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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Wednesday, Dec 3 2008

Current Nobody. If you're going to rewrite The Odyssey, then Homer's epic should serve as a vital inspiration rather than a literary crutch. Melissa James Gibson's Current Nobody, making its West Coast premiere, is a loose and precious adaptation that carefully avoids a meaningful engagement with its epic predecessor, resorting instead to uninspired glibness and goofiness. Gibson tries to freshen up the original by introducing a few major role reversals: Odysseus ("Od" in this version) stays home in modern-day Ithaca while his wife, Penelope ("Pen"), a photojournalist, travels to war-torn Troy. Then, during her 20-year absence, a parasitic crew of "indie docufilmmakers" invades the house to document Od's grief. In one of the play's least compelling transformations, the filmmakers eventually turn from voyeuristic documentarians into ravenous suitors. One of the major problems here is that Gibson maintains a confused and confusing dynamic between an unambiguously mythological world and a world of shiny, contemporary reality. This scattershot mixing and matching of modern concept with ancient inspiration could've worked if it had been informed by a higher level of clarity and control. But the play's labored attempts at nudge-nudge humor, coupled with its eagerness to gratify audiences' superficial recognition of Homer's greatest hits, ensures that Current Nobody fails to achieve profound or gratifying moments unaided by our memories of the source material. Through Dec. 13 at Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), S.F. $12-$25; 421-1458 or (Chris Jensen) Reviewed Nov. 26.

Evie's Waltz. The Magic Theatre's new artistic director, Loretta Greco, has hit a second solid home run with Evie's Waltz. It takes about half an hour before you realize how enthralling and complex Carter W. Lewis' new drama really is. At first, it seems to be a rather clichéd struggle of ideals between "crazy dangerous" teenager Evie (for whom everything is "lame") and her boyfriend's disconnected suburban parents (everything is better with alcohol and denial), but after the second gunshot, all this changes. Lewis constructs an unrelenting crucible set on the parents' back porch, placing their son (who never appears) up the hill, watching the action through the telescopic sight of a loaded hunting rifle. On one level, Waltz is a multilayered look at family dysfunction in which every character has inflicted painful psychological damage on the others. On another, it's a far-reaching commentary on the highly volatile disconnect between well-meaning parents and the teenage search for identity. The tension between the sarcastic, alcoholic Gloria (Julia Brothers) and her happy-go-lucky, lying husband, Clay (Darren Bridgett), could be a thrilling drama itself, with all the fire of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? But throw in the young, righteous, and destructive Evie (Marielle Heller), and this play explodes into a thought-provoking Columbine-esque Romeo and Juliet. Through Dec. 21 at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D (Marina and Buchanan), S.F. $40-$45; 441-8822 or (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Nov. 26.

The Last Yiddish Poet. To kick off its 30th season, Traveling Jewish Theatre is revisiting one of its first productions, which explores "Yiddish without nostalgia, sentimentality, or trivialization." It focuses on the notion of an archetypal "last" Yiddish poet wandering through an abridged history of the Jewish people, from the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai through the stereotype of the Jewish immigrant to the gassing of the Jews in Lublin, Poland. Even in covering this sometimes somber and troubling history, this play is grounded with a subtle sense of humor and almost magical whimsy — much like the Yiddish language itself. Much of the beauty and resonance of the play, as well as the spoken Yiddish, comes from Aaron Davidman's assured and gentle portrayal of the Poet and Corey Fischer's ominous and tired Nakhman (a historical Hasidic rabbi). The dialogue here, a fervent exchange of ideas woven into a tapestry of Yiddish and English, poetry and song, captures the true essence of this play — a beautiful celebration of a dying language's life and soul. Through Dec. 14 at Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at 17th St.), S.F. $15-$34; call 292-1233 or visit (N.E.) Reviewed Nov. 19.

No Parole. If Pedro Almodóvar ever did a one-man show, it would probably be something like this. No Parole is part self-revelation and part telenovela, telling the outrageous story of Carlo D'Amore's childhood in Peru, immigration to America, and development as a con artist under the eye of his cheerfully unscrupulous mother. D'Amore manically careens between continents and decades, and if he does so with more verve than precision, he still manages to create a generous, vividly imagined world of grand larceny and very poor parenting. The show's best moments occur during the small sequences involving well-drawn minor characters, such as a hilarious bit in which he portrays a volunteer at a gay men's health clinic. He's a little less successful in tracing the broader strokes of his long and complicated relationship with his mother. As a result, the show doesn't quite earn its climactic emotional payoff, with D'Amore's final attempt to connect emotionally with his audience proving a little too trite to be satisfying. On balance, though, No Parole is a fine showcase for a good showman, and the stories he tells will make you wonder why you ever complained about your own weird and horrible childhood. Through Dec. 13 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), S.F. $15-$50; 826-5750 or (C.J.) Reviewed Dec. 3.

The W. Kamau Bell Curve. After the election of Barack Obama, what could an African-American comedian with a gift for uncovering the nuances of race possibly have to say in our obviously post-race society? Well, it turns out W. Kamau Bell has plenty to say in his latest one-man show. In his laid-back, conversational style, he deftly deconstructs the ponytail Michelle Obama sported when she voted on Election Day; how the world would be a better place if the government would curb anonymous Internet postings with the Say It to My Face Act; and the racism inherent in that hipster staple, superskinny jeans. Not all his musings and observations hit the mark. An extended riff on how John McCain is evil not only seems like an easy target (or "so Bay Area," as Bell would say) but also already old news in what is otherwise a very current and thought-provoking show. Bell has no brilliant solutions to share with us about how we can fix race relations for good, but that's one of his main points. For all the power of electing the country's first black president, there are still some racial issues – a lot of racial issues – where there can be no real meeting in the middle. This show encapsulates beautifully how far we all have come, and how far we've yet to go. Through Dec. 13 at Climate, 285 Ninth St. (at Folsom), S.F.; Jan. 6-Feb. 28 at SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $25 (2 for 1 if you bring a friend of a different race); 263-0830 or (Molly Rhodes) Reviewed Nov. 19.

Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party: Abe Lincoln is outed in this Christmas comedy by Aaron Loeb. Continues through Jan. 7. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596,

As Bees in Honey Drown: A young gay writer captures the eye of a mysterious woman in black. Through Dec. 21. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972,

Barry Humphries: The Man Who Is Dame Edna: In conversation with Jan Wahl. Fri., Dec. 5, 11:30 a.m. Commonwealth Club, 595 Market (at Second St.), 597-6701,

Beauty and the Beast: RubberMatchSeriez and Footloose take on the classic. Dec. 5-7. Shotwell Studios, 3252A 19th St. (at Folsom), 289-2000,

A Christmas Carol: The A.C.T.'s celebrated show, directed by Domenique Lozano. Dec. 4-27. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228,

The Golden Girls Christmas Episodes: w/ Heklina, Cookie Dough, Matthew Martin, & Pollo Del Mar. Dec. 4-27, $20, Mama Calizo's Voice Factory, 1519 Mission (at Van Ness), 690-9410,

The Great Puppet Bollywood Extravaganza: The Un-Scripted Theater Company improvises a Bollywood musical. Dec. 4-20. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596,

Magic Holiday: David Hirata's up-close magic show. Dec. 7-29. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750,

Magic Theatre Raw Play Series: Sick by Zayd Dohrn: Mon., Dec. 8, 6 p.m. Commonwealth Club, 595 Market (at Second St.), 597-6701,

Not a Genuine Black Man: Brian Copeland's one-man show returns! Dec. 4-6. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750,

The Phantom of the Opera: Through Jan. 4. Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 512-7770.

Star Wars: Live on Stage!: Dec. 5-27, $20, Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), 401-7987,

Tenderloin Xmas Hustler: W/ Michael Turner, Charli Galindo, Jeremy Estrada, Audra Wolfmann, Andy Pettiit, Raya Light. Dec. 4-27, Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 989-0023.

Wrapping Paper Caper: Liebe Wetzel's Lunatique Fantastique presents a mystery. Dec. 7-Jan. 4. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750,


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