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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Wednesday, Dec 2 2009

The Bald Soprano. In 1948, the French-Romanian playwright Eugène Ionesco set about learning English. He didn't succeed. He did, however, manage to write an intensely ridiculous version of the dialogues he found in English-language primers ("This is my husband. We live in London. It is now three o'clock."). The result was The Bald Soprano (La cantatrice chauve). In Cutting Ball's new production, translated and directed by Rob Melrose, the play is as revelatory as ever, in part because it's much funnier than you might remember. That's very much to Melrose's credit, but he is helped tremendously by Paige Rogers, who finds just the right pitch for her batty housewife. (She manages to say things like "I don't know enough Spanish to understand myself" with the deranged dignity of someone who puts great stock in her own nonsense.) Crisply staged on a spare and handsome set, the play doesn't offer much of a story, which is more or less the point: Each character speaks without seeming to hear the others. Language conquers silence, but fails to deliver meaning. The whole thing builds to a gorgeously choreographed frenzy, with the actors shouting ragged bits of dialogue while throwing themselves against a wall. It's glorious and weird, and you absolutely shouldn't miss it. Through Dec. 12 at the EXIT on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), S.F. $15-$30; 800-838-3006 or (Chris Jensen) Reviewed Nov. 11.

Fat Pig. Neil LaBute's 2004 play explores what happens when an average American yuppie milquetoast (Jud Williford) finds himself with a plus-sized girlfriend (Liliane Klein). Part of what happens is the increasing chagrin of his co-workers — particularly, in this case, the young woman from accounting (Alexandra Creighton) with whom our fellow has carried on a half-hearted affair, and the shallow, priggish dude down the hall (Peter Ruocco) whom he hopes not to become. LaBute's nimbly polarizing title is the harshest thing about this scenario, whose mordant humor subverts but never entirely abolishes its atmosphere of studied politesse. He understands that his characters must register as universal, but also must be more than mere representatives of attitudes. Happily, it would appear that everyone involved in Aurora's production understands this, too, and it is, therefore, an impressively unified show: Mikiko Uesugi's elegant set design and Jim Cave's subtly suggestive lighting abet director Barbara Damashek's easy fluency with physical and emotional space, and the actors never let their characters' shortcomings — be they personally or socially constructed — negate human dignity. Through Dec. 13 at Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. $15-$55; 510-843-4822 or (Jonathan Kiefer) Reviewed Nov. 25.

Pulp Scripture. This play has an odd genesis. It was originally penned as a sexed-up, bawdy retelling of some of the Old Testament stories for performances at — a church! San Francisco's Saint Mary the Virgin billed it as "Bible stories they didn't teach you in Sunday school." The play then transferred to the irreverent SF Fringe Festival, where it completely sold out and won Best New Comedy, and now it's running at the very funny theater company PianoFight. Playwright William Bivens stays true to the Scriptures and their lessons, but emphasizes their deviance and pulp fiction–esque qualities. In the Book of Ruth, "uncover his feet" is said to be a euphemism for oral sex; in Judah and Tamar, goats are used to pay for sex; in Abram and Sarai in Egypt, a wife is "pimped" for God. The play, perhaps understandably, has an identity crisis; it neither commits to a straightforward retelling of these Bible stories, nor gives in to full lampooning of the tales. This, along with a shaky actor or two and no set, makes for a very uneven production. There are laughs, but what seems to be the central message is that the Old Testament is chock-full of prostitutes, incest, sodomy, murder, and yes, blow jobs. Through Dec. 20 at the Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), S.F. $20; (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Nov. 25.

Under the Gypsy Moon. Storylines don't really matter in a Teatro ZinZanni production; they just provide a loose framework for the circuslike acts everyone comes to see while they enjoy a fancy five-course meal. In the group's latest three-hour show, the Spiegeltent is invaded by thieving gypsies (so much for political correctness), who, in addition to being skilled swindlers, are also (surprise) skilled blues singers, jugglers, and acrobats. As one would expect, the trapeze work is impressive, especially the comic rope-play by Sabine Maier and Joachim Mohr, who manage to fall over themselves without falling down. The evening's most satisfying moments, however, happen on the ground. A juggling number set to Prince's "Kiss" is simple but delightful, and Mat Plendl dazzled the audience with his mastery of the hula hoop. Unfortunately, too many of the cabaret's comedy bits are lame. Punny punchlines delivered by a Henny Youngman-like character played by Geoff Hoyle (the original Zazu in the Broadway production of The Lion King) are especially groan-inducing. Those cheesy moments leave a bad taste in your mouth, as does some of the food, which is passable but not stellar. While Under the Gypsy Moon does deliver some magical moments, unless you've got a lot of disposable cash, it's an evening perhaps best left to the tourists to enjoy. Through Jan. 17 at the Spiegeltent, Pier 29 (at Battery), S.F. $117-$195; 438-2668 or (Will Harper) Reviewed Sept. 30.

Beach Blanket Babylon: A North Beach perennial featuring crazy hats, media personality caricatures, a splash of romance, and little substance. Now with Rod Blagojevich! Wednesdays, Thursdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 6:30 & 9:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 5 p.m.; Fridays, 6:30 p.m., $25-$80, Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.

Beautiful Thing: Two working-class London teenage boys who fall in love. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through Jan. 3. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972,

Better Homes and Ammo: An American family after the apocalypse. Starting Dec. 3, Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through Dec. 19. Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847,

Big City Improv: Actors take audience suggestions and create comedy from nothing. Fridays, 10 p.m., $15-$20, Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 882-9100,

A Christmas Carol: The gang's all here in Dickens' classic. Dec. 3-27. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228,

Cora's Holiday Hotpad: Sean Owens' comedy about Cora Values, owner of the Gas & Gulp Cafe. Starting Dec. 3, Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through Dec. 12. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 931-3847,

Cotton Patch Gospel: A bluegrass holiday musical. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through Dec. 19, The Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush), 333-6389.

Dames at Sea: A sly look at Hollywood musicals of the 1930s. Starting Dec. 4, Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through Jan. 17. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972,

Dear Allah, All I Want for Christmas Is a Menorah: Short plays about the holidays. Wed., Dec. 2. Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St. (at York), 641-7657,

Greatest Bubble Show on Earth: Incredible bubble feats by the Amazing Bubble Man. Through Dec. 6, 1 p.m., $7-$10. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750,

I Heart SF: Tales of the city. Dec. 3-13. Boxcar Theatre, 505 Natoma (at Sixth St.), 776-1747,

KML's Holidays with Class: Staged reading of sketches by alumni of KML's classes. Dec. 4-6, Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th St.), 626-2787,

Left Coast Leaning Festival: Dec. 3-5, 8 p.m., $10-$20. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission (at Third St.), 978-2787,

Let It Snow!: Improv musical by the Un-Scripted Theater Company. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through Dec. 19. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596,

Life of Brian: Live on Stage: The Monty Python comedy film gets compacted down to Mission District size. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 19, $20. Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), 401-7987,

Love, Humiliation, and Karaoke: Enzo Lombard's solo comedy returns to S.F. after a New York run. Sun., Dec. 6. Stage Werx, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 730-3433,

Madonna's Christmas Celebration: The Virgin Mary, drag, and Top 40 hits. Tue., Dec. 8, 8 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 9, 8 p.m., $15-$20, Finn's Funhouse, 814 Grove (at Webster).

Me, Myself, and I: New solo works by D'Lo, Jeanne Haynes, Rachel Parker, and Anthem Salgado. Through Dec. 3, 7 p.m., $15-$25. Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St. (at York), 641-7657,

Monday Night Marsh: On select Mondays a different lineup of musicians, actors, performance artists, and others takes the stage at this regular event that's hosted local celebs like Josh Kornbluth and Marga Gomez in the past; see for a lineup of future shows. Mondays, $7. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750,

Nutcracker at the Zeum: The Mark Foehringer Dance Project takes on the classic. Starting Dec. 5, Saturdays, Sundays. Continues through Dec. 20, Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 820-3320,

OVO: Cirque du Soleil returns to the city with a show about insects. Through Jan. 24, $42-$250. Grand Chapiteau, Third St. (at Terry Francois),

One Night Only Holiday Cabaret: Teal Wicks, Patty Duke, and members from the touring cast of Wicked. Mon., Dec. 7, 7:30 p.m. Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (at Embarcadero), 433-3939,

Pearls over Shanghai: Thrillpeddlers brings back the Cockettes. Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through Jan. 23, $30. The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 377-4202,

Point Break Live!: The boys are back in town again. Fridays, Saturdays, 9 p.m. Continues through May 1, Metreon, 101 Fourth St. (at Mission), 369-6000,

ReOrient 2009 — The First 10 Years: Short plays exploring the Middle East. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through Dec. 13, The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 401-8081,

Santaland Diaries: David Sedaris' classic hits S.F. for the eighth year in a row. Starting Dec. 5, Mondays-Sundays, 8 & 10 p.m. Continues through Dec. 30, $25, Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.),

She Stoops to Comedy: Gender-bending romp by David Greenspan. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Continues through Jan. 9. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596,

Shopping! The Musical: Songs and sketches about shopping. Fridays, Saturdays, $23-$29, Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 882-9100,

Stateless: A Hip-Hop Vaudeville Experience: A multimedia collage by Dan Wolf and Tommy Shepherd. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through Dec. 6. Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 292-1233,

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: Presented by Actors Theatre of San Francisco, directed by Keith Phillips. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through Dec. 19. Actors Theatre San Francisco, 855 Bush (at Taylor), 345-1287,

Wicked: Meet the witches of Oz. Through March 21. Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 551-2000.

The Wizard of Oz: Stephanie Temple takes on Oz. Dec. 5-Jan. 3. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972,

About The Authors

Nathaniel Eaton

Jonathan Kiefer

SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.


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