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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Wednesday, Apr 9 2008
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Coronado. Dennis Lehane is the current go-to guy for gritty drama soaked in family tragedy. He wrote books that were adapted for the screen for Ben Affleck's Gone Baby Gone and Clint Eastwood's Mystic River. In 2004, he joined the writing staff of The Wire, HBO's brilliant and critically lauded crime drama. As for his theater work, Lehane wastes no time getting down and dirty. Within the first five minutes of Coronado, we're drawn into a world of missing diamonds, bullets to the head, blackmail, and murder. On an absolutely stellar set (with SF Playhouse artistic director Bill English doing double duty as set designer and actor) depicting a rundown bar on the edge of a desert, a group of stories unwind and intertwine, linking each character to a heady world of adultery and deception. Stacy Ross is electric as a woman trying to forget her past ("There are worse crimes than murder") while simultaneously blackmailing and carrying on an affair with her therapist. Lehane's script and Susi Damilano's direction give this production a slick, sexy cinematic vibe but don't ignore the haunting undercurrent of transgression and regret. At its dark, twisted heart, Coronado is a reflection of the crossroads we encounter, the (sometimes disastrous) choices we make, and the regret we're forced to live with. This is heavy stuff, but this skillful production makes it all eminently pleasurable to watch. Through April 26 at SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $20-$65; call 677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed April 2.

Mrs. Warren's Profession. Approaching the plays of George Bernard Shaw as if they were typical 19th-century drawing-room dramas is like tying a lead weight to your foot before jumping in the pool. Sure, your swimming or theatrical talents might eventually get you to the other side, but the journey won't be nearly as enjoyable as it could be. Alas, such is the case with Shotgun Players' production of Shaw's rumination on the ups and downs of the world's oldest profession. Aside from some nice half-doors, director Susannah Martin and set designer Steve Decker's faithful detailing of the nooks and crannies of the Warren summer home adds little to the drama, and a lot in the way of obstacles and cumbersome rotating pieces to hamper the action. Martin gets good work from her actors, who are mostly game and do their best to liven up the piece. Emily Jordan as Vivie Warren and Joseph O'Malley as her would-be lover Frank are particularly winsome, embracing Shaw's language and rhetoric with gusto. But ultimately the production, weighed down by its devotion to the drawing-room style the playwright himself was subverting, never lets Shaw's intellectual flights of fancy get off the theatrical ground. Through April 27 at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at Martin Luther King Jr.), Berkeley. Tickets are $17-$25; call 510-841-6500 or visit www.shotgunplayers.org. (Molly Rhodes) Reviewed April 2.

Tings Dey Happen. Based on his experiences as a Fulbright Scholar studying oil politics in Nigeria (American's fifth-biggest oil supplier), solo performer Dan Hoyle drills deep beneath the surface of media hype and NGO cant to help us understand the forces at work behind the oil-rich country's escalating cycle of corruption and violence. On his journey backward and forward between Nigeria's oil capital, Port Harcourt, and the lawless hinterlands of the Niger Delta, Hoyle — with acute attention to physical detail (and an ear for pidgin) — embodies a soft-spoken, 23-year-old rebel sniper whose chief desire is to obtain a university degree; a warlord armed with four cellphones and a family photo album, like Marlon Brando in The Godfather; and a nerdy Japanese member of the Young Diplomats Club in Lagos working on a thesis about the Tanzanian cashew nut, among many others. Like Anna Deavere Smith, one of the most famous practitioners of this style of show, Hoyle takes a journalistic approach. But unlike Smith, whose slavish impersonation of the speech nuances of her interviewees seems more stenography than artistry, Hoyle filters his Nigerian experience through his vivid imagination, creating full-blooded characters that are as theatrical as they are real. Through April 19 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 21st St.), S.F. Tickets are $15-$22; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 10, 2007.

TRAGEDY: a tragedy. New York playwright Will Eno explores the dislocation between the words used to describe dark events and the dark events themselves with characteristic delicacy and depth in this heady 2001 play. On the surface, the 75-minute drama appears to be a guffaw-inducing satire on media ineptitude, as a network news anchor and three reporters struggle to spin headlines out of little more than a change in the quality of light and an amorphous sense of malaise. But as Les Waters' stylishly minimalist American premiere of Eno's drama for Berkeley Rep reveals, a news report about an event as seemingly unnewsworthy as the day turning to night is symptomatic of something much more disturbing: humanity's inability to itself express through words, let alone come to terms with, its self-destructive streak. It's tragic that it's taken the better part of a decade for TRAGEDY: a tragedy to receive an American production. The drama's message would have carried a special significance in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the advent of the War on Terror. Through April 13 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Tickets are $13.50-$69; call 510-647 2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org. (C.V.) Reviewed April 2.

Wishful Drinking. Carrie Fisher's solo show feels less like a play and more like cocktails over at her house. Within five minutes, Fisher has kicked off her shoes, poured herself a massive glass of Diet Coke, lit a clove cigarette, and asked the audience if they have any questions. While obviously there's a scripted tale to be told about her life in and out of rehab and the tabloids, Fisher has a generous personality and clearly enjoys plenty of audience interaction. On a beautifully designed living room set by Alexander V. Nichols, images and bits of film are projected to accompany her tumultuous life. Fisher was the celebrity spawn of 1950s teen idols Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, and, as many know from her book Postcards from the Edge, she had quite an affinity for drugs ("Some say religion is the opiate of the masses, but for me, I took opiates religiously"). The Star Wars segment will seem all too brief for fans, but is highlighted with George Lucas' declaration that there is no underwear in space. Her marriage to Paul Simon is absorbing (who knew that much of his album Rhythm of the Saints was all about her?), but this play is rooted solidly in her diagnosis as a manic-depressive. Some segments border on self-indulgence, and 30 minutes could easily be trimmed, but it is undeniably appealing watching Fisher expose the beautiful and ugly bits of her life with such a big heart. Through April 12 at Berkeley Rep, 2015 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Tickets are $16.50-$59; call 510-647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org. (N.E.) Reviewed March 12.

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 until the winner stands alone on the stage. Sundays, 8 p.m., $8, www.improv.org. 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. $25-$65, www.beachblanketbabylon.com. Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.

The Better Half: The U.S. premiere of a lost Noel Coward play. Through May 3, 8 p.m., $20-$69. The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 248-1900, www.hypnodrome.com.

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

Comedy of Errors: Presented by the African-American Shakespeare Company. Through April 13, $20-$25, www.african-americanshakes.org. African American Art and Cultural Complex Center, 762 Fulton (at Webster), 394-5854.

DIVAfest: Plays and performances by women artists. Starting April 11, Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through April 26. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847, www.sffringe.org.

The Emperor's New Clothes: Active Arts Theatre for Young Audiences presents Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's musical. April 12-27. Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College (at Derby), Berkeley, 510-845-8542, www.juliamorgan.org.

Future Me: Stephen Brown's drama about an unforgivable crime. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through May 4. Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.

The Government Inspector: Nikolai Gogol's play plays out in a backwater Russian village, where government leaders and local cronies are willing to give a visiting official money, women, and whatever else he wants — just as long as he gives them a good report back at the capital. Through April 20. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228, www.act-sfbay.org.

hotshot: Terrence Beswick's drama about men and their obsessions: sex, love, and crystal meth. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 26, $10-$15, www.guerrillarep.org. Mama Calizo's Voice Factory, 1519 Mission (at Van Ness), 690-9410, www.voicefactorysf.org.

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

Manners and Civility: A psychological drama of kidnapping and morality by Nick Olivero. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through April 12. Boxcar Playhouse, 505 Natoma (at Sixth St.), 776-1747, wwwboxcartheatre.org.

Medea: Euripides' drama, directed by Phyllis Holliday and produced by RubberMatchSeriez. Starting April 11, Fridays-Sundays. Continues through April 20. St. Boniface Church Theater, 133 Golden Gate (at Leavenworth).

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

Murder Mystery Dinner: A murder mystery 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, www.incentivestointrigue.com. Queen Anne Hotel, 1590 Sutter (at Octavia), 441-2828.

The Pandora Experiment: A "slightly creepy" show by award-winning magician and illusionist Christian Cagigal. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 12, $12-$20, www.sffringe.org. Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy (between Taylor & Mason), 673-3847.

Point Break LIVE!: Stage adaptation of the 1992 Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze blockbuster. Starting April 11, Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through May 1. Xenodrome, 1320 Potrero (at 25th St.), 285-9366, www.xenodrome.com.

Riches: Lee Blessing's drama about a marriage that goes wrong. Through April 27. Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 989-0023.

School for Scandal: A spirited comedy by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, directed by John Hull. April 10-12. Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469, www.eurekatheatre.org.

Student Gypsy: Rick Besoyan's spoof, described as "a Romberg operetta crossed with a zany Marx Brothers farce." Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through April 13. Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469, www.eurekatheatre.org.

Talk Show Live SF: Second Monday of every month, 8 p.m., $15, www.talkshowsf.com. The Purple Onion, 140 Columbus (at Pacific), 217-8400.

Target Teen One-Acts Festival: Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through April 12. Berkeley Repertory School of Theatre, 2071 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2972, www.berkeleyrep.org.

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 À La Folie, starring Liliane Montevecchi as Madame ZinZanni. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 6 p.m., $116-$140, 438-2668, www.zinzanni.org. Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery).

Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding: Be a part of the wedding reception at this interactive show. Thursdays-Saturdays, www.pier39shows.com. Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero).

Twilight Zone: The Plays, Season V: Through April 20, 8 p.m., $15. Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), 401-7987, www.darkroomsf.com.

Whistle Down the Wind: Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical about a stranger claiming to be Jesus Christ. Through April 20. Curran Theatre, 445 Geary (at Taylor), 551-2000.

Xerxes: Opera about the private life of the king of Persia. Through April 12. de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden (at JFK), 863-3330, www.thinker.org.

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