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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Wednesday, Feb 27 2008

Day 19. There's a shroud of mystery around performances of Day 19. There's no phone number to get tickets, only an e-mail address for a gentleman from Poland. The Web site for the Scrap and Salvage theater company profiles the credits of creators James Mulligan (Emerson College theater grad) and Rafal Klopotowski (alum of Dutch experimental theater group Dogtroep), and explains that their brand of performance is "site-specific." This means that each show is completely written and designed only after moving into a random space and getting inspired. One past show was performed on a cargo ship. Day 19's venue is behind a black unmarked door on Kearny, a block from Larry Flynt's Hustler Club. It used to be a hardware store and now feels more like a construction site. Before the performance, Klopotowski explains this show was created in less than a month and is still evolving. The results are varied. For a quick 30 minutes, 16 audience members witness bubblewrap sailboats, romantic dancing with light fixtures, and a head that pops up through the floor to eat carrots and scream. These unconnected moments are wonderfully underscored by shadowy figures playing cello, ukulele, and thumb piano. It certainly is a unique theatrical experience (think perhaps early Blue Man Group), but Day 19 feels too much like a very rough sketch of a show rather than a completed vision. Through March 1 at Mysterious Black Door, 809 Kearny (at Washington), S.F. Tickets are $10; e-mail (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Feb. 20.

Gone. When all the theatrical elements come together, Crowded Fire's production of Charles L. Mee's jagged riff on the state of human nature is truly something to behold. Jarrod Fischer's lighting, Rod Hipskind's set, Cliff Caruthers' sound, and Marissa Wolf's directing create beautiful, miniature worlds that you can't help but be drawn into — such as a breakup structured around the sound of a boiling electric teakettle and lit by a table lamp. It's frustrating that all these little compelling worlds never seem to add up to something whole, remaining a collection of disparate ruminations Mee culled from various found texts, including his own previous plays. But perhaps for Mee this state of disunity is the point, a mirror to the broken images and mashed-up language that comprise our actual lives. So, hey, why not combine a rousing country music number with a dense passage of Proust? While there are times in this 85-minute production when our eyes glaze over and our minds drift, there are also moments when we are given that rare theatrical gift: total immersion in a strange, unfamiliar place that shows us something true about our human selves. Through March 2 at SF Playhouse II, 533 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $15-$25; call 255-7846 or visit (Molly Rhodes) Reviewed Feb. 20.

Shopping! The Musical. The world is made up of two kinds of people — those who like musical revues and those who really, really don't. Writer and director Morris Bobrow's original compilation of song and skits is unlikely to convert anyone, but its 80 minutes are filled with plenty of amusing harmonized insights into everyone's favorite pastime. Who hasn't gritted their teeth at the quasi-ethnic knickknacks at street fairs? And, yeah, what exactly are handling fees? The evening could do with more variety of musical and performance styles; it falls back too often on the softly building show tune and the big-eyed, winking delivery. But as they enter the third year of their run in March, Bobrow and his cast and crew have honed an enjoyable formula that keeps you smiling — if not always singing — along. Ongoing at the Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $27-$29; call 392-8860 or visit (M.R.) Reviewed Jan. 2.

Sonny's Blues. James Baldwin's short story "Sonny's Blues" uses music as a prism through which to explore issues surrounding cultural roots and race. When the nameless narrator, an upstanding schoolteacher and family man, finds out that his younger brother Sonny, a jazz pianist, has been apprehended by the cops for dealing and using heroin, memories of his own past rush back. The narrator's reminiscences coupled with his evolving relationship with Sonny lead him to acknowledge the "blues" in his own life — and the darkness in society at large — that he had for so long ignored or suppressed. Despite featuring an original score by local jazz luminary Marcus Shelby, Word for Word and the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre's verbatim staging of the story suffers from a lack of musicality. Instead of creating tension or otherwise contributing new layers of meaning to the story, the score rarely performs any function other than setting a mood. It doesn't help that the music is recorded rather than played live and that actor Da'Mon Vann, as Sonny, is forced to act as though he's pouring out his soul in some smoky Greenwich Village speakeasy by caressing the surface of a beat-up table. Ultimately, the musicality of Sonny's Blues is right there in Baldwin's words. The staging serves only to impede our ability to hear it. Through March 8 at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $22-$36; call 474-8800 or visit (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Feb. 20.

Also Playing

Actors Reading Writers: Popular local actors read modern and classic short stories. First Monday of every month, 7:30 p.m., free. Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.

Artists Development Lab: Staged readings of works in progress, including The Dalai Lama Doesn't Need a Face Lift. Tue., March 4, 7:30 p.m. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750,

Ashes to Ashes and Afterplay: One-act plays by two of the theater's greatest living writers, Harold Pinter and Brian Friel, explore characters who struggle to understand the past in order to shape their futures. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 1, $20. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847,

The Bacchae: One of Euripides' last works, written just before his death in 406 B.C. Feb. 29-March 9. Zellerbach Playhouse, Bancroft & Telegraph (UC Berkeley campus), Berkeley, 510-642-9988.

BATS: Sunday Players: Each week Bay Area Theatresports players pit their improv work against all comers as the audience votes them off one by one. Sundays, 8 p.m., $8, Fort Mason, Bldg. B (Marina and Buchanan), 474-6776.

Beach Blanket Babylon: A North Beach perennial featuring crazy hats, media personality caricatures, a splash of romance, and little substance. Fridays, Saturdays, 7 & 10 p.m.; Wednesdays, Thursdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 4 p.m., $25-$65, Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.

Big City Improv: Actors take audience suggestions and create comedy from nothing. Fridays, 10 p.m., $15, Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226,

Blade to the Heat: Through March 16, 8 p.m., $15-$30. The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 401-8081.

Blood Knot: A drama by Athol Fugard, directed by Charles Randolph-Wright. Through March 9. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228,

Come Home: Jovelyn Richards' solo play about 26 black soldiers in WWII. Through March 8. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750,

Coronado: A drama by Dennis Lehane. Through March 8. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596,

Curvy Widow: Cybill Shepherd's solo show. Through March 9. Post Street Theatre, 450 Post (at Mason), 321-2900,

Endgame: Absurdist masterpiece by Samuel Beckett, directed by Rob Melrose and produced by Cutting Ball Theater. Through March 16, $15-$30. Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 285-8282.

I Am My Own Wife: Andrew Nance shoulders the job of portraying Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a gay transvestite furniture collector who lived through the Nazi and Communist regimes in Berlin. Through March 2, 8 p.m., $22-$34. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972,

Insignificant Others: L. Jay Kuo's musical, directed by George Quick, about five friends who move to San Francisco from the Midwest. Daily, Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (at Embarcadero).

Love, Chaos & Dinner: A blend of European cabaret, circus arts, and original music with a five-course gourmet dinner. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 6 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m., $99-$125, Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 273-1620.

Luv: A comedy that takes place on a suspension bridge, where three friends battle existential woes. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 5. Actors Theatre San Francisco, 855 Bush (at Taylor), 345-1287.

Man of La Mancha: Musical based on Miguel de Cervantes' classic. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through March 16. Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic (at Locust), Walnut Creek, 925-943-7469,

Monday Night Marsh: Each week a different lineup of musicians, actors, performance artists, and others takes the stage; see for a lineup of future shows. Mondays, $7. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750,

Murder Mystery Dinner: A dinner that begins with detectives gathering to split $5 million in royalties from their latest book. Includes fruit and cheese reception and three-course dinner. One Saturday a month. Call for specific date. Saturdays, 6 p.m., $95, Queen Anne Hotel, 1590 Sutter (at Octavia), 441-2828.

Nixon's Nixon: A play about the late-night meeting between Nixon and Kissinger the night before the president's resignation. Through March 1. Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic (at Locust), Walnut Creek, 925-943-7469,

Doors and Mirrors: A PlayWorks Productions night of song, dance, theater, and video. Starting Feb. 29, Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through March 1. Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa (at Florida), 621-7978.

Over 9 Waves: Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 1, $15. Climate Theater, 285 Ninth St. (at Folsom), 263-0830.

Satellites: Playwright Diana Son raises challenging issues about parenting, racial identity, and community. Through March 2. Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-843-4822,

A Secret for Next Sunday: Fridays-Sundays. Continues through March 9. The Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush),

Serve by Expiration: A comedy by Thunderbird Theatre Company. Starting Feb. 28, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 15, $15-$20. Exit Theatre on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), 673-3847.

Shawl: A drama by David Mamet, directed by Libby O'Connell. Through March 1, $10-$12. Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079,

Teatro ZinZanni: A bewitching evening of European cabaret, cirque arts, theatrical spectacle, and original live music, all blended with a five-course gourmet dinner, set in the nightclub of your dreams. Current show is The Royale Invitation. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 6 p.m., $116-$140, 438-2668, Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 273-1620.

Ten Commandments: Live: Sat., March 1, 8 p.m., $15. Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), 401-7987,

Tir Na Nog: A dynamically theatrical adaptation of Edna O'Brien's acclaimed novel, The Country Girls. Through March 23. Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D (Marina and Buchanan), 441-8822,

Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding: Be a part of the wedding reception at this interactive show. Thursdays-Saturdays, Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero).

Walkin' Talkin' Bill Hawkins ... In Search of My Father: Through March 2, $15-$20. African American Art and Cultural Complex Center, 762 Fulton (at Webster), 394-5854,

Wishful Drinking: Carrie Fisher's acclaimed solo show. Through March 30. Berkeley Repertory School of Theatre, 2071 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2972,


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