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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 Nov. 13 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.

A Couple of Blaguards. Frank McCourt, in case you haven't heard, is Irish. So's his brother Malachy. By my distracted count, this revue is the second musical production a McCourt brother has written on the subject, following up their memoirs (Angela's Ashes and 'Tis by Frank, A Monk Swimming by Malachy). A Couple of Blaguards revisits their lives on a dirty lane in Limerick, where, as one of them says, "If ya live long enough, ya leave school at 13 an' get a job as a messenger boy." Howard Platt and Jarlath Conroy play Frank and Malachy, respectively, running through a variety show of songs, comedy skits, and old stories -- pints of Guinness in hand -- about the authors' hardscrabble boyhoods and subsequent lives in America. Conroy and Platt are thorough professionals, which is to say the songs are tight and felt, the comic timing seamless, and the Irish accents real. But the show also wallows in hoary Irish clichés, from priests and sadistic schoolmasters to village gossips and a grandiloquent mayor. It has the exact atmosphere of an Irish souvenir shop. One nostalgic song about the McCourts' past is even called "Barefoot Days" -- which might pass muster at an old boys' reunion but falls short as original theater. Through Oct. 17 at the Post Street Theatre, 450 Post (between Powell and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $30-50; call 771-6900 or visit (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Oct. 6.

The Designated Mourner. Jack, played manically well here by Matt Leshinskie, sits in a hotel room after a brutal revolution in some unspecified country. The underprivileged have risen up and executed everyone who reads John Donne. This elite group included Jack's wife and irritating father-in-law, Howard, a poet who returns in flashbacks whenever Jack needs to chat with him. (His wife, Judy, comes on, too, but the play revolves around Howard's untimely end.) Soon we realize that Jack is still alive for a pretty good reason: He's a philistine. The more he disintegrates onstage -- and his slow disintegration is the only real action in the play -- the more prone he becomes to saying offensive things. At the same time, he's the show's most likable and rounded character. Wallace Shawn has played the Jack role himself in New York; Jack is a bit like Shawn's poky autobiographical character in the movie My Dinner With Andre -- the comic schlub opposite the ethereal cultured snob -- except that the cultured types in Mourner have all been shot, and Jack feels more than a smallish dose of schadenfreude. Through Oct. 17 at the Last Planet Theatre, 351 Turk (between Hyde and Leavenworth), S.F. Tickets are $15-18; call 440-3505 or visit (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Oct. 6.

Joe Egg. The girl's name is Josephine, but her English parents call her Joe Egg after a saying of her very English, very suburban-provincial grandmother's: "Just sitting around like Joe Egg." Young Josephine does nothing but sit around; she has cerebral palsy. The parents, Sheila and Brian ("Bri"), made the decision about 10 years earlier to care for her, though she would never be, as Sheila puts it, more than "a kind of living parsnip." Peter Nichols' graceful and well-formed drama, based on his own experience raising a child with cerebral palsy, dates from the '60s, but it's been revived twice on Broadway, most recently last year with Eddie Izzard. TheatreFirst's small-scale production at its new Mills College home has a surprisingly intimate, real-life feel; director Clive Chafer -- with the energetic help of Simon Vance as Bri and Cynthia Bassham as Sheila -- has re-created the mood of 1960s London with touches as subtle as clothing (Bri's elbow-patched coat) and makeup (Sheila's blue eye shadow and straight hair). The show does lose momentum in the second act, in part because Howard Dillon and Jessica Powell, as a pair of snobbish upper-middle-class Londoners, put on broad caricature performances that might work in a middling BBC sitcom but seem out of place here. Wanda McCadden, though, as Bri's petty fussing mother (who uses the Joe Egg phrase), is brilliant, and so is the young Miranda Swain, who seems to have studied cerebral-palsied girls in order to play one with so much vivid sympathy. After almost four decades, Joe Egg has not lost its power to shock or entertain; it's a witty and nimble exploration of what even humanists mean by "human." Through Oct. 17 at Lisser Hall, Mills College, 5000 MacArthur (near Richards), Oakland. Tickets are $18-22; call (510) 436-5085 or visit (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Oct. 6.


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