Circumnavigator. Dan Hoyle circled the globe on a grant two years ago from the Chicago-based Circumnavigators Club, using its money to develop a piece of "journalistic theater" about globalism. If you've never heard of journalistic theater, don't worry: Hoyle may be its only living practitioner. In Circumnavigator he hops from Vietnam to India to Kenya to South Africa to Argentina, talking earnestly to everyone about labor issues. "In India, story is -- big country, small economy," says an editor of India Today. "Sex industry, mon. Mad cash," says a teenager in Kenya. "I'm from Durban, and I fucking rip waves," says a dangerously drunk pro surfer in South Africa, who's proud of his sponsorship by an American company. Many of these miniportraits are entertaining and vivid; Hoyle is a talented mimic. But as a writer he still has a weak sense of climaxes and shapely scenes. His story wanders; his set-pieces peter out. Apparently aware that he goes on too much about globalism, he says he's arrived in Kenya "to quit thinking about American companies and foreign investment." For most of us that wouldn't be hard. But the problem is not that Hoyle thinks too much about what is, after all, the topic of his show; the problem is that he never makes a discernible point. He circles his topic the way he circles the planet -- without quite arriving anywhere. Through Aug. 28 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (between 21st and 22nd streets), S.F. Tickets are $10-14; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Aug. 11.
The Fantasticks. The longest-running play in American history is also musical theater's cheesiest self-parody, a sweet, dumb story about two fathers who pretend a Montague-and-Capulet-style feud as an excuse to keep their kids, Luisa and Matt, apart. The hope, of course, is to throw them together, since children never do as they're told. When Matt and Luisa fall in love, the fathers arrange a "rape" by the mysterious Spaniard El Gallo, with help from a pair of feckless old actors. Matt is then supposed to rescue Luisa from the Spaniard and become a hero to her as well as to her dad, thus ending the feud. Not everything goes as planned, and the rest of the musical deals in schmaltzy terms with love's dark underbelly. The Fantasticks premiered in Greenwich Village in 1960 and played there until early 2002. The S.F. Playhouse, for some reason, is reviving it. Bill English plays El Gallo in a mustache and black Spanish suit; Louis Parnell plays one of the fathers, Hucklebee; Katy Stephan plays the spoiled but charming Luisa; Mark Farrell plays the nebbishy Matt. Parnell and Farrell are both solid professionals, putting in an honest night's work, but English and Stephan tend to be self-conscious actors. The difference is that Stephan can sing. Her voice soars and melts with emotion, especially in the duets, while English makes up for his limited range with a sort of prancing silliness. Joe Bellan and Graham Cowley manage real comedy as the geriatric actors, but director Dianna Shuster has no clear comic vision for the rest of the scenes, and The Fantasticks, overall, gives off an unfresh odor, like something that's spent too much time under stage lights. Through Aug. 21 at the S.F. Playhouse, 536 Sutter (between Powell and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $30; call 677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.com. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed July 14.
The Lion King. How do you turn a decent cartoon about African wildlife into a lame Broadway musical? 1) Puzzle carefully about the problem of costumes and sets. Pour millions of dollars and hours of mental energy into making your actors look like lions, hyenas, elephants, wildebeests, giraffes, and birds. Solve the problem brilliantly. Hire Julie Taymor to design the magnificent costumes and masks (and to direct the show). Hire Garth Fagan to choreograph elegant, exciting, Afro-Caribbean dance routines. Make sure Donald Holder lights the stage with an eloquent feeling for African distances and sunshine. In general make the show a visual feast. Then, 2) squint in confusion at the script, and 3) carve it up to make room for appalling songs by Tim Rice and Elton John. You'll have a profitable bunch of nonsense with more than one God-soaked number that sounds indistinguishable from bad Whitney Houston. The only cast member who can transcend this mess and give a stirring performance is Thandazile Soni, as Rafiki the monkey shaman, who gets to sing songs like "Nants' Ingonyama," by Lebo M, and other African chants originated by Tsidii Le Loka on Broadway. Bob Bouchard is also funny as Pumbaa the warthog, and Derek Smith plays a perfectly arrogant, sinister Scar, the pretender lion king. Otherwise the show is forced and childish. Adults looking for good theater will be happier when the performers dance instead of trying to act. Through Nov. 21 at the Orpheum Theatre, 1182 Market (at Eighth Street), S.F. Tickets are $26-160; call 512-7770 or visit www.bestofbroadway-sf.com. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Feb. 11.