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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Wednesday, Apr 7 2010

Den of Thieves. The idea of a bunch of misfits trying to pull off the perfect crime has been done to death, then buried, then cremated, then reanimated as a zombie, shot by an angry mob, and buried a second time. But Den of Thieves, making its Bay Area premiere at SF Playhouse, has a lot going for it despite relying on this trope. Maggie is in a 12-step program for kleptomaniacs; Paul is her sponsor — in fact, he's in so many 12-step programs that he's probably your sponsor, too. These two characters, expertly played by Kathryn Tkel and Casey Jackson, are the appealing and resonant heart of a story that is fast, energetic, and hilarious. The script by Stephen Adly Guirgis (who also wrote Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train) charms from the very first moments, and feels far shorter than its two-hour run time. Not all is perfect: Wannabe Hispanic gangster Flaco (Chad Deverman) is almost irredeemably over the top, and "dancer" Boochie (Corinne Proctor) — exactly the character you'd imagine from her name — forgoes a top entirely in her line of work. And what's with the accents? We get it, people: You're in New York. Still, with the second act's strong opening, and two mobsters played with perfect comic timing, Den of Thieves keeps things animated and makes for a great night out. Through April 17 at SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. $40; 677-9596 or (Benjamin Wachs) Reviewed March 31.

Desperate Affection. Maddie (Melissa O'Keefe), a struggling New York actress, might just have a good thing going with Richard (Cliff McCormick), a ... uh. .. what was his line of work again? He's a tad evasive on that subject, not to mention strangely teddy-bear-phobic, but otherwise quite attentive and considerate. Suffice to say that Richard's job is what brought Maddie into his life, and what most threatens to remove her from it; taking their relationship to the next level will be a matter of profound magnanimity. To give away any more of Bruce Graham's mordant and pardonably ridiculous comedy would be to spoil it, but it does seem important to add that he has enough wit and perspective to suggest a moral equivalency between dinner theater and murder-for-hire. And these two actors, clearly and appealingly a twisted pair of individuals, enjoy themselves, each other, and the proceedings very much. If O'Keefe seems to overuse her nonverbal hesitations here and there, perhaps it's by design, as a counterpoint to the diverting inscrutability of McCormick's poker face. Videographer Rand Courtney's stylish intro and ending take things unnecessarily into the motion-picture realm; otherwise Andrey Esterlis' brisk direction cleverly consists of staying out of the play's way. Through April 10 at Royce Gallery, 2901 Mariposa (at Harrison), S.F. $28; 888-811-4111 or (Jonathan Kiefer) Reviewed March 31.

The Sugar Witch. Set in the tangle of a haunted Florida swamp in the late 1920s, The Sugar Witch has all the trappings of a Southern Gothic melodrama, or better yet, a Southern version of a Martin McDonagh play. In addition to mentions of flying cats, reptile women, and an ancient curse, there are two guys trying to have a romance, a fat woman killing palmetto bugs, a shotgun-wielding blonde, and, of course, a resident witch. Nathan Sanders' moody script does an admirable job tying these elements into a rich story about family secrets, murder, and attempting to break from sins of the past. The problem is that this production fails to commit wholeheartedly to the genre — something it needs to do twofold in order for an audience to believe this supernatural soap opera. Scenic designer Kuo-Hao Lo has created a gorgeously creepy set that looks as if it's sinking into the swamp's mysteries, but his terrific stage design is undermined by some of the acting and directing. While some actors are seriously grounded in this world, others appear to be camping it up. This discrepancy keeps Saunders' eerie play from truly spooking. Through April 11 at New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Oak), S.F. $20-$40; 861-8972 or (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed March 24.

Acts of Life, Love, and Lunacy: A comedy by Rey Carolino. Starting April 9, Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through April 24. The Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Post), 989-0023,

Adia Whitaker's Ampey!: April 9-10, 8 p.m., $10-$12, all ages. La Peña Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck (at Prince), Berkeley, 510-849-2568,

... and Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi: Presented by Cutting Ball Theater. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through April 25, (800) 838-3006, Exit Theatre on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis),

Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?: Josh Kornbluth's comedy. Starting April 11, Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through May 16. The Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 292-1233,

Antigone: Sophocles' play, featuring Pi: The Physical Comedy Troupe. Through April 17. Boxcar Theatre, 505 Natoma (at Sixth St.), 776-1747,

April Fools Festival: Clown-based performance fest. Through May 2. Climate Theater, 285 Ninth St. (at Folsom), 263-0830,

Baby: A Musical: Presented by Ray of Light Theatre. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through April 19. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 336-0513,

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,

City Solo: Solo artists in the Bay Area. Sundays. Continues through April 30. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 336-0513,

The Diary of Anne Frank: Presented by Custom Made Theatre Co. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through May 1. The Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush), 333-6389.

DIVAfest: Fest featuring women writers, directors, and performers. April 8-May 1. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847,

Frau Bachfeifengesicht's Spectacle of Perfection: Fridays-Sundays. Continues through April 25, Stage Werx, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 730-3433,

Hearts on Fire: Thelma Houston, El Vez, and Christine Deaver perform in Teatro ZinZanni's show. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 6 p.m.; Saturdays, 11:30 a.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through May 16, $117-$145. Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 273-1620.

Lady, Be Good!: Presented by 42nd Street Moon. First Wednesday-Sunday of every month. Continues through April 18. Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469,

Macho Bravado: Alex Park's play about a solider. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through April 25. The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 401-8081,

Master Class: Terrence McNally's drama, directed by Arturo Catricala. Saturdays, Sundays. Continues through May 2. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972,

Monday Night ForePlays: PianoFight's female-driven variety show. Mondays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 26. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 336-0513,

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,

Othello: Presented by the African-American Shakespeare Company. Through April 18, 8 p.m., $20-$30. Buriel Clay Theater, 762 Fulton (at Webster), 762-2071,

Pearls over Shanghai: Thrillpeddlers brings back the Cockettes. Through Aug. 1, $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), 369-6030,

The Rake's Progress: Presented by SF Conservatory of Music Opera Theatre. April 8-10, Fort Mason, Cowell Theater, in Herbst Pavilion, Marina & Buchanan, 345-7553,

Real Americans: Dan Hoyle's new show about small-town America. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through April 18. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750,

Riot: A collaboration between ACT's MFA and Young Conservatory programs. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through April 17. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228,

Scalpel!: D'Arcy Drollinger's musical. Through April 17, $20-$35. Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St. (at York), 641-7657,

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

ShortLived: Audience-judged playwriting competition. Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through June 26. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 336-0513,

Suddenly Last Summer: Tennessee Williams' play, directed by Christian Phillips. Through April 10. Actors Theatre San Francisco, 855 Bush (at Taylor), 345-1287,

Teatro ZinZanni: Breve: Teatro ZinZanni's shortish show. Sun., April 11, $68, Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 273-1620.

Three Stories: April 9-18, 7:30 p.m., free. Mission Dolores, 3321 16th St. (at Dolores), 621-8203,

Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding: Saturdays, 7 p.m.; Fridays, 7 p.m., $88.50-$115.50, Swiss Louis Restaurant at Pier 39, 2 Beach (at Embarcadero), 421-2913,

Ungrateful Daughter: Directed by W. Kamau Bell, written by Lisa Marie Rollins. April 8-22. Stage Werx, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 730-3433,

Vigil: A comedy by Morris Panych. Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through April 18. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228,

Wicked: Meet the witches of Oz. Through April 11. Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 551-2000.

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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