Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 441-8822.
Like a Dog on Linoleum Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter (at Mason), 474-8800.
Love, Chaos & Dinner Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 273-1620.
Madama Butterfly War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330.
Marriage of Figaro War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330.
The Marsh Festival of New Voices The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Menopause the Musical Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero), 433-3939.
The Miser Berkeley Repertory's Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2949.
Monday Night Improv Jam Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 368-9909.
Monday Night Make Em Ups San Francisco Comedy College, 414 Mason, #705 (at Geary), 921-2051.
Monday Night Marsh The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Mort Sahl's America Empire Plush Room, York Hotel, 940 Sutter (at Hyde), 885-2800.
The Glass Menagerie Berkeley Repertory's Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2949.
This Is Not a Test Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Valhalla New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
"Viva Variety" Buriel Clay Theater, 762 Fulton (at Webster), for more information call 863-0741.