This Bare Bones Theater evening of one-acts, written and directed by Paul Mendoza, is really a three-act play. In the short opening segment, Peter (Mendoza) and Carla (Sam Anderson), recently broken-up lovers, cement their relationship's end in a series of phone calls. The scene is pitched too angrily at the beginning, and doesn't have anywhere to go; some missed sound cues also disturbed the flow opening night. In the second act, Peter commiserates with his friend Max (Milo Young), who has effectively given up on ever having a long-term relationship with a woman. Max also doesn't really have any friends, except for Peter. Mendoza is better in this scene, more relaxed, and it's better constructed. Act 3 is a long dialogue between Peter and Laurel (Manon Banta) on the morning after what could be either a one-night stand or the beginning of something more. All the actors except Mendoza stumble on their cues or lines occasionally, but Young and Banta otherwise give fine, natural performances. These characters are neurotic, overanalytical, and self-conscious-- so wrapped up in figuring out what things mean and in their own painful romantic histories that they're almost incapable of action. There are times when the hyperverbal dialogue achieves the knowingly preposterous pronouncements of some of the characters in Denys Arcand's 1986 film The Decline of the American Empire, but mostly what you get are sour pop psychology views of relationships. The show's publicity features a film still of John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands, making it clear who Mendoza's influence is, but Cassavetes isn't a great dramatic role model: In stripping your creations down to their psychological underpinnings, you're less likely to get at what's "real" than you are to make them dull and generic. The relationships in Fools are so pored over, they don't seem worth having, and Mendoza's hopeful ending doesn't wash. -- Joe Mader
Through Sept. 17 at the Next Stage, Trinity Episcopal Church, 1668 Bush (at Gough), S.F. Admission is $10-15; call 359-0880.
Dance Mission stayed open another four weeks to put on this show, but it's hard to pin down why. There isn't a note or line of this musical -- written and directed by Robin Taylor -- that doesn't pretend to be something it's not. The story, about an artsy group of urban hipsters and an enemy gang of gay-bashers, explores grief, social protest, art, and metaphysics with a stunning lack of honesty, marinated in Christian dogma, and comes off as the sort of thing a group of kids might think up to divert their parents in a living room, given a modest budget. The title song is performed by a lesbian, Mary, who gets suspended by the wrists (after being raped by the gay-bashers) in a posture suspiciously like Our Savior. The song inspires pity for everyone involved, like the closing of Dance Mission itself, and panning it here feels rather like euthanizing a helpless pet. But it needs to be done. What's that Tom Waits lyric? "Come down off the cross, we can use the wood." I do hope Dance Mission stays open, though. -- Michael Scott Moore
Through Oct. 14 at Dance Mission, 3316 24th St. (at Mission), S.F. Admission is $18; call 924-3325.