Our critics weigh in on local theatre

Murder. First, Israeli soldiers stab a Palestinian boy. Then the father comes in and wails over his son's corpse. He raves, finds a gun, and goes on to kill a young Israeli bride and groom. And so on. Hanoch Levin's anti-war play about death and revenge in Israel and the Occupied Territories is not just harsh and shocking; it's also brilliant in ways the cast in this Second Wind local premiere simply can't evoke. Levin has a mordant, singing bitterness that breaks into rhyme or strange flights of exaggeration, and the actors can't keep up with him. Bruce Moody in particular overplays the Arab father, howling like a wildcat and forcing every word, but not once even trying to seem Palestinian. There's also no sense of racial tension or enmity between the father and the Israeli soldiers. You get the idea that America is too remote from Israel for the actors (or their director, Ian Walker) to really understand the problem. Linking the story to current events with recent BBC footage on a small TV screen or hoping audiences might think of Murder as a fable of the Iraqi occupation lets no one off the hook. (Ungrounded plays can't be universal.) Only Neal Bishop, as the Israeli groom's grieving father, does compelling work. In the final scene his character suffers a case of mistaken identity, and through Bishop's performance you catch a glimpse of the playwright's trenchant, devastating irony. Through Aug. 14 at the Phoenix Theatre, 1414 Mason (between Post and Geary), Sixth Floor, S.F. Tickets are $10-20; call 829-1460 or visit www.secondwind.8m.com. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Aug. 4.

Not a Genuine Black Man. It's not easy being green, but try being a black kid in San Leandro in the early '70s. When Brian Copeland got there -- just a few months after the Summer of Love, he points out -- it was one of the most viciously racist suburbs in America. Now it's officially the most diverse. "Take that, San Francisco," Copeland chides. He's earned that attitude, not just for going through his hell of growing up, but also for extracting from it such affirmative, hilarious stuff. Copeland's rightfully popular one-man show is wrought from pain and rage, but never really succumbs to bitterness. "Is that black?" he asks, and proves that it is. Some of his best stereotype-busting material doesn't feel especially new, but it does feel good. Besides, it's the stereotypes that have passed their expiration dates: Copeland's title comes from an accusation recently flung at him by a cranky listener who called in to his KGO radio program. This show is his response. With help from declarative lighting and David Ford's direction, Copeland creates an affecting hybrid of the dramatic monologue and the rollicking stand-up act. Through Aug. 28 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd Street), S.F. Tickets are $15-22; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org. (Jonathan Kiefer) Reviewed June 2.

Orpheus Descending. One of Tennessee Williams' great but problematic tragedies is a Southern Gothic featuring a wandering blues musician, Valentine Xavier. Val wears a snakeskin coat and carries a guitar inscribed by singers such as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Bessie Smith. He wants to abandon his old life of juke joints and cheap women, so he accepts a straight job at the Torrance Mercantile Store in an unnamed small town, where his sheer physical beauty upsets the sheriff, the local biddies, and the sick tyrant Jabe Torrance. It also entices Mrs. Torrance, and her and Val's halting love affair makes a fine, slow-moving melodrama. Brando played Val in a movie version, The Fugitive Kind, which also moved at a sluggish pace. Jean Shelton's revival at the Actors Theatre, unfortunately, solves none of the pacing problems. In spite of a well-cast group and a vivid set by Scott Agar Jaicks, there's no urgency to the show. Alex Garcia has the right blank, smoldering intensity as Val; Nadia Tarzi has the right olive skin and vague accent for Lady Torrance, who's fervid and Italian; Niki Yapo is appropriately rebellious and frail as Carol, who remembers Val from his previous life. But they all seem to talk past each other. Only Padma Moyer and Delinda Dane, as two of the local biddies, and John Krause, as Jabe, manage to infect the performance with life of their own. Otherwise the actors seem to wait for a passion that never quite arrives. Through Aug. 28 at the Actors Theatre of San Francisco, 533 Sutter (between Powell and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $10-25; call 296-9179 or visit www.actorstheatresf.org. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed July 14.

Also Playing

AfroSolo Arts Festival: The 11th edition of the annual arts festival features African-American artists and their visual arts exhibitions, dance, music, theater, spoken word, and performance art. Through Oct. 15, free-$50, www.afrosolo.org. Multiple locations, multiple addresses within San Francisco.

Becca and Heidi: Local playwright Sharon Eberhardt's one-woman play about split personality and morality. Thur.-Sat., 8:30 p.m. Continues through Aug. 8. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847, www.sffringe.org.

Dog Act: The world premiere of Liz Duffy Adams' new comic fable about a post-apocalyptic vaudeville show. Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 19, free, www.shotgunplayers.org. The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 587-4465.

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