Vasilisa and the Saga of Baba Yaga
You know the story, even if you don't know the names: A modest girl falls into the hands of an evil stepmother and her two ugly daughters, who cackle a lot and make the girl clean the floors. Soon they get sick of her modesty and send her into the woods on some stupid errand, figuring the poor girl will get eaten by a witch. Vasilisa is the name of the Russian incarnation of this modest girl; Baba Yaga is the aptly named witch; and the Sneaky Pete Ensemble has assembled a vivid puppet show about them with live, original jazz. Chad Owens designed the puppets, which range in size from pretty wooden dolls to 4-foot marionettes, except for Baba Yaga, who has a warty head big enough to swallow children in the audience. The stepmother is an appalling hag with pendulous sandbag breasts, raw branches for arms, and a fur throw made of some kind of forest creature. And in line with tradition, Baba Yaga's hut stands on chicken legs, surrounded by skulls with flashing eyes. Some of Owen's script has a fairy-tale crudeness, but the craftsmanship he's lavished on the puppets lends the show a quirky nightmare quality. Baba Yaga's favorite breakfast? "Tasty little girl on toast!"

Through Aug. 1 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd Street), S.F. Admission is $8-15; call 826-5750.

-- Michael Scott Moore

Parallel Lives
Attempting to re-create a show originally written by and starring a famous comedy duo is pretty ballsy. But Caitlin McClure and Mary Jo Mrochinski are staging what used to be called The Kathy and Mo Show: Parallel Lives. Gifted comediennes Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy performed and refined their act over years, and it showed in the bits I've seen on TV -- they knew each other's rhythms and quirks and polished their rather slight play into a semiprecious stone. McClure and Mrochinski evidently don't have the luxury of a long history together. Not all the roles are fleshed out, and several characters' voices sound alike, though McClure is funny as a Soviet peasant woman hawking "Lilac Spring" tampons, and Mrochinski has a loud, clear voice she uses to humorous effect. Their best scene together is as two teenage girls gabbing about love. (They've had their pumps primed by watching West Side Story.) Still, though there's no textual abridgment of the The Kathy and Mo Show, there is an artistic one. Directed by Kathryn G. McCarty.

Through July 31 at the New Conservatory Theater Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), S.F. Admission is $12-16; call 861-8972.

-- Joe Mader

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