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Speed-the-Plow; Goodbye and Good Luck/ The Jewbird

This being the second production of this play in two months (Into-the-Fire mounted the show in February), one might think David Mamet's script is of some import. It's not. The show is a mechanical construction. All a director can do is follow the directions and make the play click -- no one could ever make it breathe. Teatro Shalom and director Mike Acevedo hit most of the marks (the fight scene is directed particularly well), but they can't convince us it's worth the bother. Mark Castillo as Charles Fox, the would-be film producer watching his dream project go up in flames, is terrific. With inventive line readings and high energy, Castillo fluidly brings Fox to life. David Gassner as Bobby Gould, the newly promoted studio exec who suddenly decides he should use his office for good, not evil, fares less well. Gassner isn't a good physical match for Castillo, bringing a callowness and occasional awkwardness to the role. He stumbles a bit on some of the lines and seems to lack the necessary steel of a studio bigwig. Katie Hemmeter is often very funny as Karen the temp, but Karen is also the False Redemptress, which dooms an actress, no matter how talented. There's a misogyny to Speed-the-Plow that makes it an odd choice for a company wanting to stage works that "have a balance of gender," as Teatro Shalom's charter states.

Through May 27 at Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy (between Mason and Taylor), S.F. Admission is $14; call 602-4387.

Goodbye and Good Luck/
The Jewbird

Word for Word and A Traveling Jewish Theater have teamed up to stage two great short stories, and the results are mixed. Director Wendy Radford stumbles a bit with Grace Paley's "Goodbye and Good Luck"; Patricia Silver as Aunt Rose manages moments of sweet melancholy, but what's lacking in her performance is Rose's energetic triumph. The story is a monologue in which Rose tells her niece that she's getting married to the former idol of the Yiddish stage Volodya Vlashkin (Corey Fischer, who flogs the same hammy note, though Vlashkin's retired). Despite the disapproval of Rose's mother and sister, Rose had an affair with Volodya when she worked at his theater -- even though he was married at the time. The speech demonstrates how Rose's unconventional life and choices have been completely justified, and reading the story leaves you giddy with delight. This production dampens that pleasure, and instead of cheering at the end, you smile wistfully. (Playing various characters, Sheila Balter and Adrian Elfenbaum capture more of the story's spirit than does Silver.)

However, in mounting Bernard Malamud's fable "The Jewbird," director David Dower gets everything right. Jeri Lynn Cohen as Edie Cohen and Albert Greenberg as Harry Cohen are a perfect picture of late '50s/early '60s American Jewish domesticity: Edie looks at her well-appointed breakfast table, spreads her hands, and announces, "Morning," as if it were her housekeeping that made the sun rise each day. Harry reads his paper ensconced in his comfortable abode, at first irritated and then exploding at the messy cultural history their intrusive guest represents. As Schwartz the Jewbird, Fischer is both annoying and touching -- an old relative you love, but who still drives you crazy. Balter rounds out the cast as Maurie, the Cohen son, her hair slicked back as she pores over comic books. With "The Jewbird," Word for Word's word-perfect approach to short fiction uses intelligence and creativity to expand the original, while in "Goodbye and Good Luck," despite some small pleasures, Paley's unique voice is diminished.

Through June 4 at A Traveling Jewish Theater, 470 Florida (near Mariposa), S.F. Admission is $20-25; call 399-1809.

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