At least until Act 2, when the play's manic illusion-making and -breaking slows. "The thing about loving someone over time," Matthew observes, "is that you've lost the ability to shock." As the last of its nesting dolls comes to light, Private Eyes needs to do what Matthew and Lisa haven't yet: transcend shock. Instead, the play founders. Only for Lisa does the experience resonate. In the middle of her affair, this shyly warm woman has a dream: Washing the dishes, she finds a Tupperware container with a heart in it. She wants to return the heart but isn't sure to whom it belongs. While the fatuous director and befuddled buffoon of a husband are busy exposing and fomenting lies, the adulteress sifts through the wreckage for some truth.

-- Apollinaire Scherr

Brit Fop
Dress to Kill. Written and performed by Eddie Izzard. Directed by Cliff Mayotte. At the Cable Car Theater, 430 Mason (at Geary), through Aug. 30. Call 433-9500.

Eddie Izzard is a funny-looking transvestite Brit who's arrived in town in the wake of a New Yorker profile, nods of approval from comic statesmen like Robin Williams and John Cleese, an ad campaign linked to Joe Boxer ("So funny you'll need new underwear!") -- so much hype, in other words, that seeing him felt obligatory, and I hate feeling obliged to see a show. I also hate rave music, and since Izzard has cultivated a youthful rave-related image the auditorium was pounding with synthesized dance tracks before he came onstage. Flanking the stage were four colorful pop portraits of Izzard himself, hung upside down; so you expect ego, energy, blazing originality. But it's mostly hype. Not that Izzard isn't funny -- he is -- but the whole vicious-transvestite image seems to be so much packaging, as if an agent looked at the way he was dressed one day and said, "Well. I think I can do something with this."

Izzard is actually kind of sweet. He has a boyish grin, satirical eyes, a mess of blond hair; he comes onstage in a silk Chinese housecoat, makeup, nail polish, and heels. He starts with what any comic touring through San Francisco might start with: a cable car joke. Then he sets up with a jab at us-Yanks' ignorance of American history and launches into a long routine on world history: British imperialism, the Pilgrims, the two World Wars, tyranny, the moon landing, the foundation of the Anglican Church. Why the show is called Dress to Kill I have no idea. His 2 1/2 hours of comedy are only sprinkled with jokes about transvestitism; and of course the fact that Izzard doesn't dwell on his clothes can only recommend him.

He has the guts to ruin the mood of the house by comparing America's war dead in World War II with Russia's -- half a million vs. "500 million" -- then manages to be funny again, by impersonating countries and governments as if they were kids in school. He makes fun of the British "God Save the Queen" by pointing out that the queen lives in a palace surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. ("That's one safe fucking queen.") He convinces the audience that Engelbert Humperdinck has died in a car crash, then plays with the idea until no one's quite sure if he's living or dead. For an encore he comes on and does some jokes over again in French. Not everything works -- he rides a tired Italian-on-a-Vespa motif all evening -- and the noise surrounding his show makes Izzard's store of average routines all the more surprising; but then it's the grace with heavy material that sets him apart, not his image or even his pitchfork wit.

-- Michael Scott Moore

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