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Our critics weigh in on local theater

The Man Who Came to Dinner. Fat snob Sheridan Whiteside falls on ice outside a home in a small Ohio town, breaks his hip (or something), and stays, not just for dinner, but for a whole week, barking at the help and making long-distance business calls to Hollywood and New York. The terrorized Stanley household puts up with visits from Sheridan's famous friends, like Beverly Carlton and "Banjo" (surrogates for Noel Coward and Harpo Marx); odd gifts of live animals; and preparations to broadcast Sheridan's Christmas radio message from their living room. Director John Fisher reframes this old Hart & Kaufman satire of the critic Alexander Woollcott as proto-queer theater, and ratchets up the screwball element. The results are mixed. P.A. Cooley as Sheridan is a scathing, ferocious bitch, hilarious but not subtle, and the acting around him is oddly weak, except for Matthew Martin's performances as Banjo and Carlton. In fact, Fisher tolerates (or encourages?) so much limp acting in the otherwise talented cast that the play would be intolerable for 2 1/2 hours without Cooley's concentrated momentum. Through Jan. 9 at Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (between Mission and South Van Ness), S.F. Tickets are $15-28; call 861-5079 or visit (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Dec. 29.

Polk County. Zora Neale Hurston wrote Polk County in 1944, in collaboration with a white woman named Dorothy Waring. It's an honest-to-God blues musical, American to the bone, which may be one reason no one in New York has produced it yet. This new edit by Cathy Madison and Kyle Donnelly premiered at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., two years ago, to rave reviews, but the script still has scars from what must have been a bad argument between Waring and Hurston -- a tension between showy silliness and drama, between Broadway and the blues. The songs here are all terrific, from traditional numbers like "Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dyin' Bed" to dirty originals like "Lick It Like That," by Chic Street Man, the show's music director. And the brilliantly talented cast can play its own live music. As a revue of homegrown American songs the show deserves a nice, long Broadway run -- but it's not what it could be. What starts as a promising drama of self-discovery in a Florida sawmill camp becomes an excuse to shove as much (admittedly great) music into the performance as possible. Through Jan. 9 at the Berkeley Rep's Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Tickets are $25-60; call (510) 647-2949 or visit (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Dec. 8.

Take Me Out. Darren Lemming, a half-black star hitter on the Empires (read: New York Yankees), inspires the sort of adulation reserved for men like Barry Bonds and Derek Jeter. But he's gay. He comes out in public at the height of his fame, during a balmy season for the Empires, and the hurt morale in the locker room finds public expression in the mouth of a mulleted, white-trash pitching sensation named Shane Mungitt. The drama isn't subtle; in fact, the fallout between Darren and Shane is larger than life, while some of playwright Richard Greenberg's lines seem to demand a smaller stage. But this touring Broadway production also manages to offend the audience, which is a rare, good thing. Darren may be half-black and gay, but he's a multimillionaire superstar; Shane's a bit of bewildered, half-educated trailer trash. Who, exactly, is the victim? Greenberg shows just enough sympathy for his devil to make Take Me Out a moral conundrum. Through Jan. 9 at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor (at Market), S.F. Tickets are $37-75; call 512-7770 or visit (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Dec. 22.

Also Playing

Are We Almost There?
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.

BATS: Sunday Players
Fort Mason, Bldg. B, Marina & Buchanan, 474-6776.

Beach Blanket Babylon
Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.

Beyond Therapy
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.

Big City Improv
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.

"Broadway by the Bay's 40th Anniversary Revue"
San Mateo Performing Arts Center, 600 N. Delaware, San Mateo.

Comedy Improv at Your Disposal
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.

Eating as Fast as I Can
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.

The Gamester
Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228.

I Look Like an Egg, But I Identify as a Cookie
Hotel Rex, 562 Sutter, 433-4434.

Love, Chaos & Dinner
Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 273-1620.

Monday Night Improv Jam
Climate Theater, 285 Ninth St. (at Folsom), 364-1411.

"One Kind Theatre"
Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa (at Florida), 621-7978.

Princess Bride: The Play
Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), 401-7987.

Jan Probst and Judy Juanita
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477,

Rush Limbaugh in Night School
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750,

Striking 12
Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield (at Embarcadero), Palo Alto, 650-903-6000.

"Throckmorton Stories"
142 Throckmorton Theatre, 142 Throckmorton (at Madrona), Mill Valley, 383-9600.

The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at MLK Jr.), Berkeley, 510-841-6500.

What a Crime! García Lorca
Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, 2868 Mission (at 25th St.), 821-1155.

When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder
The Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush) (Trinity Episcopal Church), 333-6389.


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