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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Hamlet: Blood in the Brain. Community-minded theater companies have long tried to reimagine Shakespeare's work in ever more meaningful ways. This collaboration between California Shakespeare Theater and Campo Santo follows that tradition. Developed through more than three years of community outreach efforts with East Bay residents, playwright Naomi Iizuka's Hamlet adaptation connects the windswept battlements of Medieval Elsinore with Oakland circa 1989. Set in a ghettoized "Oaktown" of drug kingpins, gang rivalries, and drive-by shootings, Brain deals with an eternal theme: the way in which violence permeates a community, spinning out of control and wreaking havoc on relationships, to the ultimate destruction of entire legacies. The production features powerful performances. As "H," a young man forced (like his Shakespearean counterpart) to confront the death of his father and the "o'er hasty" marriage of his mother ("G") to his usurping uncle ("C"), Sean San Jose throws himself against the bars of his existence like a caged lunatic. Contrastingly, as H's girlfriend "O," Ryan Peters is all warm, self-assured confidence. Yet Iizuka's adaptation doesn't go as far as it should. There's just enough of the original in her text to make Shakespeare's play stick out like bones from a shallow grave. If you're familiar with the source material, you're likely to be distracted by a largely futile game of comparison. And if you're not, the dully familiar cliché of "niggas" posturing in orange velour leisure suits and white Adidas sneakers, sporting 9 mm Glocks, probably won't impress. Through Dec. 10 at Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (between 15th and 16th sts.), S.F. Tickets are $9-20; call 626-3311 or visit (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Nov. 15.

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 (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 11.

Shopping! The Musical. Some theater types want to be Hamlet; others want to be Liza Minnelli. The smiling, hardworking performers in this new musical revue definitely fall into the latter category. Lyricist-composer Morris Bobrow uses his infectious, irreverent humor to great effect as he pays homage to the highs and lows of our compellingly crass commercial culture. He uses the small, cramped theater in a straightforward manner — four center-stage stools and an amusing backdrop provide the set. The accomplished accompanist Ben Keim keeps things lively on one side of the stage behind an upright piano. The actors lead us through songs that bring to mind Jerry Seinfeld's sharp observations on mundane modern life: "Shopping in Style" extols the virtues of Costco, and "Serious Shopping" imagines a man trying to buy lettuce from a riotously over-the-top grocery cult. The musical runs just over an hour, yet it still has a few rough spots. The mid-show sketch "Checking Out" gives us a limp comedic premise that we've seen before on sub-par sitcoms, and the piece "5 & 10" is a mix of awkward nostalgia and pitch problems. Nevertheless, this is a clever collection of tunes performed with an unabashedly cheesy enthusiasm that would make Liza proud. In an open-ended run at the Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (between Powell and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $25-29; call (800) 838-3006 or visit (Frank Wortham) Reviewed June 14.

All Wear Bowlers
Berkeley Repertory's Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2949.
Amazing Swindlini Circus and Sideshow
Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St. (at York), 647-2822.
Barber of Seville
War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330.
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), 433-1226.
Big City Improv
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Big Pharma
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Black Nativity
Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter (at Mason), 474-8800.
Brewsie & Willie and Alice's Cookbook
Hotel Rex, 562 Sutter (at Mason), 433-4434.
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
Death of a Salesman
Actors Theatre San Francisco, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 296-9179.
Declaration of Codependence
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor (at Market), 512-7770.
Dream House
Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 989-0023.
Edward Scissorhands
Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 512-7770.
Flora the Red Menace
Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469.
Off-Market Studio, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Ice Glen
Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.
It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play
Actors Theatre San Francisco, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 296-9179.
The Little Foxes
American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228.
Love, Chaos & Dinner
Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 273-1620.
Manon Lescaut
War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330.
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.
Murder Mystery Dinner
The Archbishop's Mansion, 1000 Fulton (at Steiner), 563-7872.
Passing Strange
Berkeley Repertory's Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2949.
SF Playhouse, 536 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.
Rude Boy
Marsh Berkeley, 2118 Allston (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 826-5750.
Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller (at Evergreen), Mill Valley, 388-5208.
This May Feel a Little Funny
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Twelve Days of Cochina
Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079.
Velveteen Rabbit
ODC Theater, 3153 17th St. (at Shotwell), 863-9834.


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