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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Wednesday, Dec 9 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.

Better Homes and Ammo: An American family after the apocalypse. 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. Through Dec. 27. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228,

A Christmas Memory: Word-for-Word presents Truman Capote's short story. See more in Night and Day. Mon., Dec. 14, 7 p.m., $10-$15. Z Space, 450 Florida (at 17th St.), 626-0453,

Cinderella: African-American Shakespeare sets the play in Louisiana. Dec. 10-13; Sat., Dec. 19; Sun., Dec. 20; Sun., Dec. 27. African American Art and Cultural Complex Center, 762 Fulton (at Webster), 922-2049,

Cora's Holiday Hotpad: Sean Owens' comedy about Cora Values, owner of the Gas & Gulp Cafe. 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. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through Jan. 17. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972,

Fun-derful Holidaze: Unique Derique clowns around. Starting Dec. 12, Saturdays, Sundays. Continues through Jan. 3. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750,

Great American Songbook: Presents The Great Broadway Sing Along. Thu., Dec. 10, 8 p.m. Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California (at Presidio), 292-1200,

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

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,

Lightning Never Strikes the Same Place Twice: A multimedia piece by Catherine Galasso. Sat., Dec. 12, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 13, 8 p.m., SomArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan (at Eighth St.), 863-1414,

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

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,

Nocturnal Butterflies: Vaslav Nijinsky reimagined. See more in Night and Day. Dec. 10-12, 8 p.m., $20. Project Artaud Theater, 499 Alabama (at Mariposa), 626-4370,

Nutcracker at the Zeum: The Mark Foehringer Dance Project takes on the classic. 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, 2010, $42-$250. Grand Chapiteau, Third St. (at Terry Francois),

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,

Saliva: Part of Keith Hennessy's A Queer 20th Anniversary. See more in Night and Day. Sun., Dec. 13, 8 p.m., $15-$25, 401-9376, Multiple San Francisco locations, multiple addresses.

San Francisco Mime Troupe 50th Birthday Bash: The troupe presents Ghosts. See more in Night and Day. Thu., Dec. 10, 7:30 p.m., free. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission (at Third St.), 978-2787,

Santaland Diaries: David Sedaris' classic hits S.F. for the eighth year in a row. 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,

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, 2010. Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 551-2000.

The Wizard of Oz: Stephanie Temple takes on Oz. Through Jan. 3, 2010. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972,

An XXX-Mas to Remember: Christmas improv by Technically Virgins. See more in Night and Day. Sat., Dec. 12, 10 p.m., $8-$10. Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), 401-7987,

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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