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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Wednesday, Dec 10 2008

The America Play. Set in "an exact replica of the Great Hole of History" — a Beckettian nowhere land — Suzan-Lori Parks' 1993 play centers on the legacy of a black gravedigger ("The Foundling Father") who considers himself to be a dead ringer for Abraham Lincoln. When we first meet the Foundling Father (played with comedic gravitas by Rhonnie Washington, reprising his role from Thick Description's original 1994 production at Theatre Artaud) he's stopped digging graves and, somewhat improbably, forged a career for himself as a professional impersonator of America's 16th president. Donning a fake beard, frock coat and stovepipe hat, the man sits in a chair telling his life story. Now and then, passersby interrupt his narrative. In exchange for pennies, the visitors pick up phony guns and, re-creating Lincoln's assassination scene at Ford's Theatre, enthusiastically pretend to shoot the fake Lincoln in the head. Through Dec. 14 at the Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), S.F. $15-$30; 401-8081 or (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Dec. 3.

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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

2008 Hybrid Festival of New Works: Hip-hop theater, presented by Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Dec. 11-20. Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th St.), 626-3311,

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

As Bees in Honey Drown: In this drama by Douglas Carter Beane, 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,

Ben Franklin in Paris: A musical by Sidney Michaels concerning Franklin's forays in France. Through Dec. 14. Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469,

Cinderella: Presented by the African-American Shakespeare Company. Dec. 13-28, Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 820-3320.

Empire Builders: A drama by Boris Vian about a family on the run from a loud noise. Dec. 12-21. Boxcar Playhouse, 505 Natoma (at Sixth St.), 776-1747,

The Great Broadway Sing-Along: Prepare your pipes. Thu., Dec. 11, 8 p.m., $22-$25. Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California (at Presidio), 292-1200,

Magic Theatre Raw Play Series: Whispers from the Book of Etiquette by Claire Chafee: A script-in-hand reading. Mon., Dec. 15, 6 p.m. Commonwealth Club, 595 Market (at Second St.), 597-6701,

Mr. YooWho's Holiday: Moshe Cohen clowns around. Dec. 12-28. Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa (at Florida), 621-7978.

The Nutcracker: The Tchaikovsky classic, performed by San Francisco Ballet. Dec. 11-28. War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330,

The Phantom of the Opera: The famous musical, directed by Harold Prince. Through Jan. 4. Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 512-7770.

Love Is Free: The Queer Girl Theatre Project presents a multidisciplinary look at same-sex marriage. Sat., Dec. 13, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 14, 7:30 p.m. The Garage, 975 Howard (at Sixth St.), 289-2000.

Red Christmas: Drag with Katya Smirnoff-Skyy. Through Dec. 20. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972,

The Rhino Christmas Panto: Christmas gets queer treatment. Through Dec. 21. Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079,

Tenderloin Christmas Hustler: A musical mash-up of holiday classics. Through Dec. 27, Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 989-0023.

The Velveteen Rabbit: The beloved holiday classic about a well-worn stuffed bunny is performed by ODC/Dance. Through Dec. 14, $12-$45. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Novellus Theater, 700 Howard (at Third St.), 978-2787,


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