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Whatever Happened to Sister George? & Spirituality for Dummies

Whatever Happened to Sister George?
Writer/director F. Allen Sawyer's spoof of lesbian movies often drags when it should sparkle, even getting preachy about Hollywood's treatment of lesbians at one point. Sister George (the formidable Stephanie Taylor) is the tough-talkin' nun with a heart of gold, on a hit TV show in the early '60s. The show's producer, Alison Dewitt (Connie Noble), schemes to get rid of George, so she can rework the series around her "protégé" (Elizabeth Marie), Sister Ringo, the Flying Nun. She inveigles Hallie Girard (Ginger Eckert), George's lover girl, into her plans by playing on Hallie's ambition. Only dresser/maid Birdie Coonan (Sandy Schlechter) remains steadfastly loyal to George. Sawyer can't always get the rhythm of farce, and the show often goes too long without a joke. The scene in which George learns the future of both her character and career is interminable, and most of the actresses have long speeches that undercut the campy spirit. But Schlechter knows exactly what to do with Birdie, a sexually repressed Thelma Ritter, sharing the secrets of George's closet with Hallie ("You can't buy flannel that soft") and then burying her face in George's "delicate" boxer shorts. She gets the best lines and hits them perfectly. ("What's something everyone loves?" asks Hallie, brainstorming about the show. "Cocktails," Birdie sneers.) Schlechter morphs into Bette Davis for the epilogue; rolling her eyes demonically at Hallie and George in their wheelchairs, she hurls Baby Jane lines at them. Dana Peter Porras provides another terrific set for Theater Rhino. Shiny, foil-flecked wallpaper, tacky sconces, lots of yellows, mauves, blues, and violets -- it's a pop palace. With more shaping and sharpening, Sawyer's play could have been worthy of Schlechter's and Porras' talents.

Through June 17 at Theater Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), S.F. Admission is $12-22; call 861-5079.

Spirituality for Dummies
In this evening of two short solo shows, Dan Rothenberg opens by charting his uneasy relationship with his bisexuality in "Anything But the Truth," personifying Truth as a lifelong companion whom he attempts, but ultimately fails, to ignore. Rothenberg is both amusing and astute describing his discomfort with the labels we attach to sexuality: "If you shop at the Gap you're gay; Banana Republic, you're bi." He hammers the sanitizing of the word "gay" ("A 'gay' man is a man who has the ability to pick out curtains"), and points out the general unacceptance of the messy realities of sex. And describing growing up in a suburb of Detroit, he draws a creatively apt metaphor between his town's repudiation of the city and its problems and his own denial of his sexual proclivities. Rothenberg could stand to vary the voice of Truth more, but his discovery that love and heartbreak defy labels is both comic and moving.

Joe Klocek's often wildly funny monologue, titled "Callback," succeeds less well. Despite his better intentions, Klocek recounts how as a comedian he quickly succumbed to the easy laughs garnered by dick jokes and "men and women are so different" banalities, the demands of the road and backwater venues forcing him to abandon more challenging material about being adopted and about religion. (When his priest used exactly the same words to explain the Immaculate Conception as his mother used to explain his adoption, he informed his first-grade classmates that he was a messiah.) Klocek has some howlers about wounding Butte, Montana's pride over its toxic waste dump, and taking on skinheads in Coeur d'Alene. However, his attempts to get at something truer through a theatrical construct don't really work. Redneck jokes, no matter how skillfully or truthfully told, aren't much deeper than dick jokes, and his routines about adoption and religion reveal his skill as a comic, but not much else. Klocek's journey, humorous as it is, doesn't take you far enough.

Extended through June 17 at the Bannam Place Theater, 50A Bannam Place (between Union and Green), S.F. Admission is $12-15; call 986-4607.

 
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