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Funnyhouse of a Negro & Virtual Motion

Funnyhouse of a Negro
Adrienne Kennedy workshopped Funnyhouse of a Negro in 1962 with Edward Albee, shortly after Albee finished Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The plays have nothing in common but a harrowing, nightmarish quality. Funnyhouse is a portrait of Negro Sarah, and her funnyhouse is really her brain, with Patrice Lumumba, Queen Victoria Regina, the Duchess of Hapsburg, and Jesus wandering around as alternate Sarah-selves. It's weird and occasionally pretentious, but also laser-focused and brief: The dislocations of Sarah's mind lead to a powerful, terrible end. Her hysteria spins from a mixed-race heritage, and from her black father's unusual death -- either suicide after hearing about Patrice Lumumba's suicide (really his assassination by the CIA) in the Belgian Congo, or else murder by bludgeon, at the hands of Sarah herself. Moya Furlow delivers her lines at first with a stilted intensity, as Sarah, but improves; Comika Griffin as the Duchess of Hapsburg and Benton Greene as the bloody-faced Lumumba give the show its haunting energy. Mirror shards, darkness, warped reflective windows, and rumpled white dresses set the mood for what feels, now, like an interesting museum piece of the old avant-garde.

At Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 16th Street), through June 11. Admission is $9-15; call 626-3311.

Virtual Motion
The strangest show onstage now in San Francisco is a one-man "hyper-opera" by David Rodwin, who seems to be from New York. To a prerecorded score of sampled voices, cartoon sound effects, and more traditional instruments like drums and violin, Rodwin plays out the story of Amy and Mike, modern lovers working on a virtual-reality simulation of the sea. There are flashbacks to Mike's childhood; Mike also sneezes while driving, and dies in a fiery crash. The whole show is conceived as a piece of music, with Rodwin's stylized movement and lip-synced dialogue woven into the score. Events repeat, play out of order, and lurch into live song. Some scenes do create an alternate world, in which the habitual, superficial ways we speak and behave are held up for inspection; blue-lit scenes of Mike "underwater" -- in the VR simulator -- are the most hypnotic, and the whole performance is rhythmically brilliant. The problem is that everything -- and everyone -- is evoked with quotation marks: Rodwin allows no access to his characters. And his songs are boring. He's a good technical pupil of Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, and Anne Bogart, but Rodwin needs to mature: His virtual ocean is dry.

At Venue 9, 252 Ninth St. (at Folsom), through June 10. Admission is $10-16; call 248-1918.

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