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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Wednesday, Nov 3 2010

Mary Stuart. To appreciate the Shotgun Players' adaptation of Schiller's 18th-century play, you must consider the set. It has two doors, three video screens, a mirror, a white board, a one-way window, and a sliding section of floor. The stage must be so involved to distract us from the fact that for nearly two hours nothing happens on it. The blocking is simple verging on primitive: Characters enter, they talk, someone leaves. That's it. The few times (you can count them on one hand) they actually touch each other are so shocking it's electric. But the electricity is real: The dialogue, semi-adapted for modern times, shines — and the actors carry a charge. Mary Stuart features superb performances, especially from Peter Ruocco (Lord Burleigh) and Scott Coopwood (Count Leicester). The compelling character conflicts and parallels with our own time make the dramatic tension in a story whose outcome we already know — how Queen Elizabeth I of England came to undo her cousin Mary Queen of Scots in 1587 — nothing short of intense. When Burleigh, speaking for the state, says, "We don't torture," the crowd just has to laugh. The conflict between morality and politics is sadly contemporary. Through Nov. 7 at Shotgun Players, 1901 Ashby (at Martin Luther King Jr.), Berkeley. $15-$28; 510-841-6500 or (Benjamin Wachs) Reviewed Oct. 27.

Shocktoberfest!! 2010: Kiss of Blood. The Thrillpeddlers are quintessential San Francisco: a bunch of freaks performing freaky shows. They emulate, celebrate, and reinterpret the Parisian shock and horror theater of the Grand Guignol with elaborate set pieces and lush, exotic costuming. Like San Francisco itself, artistic director Russell Blackwood and company aren't afraid to dabble in S&M, cross-dressing, sexual deviance, and plain old lusty fun — and this show is all of those. This round of three short plays involves severed fingers, gas masks, drag queens, botched brain surgery, and a giant functional guillotine at center stage. The Thrillpeddlers are very good at what they do, but I wish they would rely a little less on over-the-top campiness and more on what they advertise: danger, shock, and titillation. Perhaps that's why they invited the brilliant Brazilian Guignol theater company Vigor Mortis to perform with them after a few select shows (Oct. 28-31). Their one-act, The Forsaken Laboratory, is not to be missed. It's an incredibly rendered horror pantomime involving a priest, a nun, and a man giving birth to a demon. This feels like Grand Guignol's true potential. Through Nov. 19 at the Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), S.F. $30-$35; 800-838-3006 or (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Oct. 27.

9 Circles: The newest play by Bill Cain tells the story of a young American soldier on trial for his life. Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Nov. 7. $32-$53. Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller (at Evergreen), Mill Valley, 388-5200.

Beach Blanket Babylon: Steve Silver's musical revue spoofs pop culture with extravagant costumes. Wednesdays-Sundays. $25-$130. Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.

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.

Burning Libraries: Starting Nov. 6. Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through Nov. 14. $15-$30. Z Space, 450 Florida (at 17th St.), 626-0453.

Equus: This psychological thriller explores the reasons that a teenager blinded six stable horses; it's loosely based on actual events. Wednesdays-Saturdays. Continues through Nov. 20. $10-$25. Boxcar Theatre, 505 Natoma (at Sixth St.), 776-1747.

Habibi: A new play about Palestinian immigrants by Sharif Abu-Hamdeh. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through Nov. 7. $15-$25. Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th St.), 626-2787.

Hedda Gabler: Off Broadway West Theatre Company's production of the Henrik Ibsen play. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through Nov. 13. $25-$35. The Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Post), 989-0023.

It's All the Rage: Bay Area comic Marilyn Pittman tells a story that's at once murder mystery and survival tale. Starting Nov. 6. Saturdays, Sundays. Continues through Dec. 5. $20-$50. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.

Law and Order San Francisco Unit: The Musical (sort of)!: Comedy meets crime drama. Mondays, 8 p.m. Continues through Nov. 15. $10. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.

Loveland: A solo production written and performed by Ann Randolph. Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through Nov. 13. $20-$50. The Marsh Berkeley, 2120 Allston (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-704-8291.

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.

Murder for Two: A musical take on the classic murder mystery in which one actor plays the detective and the other actor plays all of the suspects -- and they both play the piano. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through Nov. 21. Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469.

Obscura: Christian Cagigal's magic show. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through Dec. 18. $15-$25. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.

Or,: Liz Duffy Adams' work that peers into the life and times of Aphra Behn. Starting Nov. 4. Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Dec. 5. $20-$30. Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 441-8822.

Palomino: Writer and actor David Cale's new solo play. Tuesdays-Sundays through Dec. 5. $10-$55. Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.

Pearls over Shanghai: Thrillpeddlers brings back the Cockettes. Saturdays, Sundays. Continues through Dec. 19. $30. The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 377-4202.

A Perfect Ganesh: Terrence McNally's play about two women traveling from the U.S. to India. Starting Nov. 5. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Dec. 19. $24. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.

The Real Americans: Dan Hoyle's solo show. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through Nov. 6. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.

Reluctant: Joel Israel's spooky, mostly one-man show. Each performance features a different local female artist in the production. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 & 10 p.m. Continues through Nov. 13. $10-$25. 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.

The Sunset Limited: Play set in New York City written by Cormac McCarthy. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Continues through Nov. 6. $40-$50. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.

The Tempest: A three-person chamber version of the Shakespeare play. Starting Nov. 5. Fridays-Sundays; Thu., Nov. 11; Thu., Nov. 18. Continues through Nov. 28. $15-$50. The Cutting Ball Theater, 277 Taylor St..

Three Sisters. Final Cut.: Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Nov. 17. $14-$28. Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 882-9100.

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.

The Unexpected Man: Ironic comedy by Yasmina Reza. Fridays-Sundays. Continues through Nov. 14. $25. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.

The Winter's Tale: The Actors Ensemble of Berkeley presents this Shakespeare play. Fridays-Sundays; Thu., Nov. 18. Continues through Nov. 20. $12-$15. Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck (at Berryman), Berkeley, 510-841-5580.

You Can't Bite City Hall: Lamplighters' 45th Annual Gala and Auction: Sun., Nov. 7, 4 p.m. $50-$95. Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness (at Grove), 392-4400.


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