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Our critics weigh in on local theatre

Circumnavigator. Dan Hoyle circled the globe on a grant two years ago from the Chicago-based Circumnavigators Club, using its money to develop a piece of "journalistic theater" about globalism. If you've never heard of journalistic theater, don't worry: Hoyle may be its only living practitioner. In Circumnavigator he hops from Vietnam to India to Kenya to South Africa to Argentina, talking earnestly to everyone about labor issues. "In India, story is -- big country, small economy," says an editor of India Today. "Sex industry, mon. Mad cash," says a teenager in Kenya. "I'm from Durban, and I fucking rip waves," says a dangerously drunk pro surfer in South Africa, who's proud of his sponsorship by an American company. Many of these miniportraits are entertaining and vivid; Hoyle is a talented mimic. But as a writer he still has a weak sense of climaxes and shapely scenes. His story wanders; his set-pieces peter out. Apparently aware that he goes on too much about globalism, he says he's arrived in Kenya "to quit thinking about American companies and foreign investment." For most of us that wouldn't be hard. But the problem is not that Hoyle thinks too much about what is, after all, the topic of his show; the problem is that he never makes a discernible point. He circles his topic the way he circles the planet -- without quite arriving anywhere. Through Sept. 25 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (between 21st and 22nd streets), S.F. Tickets are $10-14; call 826-5750 or visit (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Aug. 11.

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change. Why do people write silly musicals about love? And why, come to think of it, do people sit through them? Even jaded New York audiences can't seem to get enough of the most obvious musical nonsense about dating, romance, marriage, and breaking up. I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change has played off-Broadway for eight years, and the show's not even a light treatment of the title theme, which might have been halfway interesting. It's a series of little scenes about nothing, described by one critic -- in the press materials -- as "Seinfeld set to music!" (Ew!) The cast does well enough; Colin Thomson and Danielle Thys both bring color to their roles, and if Jeff Leibow and Loren White are less interesting that's only because they're stuck playing straight man and woman in a very straight, generic show. The captivating moments are rare, though, and I Love You is just an overstuffed potboiler that the actors have to play with a knowing dose of irony wherever they can. Through Sept. 5 at the Marines Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $40-55; call (877) 771-6900 or visit (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Aug. 18.

The Lion King. How do you turn a decent cartoon about African wildlife into a lame Broadway musical? 1) Puzzle carefully about the problem of costumes and sets. Pour millions of dollars and hours of mental energy into making your actors look like lions, hyenas, elephants, wildebeests, giraffes, and birds. Solve the problem brilliantly. Hire Julie Taymor to design the magnificent costumes and masks (and to direct the show). Hire Garth Fagan to choreograph elegant, exciting, Afro-Caribbean dance routines. Make sure Donald Holder lights the stage with an eloquent feeling for African distances and sunshine. In general make the show a visual feast. Then, 2) squint in confusion at the script, and 3) carve it up to make room for appalling songs by Tim Rice and Elton John. You'll have a profitable bunch of nonsense with more than one God-soaked number that sounds indistinguishable from bad Whitney Houston. The only cast member who can transcend this mess and give a stirring performance is Thandazile Soni, as Rafiki the monkey shaman, who gets to sing songs like "Nants' Ingonyama," by Lebo M, and other African chants originated by Tsidii Le Loka on Broadway. Bob Bouchard is also funny as Pumbaa the warthog, and Derek Smith plays a perfectly arrogant, sinister Scar, the pretender lion king. Otherwise the show is forced and childish. Adults looking for good theater will be happier when the performers dance instead of trying to act. Through Nov. 21 at the Orpheum Theatre, 1182 Market (at Eighth Street), S.F. Tickets are $26-160; call 512-7770 or visit (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Feb. 11.

Not a Genuine Black Man. It's not easy being green, but try being a black kid in San Leandro in the early '70s. When Brian Copeland got there -- just a few months after the Summer of Love, he points out -- it was one of the most viciously racist suburbs in America. Now it's officially the most diverse. "Take that, San Francisco," Copeland chides. He's earned that attitude, not just for going through his hell of growing up, but also for extracting from it such affirmative, hilarious stuff. Copeland's rightfully popular one-man show is wrought from pain and rage, but never really succumbs to bitterness. "Is that black?" he asks, and proves that it is. Some of his best stereotype-busting material doesn't feel especially new, but it does feel good. Besides, it's the stereotypes that have passed their expiration dates: Copeland's title comes from an accusation recently flung at him by a cranky listener who called in to his KGO radio program. This show is his response. With help from declarative lighting and David Ford's direction, Copeland creates an affecting hybrid of the dramatic monologue and the rollicking stand-up act. Through Sept. 25 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd Street), S.F. Tickets are $15-22; call 826-5750 or visit (Jonathan Kiefer) Reviewed June 2.

Showdown at Crawford Gulch. A top-hatted, long-mustachioed stranger in a silly suit named Cyrus T. Bogspavin comes to the Wild West town of Crawford Gulch, Texas, to inform everyone that the Comanches roundabout are mighty dangerous. "We ain't had much trouble before," says the mayor, but Bogspavin insists that the Injuns have "arrows of mass destruction." The newspaper prints fearful stories faster than it can confirm them; the town grows paranoid; Parson Jones starts shooting up trees. The characters this year don't map neatly onto the Bush administration -- and there's far, far more to the plot than I can repeat here -- but director Keiko Shimosato and playwright Michael Gene Sullivan have trimmed the San Francisco Mime Troupe's annual Bush-bashing festival down to a swift-moving 90 minutes. With good songs! Velina Brown's performance as a new newspaper editor (in "Do I Really Have What It Takes?") and Ed Holmes' duet with Amos Glick as the mayor and Bogspavin (in "The Business of Progress") keep the show engaging even when the plot spins absurdly out of control. Yes, the troupe still takes easy, predictable potshots, but at least its aim is not as wild as it was last year, when it compared the invasion of Iraq to a mad invasion of Canada. This time the target is a national press that found itself distracted by Washington shysters; the satire is layered and subtle. A blend of country, roots rock, and schlock-western theme music from the three-piece resident band (Rob Broadhurst, Joel Fadness, Victor Toman) also helps. Previous Mime Troupe shows have been known to bore young children to death, but this year the verdict from a nearby kid was, "No, Daddy, I wanna stay." He was digging the tunes. Through Sept. 6 at (mostly) Bay Area parks. Admission is free; visit for a schedule and locations. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Aug. 11.


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