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Our critics weigh in on local theater


Anna Bella Eema. Obie Award-winning playwright Lisa D'Amour's trailer-park gothic about a mother, daughter, and a girl made of dust is arresting and mesmerizing. One portion of the show has daughter (Anna Bella) asleep for five days after getting her first period. While mother (Irena) and the dust girl (Anna Bella Eema) wait for her to wake up, Anna Bella goes on a five-day journey where she is led by a series of animal guides that includes a toothless raccoon called Dirty Louie and a blind owl in a rowboat with a cat on its shoulders. Over these five days Irena has barricaded them inside while police and construction workers surround their home. Ultimately, Anna Bella Eema is a story about adaptability, love, and survival. Director Rebecca Novick displays a clear vision with this difficult piece, and the actors and designers do a tremendous job of bringing that vision to life. After every performance, there is "fireside chat" with artistic director Kent Nicholson and the cast, which I highly recommend attending. This show needs and deserves the time to sink in. Through July 15 at Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at Martin Luther King Way), Berkeley. General admission is $20; students, seniors, and TBA members $10. Call 439-2456 or visit Reviewed July 4. (N.D.)

Impact Briefs 8: Sinfully Delicious. What makes Impact Theatre and La Val's Pizza such a great combination is that they don't try to pretend they're something they're not: La Val's isn't going to blow your taste buds away, and Impact isn't focused on the subtle nuances of the human condition. What they can offer you is solid grub and genuinely broad laughs, served up this time in the guise of six short plays from seasoned writers around the country about the various sins of the flesh. Actor Leon Goertzen is particularly adept at embracing the many zany situations and milking the audience's reactions for all they're worth. But even if some moments fall flat, the "premium" beer never does; and, hey, a pitcher costs less than 10 bucks. Add in above-average comedic writing, saucy burlesque dancers, and a group of your rowdiest friends, and really, for 90 minutes of weekend entertainment, what more do you need? Through July 21 at La Val's Subterranean (in the basement below the pizzeria), 1834 Euclid Ave., Berkeley. Tickets are $10-15; call 510-464-4468 or visit Reviewed July 4. (M.R.)

Legends. The first run of Legends in the mid-1980s led playwright James Kirkwood to write the book Diary of a Mad Playwright about the experience. The original production starred Carol Channing as Sylvia Glenn and Mary Martin as Leatrice Monsee, a duo of past-their-prime rival divas, and was fraught with trouble from the dueling egos of the stars to the bad press the show received. Critics panned Kirkwood's choice to make the two African-American characters the maid and the stripper, respectively. Sylvia Glenn at one point in the first act tells her maid Aretha, "Why don't you go pick some cotton." While NCTC's production does ameliorate the racial offensiveness of the original production by casting two African-American actresses in the lead roles, it doesn't fix the script, which is full of campy dialogue that no amount of slapstick can make funny. The casting is the best part of this show: Dorsey Dyer is wonderful playing Boom Boom as a Bambi-esque Chippendale's dancer, and Gloria Belle does what she can with Aretha. P.A. Cooley is a bit over the top as the scheming producer, Martin Klemmer, trying to trick the two divas into co-starring in a stage version of Star Wars that will hopefully save all three from financial ruin. The biggest problem with this production is the play itself, which really should have died after its perilous 1986 run. Through July 14 at the New Conservatory Theatre Centre, 25 Van Ness (at Market), S.F. Tickets are $22-$40 ( $15 for students); call 861-8972 or visit Reviewed June 13. (N.D.)

The Pandora Experiment. For Christian Cagigal's newest magic show, the audience is not so much a subject of clinical study as an object of affection. Cagigal stands on a living room rug counting audience members with his stage manager before stepping off and moments later re-emerging transformed to guide us through "the experiment." Cagigal uses antique objects that are well-worn, simple, and accessible; two music boxes with haunting chimes, small chests with the treasures of a child inside. A doll of porcelain and papier-mâché gazes soulfully throughout and feels as real as any of us. Cagigal's performance takes the audience beyond just the willing suspension of disbelief and into another place in time where magic is not the work of an illusionist or performer but exists in creaky wooden boxes found in a grandparent's attic. The set and lighting underscore Cagigal's creation by producing an ethereal beauty. His staging and sensitivity as he plays with his audience conveys a level of safety and trust so as to not to make viewers feel duped, but included in the magic. What does The Pandora Experiment reveal? Above all else: imagination. Through July 28 at the Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy St. (between Mason and Taylor), S.F. Tickets are $12-$20; call 673-3847 or visit Reviewed June 20. (N.D.)

"Song of Myself." It's easy to lump Walt Whitman in with all those other 19th-century writers who mistook themselves for invisible eyeballs and meandered aimlessly through the woods reciting passages from the Bhagavad Gita. But if anyone can talk us into reclaiming the American bard, it's John O'Keefe. The playwright/performer's abbreviated version of "Song of Myself" — Whitman's fecund ode to the pleasures of loafing — is an art song in spoken form. Poised halfway between being a straight recitation and an imaginative interpretation of Whitman's poem, the performance plays with our intellect and emotions like an intoxicating piece of music. From the euphoric whoop of the opening line to the melting breath of the final thought as it dissolves into darkness, O'Keefe takes us through many keys, both major and minor, as he explores Whitman's universe. At times, the poem races hectically forward, the performer lurching after the words like someone fielding simultaneous calls on a cellphone. Elsewhere during the performance, the mood is more reflective. O'Keefe cozies up to individual audience members, creating a bond of intimacy with us through Whitman's words. The poet's erratic, stream-of-consciousness style may be easier to digest while reading privately than while listening to someone recite his lines out loud. But thanks to the vitality and variety of O'Keefe's approach, it doesn't take much for us to feel a sense of affinity for Whitman's celebration of himself. Extended through July 28 at the Marsh San Francisco, 1062 Valencia St. (between 21st and 22nd sts.), S.F. Tickets are $15-25; call 1-800-838-3006 or visit Reviewed June 13. (C.V.)

2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter's Night
Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter (at Mason), 474-8800.
The Custom Stage, 965 Mission St. (at sixth), 838-3006.
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.
Big City Improv
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Catskills on Broadway
Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California (at Presidio), 292-1200.
Cowboy vs. Samurai
The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 401-8081.
The Elephant Man
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro (at Mercy), Mountain View, 650-903-6000.
San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio (at South Third St.), San Jose, 408-367-7255.
Faultline Festival
New College, 777 Valencia (at 19th St.), 437-3465.
Off-Market Studio, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Glengarry Glen Ross
Actors Theatre San Francisco, 855 Bush (at Taylor), 345-1287.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
The Gravedigger's Tango
Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 285-8282.
How We First Met
Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero).
Improv Revolution
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Insignificant Others
Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 820-3320.
Kiki & Herb: Alive From Broadway
American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228.
Love, Chaos & Dinner
Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 273-1620.
Man of La Mancha
SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.
Marcovicci Sings Rodgers and Hart
Empire Plush Room, York Hotel, 940 Sutter (at Hyde), 885-2800.
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.
My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish & I'm in Therapy
Marines Memorial Theater, 609 Sutter (at Mason), 771-6900.
No Parole
SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.
The Robber Bridegroom
Mama Calizo's Voice Factory, 1519 Mission (at Van Ness), 994-3823.
Romeo and Juliet
John Hinkel Park, Southampton (between San Diego and Somerset), Berkeley, 510-420-0813.
San Francisco Improv Festival
Buriel Clay Theater, 762 Fulton (at Webster), 922-2049.
San Francisco Treasure Benefit
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Shopping! The Musical
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Special Forces
Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079.
A Streetcar Named Desire
Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 800-838-3006.
The Taming of the Shrew
Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 441-8822.
Teatro ZinZanni
Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 438-2668.
West Side Story
Woodminster Amphitheater, 3300 Joaquin Miller (at Highway 13), Oakland, 510-531-9597.


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