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Our critics weigh in on local theater

The Black Eyed. This play by Palestinian-American Betty Shamieh is a chillingly beautiful piece about the relationship between violence and seduction. In Shamieh's poetic-apocalyptic vision of the afterlife, four Palestinian women from different historical periods hang about in limbo, awaiting admittance to "The Martyrs' Room," where they hope to find answers to the questions that haunt them. Suicide bomber Aiesha (Nora El Samahy) claims to have already been inside the room to receive her reward of sex with 100 men, yet is tormented by the thought of the innocent people who died the day she detonated herself; Delilah (Sofia Ahmad), feeling betrayed since she famously seduced and depowered Samson, longs to be reunited with her lover; Tamam (Bridgette Loriaux), a rape victim from the time of the Crusades, is driven by vengeance against her attackers but is also desperate to see her brother again; and a young woman known simply as Architect (Atosa Babaoff) fantasizes about seducing her potential boss before dying in a plane hijacking. Director Jessica Heidt's sensitive use of space and movement conveys the majesty, irony, and lyricism of Shamieh's work. Bouncing bits of text among themselves as if playing a game of catch, the tantalizing cast members both tempt and repel us in this whirling dervish of a show. Through June 19 at the Magic Theatre Northside, Fort Mason Center, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Tickets are $20-38; call 441-8822 or visit (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed June 8.

Charlie Cox Runs With Scissors. From the scythe-wielding Grim Reaper of folklore to Brad Pitt's turn as the deathly Joe Black in the movie Meet Joe Black, culture is constantly coming up with new ways to personify mortality. In Marin Theatre Company's production of Michael McKeever's Charlie Cox Runs With Scissors, the character of Death can perhaps best be described as a wisecracking pixie crossed with Robert Smith of the Cure. Upon discovering he has only 18 months to live, book editor Cox (Howard Swain) finds himself confronting death in an unusual way when he picks up a black-clad, spiky-haired teen (Liam Vincent) hitching a ride to, as his sign reads, "Nowhere" on a lonely desert road in Arizona. McKeever's affable but rather simplistic play belongs to that most underpopulated of genres: feel-good dramas about dying. Though packed with snappy one-liners and effervescent performances (particularly from Swain and Anne Darragh as the widowed owner of a dilapidated desert motel), Charlie Cox more lollops than runs. Through June 19 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller (at Evergreen), Mill Valley. Tickets are $28-46; call 388-5208 or visit (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed June 8.

Cherry Docs. In David Gow's gritty drama (whose title refers to the cherry red Dr. Martens boots popularly worn by skinheads), an ambitious lawyer, Danny (Aaron Davidman), improbably decides to defend a young neo-Nazi, Mike (Eric Rhys Miller), who's being held in solitary confinement in a Canadian prison for murdering a Hindu man. Interspersing lyrical speeches on Jewish ritual with dark thoughts about life in jail, Gow's writing is as hardheaded as it is poetic. Although Davidman doesn't quite convince us of his character's reasons for taking on the case in the first place, both actors give carefully drawn, purposeful performances. Davidman makes for a suitably nebbishy, tortured lawyer, while Rhys Miller's Mike is all pinched-faced cynicism and snarling hate. The play's structure -- which goes something like this: monologue-monologue-dialogue, monologue-monologue-dialogue, etc. -- gets somewhat tedious after a while. Naomi Newman's direction brings out the emotional struggle and the ideological contradictions in Gow's play, but does little to alleviate the monotony of its rhythm. Through June 19 at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College (at Ashby), Berkeley. Tickets are $12-35; call 285-8080 or visit (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed June 1.

Here Lies Jenny. Bebe Neuwirth has an unusual voice. It's not what you would call beautiful. In Here Lies Jenny, a showcase of loosely knit songs by German composer Kurt Weill, she sounds a bit like a sheep nursing a hangover. Weill's songs have long been favorites of many a diva, with artists as diverse as German chanteuse Ute Lempe and operatic soprano Dawn Upshaw bringing their own particular qualities to the composer's brazenly sweet melodies and galumphing accompaniments. Although the Tony Award-winning Neuwirth is a charismatic, intense performer, the songs all sound rather similar: There's surprisingly little variety in the star's delivery. The show combines the talents of several Broadway luminaries -- including director Roger Rees, choreographer Ann Reinking, and set designer Neil Patel -- but for all the talent it feels cobbled together. Patel's dingy European speak-easy is evocative enough, but Reinking's movements are predictably camp, leaving Neuwirth frequently falling into the arms of some muscle-bound, wife beater-wearing stud. As a vehicle for one of this country's most prominent musical theater artists, Here Lies Jenny lacks drive. Through June 26 at the Post Street Theatre, 450 Post (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $35-55; call 771-6900 or visit (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed May 18.

I Look Like an Egg, But I Identify as a Cookie. In her solo show, Heather Gold recounts the journey from Niagara Falls (where she spent the first 19 years of her life) to her current role as San Francisco's resident lesbian domestic goddess -- while baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies in front of a live audience. Even as she's plunking bits of soggy dough onto a battered metal baking tray and babbling on about her rugby-playing days as a law student at Yale, Gold, wielding her remarkable improvisation skills, creates an atmosphere of cozy intimacy. Certain parts of her monologue ramble on for too long, but even during the show's most half-baked moments, it's easy to understand why the audience gets so involved: Gold makes for an endearingly slapdash cook. Each performance involves a special guest, and it's a sheer pleasure to see a food-themed show that's not about battling one's body image (as is so often the case with productions by female artists -- e.g., Eve Ensler's The Good Body) and a program stuffed with recipes for delicacies like gingersnaps and caramel chocolate squares. Through June 27 at Hotel Rex, 562 Sutter (between Powell and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $30-50; call (800) 838-3006 or visit (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 12.


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