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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Big Pharma. Jennifer Berry takes exception to the fun and smiley television advertisements for antidepressants that feature women riding horses, running through grassy fields, and laughing while holding their adoring children. The first character Berry inhabits in her new solo show bashing these shameless ads is an unapologetic psycho-pharmaceutical ad executive blithely explaining the unsavory facts. With an annual budget of $120 million, she explains, drug companies are skipping the doctors and appealing directly to their target markets: children, minorities, and new mothers — with their biggest customers being women in their 30s. As a member of that last category, Berry depicts firsthand the fallout within her generation. While photographs of friends appear behind her, Berry deftly inhabits and portrays the distant, forgetful, and passionless people her loved ones have become after taking prescriptions of Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft. The message is frightening and sad, but one-sided. Because Berry chooses to tell only the terrible downside to these drugs, avoiding any success stories, her otherwise competent performance is shrouded in a depressive gloom, making the evening seem more like a personal vendetta than a compellingly thought-out argument. Through Dec. 10 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (between 21st and 22nd sts.), S.F. Tickets are $15-22; call 826-5750 or visit (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Nov. 22.

Edward Scissorhands. From his controversial Swan Lake (featuring male dancers as swans) to his adaptation of Bizet's Carmen (entitled Car Man), British choreographer Matthew Bourne has earned an international reputation as a creator of loving lampoons of other artists' work. But in his Broadway-bound dance theater adaptation of Tim Burton's 1990 movie Edward Scissorhands, the choreographer's goofy, imitative style chafes against Burton's sinister fairytale concerning an insular, middle-American community's complex relationship with the "physically handicapped" Edward (an artificial human being with scissors where his fingers should be). The production is visually playful, musically evocative, and expressively performed by the members of the original London cast. But in recounting the story of Edward's adoption by the kindly Boggs family and his subsequent fortunes in the town of Hope Springs, the comedy mostly lurches between inane pastiche (such as the derivative use of rock 'n' roll steps to evoke the 1950s spirit) and (in the case of a scene that, out of context, would serve as a lively spoof of Michael Jackson's Thriller video) unintentional parody. Through Dec. 10 at Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), S.F. Tickets are $35-90; call 512-7770 or visit (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Nov. 29.

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.

Reckless. It's Christmas Eve, and Rachel, a loving mother and wife, has just discovered that her husband has taken a contract out on her life. This realization causes her to step out the window — literally — and into a new life, where the only permanence is impermanence and "home" is wherever she can find it. Reckless examines the nature of identity: What happens to someone whose life is defined by family when she loses that family? Playwright Craig Lucas examines how we construct our sense of self in a series of rapid-fire, increasingly surreal scenes with the soft, psychoanalytic feel of Marc Chagall paintings. Bill English's pastel set and Jon Retsky's dreamlike lighting help illuminate Lucas' themes and tell the story of Rachel's yearlong journey. The cast is strong and clearly believes in the script. Mark LaRiviere, playing both Rachel's husband and her son, brings a convincing, angsty charisma to the stage. Rod Gnapp reveals impressive technical excellence and adds subtle emotional layering to Lloyd, a stranger who becomes an adopted father figure. Susi Damilano, as Rachel, is both attractive and compelling, finding truth in all the shades of her character and reminding us that wisdom often lies just on the other side of hardship. Reckless is a holiday treat. Through Dec. 30 at S.F. Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $18-60; call 677-9596 or visit (Frank Wortham) Reviewed Nov. 22.

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.

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.
Black Nativity
Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter (at Mason), 474-8800.
A Christmas Carol
American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228.
Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 820-3320.
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.
Festival of Lights
Cowell Theater, Herbst Pavilion, Fort Mason (Marina & Buchanan), 345-7575.
Off-Market Studio, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
It Could Have Been A Wonderful Life
Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 989-0023.
It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play
Actors Theatre San Francisco, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 296-9179.
Jersey Boys
Curran Theatre, 445 Geary (between Taylor and Mason), 551-2000.
Luminescence Dating
Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 441-8822.
Magic Holiday
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
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 Marsh
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Murder Mystery Dinner
The Archbishop's Mansion, 1000 Fulton (at Steiner), 563-7872.
Queer Carol
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
The Santaland Diaries
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Strip World
Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.
Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller (at Evergreen), Mill Valley, 388-5208.
Trimming the Holidays: The Second Annual Shorts Project
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Twelve Days of Cochina
Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079.
Two Gentlemen of Sonoma
Eureka Valley Recreation Center, 100 Collingwood (at 18th St.), 831-6810.
Velveteen Rabbit
ODC Theater, 3153 17th St. (at Shotwell), 863-9834.
A Very Brechty X-Mas
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
"Viva Variety"
Buriel Clay Theater, 762 Fulton (at Webster), for more information call 863-0741.
White Ash on Water
Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa (at Florida), 621-7978.


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