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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Wednesday, Dec 24 2008

The American Dream. There's a definite absurdist quality to Boxcar Theatre's production of Edward Albee's The American Dream. Artistic directors Peter Matthews and Nick Olivero originally wanted to perform it in the living-room section of an IKEA store. Instead, they opted to cram four actors and 16 audience members into actual living rooms throughout San Francisco. The night I attended was at "Carol's House," and the stools were uncomfortable, elbow room was nonexistent, and the actors were practically sitting on my lap. Perhaps it's apropos staging for Albee's off-kilter absurdist drama that is an unsympathetic examination of the modern human condition, attacking complacency and artificial values. Written in 1960, Dream introduces us to a perfect American family with characters named simply Mommy, Daddy, and Grandma, but soon a nightmarish undercurrent kicks in, with allusions to a dead and mutilated son. The script feels like an awkward attempt to get at themes (cruelty, emasculation, resentment) Albee covers with much more impact in his 1962 follow-up, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Boxcar's unique staging offers audiences an inspired, voyeuristic look into family dysfunction, but fails to establish itself as a drama or comedy. This lack of cohesive tone leaves us ungrounded in Albee's absurd reality. Through Dec. 20 at rotating S.F. locations. $25; call 776-1747 or visit (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Dec. 10.

The Arabian Nights. Mary Zimmerman's theatrical retelling of narratives from the ancient Middle Eastern story cycle also popularly known as The Thousand and One Nights is all about the power of riveting stories to bring the hidden to light and resuscitate long-dormant truths in society. Concealment is a running theme throughout. It's there in the main plot concerning the ruthless King Shahryar, who, in revenge at having caught his wife in the arms of another man, vows to murder every virgin in the land. But the wily Scheherezade manages to staunch his bloodlust by telling him a series of incredible stories that distract him from killing her. Eventually, Scheherezade helps the king rediscover his buried compassion. With the help of dozens of brightly colored Persian rugs, a canopy of hanging lanterns, and 15 versatile ensemble performers who match vivid characterizations with flamboyant musical, dancing, improvisational comedy, and storytelling skills, Zimmerman creates a multilayered world. This visually and intellectually captivating production reveals a deep connection between a civilization and its heritage, no matter how buried beneath the sands of war-torn time that cultural legacy might be. However, as universal as Zimmerman's approach to her material appears on the surface, its political subtext, concerning the imminent destruction of the Middle East, feels passé. Through Jan. 18 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Tickets are $13.50-$71; call 510- 647-2949 or visit (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Dec. 10.

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 Great Puppet Bollywood Extravaganza. An idea brimming with as much ambition as wackiness never jells in this latest offering from the Un-Scripted Theater Company. True, the show changes every night — that's kind of the thrill of a completely improvised two-hour Bollywood-style puppet musical comedy. But the uneven improv instincts of some of the performers, who fall back on pensive silence or who lack the chops for the intricate Indian singing style, doesn't bode well for any location and theme audiences might throw at them. There will still likely be some great moments of puppet comic relief — you might get treated to a romantic lead who looks like a mop with eyeballs, or a slo-mo invisible sword fight. And you'll be impressed with how the cast and director Mandy Khoshnevisan have created a coherent and even surprisingly touching story by night's end. But the group brought together for this show has yet to find the rhythm and punch needed to make the whole night sing. Through Dec. 20 at SF Playhouse, Stage 2, 533 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. $10-$20; call 869-5384 or visit (Molly Rhodes) Reviewed Dec. 10.

2008 Hybrid Festival of New Works: Hip-hop theater, presented by Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Through Dec. 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. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Continues 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,

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

Cinderella: Presented by the African-American Shakespeare Company. Saturdays, Sundays. Through Dec. 28, $20-$25, 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. Through Dec. 21. Boxcar Playhouse, 505 Natoma (at Sixth St.), 776-1747,

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

I Am Snowmiser: Walken in a Winter Wonderland: Through Dec. 20, 10 p.m., $15-$20. Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), 401-7987,

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

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

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

Now and Then: San Francisco Ballet's Nutcracker: A behind-the-scenes look at the holiday show. Thu., Dec. 18, 6 p.m. Commonwealth Club, 595 Market (at Second St.), 597-6701,

The Nutcracker: Performed by the San Francisco Ballet. Through Dec. 28. War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330,

The Nutcracker: Performed by the Oakland Ballet. Through Dec. 24. Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway (at 20th St.), Oakland, 510-465-6400.

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

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

A Stranger Calls: A Trio of Original Radio Dramas: Radio plays presented by Pacifica Table Readers. Fri., Dec. 19, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 20, 8 p.m. Climate Theater, 285 Ninth St. (at Folsom), 263-0830.

The Wizard of Oz: The classic for kids, directed by Stephanie Temple. Through Jan. 3. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972,

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

Zanna, Don't: A Musical Fairy Tale: Tim Acito's musical about matchmaking. Through Jan. 18. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972,


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